Sweden’s petite DIY electropop princess Robyn Carlsson makes some sizeable claims on her recent eponymous, self-released album. She’s invented the cure for Aids. She has a tetris score of two gazillion. She split the atom. She’s Jackie Chan’s stunt double. Those American rappers, full of bullet holes all, have no patch on her. She’s an icon of her own making and, tonight at Dingwalls, she sets about convincing that her self-hype is merely statement of fact.
The packed and partisan audience looks nothing like the usual haunters of this venerable Camden dive. There are gays by the tonne, vested up and toned, singing along to the lyrics of songs new and old. And lesbian decoy Robyn doubles, collected together in gaggles of peroxide-barneted bounciness, shaking their hair like they really do care. Their heroine is on stage and, with shrieks of “ROBYYYYYYYYYN!” every few miniutes, they make it clear that they love her.
As well they might. The little bundle of energy centre stage is leaking charisma, for her perfectly formed frame is too small to hold it all in. During next single With Every Heartbeat she sticks her fist up her white vest and cartoon-pounds her heart. It’s a vivid and confident display that she knows where she’s at, and she quite likes it.
Before all that she’s introduced us to her band; two complete drumkits are augmented by electric drums for Robyn herself, and a keys-and-backing-tracks pod showcasing a Yamaha DX series synth. One of the drummers switches from drums to guitar during a set that is packed with prime pop moments and is bereft of any filler. This from a lady who’s released her own pop record on her own label – in 2005 in Sweden and, finally, this year in the UK. Her disputes with her erstwhile major label must seem like a long time ago. Robyn looks, sings and struts like a debut artist, albeit one with a decade of experience at this kind of thing.
The hip-pop signature piece Konichiwa Bitches gets a big cheer, with the audience loving lyrics like: “Cumming in your mouth, make you say yum yum”. It’s saucy, sexy, sassy – and unashamedly gay friendly. Her collaboration with The Knife, Who’s That Girl, is a riot of drumsticks as Robyn nonchalantly smashes her electric drums in between tossing her peroxide fringe from side to side. Be Mine’s synthetic sound still manages to stir emotions as well as move feet with its melding of regretful, end-of-affair lyrics and two-step beats. Only with the poignant Eclipse does she let the set pause for a breather, as the gays shhhh the lesbians and eventually something like revered quiet is established.
Bum Like You and Crash And Burn Girl continue the electropop exhiliration, the latter sounding like it wants to be a single with some kick-ass remixes hanging off the back of it. In anyone else’s set, Robot Boy would be a highlight – here it’s just another finely crafted pop gem amongst a diamond mine.
There’s space in the encore for some oldies from her major label days. One of the evening’s best receptions is reserved for her 1997 UK top 10 hit Show Me Love – 10 years on it still sounds like a masterclass in radio-friendly songwriting, but the tracks that make up her new album – tonight and on record – better it by some distance. Cobrastyle is a riot – Robyn as revolutionary leader of the new republic, exuding energy, infecting her audience with it. Later, several gig-goers would be overheard telling how Robyn looked at them. She has conversations with them, just with her eyes. She inspires.
A second encore brings out the guitarist and his muse for one last song. It’s Be Mine again, this time stripped of its electronica and beats, giving it a completely different sheen. The message is clear to the A&R types in attendance – this lady can and does do anything, and never less than well. Expect the majors to circle for her signature all over again – but this time, on her terms.