As FLO walk on stage at central London’s HERE at Outernet, the air feels hot and heavy with anticipation from the audience squeezed inside a clearly oversubscribed room, but with it a sense of mild anxiety. How is this group – who are yet to play a headline gig – going to live up to the supersized expectations bestowed upon them?
- READ MORE: FLO: “We hope anybody who hears our music – especially young Black girls – gets our message”
With only a handful of songs to their name, vocalists Stella Quaresma, Jorja Douglas and Renée Downer’s trajectory as FLO has unfurled with an intensity and pace unlike any other emerging act in recent years. In the 12 months since they debuted with breakout single ‘Cardboard Box’, the London stars have become BRIT Rising Star winners, worked with their hero Missy Elliott and built a global fanbase that reveres their forward-thinking vision. In their recent NME 100 cover feature, FLO alluded to the Olympic-style nature of rehearsals for tonight: treadmills were ordered for intense vocal training, and they worked with a live band to ensure every minuscule detail of their show was up to scratch.
This is FLO’s chance, then, to truly stake their claim as R&B’s newest, brightest hope. The pressure certainly seems like it’s on their minds when the pulverising beats of ‘Not My Job’ kick in, complete with huge, eye-spinning blasts of laser lights. The crowd’s roar doubles in decibels when they seamlessly transition into the self-empowering ‘Immature’, before the atmospherics of ‘Control Freak’ are heightened by an electric guitar solo.
Prior to the latter, the group pretend to consider playing some unreleased material, yet they are too resolute in their practised performance to leave the next setlist decision to the fans. Where you’d hope FLO would try to carve out some intimacy, their set is largely a juggernaut of production and choreography, with no leeway for them to do anything spontaneous. Their slick, focused determination feels like a match to this newly-opened venue, an almost freakishly clean and modern venue where punters can stand before large screens if they are unable to see the stage. Yet when the livestream falters during a cover of Jamelia’s ‘Superstar,’ one fan reacts with such genuine, brilliant outrage you’d think that someone had instead pulled the plug on the entire show.
In the brief moments where FLO break away from their routine, we see flashes of their humour and exuberant personalities. They practically swoon through ‘Summertime’, sublime and adoring, while Downer climbs octaves until you start to fear that her lungs are about to pop out of their chest. Douglas offers gunfingers every time her bandmates hit a stunning high note throughout a slow, sensual ‘Feature Me’; afterwards, when she and Quaresma accidentally shout “give it up for the band” at the same time, they break into laughter. It’s hard to imagine a more upbeat crowd too; FLO-branded merch bags in hand, they snap their manicured fingers in excitement and ask a roaming videographer to capture their diamante-embellished outfits.
FLO are always admirably on point, laying down each set piece with a nerdish level of care. The group wrap up with a gorgeously, purposefully pared down rendition of ‘Cardboard Box’, doubling down on the notion that stars of their magnitude understand when their own brightness might eclipse the thing they’ve set out to achieve.
‘Not My Job’
‘Superstar’ (Jamelia cover)