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070 Shake Live Review: Unleashing Melancholic Euphoria At Melbourne's Northcote Theatre

26 July 2023 | 9:44 am | Cyclone Wehner

The Dominican-American rapper, singer and queer icon captivated fans at Melbourne's Northcote Theatre on Saturday, July 22.

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070 Shake (aka Danielle Balbuena) isn't as big as she should be. But the New Jersey art-rapper revels in the idiosyncratic.

She largely avoids social media and rarely grants interviews – not even promoting her fleeting inaugural Australian run as part of Splendour In The Grass.

Regrettably, Balbuena is famed more for her relationships (she's currently dating Lily-Rose Depp) than music. Curiously, she doesn't tour with a band but rather a live PA. Still, on stage, Balbuena is riveting, reaffirming her cult status. Like Lana Del Rey, she exists in her own sphere with fans and her shows are all heightened emotions.

The Dominican-American rapper, singer and queer icon generated initial buzz as the anchor of the 070 hip-hop posse prior to being championed by the artist formerly known as Kanye West. She participated in Ye's mythic Wyoming Sessions in 2018.

Balbuena has since worked closely with Houston's Mike Dean, super-producer and 'Synth God'. In 2020 she debuted on Ye's GOOD Music with Modus Vivendi, perfecting her goth, synthwave and trap aesthetic.

Indeed, Balbuena is as much a sonic auteur as James Blake. Last June she followed with the maximalist You Can't Kill Me (YCKM), which, while receiving rave reviews, was similarly slept-on commercially.

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Between projects, Balbuena has enjoyed high-profile features. She graced Swedish House Mafia's (not wholly convincing) EDM Lifetime alongside Ty Dolla $ign as well as RAYE's mega-hit Escapism and latterly was all over Christine And The Queens' album PARANOÏA, ANGELS, TRUE LOVE.

The Brit dance phenom Fred again.. also sampled the Modus Vivendi single Nice To Have for the viral Danielle (smile on my face). This year Balbuena joined Coachella, throwing a party.

After Splendour on Friday, Balbuena played her premiere Antipodean headlining show in the hipster enclave of Northcote in Melbourne – promoters newly enamoured with the ornate Northcote Theatre, a heritage cinema that reopened as a live venue in 2022.

The best supports provide contrast. Melbourne's Lithe specialises in dark, tempo-shifting, Auto-Tune-driven trap'n'B redolent of Beyoncé's Drunk In Love, only with occasional neo-soulish keys – and he recently aired the EP Rest Assured (and performed at the nearby Northcote Social Club). He was possibly too obvious a choice stylistically for 070 Shake, however, Lithe's 30-minute slot was met with an ebullient response, his 2020 song Blue Pills standing out.

070 Shake hit the stage around nine, the theatre packed with fans and the energy palpable.

It's unusual that an artist of Balbuena's stature, and sonic ambition, has such a bare production – the star performing to backing tracks with no DJ, let alone live musicians, and no visuals.

But, somehow, she creates intensity with her Auto-Tuned vocalising and mercurial presence – and the set didn't feel reproductive. The venue's lighting complemented the experience, bathing Balbuena in blue.

Balbuena's setlist spanned her catalogue – the vocalist opening, and closing, with her reclaiming two Ye collabs, the first Violent Crimes. She launched early into History – the romantic, if dramatic, YCKM cut revealing a novel drum 'n' bass twist.

Balbuena's recorded music is existentialist – and solitary. But, for all that media reticence, live, the American interacts with the crowd – her speeches are intimate, optimistic and affecting as she extolled mindfulness and being present.

Balbuena expressed her incredulity at travelling so far with her music. "Life is so precious," she said at one point. "It's so beautiful to be alive right now." It was like real-time gratitude journalling. The audience gave back, too, singing along to all the songs.

Balbuena revisited day one faves, among them the title track from 2018's Glitter EP – briefly halting to check in on a crowd member's welfare – and, later, 2016's piano house anomaly Honey.

Balbuena's music can be surprisingly dancey. Vibrations, off YCKM, was transformed into a club banger. Then her cover of In The Pines, a traditional Appalachian number typically associated with Lead Belly and Nirvana, was peculiarly bouncy. A meta Balbuena also reimagined the otherwise ruminative Nice To Have by incorporating Fred again..'s Danielle – the venue erupting into a rhapsodic disco.

Balbuena lately shared the tracklist for her upcoming third album on TikTok, only to delete it. Regardless, she's consistently performed some of those new songs. Balbuena introduced the hooky Black Dress, ironically stating, "It's not out yet so it's just for your ears," despite the lyrics having been previously transcribed on Genius. She also previewed Elephant, again apparently already a fan hit.

Balbuena's soul salon never felt dull – although there were peaks such as the epic Under The Moon and sensuous Blue Velvet, YCKM's noir ode teasing a rhumba. The audience welcomed Cocoon, with its pulsating beats, and the '80s throwback bop Guilty Conscience (remixed by the Aussie Tame Impala). Balbuena concluded with the anthemic outro of Ye's Ghost Town – and didn't return for an encore, preserving her mystique.

Alas, the notable song she excluded was the exhilarating Modus Vivendi single Morrow.

Balbuena remains an enigma in an industry of expectations. But, in celebrating collective memory as much as lamenting the ephemerality of living, her unadorned show was one to cherish – coasting on melancholic euphoria.