"Karin shouldn't be performing in some tarp contraption that can be erected and dismantled in a day -- she should be performing at the altar of an obsidian marble church, preferably while levitating." -- Alexis Petridis, LA Times
Karin Dreijer Andersson is the enigmatic high mistress of electro-pop. Hailing from Sweden she embodies all of the mysterious elements of her homeland, particularly the feelings that come with 6 months of darkness. She has a morbid obsession with the morose, often performing with cut up nylons over her face along side vague clowns and giant insects shrouded in the vapor of dry ice. Her particular brand of theatrical goth punk, multilayered manipulated vocals and haunting stage work have captivated audiences in every corner of the globe. The critical acclaim seems endless, and both the industry and the fans are inescapably mesmerized by the unbreakable fortress of mystery that surrounds her. She has famously hidden her identity since she began making music with her brother Olof in 1999. The Dreijer siblings approach music in a way that entirely opposes all of the industry's current requirements for success: they've effectively blurred out their personal lives, making music that gives no consideration to its source, and in doing so they have shunned the press almost entirely, rarely granting interviews -- but when they do the topics are strictly work related. Fever Ray is Karin's stage name, an all encompassing alter ego who takes the stage hidden behind elaborate costumes, a tradition that she and Olof began with their dance duo The Knife. With popular culture seemingly more interested in who an artist slept with the night before rather than the work that they create it is bizarre, in the best possible way, that Fever Ray has achieved such a serious level of success. In an industry of over exposure, Fever Ray leaves us begging for more.
Pass It On - The Knife (kind of impossible to stop watching.)
[caption id="attachment_6933" align="aligncenter" width="619" caption="Karin & Olof"]
If I Had a Heartbeat - Fever Ray
It started in 1999. Well technically 1994. Karin helped form the indie rock group Honey is Cool, a far cry from her current endeavors. Some years later she linked up with her brother Olof and began the experiment synth//dance pop duo The Knife. It took a while, but they reached international attention with their song Heartbeat after it was covered by Jose Gonzalez on his 2003 album. A cover song, a Sony commercial and a large lump sum later, everything was put into motion on a massive scale. Karin never had any interest in performing, absolutely refusing to do so until coerced into it in 2006 -- a whole seven years since inception. As they began to book shows, the response was incredible. They faced sold-out venues the world round but did not allow this to increase their exposure. They devoutly concealed themselves, performing behind screens or while wearing black masks with beaks. They both consider it paramount to let the music stand on its own, not tainted by the identity or propensities of the source. Karin explains
, "Music has the potential and the capability to be completely free, to do anything. And I think you limit that idea when you put yourself in front of it." Identity is a theme that rushes through all of her work, both with The Knife as well as with Fever Ray. She likens her music career to that of an actress, with her music as a stage persona.
This idea of transformation is found deeply entrenched in her vocal work. Her songs more often than not feature her voice manipulated all the way from high to low -- shrill shrieking to deep, haunting tones. Since both she and Olof would be completely hidden by their costumes when performing, it was almost impossible to tell who was singing what. People would attribute the deeper tones to Olof, but frequently it would be Karin. With both identity and gender entirely blurred, The Knife allowed for the two of them to disappear behind the music. They were able to erase themselves for a few moments in time. With Fever Ray, since it is only Karin performing, she is unable to completely disappear but still is able to play with identity. She is fascinated by the concept of authenticity. When discussing the heavy manipulation placed on vocals she claims
, "I already know what my voice sounds like, so I think it's much more interesting to treat it as an instrument and treat it the same way I treat other instruments." It is so interesting to see a musical artist this determined to present just the music -- like David Bowie in the '70s, Karin has found a way to let her work transcend her self, going beyond to reach an experimental place where she makes all the rules.
The Knife was a dance pop duo with dark undertones, but Fever Ray has that haunting element as its foundation. This is clear in the music, but is most apparent in the accompanying stage performances. Andrea Nilsson, a visual artist and her longtime collaborator, is responsible for the dark, dreamy and sometimes nightmarish presentations. Costumes are welcome, screens and//or fog are a must, and if her face is not obscured by a mask there will certainly be some face paint involved. With many adults claiming to be intimidated by the shows, it is endearing to read about Karin bringing her two daughters, age 3 and 6, along. She says they enjoy being backstage and painting their faces alongside the band. They understand it all to be fun, and are never afraid. With all of the dark and morbid elements that Karin presents, it's weird to find out the few bits and pieces that we know about the real her. She is a happily married mother of two, who incorporates many themes of new motherhood into her albums. She is kind and soft spoken in person, speaking with a disarmingly thick Swedish accent. She openly raves about her favorite show: Miami Vice (especially the 1st season). This only goes to show how effectively she's removed herself from the music. She's a happy little lady but she explains
, "I'm not good at making very happy tracks about nonsense. It's quite normal to do songs about love, but there is no such song on my album." We consider music to be an expression of the inner workings of an individual, but for Karin she is working to express the feelings of many different alter egos all of which are vague and blurred and leave us with a mile long trail of unanswered questions. The dark soundscapes she creates do not seem to have a place within her, at least not in a straightforward way that would be expected with such in your face morbidity as is seen in her music and performances. She has achieved the great escape -- against all odds, she has managed to elude the life of a famous person, while still being famous.
Seven - Fever Ray (a rare instance of her natural vocals)
Dry & Dusty - Fever Ray
In her career long circumvention of the media Karin, as well as Olof, has still managed to achieve hardcore critical acclaim -- even without the public appearances, intrusive interviews and awkward press events. The Swedish music industry abhors the Dreijer media avoidance, especially seeing as they are the darling children of the music scene. The Knife was nominated for numerous Grammi awards (Sweden's version of the
Grammys) and boycotted each and every award ceremony. In 2003 they were nominated for Best Record of the Year and Pop Group, and in winning the latter they assigned two members of the Guerilla Girls to go in their place, accepting the award with large 50s on their chests in protest of the music industry's male domination. In 2007 they won all 6 categories for which they were nominated -- Composer, Music DVD, Producer, Pop Group, Album and Artist of the Year -- and again did not show up. In yet another instance, they won again and sent ahead an acceptance video that muffled their voices and digitally altered their faces to appear old. Their refusal to cooperate has sent the media into a tizzy -- leaving journalists to often take off handed personal comments and blow them up in significance. One such journalist decided that since the siblings had commented that their family were "outcasts" in Gothenberg where they grew up because they did not play tennis, this meant that the root of the isolation described in the music was childhood feelings of alienation. Must be.
Heartbeats - The Knife
The Knife disbanded after seven years together, claiming they just needed some space and that the separation was a natural and necessary occurrence. Both of them ventured out into solo experiments -- Olof performs as DJ Coolof and Oni Ayhun and of course Karin as Fever Ray. Her music has been described as brooding, bleak, claustrophobic, creepy and forbidding and The Guardian
claims her performances are some of the most disturbing to date. Like a "techno druid"
she takes the stage in all black clothing and ghastly face paint releasing ghastly vocals -- it is always a beautiful and unusual presentation, even if the audience is left a bit uneasy. Her disappearance into the music and performance can also serve as a source of uneasiness to the viewer, but that only adds to the mystique of Fever Ray, leaving the audience inextricably intrigued. And it's hard to get a straight answer out of her on what it's all about. She told The Guardian
in 2009, "my music is a bit of everything." She will not be pinned down and you're totally missing the point if you think you'll ever figure her out.