Pharrell Williams and Jungle at iTunes Festival 2014

September 11, 2014

A menacing spaghetti western whistle echoes through the room under the bright lights of the Palladian Camden Roundhouse. Centre-stage, with wide-brimmed hat silhouetted against a circle of white light, stands one of contemporary pop musics most influential players…

Whether as producer or artist, Pharrell Williams has had a hand in a staggering number of zeitgeist-defining pop moments since around the turn of the millennium, and thanks to the unprecedented success of recent single Happy, and appearances on last years summer hits Get Lucky and Blurred Lines, he now has the superstar status to match his impressive CV. As the first strains of Daft Punks Lose Yourself to Dance sent a ripple of excitement through the audience, he looked ready for his moment in the sun.

… But lets leave our hero standing in the spotlight for just a minute and talk about tonights support act. New-soul innovators Jungle are riding the crest of a wave following a summer which brought a brace of breakthrough sets at Reading and Leeds, as well as a UK Album Chart top 10 placing for their excellent self-titled debut LP.

As synthesised sirens heralded in the start of the seven-strong bands set, it was easy to hear that the secret of their burgeoning success lies in the music. Synth flourishes and percussive details bedded down sublimely atop an infectious bass groove in opener The Heat, which showcased the key to Jungles distinctive sound: Watson and McFarland singing swooning melodies to clipped funk rhythms in a sweet mingling of tenor and falsetto tones. Its a simple but incredibly effective formula, yielding an end result that marries the playfulness of the Bee Gees with the spirit of The Shapeshifters.

Their set here was a joy, taking in some glorious 4-part vocal harmonies, spectral synths and hypnotic drumming. Highlights included slinky summer single Time, driven along by irresistible crunches of bass and guitar; and the outstanding Busy Earnin, where near-universally resonant lyrics combined with bombastic synth-brass and huge drums to euphoric effect.

Part of the charm of Jungles performance was that they looked as if they couldnt quite believe where they were standing. Pharrell, on the other hand, knew where he was down to the nearest centimetre.

His set-list was built around a crowd-pleasing array of hits: Its Getting Hot in Here, Hollaback Girl, Drop it Like its Hot, Blurred Lines, Happy… all smashes with little in common save for the magic touch of Pharrell Williams. He crooned his way through the set effortlessly amidst the gyrations of fawning dancers, sending audience members into raptures with a glance one moment, waxing lyrical on the virtues of iPhones the next; slick, slightly surreal and undeniably entertaining.

The highlight came in the form of an unexpected on-stage reunion with N. E. R. Ds Shay Haley, where tracks including She Wants to Move and Rockstar added real energy to a set that was, at points, polished to a fault. It came as a timely reminder that Pharrell is far more than just a pop celebrity. This man isnt just making people happy; hes redefining the sound of contemporary pop while hes at it.

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