This was no normal gig. The crowd, queued up eagerly around the Scala well before the doors opened, might have stepped off an alienesque catwalk, part Milan, part Mars. Stunning styles, lined up en masse, made for an incongruous sight in down-at-heel Kings Cross. The event they’d come to witness was no less remarkable.
Sweden’s Olof Dreijer and Karin Dreijer Andersson, the brother and sister duo that is The Knife, were to play their only UK show this year in support of third album Silent Shout. This being no normal gig, there was no support, leaving a DJ to play suitable electronica as a Eurobabble of German, Swedish and Italian talk rose up from the audience. A gause screen had been placed between the stage and the floor, behind which it was difficult to make out definite forms of instruments.
Olof and Karin slunk on to the stage and remained in semi-darkness in capes and masks that seemed part carnevale and part freak show. The masks, with extended cheeks and beaks and sunken eye sockets, seemed designed with the intention of creating shadows, shapes and impressions, downlit by green illumination as scarcely human at all. As Olof set about playing percussion, including steel drums, and Karin boogied her way around the stage taunting with extraordinary and heavily morphed vocals that turned her into various characters, male and female, the third star of the evening began his work.
Andreas Nilsson’s visuals, projected onto the back wall and the intervening gauze, created a strange, unsettling world of mazes, psychedelic dreamscapes and freak-formed band members, mouthing along the vocodered backing vocal tracks while blinking sadly and not quite solidly at us, before morphing into animal skulls. Inside all of this, completely part of it, were Olof and Karin. Consequently this was no normal gig – more a live action film of a Victorian-futuristic freak show about apocalypse, crossed with an art exhibition. That rare thing – something new, something not seen before, was unfolding before our delighted, disbelieving eyes. This was an electrocultist gig, of dark sounds and darker thoughts, far removed from either electropop or, for that matter, anything else.
The entirety of Silent Shout was aired, along with Heartbeats, The Knife’s song popularised by fellow Swede Jose González, to which whoops from the crowd were heard. Just a couple of times the trancey synth sounds threatened to give way to all-out dancing before hauling back into the shadows. Neverland and Forest Families especially got toes tapping, but dancing was never part of the equation for this event, billed entirely correctly as “an audio visual experience”.
Says Nilsson of his creation: “Karin and Olof will be placed in an altering video-landscape between solid and transparent images. These images will content-wise bring forth the mood that is the ordinary and the simple, but at the same time with an underlying subliminal feeling of that which we run from.” The unified vision of the musicians and visual artist had created an indelible memory. Not only had they raised the bar stratospheric for any electronic act, but they’d thrown down the gauntlet to every live music artist regardless of genre.
Less than an hour after they arrived, they departed to their shadowy, futuristic, freakishly delicious world without encore, leaving a bewildered, amazed, stunned audience desperate for more. We didn’t want to run away from this most beautiful of experiences. The Knife had tonight produced that rare thing – a completely unique live music experience that will be talked about for years to come by those of us lucky enough to have witnessed it.