London future pop star Rachel Chinouriri’s journey to a headline slot at Hackney’s EartH has been a curious one. Having attended Croydon’s BRIT school, she was writing and recording music by herself before she was old enough to legally drink. After releasing her debut EP, Mama’s Boy, in 2019, she was signed by Parlophone, who released her sophomore Four° In Winter in 2021, and Better Off Without, which just came out on the 20th of May.
Although it might seem that major label backing is responsible for her success, stepping back and looking at the wider picture reveals several other moving parts. While she is gaining momentum, her popularity has not grown in the instantaneous way that most major label artists and industry plants do. Part of Chinouriri’s appeal is a keen sense for and commitment to social media – she is very active on Instagram and Twitter, and she broadcasts her unfiltered thoughts and reactions in a refreshing, personal way.
Her organic growth can also be ascribed in part to one of her songs, ‘So My Darling’, going viral on TikTok. But even this is no happy accident. The sound went viral after a TikTok of a lone guitarist playing the song was stitched by Chinouriri herself; she recorded the vocals on her phone with all the harmonies.
Monday’s EartH performance, which sold out only a few hours before she took the stage, was therefore a long time metaphorically coming. The auditorium was arranged in tiered wooden benches, with a standing area at the front, leaving ample space for everyone. This gave the whole room an intimate feel, which is decidedly challenging in a sold-out venue of EartH’s size – it holds up to 1200 people. Supporting were the relatively unknown Toni Sancho and Etta Marcus, and the crowd was in turn supportive. The show felt like a genuine opportunity for these artists to reach a wider audience.
Chinouriri’s performance itself was great. Her voice is in excellent form, and her unchoreographed shapes gave the impression she was just enjoying herself on stage. Her band are all withdrawn but proficient musicians – possibly session – and their understatement gave Chinouriri the physical and figurative space to run free.
The moodier tracks from the first two EPs were lived in, delivered with confidence and comfort. ‘Give Me A Reason’ was powerfully emotional, and she involved the very willing audience in a call-and-response rendition of ‘If Only’ (which is still stuck in my head). In between songs she often told a story about the origin of a song or shouted out a loved one in the audience: ‘So My Darling’ began life as a ‘platonic’ love song for a boy she had a crush on. This was at risk of feeling corny (and it was certainly soppy) but the execution felt closer to sweet authenticity than concerted cringe. I felt as if she was slightly creaking open a door to her life.
The new songs from Better Off Without were filled with joy, and a different kind of excitement came over Chinouriri when she played them. Disregarding the generic shift – the EP is far more poppy and less moody than the first two – the atmosphere of the room genuinely changed when she played them. Great things are on the horizon for Chinouriri, and Better Off Without has finally made the wider cultural world of mainstream music pay attention to her. This may be the last time she plays a London venue this small.
Check out the video ‘Happy Ending’ here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fzEp4pwYMaY
Rachel Chinouriri / Photography by Martina Martian
Cian Kinsella is a Classics teacher and part-time pub quizmaster living in London who is primarily interested in music but is also interested in theatre, literature, and visual arts. He is particularly intrigued by the relationship between art, criticism, and the capital forces always at play. Furthermore, he believes that subjectivity – which is ultimately at the heart of all artistic and cultural criticism – should not be concealed, but probed and perhaps even celebrated. Who decides what we like? How do they construct widely held beliefs about what is good? These are two of the questions Cian looks to address.