The Knife, Roundhouse | reviews, news & interviews
The Knife, Roundhouse
The Knife, Roundhouse
Sweden’s art-dance electro-tricksters turn the idea of a live show inside out
Nine people are on stage. Male and female. None is singing. All are dancing. No instruments are being played. For a 20-minute, three-song segment of Swedish art-dance electro-tricksters The Knife’s London show the sound was of a live concert, but nothing else was. Then, for “Networking”, the stage emptied and the music continued. All that was left were lights beaming into the audience.
Expectations were always going to be confounded by this ever-challenging sibling duo, but in presenting the show following the release of Shaking the Habitual as an experience rather than a gig, The Knife took on one of the prime covenants of the bargain made between performer and audience. Until “Stay Out Here”, the 90-minute set’s penultimate song, it wasn’t clear which of the nine were Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer, who are The Knife. Any of the assembled could have been singing. At some points, nobody was yet Karin Dreijer Andersson's voice was heard. Those in front of the stage at the Roundhouse had no idea who they were seeing. Unlike a dance music communion, there was no DJ to focus on. The woman behind the sound desk could have been as integral to what was heard coming from the stage as anyone on it.
With 'Bird', the scene shifted to a rave on the ice cap
As purposely disorienting as this was, it was also wonderful. Of the 13 songs in the set, eight were drawn from Shaking the Habitual. Older material included “Silent Shout” – the closer – and “Bird”, from their debut album.
Appropriately, considering the mind games to come, it began challengingly with Shaking the Habitual’s “Cherry on Top”. A koto sounded as though it was being detuned. Then it was plucked. The fog horns of distant ships sounded. A walrus bellowed. Deep – very deep – double bass rumbled. Karin Dreijer Andersson sang. It coalesced into a musical evocation of a snowstorm. Then, with “Bird”, the scene shifted to a rave on the ice cap.
The dancing began. The percussion being shaken or hit was abandoned and the electronic saxophone put to one side. Forming a line, the cast – which is what they were – unified West Side Story’s Sharks and Jets, and circled an imaginary maypole. It was pure performance, and the moves mesmerised.
Just as Shaking the Habitual had been, the live experience was accompanied by a mission statement. “We, The Knife, will be performing live. We will be there, on stage, all seven of us, sometimes all 10 of us, or even more. Things, ideas, concepts have been tried, tested, discarded, evolved, perfected and discarded again. We have put on our glitter, we are ready to sparkle. We are building a place, a scene, a moment. But the blocks aren't set, the pieces move. We slip and slide around it, under it, above. Shaking our habitat.”
But the spectacle served the music, wherever it was coming from. Karin Dreijer Andersson’s keening voice furthers the impression that The Knife have created a form of ritual for their return to the world’s stages after more than five years away.
It’s not only The Knife’s habitat being shaken. When “Silent Shout” finished, it segued seamlessly into Hannah Holland’s DJ set. It wasn’t obvious that they were gone. Even when they were on stage, it hadn’t been obvious if they were actually there. As the tour progresses this year, comfort zones will be out and it’s the audience's habitat which will be shaken.
Watch The Knife discuss Shaking the Habitual
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?