Face of Kid Francescoli, Mathieu Hocine, meets me in a bar a short walk from Hackney’s ‘Oslo’. It’s a contrast from the glitz of the evening’s venue – somewhere familiar, cosy and a little boisterous. ‘Oslo’, on the other hand, is a railway-station-turned-restaurant that popped up a few years ago with tidy branding and a ‘small plates’ menu. Both have their charm.
Thursday 12 March is only the third show of the tour but will be the last. The ongoing COVID-19 outbreak has put a stop to gigs across Europe, and it’s with regret that Hocine tells me the tour ends tonight. Still, he is happy to be here.
“My dream was to make a living from music. You do a gig and then you do a second one. You headline a concert and then you have a sold out show. To have sold out a show in London feels amazing. I can say to myself – ‘okay, you’re doing good.’”
The Paris-born singer-songwriter released his fifth studio album at the end of January and is clear about the direction he wanted it to take.
“I was raised in Marseille but I was never inspired by it. For the last two albums, the only way I could get inspired was to travel and write about the things I saw. For the first time, I wanted to sit down and write about Marseille. You spend a lot of time travelling on tour, and eventually I think you realise that the grass is not always greener on the other side. Sometimes it’s nice to come home.
“I wanted to transcribe it. I saw the beauty of the sun and the sea and the warmth of the people. There’s that feeling of being home and feeling good because everything around you is beautiful and I wanted to write it down.
“Lovers is a little bit more groovy. It has that southern, warm feeling.”
The album stays in the same electronic vein of the last two, but is careful and patient in feeling around new ideas. Hocine backs ‘Ces deux-là’ and ‘The Only One’ as his more experimental favourites, but says he can’t predict what people will like. ‘Moon’, receiving 18,000,000 Spotify streams and universal acclaim in 2017, was an afterthought, he adds, originally intended to be an interlude.
“You always try your best. Sometimes people like one song and you think ‘okay – good for me, but I like the others too! You know?’”
Kid Francescoli has done well with a number of songs and advertising opportunities over the last few years, but is wary of the forces that he allows to shape his music.
“I try not to be too influenced by it. You can make ‘modern music’ because it’s trending or because you like it. I never forced myself. I always made the music I wanted to make.
“It’s important for me to make a living from my work, but the real influence is seeing the reaction of people in the crowd. Seeing people like my music – I can die on that. Sometimes people tell me they made love to my music, or gave birth to it, or buried their dad to it. And I think – ‘okay, wow, my music can do these sorts of things to people.’ The reaction is the most important thing.”
Mathieu is confident, happy with his work and success but never complacent. Performing, he’s gentle with his equipment and movements. In speech, equally considered. He recounts stories of feeling foreign in certain groups of musicians, working to pay the rent, and listening to Billie Eilish as much as anybody else. He has no secrets for writing music and still recognises himself within the crowd.
A little later, supporting artist GEISTE puts on a good show. A fellow punter remarks she “plays like Bjork and moves like Dua Lipa.” The overall mood is a little melancholic and makes great use of reverb and vocal range. ‘Ocean’ is ready for the big league.
By half-nine the audience is merry. Lights fall on the two supporting singers either side of the stage and Mathieu is left to focus on his instruments. There’s good engagement with the audience and the lighting reflects the aims of the album in glorious shades of pink and purple. It’s a fun Thursday night, well rehearsed and tidily executed.
The act draws to a close around eleven and the performing artists respectfully withdraw from the stage. You couldn’t ask for much more: a generous set, a happy audience and a musician who only wants to be here.
Kid Francescoli will next be performing in London at The Garage on 26 November.
Words by James Reynolds