fri 19/07/2024

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

The Knife: Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer... or is it Olof Dreijer and Karin Dreijer Andersson?Alexa Vachon

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.

Visit Kieron Tyler’s blog

Watch The Knife discuss Shaking the Habitual


I get it, I can see that they're doing something different and I can see why, but I didn't like it.

A massive disappointment, utterly unsatisfying and sometimes just outright embarassing. So many people were unhappy after the show. A troupe of lamé clad dancers in place of an actual musical performance and the absurd 'mc' who attempted to engage the audience with sleazy 'aerobics' just seemed insulting. The spectacle of the Silent Shout and Fever Ray shows was something special, this just felt like cheap (expensive for us) amateur dramatics.

There's been a lot of comment about this show. I did like it and had fun, experiencing it as a spectacle. It was not Fever Ray, which blew me away. Agreed, the pre-show aerobics thing was stupid and space did not allow mentioning it. I heard views on leaving. One man said he would tell his friend going tomorrow (ie tonight - Thursday) to sell his tickets. Another chap said (I wrote it down as it was so pithy) "If I was there to see a stage show, I want to see a stage show, not a half-arsed stage show". A woman running for the bus said "fxxxing amazing." But I do wonder if there is a diminishing returns thing here - the more the nature of this show is known about, the less people will want to see it on the tour?

The show was the emperor's new clothes, but with sonic threads. No critic wants to point it out and go 'but they're not doing anything!' because oh, it's so conceptual. It isn't, it's just pretentious and lazy.

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