Disclosure – review

Brixton Academy, London
A refreshing emphasis on musicality distinguishes fresh-faced revivalists Disclosure from the dance pack

Were there a totem to be fixed above UK pop music in the year 2013, it might well be the Disclosure face. This doodle obscures the features of the Lawrence brothers – Guy and Howard – on the cover of their debut album, Settle, as though someone has defaced a tube poster with a grey magic marker, but more out of boredom than spite. (You can get an app to Disclosure-ise yourself too.) Settle went to No 1 on release in June, widely establishing Disclosure's logo of effacement as a nice compromise between the two identities regularly thrown up by dance music: the superstar DJ whose smug mug is plastered everywhere, and those secretive auteurs of "faceless" techno, bobbing in hoodies behind a bank of gear.

They are kind of anonymous, Disclosure, yet eminently recognisable – two affable every-guys making inclusive, commercial dance-pop with substance, and legs. Settle may not end the year as one of 2013's biggest sellers – it has sold around 300,000 copies thus far – but the ubiquity of its singles, its Mercury nomination (and popularity with the bookies) and the fact that Disclosure have swiftly sold out a gig at London's 10,000-capacity Alexandra Palace in March next year means that Reigate's biggest musical export since Norman Cook are punching well above their numbers. Tonight's valedictory set (almost) closes their latest, sold-out UK tour; there's a late club show the following night.

A giant electronic Disclosure face hangs high above the brothers' stage set, looking down gnomically on twin pods of equipment from which the Lawrences sing, and play live bass, percussion and keyboards. While much of the world is in thrall to the crass builds and drops of American EDM artists such as Skrillex, this musicality is key to Disclosure's appeal. As the gig wears on, the doodle starts to recall the Kraftwerk robots, and even Max Headroom (also recently revived by Eminem), especially when it gradually becomes more animated, shaking around, turning green and "exploding". By the end, when their latest single Help Me Lose My Mind starts to wind the show down to a mid-tempo close, Disclosure's doodle is mouthing the words, eyebrows working overtime, eyes closed in rapture. It looks like most people here.

There are other faces on hand too. Like local boys Basement Jaxx before them, Disclosure alternate between wordless, harder-core workouts – there's a trio of older clubbier tracks near the start, and the nagging Grab Her in the middle – and an array of poppier, sung tracks with guest performers sprinting on from the wings. Most of the important ones are here tonight. Sam Smith looks petrified when he comes on at the end to sing Latch, a club single not merely remarkable because it's in the unusual time signature of 6/8, but because it piles Smith's soulful vocal atop warm synth washes. Brixton heroine Jessie Ware contributes two songs. It was Disclosure's remix of Jessie Ware's song Running that brought this house-influenced garage duo to wider renown in 2012, and live, Ware belts out the vocal to the remix – almost twice the speed of the original – while leaping about and punching the air, giant hoop earrings swinging. It's exhilarating.

Popstrel Eliza Doolittle is the first of the four singers, presiding over a huge energy surge in the crowd despite wearing what seems to be half a net curtain. Even though it was made by people in their very early 20s (Howard Lawrence is 19), her track – You & Me – could be a two-step garage gem mislaid sometime on the 90s/00s cusp. Doolittle's vocal, reproduced nimbly here, is probably the best thing this usually personality-free singer has ever done.

Even better is Sasha Keable, an up-and-coming south Londoner signed to Tinie Tempah's Disturbing London label, who seems to be dressed in pyjamas for her cameo. Her effortless way with Voices is even more starkly retro than You & Me, even more skippy and aerated. Much has been written about how the internet has dissolved notions of chronology in music, allowing all genres to exist in a kind of perpetual now. Disclosure are a prime example of fresh-faced revivalists, hitting upon sounds that were born around the same time they were, and updating them with a 21st-century ear. Judging from tonight's crowd, they've roped in house and garage audiences old enough to remember the first or second times, and fellow-20-nothings for whom the finer points of genre pedigree aren't an issue if the music sounds good.

And it does. What's compelling about Disclosure is the way all their productions feel fresh and bright, as though someone has just squeezed half a lime on them. The only real low point at the party is the absence of AlunaGeorge for White Noise, probably Disclosure's greatest hit. White Noise peaked at No 2 in the singles chart, cruelly depriving this excellent cut of top bragging rights. Tonight it feels a little disembodied without a live vocalist. The Disclosure face, as totemic as it is, isn't quite the same.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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