Biig Piig is the stage name for Jessica Smyth. She was born in Ireland, lived in Spain for much of her childhood and moved to west London in her teens. Her music began as a jazzy hip hop fusion, but dance and pop elements have increasingly featured. I first came across her music early in the first lockdown in 2020, when I was listening to Lauren Laverne’s Recommends show on BBC 6 Music late one night. The track she played was called Switch. It was a catchy piece of indie with electronic beats rather than guitars. It had a great refrain: I had a dream, I was learning, then your love took it from me. I checked it out on Spotify, put it on my Heard on 6 Music playlist, and played it more than anything else for a while.
It was only in July that year when I properly explored the other music that she’d made. I’d put everything she’d done onto a playlist and listened to it during a walk through Green Park, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. The sun was shining and we were free to go walking where we liked again. It felt good, even if the world around us was a very uncertain place. And the music of Biig Piig that day suited my mood perfectly: enjoying life’s simple pleasures, appreciating nature, but still wishing for better times. There were three EPs, from 2019 and 20, imbued with that languid hip hop beat, and Jessica’s dreamy, rather wistful tones: Big Fan of the Sesh, A World Without Snooze and No Place for Patience. I played them all twice as I walked through the parks. The beats were familiar – there was certainly some Erykah Badu in there – but one thing that distinguished the music was that Jessica often sang part of the songs in Spanish, the language of her childhood. The tracks Roses and Gold, Shh, Vete and Perdida were outstanding examples. In Perdida she was, well, lost: I just wanna lay here, smoke my cig and drink my wine, I just wanna lay here, until my hurting’s done.
After those EPs, the music became more upbeat, first with Switch and then Don’t Turn Around, which felt very summery. Oh No and Liahr had a touch of Billie Eilish about them and Feels Right was full-on pop. In 2021 The Sky is Bleeding EP combined trip hop with something close to rock in American Beauty; while the excellent 405, a collaboration with Metronomy, sounded like, well, Metronomy. This year the dance beats have kicked in for real, with Fun and Kerosene and the latest offering This is What They Meant, which could be Kylie.
All of which set us up nicely for the gigs at Hoxton Hall. Both sold out quickly, but I managed to get a couple of tickets in the presale. As long as I’d been aware of her music, Biig Piig hadn’t performed much live, so I was intrigued to know how she would come across on the stage. And would she just focus on her newer material with a few upcoming tunes thrown in? Well, from the moment she sauntered onto the stage in a fog of dry ice and blaze of lights, and began to dance, you just knew it was going to be good. Sensationally good, in fact. I enjoy most of the concerts I go to, in many different ways. But this one, it was just pure joy. So upbeat, confident, celebratory. So much energy. Sumptuous beats, languid when they needed to be, ramping up the bpms when she started to rock. She was accompanied by a multi-instrumentalist – keys, sax, guitar, bass – and a conventional drummer. It worked a treat: the sound was just right, allowing Jessica’s sultry voice to work with the groove and compete with the louder breaks. I was pleased to hear a few of my old jazzy favourites, like Roses and Gold, Shh (I think) and Perdida. Jessica gave a spiel before Perdida about how she had been at a low ebb and unsure about releasing music, but gave it a go and it came good. The message being that if you have something to share, do it. The worst outcome will be indifference. Those lyrics to Perdida had a lot of resonance with the crowd.
The poppier singles really sounded good in the live environment, with plenty of hooks for the audience to join in with. And towards the end the beats per minutes started to accelerate. We were in drum and bass territory. One highlight – it had to be – was Switch. Not a typical Biig Piig sound, but a clear favourite with the crowd, who chanted along to the chorus as Jessica leapt around on stage. The set finished with Feels Right – and yes, it felt very right indeed. I didn’t really know what to expect tonight. I had quite high hopes, but this was something else. Yes, sensational was the word as I texted a few friends after the show.
Another concert in London is already planned, at Electric Brixton on 23 March next year. A much bigger venue, and clearly merited. It’s part of a short UK tour; she’s playing Ireland and some European gigs as well. I’ve got my ticket already!
More photos. I had a nice position at the back of the balcony with a largely unimpeded view, so have plenty to share this time.