Olivia Dean at Stylus on 26 April, With Aby Coulibaly

It would be hard not to know who Olivia Dean is at this point in the year. She’s all over social media. She even kicked off the year by performing on Jools Holland’s Hootenanny. 

Friday night saw a stacked line up of Aby Coulibaly supporting Olivia Dean. It was brilliant to see the Irish singer in Leeds. Aby has such an effortless bedroom beats vibe it’s a perfect pairing to be opening for Olivia Dean.

Aby Coulibaly

Olivia and Aby’s music would sit very comfortably on a playlist for a summer evening with your pals. Aby’s flow bouncing off melodies reminds me of the likes of early JLO, 2010’s Aluna George, and Kelis. Her rapping in Irish was just a dream as well. It was really great performance and got everyone so ready for Olivia Dean. 

I’m not sure if I have been in a bit of an Olivia Dean bubble but I will say I was surprised to see her playing at Leeds Stylus. Futuresound is usually spot on with selecting its venues but this just felt far too small. It builds up the atmosphere to have such a packed out show, but there’s a fine line between bustling and squashed. There were multiple times where people were stacked on the stairs battling with bouncers for lack of space. This show could have easily been put on at the O2. 

If the audience didn’t prove that this show was bigger than the venue it was confined to, the stage production sure did. There was a gorgeous stage set up with light boxes and a full band. We’re talking a brass section, double keys – every instrument Oliva could get her hands on made an appearance on the stage solidifying how much of a music powerhouse she really is. Her larger than life hair, paired with the yellow retro mini dress, was just drop dead gorgeous. This was Olivia’s night and she couldn’t have owned it more. 

There were lots of elements that made this show really special but I think the stand out for me was how engaged the audience was. There’s been a chatty culture at shows recently where people don’t seem to be paying that much attention to the music. That was not the case here. The audience were Olivia Dean’s backup singers, hype men and everything in between. There were some girls in the audience that sang so loudly you would think they wrote the songs themselves. It was incredible. 

The set list to this show was very carefully curated: it had old fan favourites such as Echo (the bass sounded wonderful on this track – shout out to the audio engineers who did such a good job). Be My Own Boyfriend had some great crowd interaction as fans tried to guess the song before it was announced, and I Could Be A Florist, which was part of the keyboard solo segment of the show, was just captivating.

I really liked how the show was set in three parts. Olivia kicked it off with a bang with a full band and then had a good run of solo songs. I think if you’re a fan of her album tracks, getting to experience just her and a keyboard or at one point an acoustic guitar was just brilliant.

I have been to so many shows. For me, the best vocalist I have seen live is Lady Gaga (obvs an absolute pro) and Olivia Dean has that star potential (not to sound like Louis Walsh). 

Her vocals are so unique but clearly there is a fine tuning to them that the artist has strengthened throughout the years. Her understanding of different musical compositions with the instruments she has on stage and the journey the set takes you on was just wonderful. It’s no surprise the audience was shouting at her altar.

All photography by Emma Gibbon.

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