- 02 Nov 15
Her heavenly vocals with UNKNWN and Murlo captured our attention, but Gemma Dunleavy is more than a pretty voice. Taking control and pursuing abstract pop in a solo capacity, her metropolis performance will be an immersive experience.
Be warned if you’ve got a ticket for Metropolis: Gemma Dunleavy wants to mess with your head. “I’m not looking for people to see my show and go away saying ‘they were great songs’, I want to have a proper impact, whether it’s good or bad. I love making people really, really uncomfortable and then switching it up really fast and making them feel like they’re having the most euphoric moment of their life.”
Your reaction to her set, she says, should be “what the hell was that?!” You might be familiar with the young Dubliner’s terrific voice, the stand-out sound on lauded tracks from UK grime star Murlo and her now-defunct UNKNWN collaboration with Chris Hanna. However, Dunleavy is set to totally confound expectations with her solo work. Her ambition is to find the sweet spot between pop and experimentalism, straddling the worlds of Beyoncé and Julianna Barwick.
As a singer, Destiny’s Child and Christina Aguilera gave her an early sense of what the human voice could do, while as a writer, she adores The Beach Boys’ classicism. “The thing that I love about Brian Wilson is that he’s got an amazing sense of structure,” she explains. “The songs are structured almost like the classical songs that he would listen to but they’ve got these really bright, sugary melodies. Pop melodies. And these amazing chords that are just so accessible to anybody. For me it’s the ultimate interesting pop music.”
Her live shows find her working to find a bridge between those differing sensibilities.
“Metropolis are trying to do an all-rounded festival, so I wanted to do an all-rounded show. When I go to live shows, I like to have an experience. I don’t like to just go and listen to songs.”
Having co-choreographed some dance pieces, footage of the dances will be projected on to an LED screen behind Dunleavy and a proper band, bringing together cello, keys, electronics. Oh, and a four-piece choir.
There won’t be a MacBook in sight.
“I’ve nothing against people that do it and I’ve gone to gigs that I’ve enjoyed like that. But that’s what I did with my last band [UNKNWN] and that was what the friction between us was. I wanted to make it more live and he was happy to keep it as it was. For my own gigs, I do not want a laptop onstage.”
Dunleavy has loved performing all her life. Her adolescent days were filled with all manner of classes, with Sunday being her only day off. And even then she was typically in a competition.
“I would dance with kids whose parents were pushing them. My mam wasn’t like that at all; I would be pushing her to let me do these things.”
She adored Boyzone as a kid, chiefly because the late Stephen Gately lived just around the corner.
“My parents knew his parents,” she says. “I’d be like, ‘Dad, please can we go around the Margaret’s house?’ I’d go around and bring a big bag of teddies for him to sign. So many times I’d go around and he’d be off touring. I’d be in the sitting room and his parents would be telling me stories about him.”
Attending dance school until an injury at the age of 19 forced her to stop, music-making properly took over, as she headed for the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts.
With so many strings to her bow – “I want to perform, to produce, to compose, to direct the show!” – she felt her other projects were holding her back. Parting company with Chris Hanna wasn’t a particularly hard decision to make.
“It was a relief in a way because I felt free. I have all these ideas that have been pent up in me for so long. We were two people with very different ideas so everything we were doing was a compromise.”
Ultimately, she’s keen to avoid stereotyping.
“I produced that last EP just as much as Chris did. If you’re a girl in electronic music, you’re the girl who comes in at the end and sings what she’s told to. I’m never that person. I’m a actually quite the opposite.”