A couple of hours before taking to the stage at The Laundry, Honne’s music is branching out from East London and across the nation’s airwaves. Annie Mac’s talking up the hotly-tipped pair on BBC Radio 1, swooning over the title track from the recently released ‘Coastal Love’ EP and picking out tonight’s show as one of the hottest live dates in the country. With just a couple of EPs to their name, Honne return to the capital for what is just their third headline outing in the UK – one that sold out the 750-cap venue a good week in advance. Buzz doesn’t quite cover it, and it’s all on Honne to deliver on the expectation.
The sultry electronic nature of Honne’s early output is the kind that might have led some to predict a few synths and sample pads accompanying the duo in a live arena, but comparisons to a spate of electronic producers don’t seem befitting this evening. Backed by a full live band and backing vocalists, Honne arrive with a set-up that could pass for fully formed, with no sense whatsoever that they’re still finding their feet. It’s a fullness that embellishes the soulful side of Honne.
One the one hand it’s impressive that they appear so seasoned so early on, but whilst hardly a single step is misplaced there’s a sense that they’re already entering cruise control. It’s a worrying precedent to be setting, and at times tonight it feels more like a show at the end of a mammoth tour, with everything so second nature that it lacks a human element. It feels somewhat clinical, sterile perhaps, and lacking in charisma or the sort of naïve charm that’s often so becoming of an artist new to the game. This was a chance for many to unravel Honne, for their music to be paired with a personality or performer, but throughout the night there are few glimpses of such nature to latch on to.
Moments of false humility are difficult to stomach too. Numerous references to the disbelief at their reception are offset by an assuredness that at one point, seemingly planned, sees the crowd left to sing the opening bars of the ‘The Night’ alone over a stripped back rendition. Ordinarily, there’d be no way band this fresh could conduct the audience in such a way, but that is the attention Honne are gaining and nobody should criticise that for being embraced. But whilst embracing that environment, at a show that sold out well in advance, the faux surprise wears a little thin with everything going on around it.
All of this is compounded in no small part by the concepts that Honne work with, or more to the point the singular concept that would appear to run through all of Honne’s work. Sam Smith may have had a global smash after heartbreak at the hands of one man, but as Honne recite tales of long-distance love, unrequited adoration and break ups, these songs could be about anybody or nobody. This watered down, mass appeal narrative leaves the listener with nothing to work for, and whilst producing lots of single-friendly material, feels tiresome and a little sickly come the end of a full live set.
In an unsurprisingly pre-empted encore, Honne sound their most genuine and invigorating as they re-emerge for ‘All In The Value’. For the first time you get the sense that something has ignited inside of them, with a fret-board-stabbing solo leaving behind the ultra-slick mould for something more rousing. The appeal of Honne is perfectly apparent and their Instagram-friendly formula seems to have been laying their foundations fairly well to date, but without cashing on these few genuinely stirring moments, it’s a formula that might not be enough to carry them through in the time to come.
Photos: Carolina Faruolo