Years & Years in Dubai: Why it's their time to Shine
As 12 months go, 2015 has been nothing short of staggering for the aptly named electro-pop trio Years & Years. In the space of a year, the band – charismatic singer and erstwhile thespian Olly Alexander, bassist Mikey Goldsworthy and keyboardist Emre Turkmen – have gone from hotly-tipped pretenders to one of the UK’s most cherished acts.
– Hype talks to Yousef
They’ve been laden with awards, played an acclaimed set at Glastonbury and seen their debut album, Communion, top the album charts (a feat their track King, later covered by Carly Rae Jepsen, replicated in the single charts). And to top it all, their final gig of a magical year sees the lads touch down for their first ever show in the UAE, which should please the fans who’ve been clamouring to see Years & Years in Dubai. The Nasimi Beach concert, part of the Live@Atlantis series of shows, is unquestionably one of the hottest tickets around.
Yet, despite a seemingly meteoric rise from nowhere the band has actually been in operation since 2010. The final part of their career trajectory might have been as swift as it was steep, but the band, formed following Australian Goldsworthy’s move to London where he hooked up with Turkmen, have put in the hard yards.
‘I NEARLY PASSED OUT’
Justification – and most people’s first brush with the group – came when they were named as winners of the BBC’s coveted Sound of 2015 poll, the annual award voted for by music critics. Following in the footsteps of luminaries such as Adele, Sam Smith, Ellie Goulding and Keane (we’ll conveniently bypass Little Boots and Michael Kiwanuku), it gave them just the kickstart they needed at the beginning of the year. “I nearly passed out when we found out,” the flamboyant Alexander readily admitted to the BBC. “It was all so surreal and so emotional.”
It turns out the band wrongly assumed that James Bay would walk away with the prize. Not so. Which probably explains the shock Alexander alluded to. And the tears, don’t forget the tears. “But I cry quite a lot,” he told The Guardian. “Animals make me cry, or when there’s a little boy who’s overcome something, I cry.”
One thing that has made music fans cry when talk turns to the Sound of 2015 poll is the unfathomable sonic conservatism winning acts have retreated towards upon scooping the illustrious prize. It was something Years & Years were well aware of when it was put to them that Sam Smith, an artist they had toured with prior to winning their award, had become boring after his success the year before. “We’re going to try really hard not to be boring,” Alexander remarked to Popjustice at the time. “‘Not boring’ – we’re going to get it tattooed on ourselves. It will be the word boring with a line through it.”
Thankfully, they took heed of their own words. The album Communion was released in July, two weeks after their triumphant spot on the John Peel Stage at Glastonbury, and went straight to the top of the charts. A masterful concoction of soulful electronic pop, it was both melodic and energetic, the years spent listening to the likes of Stevie Wonder, Pet Shop Boys and The Beatles proving to be a solid investment.
Live, the music is transported closer to rave-like quality. On record their music has a polite New Order charm to it, but when the group get to see the whites of the crowd’s eyes, it’s as if the shackles have come off. Tracks like Shine, Ready For You and Desire really come alive with an infectious and luminous sheen. It helps that Alexander’s effortless charisma is so seductive. Audiences have regularly been reduced to tearful states of joy as the singer – all rakish angles and graceful poise – artfully works the crowd into ecstatic delirium.
THE ART OF OLLY
This is clearly where Alexander’s background as an actor comes into its own. Always a willful misfit while at school (“I used to go to classes with eyeliner, Chinese symbols on my face,” he told The Independent. “I suppose I wanted to forge an identity. I wanted to be different”), he found solace of some kind in drama lessons. He also happened to be good at transforming himself and inhabiting other people’s personas. He landed a part in the final series of the hit Channel 4 youth show, Skins, in the UK, and upon moving to London found himself starring in theatre productions alongside acting royalty Dame Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw. He also appeared in The Riot Club, last year’s adaptation of the play Posh, which details the outrageously decadent behaviour of supposedly refined young Oxford undergraduates and which may or may not have been based on the infamous antics of the Bullingdon Club.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t fulfilled. He has spoken of long months of inactivity as an actor holed up in his East London flat. Thankfully he wasn’t twiddling his thumbs. Moving closer and closer towards his true calling – music – he eventually joined forces with Goldsworthy and Turkmen.
Everything changed when two became three. Firstly, they found their true sound – “an analogue dance thing” apparently – and momentum was soon gained. The trio signed with hip French imprint Kitsuné, but still impatient for success Alexander pulled a masterstroke when it came to the video that would accompany their third single, Real.
Financed by Turkmen (he’s a trained architect and worked upon Brighton & Hove Albion’s impressive new stadium), the video had scope to do something fairly adventurous. But getting in Alexander’s buddy, the aforementioned Whishaw, to dance along hypnotically to the music was inspired. And so it came to pass that the James Bond star (he plays Q) and voice of Paddington strutted his funky stuff in the video that, unsurprisingly, went viral.
It came to the attention of Polydor, and the label, floored by the track’s swirling dancefloor moves, promptly signed the band. Job done. Fast-forward to the back end of 2015 and the band find themselves in the position that they have long craved. Which means their show at Live@Atlantis should be a joyous and celebratory occasion.
Not that Alexander won’t be second guessing every moment. “It’s weird,” he’s confided when asked about the reality of being a pop star. “I dreamt about this as a kid – being in a successful band – and so I suppose I’m living that dream right now. Thing is, I still feel exactly the same in myself as I did when I was having those dreams. What I mean is, it’s not like I’ve suddenly magically changed into this pop star. I’m still me.
“It’s nice to be acknowledged as part of a successful band but when people come up to me when I’m alone and they want to tell me how they feel about me… Well, I find that very difficult, awkward. I suppose I still feel undeserving of it.”
Years & Years fully deserve all the success they’ve achieved. Expect 2016 to be no different.
Nasimi Beach, Atlantis the Palm, Palm Jumeirah, Dubai, Fri 4pm to 3am, Dhs250 for early bird tickets, or Dhs295. Taxi: Atlantis The Palm. facebook.com/LiveatAtlantis