At the end of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy wholeheartedly exclaims: “You have bewitched me, body and soul”. That phrase might do my reaction to The Last Dinner Party justice. The five-piece band blurs the lines between reality and fantasy by embroidering a romantically gothic aesthetic onto theatrical soundscapes. My first encounter with their almost ceremonial live performance awoke something primordial within me. Seeing a band of women and non-binary people follow their deepest instincts against all social conventions and translate that into music, overwhelmed me with a sense of freedom and belonging. “I think it’s specifically a feminist statement,” nods Abigail Morris, lead singer of the band, when I share my perspective as a member of the audience. At the concert, a newly found sense of freedom washed over me: how could I, until this day, call myself liberated, when I had never felt the euphoria only the last chorus of “Nothing Matters” could unleash?
The musicians conjuring such strong emotions are Abigail Morris, Lizzie Mayland, Emily Roberts, Georgia Davies, and Aurora Nishevci. After meeting at university and exploring the South Londoner music scene, the five artists came together to make music as The Last Dinner Party. They describe their sound as “baroque pop” and oscillate between bravery and shamelessness. This translates to the live shows. Cultivating an emotional bond with their audience, the band’s iconic songs quickly cast a spell on the music scene. The band says: “When we are performing, it’s this very primal, euphoric kind of state of being that eventually translates into the audience.”
Matching their explosive live shows, the band’s debut album is called Prelude to Ecstasy. The record plays with the concepts of holy and profane: Church bells and choirs pave the way to biblical references and divine characters, while the band’s lyrics are soaked with references to, what the Catholic church would consider, sinful behaviour (“Picture me in bed, under your crucifix, under you long black hair”). For The Last Dinner Party music is a way of reflecting on how attending Catholic school involuntarily may have shaped their identities. Abigail says: “I wouldn’t call myself Catholic. But I grew up going to a Catholic school. So, of course, this imagery and culture is something that accompanied me. I can’t deny that now.” Regardless of how much they may dissociate from the church and institutions of religion today, it remains part of their formative experience growing up. “I take comfort in some aspects of it [Catholic imagery and culture] because I relate it to my childhood,” Abigail continues.
The internal conflict that comes with that is challenging. Having been surrounded by Catholic values and imagery during childhood and puberty, exploring sexuality and reckoning with queerness is difficult. The band members had to ask themselves: Where does religious belief end, and one’s identity start? How can you understand who you are, if the environment around you prevents you from finding your truest self? Today, music has become a way of combining themes like lesbian love and sex. What prevails is biblical imagery.
“I like using biblical imagery, lyrically and visually, to talk about emotions. Those are my reference points to explain how I feel. For example, being in love, to me, sometimes feels like Joan of Arc being burned at the stake. But Christian references are a contentious thing to use these days. I’m certainly not an ambassador for the Catholic church. In fact, none of us agree with a lot of what it does and says.”
– Abigail Morris
To contrast the Catholic symbols, Prelude to Ecstasy offers songs like “Sinner” and “My Lady of Mercy”, where lust takes control of the religious metaphor (“Pray for me, kneel with me / Soak in the crystal stream / Wash the sin from your back / Cleanse my soul, make me whole”). Handling themes that the Catholic church repudiates, The Last Dinner Party confess to finding biblical allegory and mythology “an extremely useful tool” to discuss one’ emotions, traumas, and sexual preferences. “Throughout history, religion and sex have been inexorably connected. The Catholic church is so preoccupied with sex, so obsessed with it”, explains Abigail, “It’s one of the frictions of art”.
Sounds and Influences
Prelude to Ecstasy contains a full range of orchestral tracks, in which every instrument carefully crafts a feeling, writing different paragraphs within the same story. Meticulous layers of references and sounds make The Last Dinner Party a particularly unique emerging band. There is the ethereal and fragile “Beautiful Boy” and the loud and triumphant “Cesar On A TV Screen”. The band’s keyboardist Aurora Nishevci explains that the songwriting process is dynamic and starts with all of them playing around at the studio.
With Arctic Monkeys producer James Ford by their side, the band merged a series of musical inspirations into their body of work. Every song can be broken down into tiny musical quotes. They reference Elton John in the keyboard sound of “Nothing Matters” and hint at Queen’s triumphant attitude in “Cesar On A TV Screen”. The Last Dinner Party create a maze of captivating melodies, familiar and brand new, through which the audience can enter a new reality.
What Comes After a Prelude?
Prelude to Ecstasy ends on “Mirror”. The song’s majestic sense of doom resembles the grandeur typical of artists like Anna Calvi. Lyrically, The Last Dinner Party investigate one’s sense of identity by singing: “I’m just a mirror / Break my glass to fix your heart / I’m just a mirror / Pretty glass, an empty heart / I’m just a mirror / I don’t exist without your gaze”. The album fades out on the repetition of the line “I fade away” and an instrumental outro that leaves me wondering what comes next. The Last Dinner Party let go of the hand of the listener they guided through the record and lead them toward the unknown.
“Those few seconds at the end of the song are an immediate death and rebirth. It is about reaching for something and opening up to whatever comes next. What comes next? We don’t know yet, but we are excited.”
A Prelude to Ecstasy could only be followed by ecstasy itself, or could it…?
Prelude To Ecstasy is out now via Universal Music. You can listen to it right here.