To sell out the 1,200 capacity Hackney Empire in London’s East End off the back of a mere two EP releases is quite some feat. One now crossed off the to-do list of Daughter, a trio of college friends who emerge shyly into individual spotlights across the stage. From the steep rafters of the Empire’s tallest balcony, it makes for an impressive sight. Like watching Bambi taking his first steps; front woman Elena Tonra is wobbly at first. It’s understandable though. ‘There’s quite a lot of you here,’ she meekly opens with and she’s right.
This is the largest headline show to date for Daughter, having come into existence in early 2011 under the watchful eye of folk collective Communion. Back at the beginning it was just Tonra though – the force that steered an acoustic solo project full of teenage angst. Two years on, the band has come far, thanks to the enlistment of two talented college friends; guitarist Igor Haefeli and drummer Remi Aguilella. The gig at Hackney marks the onslaught of the band’s debut on 4AD, the much-anticipated If You Leave. It’s an album that is the sum of two official EPs and a year’s worth of hard graft. In true Daughter style, the band switch things around from the start, opening with the closing song of the album ‘Shallows’. It’s an atmospheric tune and fills the vast space to perfection. Even perched high at the top of the auditorium, Tonra’s clean vocals strike a chord. The band, although nervous, find a steady footing in ‘Landfill’. A bittersweet folk number from His Young Heart EP, it’s given a new lease of life tonight with an excellently well-executed drum intro from Aguilella. As a drummer, he is truly magnificent to watch and throughout the set he often unintentionally pulls focus with his ingenious tricks of the trade. Tonra, the lyricist in the band, writes bitingly truthful lyrics that pull you in. ‘Landfill’ is one such song filled with great sucker punch lines such as, “I love you so much, but I hate your guts.” It aches and yearns in all the right places.
Next, the band revisits another oldie lifted from the original Daughter demo tape. ‘Run’ is a song seeped with youthful reminiscence. Once a soulful acoustic musing, Daughter have made it darker with a multi-layered sound, which causes the first whoops and claps of the evening. As if by clockwork, arms go around partners all throughout the auditorium and Tonra’s voice navigates expertly through the melody.
Changing direction slightly awkwardly, Daughter rein the mood back in with the reverent ‘Candles’. A story of teenage exploration and confusion, Daughter have remastered it well with the vocals and guitar finding the right balance of haunting. Most notably, the song ends in a beautifully delicate way as all instruments fade to nothing leaving just Tonra’s spine tingling vocal to sign off.
‘Love’ comes next with the spotlights changing to visually stunning back lighting. ‘This is our biggest gig to date – yay,’ Igor reminds us bashfully as Elena pulls a face from the far side of stage left. The band ekes out the tender moments, finally giving way to a gentle wall of guitar noise. Lyrically, the song is full of self-torture with Tonra repeatedly asking, ‘Does she make your heart beat faster than I could?’ The experimental side of Daughter is highlighted here as Igor whips out a bow which he draws across his guitar to produce an eerie distorted hum. The effect suits the band’s style and marries well with the rest of the musical ambience. Leaving the older material behind, the trio moves into the present with a rendition of new song ’Lifeforms’. Guitarist Igor’s talents shine through again in this number, as he applies the perfect amount of ethereal voicings underneath Elena’s crescendo of perfect harmony.
However, it is standout track ‘Youth’ which garners the biggest response of the night. Its recognisable first notes kick start a wave of excitement throughout the room. The lament of younger days, this is the moment you can really appreciate Elena’s angelic tones. Her lyrics are stirring but at the same time poised and honest. Frustration is the overtone of the song and Daughter deliver it more confidently than any other in their set. This confidence lasts until the end of the show with crowd pleasers ‘Smother’ and ‘Home’ gaining roars of approval from the entranced audience. There are even a few damp cheeks across the rows of precariously perched devotees. There is no encore, Daughter know they have done enough and leave the stage with a wave and a simple thank you.
Settling themselves somewhere between Sigur Rós, Lucy Rose and The XX, Daughter fill a void in the crossover sphere. They utilise their musical talents well with each member offering something different to the mix. The arrangement is beautiful and they’ve managed to translate the layered sound of the album into a live performance; a task questioned by many.
It is easy to predict a good future for the band and an upcoming string of sold out dates across the country testify to that. They’ve managed to connect with their fans, thanks to the honesty of their lyrics and their ability to unashamedly bare themselves emotionally on stage. However, the album, and the years, have changed Daughter. A folksy fresh-faced acoustic project is now darker, more foreboding. Their new style, although enthralling in parts, can be marginally repetitive with a few of the songs getting lost during the hour-long set.
The talent and rawness of it all is undeniable, though. Those at Hackney Empire witnessed the turning point for the band that is sure to only grow upwards and creep out of obscurity. Daughter definitely demonstrated they’re ready for it and proved they are capable of bigger things with their biggest show to date.