Lauren Mayberry wields pop as a weapon at her debut solo London headline show

This feels like the start of something special.

Words: Ali Shutler.
Photos: Frances Beach.

CHVRCHES have been making scrappy punk disguised as pop for over a decade. Driven by cinematic ambition, full of shiny synths but always with an underlying grit, the three-piece have bounced between worlds but never really settled.

And before that, Lauren Mayberry spent her teenage years drumming in various local Glaswegian groups. As she explains onstage at KOKO, “I’ve never been in a band that would let me cover The Spice Girls” – which is where her new solo project comes into play.

Described as her “fun, freaky, sad, weird, joyful pop playground”, tonight’s show at KOKO starts with a dose of melancholic Hollywood glamour as Liza Minelli’s ‘Maybe This Time’ plays through the venue’s PA system before Lauren makes the sort of grand entrance usually reserved for West End musicals. Kicking straight into the pulsating, guitar-driven ‘Bird’, that glittering sheen is quickly twisted into something with a little more bite.

From there, the show regularly flickers between fury and free-spirited fun. There’s deliberate choreography but also several spoken-word interludes that ask questions about the expectations behind it. The brooding ‘Mantra’ offers soaring catharsis, while ‘Changes Shape’ is a sleek, playful number complete with catchy hooks and funk-driven breakdowns. Debut single ‘Are You Awake?’ sees Lauren sitting alone at the keyboard, singing softly about loneliness, and follow-up track ‘Shame’ is a fuzzy, stomping garage-rock number that makes full use of her three-piece band.

The closest Lauren comes to her day job in CHVRCHES is “depressing banger” ‘Under The Knife’, while covers of Madonna’s ‘Like A Prayer’ and Spice Girls’ wistful ‘Viva Forever’ feel like a deliberate sidestep from what’s come before. They’re followed up by her own ‘Crocodile Tears’, a glam 80s-inspired disco rager that feels comfortably outlandish and the spiky industrial electroclash of ‘Sorry, Etc’ that ends with her screaming on the floor.

Despite the eclectic styles, there’s a clear vision running through the show. It’s familiar, but this first glimpse at Lauren’s solo project also sees her confidently breaking new ground. Wielding pop as a weapon, there’s gnarled joy behind the rage and the release that underlines every glorious high of the set. This feels like the start of something special.