There’s nothing like catching an emerging artist at the onset of their career. Long before the ego, before the massive crowds, ravenous fans and the payday, there was a person hungry in their passion and uncompromising in their pursuit of something bigger than the sound. In the many years I have actively been going to concerts, I have been fortunate to catch budding talent in the likes of Ellie Goulding, Charli XCX, Twenty One Pilots and Flume before they became major stars in their own right. Live music series like Red Bull Sound Select make discovering the next big sounds in music an experience in itself. They travel from city to city to expose willing ears to the sounds of tomorrow. On September 30, 2016, Denver collective Souls In Action, in conjunction with Red Bull Sound Select, curated the coming out party for future stars Rumtum, Povi and NAO.
As soon as the doors opened, the room was rife with people percolating to the future-bass set of the house DJ. Hips low and bodies shaking, some marked with painted flares around their eyes and dressed to the beat of their own drum, the atmosphere was as electric as the performances that would follow. Rumtum led off the night, layering intricately percussive beats over hazy homemade samples, moving effortlessly between the complicated equipment and enveloping the audience in the ebbs and flows of the pulsating bass. It became hard to distinguish between songs, as each successive number seemed to build upon the end-trails of what came before – only to be divided by welcomed off-the-cuff commentary from Rumtum himself. Whatever you’d classify his music as, it was as enthralling as it was satisfying for the show opening.
Following Rumtum was the Denver local Povi, who damn near stole the show. Backed by a duo of dancers, Povi evoked the golden age of modern R&B and hip-hop with sugar-sweet vocals, coordinated dancing and forward-thinking instrumentation. The production of her set, complete with outfit changes, dance breaks and even a serenade for her mother’s birthday, made it abundantly clear that the stage belonged to her and she took advantage of every single second. Major props to Povi for having the audacity to put on a headliner-level performance that briefly made me forget that NAO was still to come. I won’t hold it against her though, as I and everyone else in earshot was shook from the sheer pleasure of it all.
After recovering from Povi’s fantastic performance, NAO, who hails from London, snatched the stage and a couple of weaves with it. Playing an assortment of songs from her fantastic debut album For All We Know, NAO scorched the stage with a fresh pop-funk swagger. NAO’s weapon of choice is her youthful helium-esque voice, which cut through the electro-funk instrumentation like a light through the dark and had the audience belting every word in chorus right along with her.
Cuts like the Mura Masa-produced “Firefly” transformed the Gothic Theater into a bounce house of sound. NAO’s band reimagined the buoyant hit in the live setting with her airy voice providing the anchor to keep everyone grounded. When she reached the conclusion of the show with the ultimate song, “Bad Blood,” everyone exhausted from dancing non-stop rallied and collectively brought down the house, jumping in unison to the boom-bap of the hit song as it echoed into the night. What a night it was.