REVIEW: The Knife, Brixton Academy

Last night the arthouse Swedish electro phenomenon that is The Knife hit Brixton’s O2 Academy. Our arts editors find a bewitching cacophony of strange sounds and big ideas.

Photo by Terri Loewenthal
Photo by Terri Loewenthal

Fans of The Knife’s unique brand of Nordic electronica gathered in the Academy for what is supposedly the band’s final tour before they break up. Or is this just another trick from the subversive group?

First off, we should confess: we’re massive fans of The Knife. Having come to their music seven years ago, we’ve been following them since, and went to see the first round of the Shaking The Habitual tour in May 2013 at The Roundhouse. To see The Knife on our own turf – well, it was a treat.

The ticket said the usual ‘plus Special Guests’, but anyone expecting an upcoming band handpicked by The Knife would have been disappointed. The warm-up act was a gender-neutral aerobics instructor encouraging people to shake all the parts of their body and stroke their neighbour whilst chanting – “I am not a man, I am not a woman, I am both, I am neither.”

Immediately after our aerobics session, The Knife appeared onstage. All eleven of them. “Wait, I thought there were only two of them,” we heard someone behind us say in confusion. Throughout this tour, in their dedication to subverting expectations, The Knife may have confused away some of their fan base, as they have gone from being a brother-sister duo to a large dance collective. But once you accept the latter as the show you’re seeing, you’re on your way to enjoying a unique blend of music, dance and politics. If you can’t, you just spend the whole gig trying to spot the ‘real’ musicians.

Photo by Ruth Waters
Photo by Ruth Waters

The gig got off to a moody start with downbeat and eerie ‘Wrap Your Arms Around Me’, one of the most accessible tracks from Shaking the Habitual. The song is profoundly depressing and beautiful, but its deep melancholy swathes of bass were especially disconcerting after our aerobics workout. The more upbeat tempo of the next few tracks, all from Shaking the Habitual, got the audience going and they went wild for ‘Pass This On‘, a song from the Knife’s 2003 album Deep Cuts.

The sounds the Knife include in their music make for a rich and sometimes raucous mix. Electric saxophones squeal with pain, whilst metal crashes on metal over tribal drumming and a heart-stopping bass line, made for writhing and grinding. Hints of other fan-favourite tracks tantalized the audience, but were never heard in their entirety.

With the dance troupe constantly swapping roles,  each playing instruments, singing and dancing, the show is an exhausting maze of mistaken identity, but one which if you let it flow over you, has great energy and a powerful political message – one of free flowing sexuality and socialism.

By Ruth Waters and Barney Evison