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The Woman Behind the Mask: Fever Ray @ Webster Hall

On a rainy Monday night, beat-seeking hipsters and a few pretentious trannies sought shelter at Webster Hall. Green laser beams pierced the sold-out crowd as five costumed musicians started beating conga drums and electronic drum machines on stage. One vocalist dressed like Cousin Itt; a drummer looked like a bishop made up as a Russian doll; the remaining band members reminded us of hooded druids. It was strange and exciting — like being an extra on the set of The Dark Crystal.

As smoke swirled like liquid in the green light- and incense-filled the room, a blonde pop star took the stage, joining her band. She looked like Diana, goddess of the hunt, but without her usual mask. Finally we got a good look at Karin Dreijer Andersson: Swedish electronic artist, mother of two, and one half of the famously elusive brother-sister duo, The Knife.

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Photo credit: rezflicks

As The Knife, Karin and her brother Olaf played four (sold-out) shows in the U.S, always performing behind a silkscreen and in costume. With distorted voices and shifted pitches, it was almost impossible for an audience to know who was who. But with Fever Ray, Karin’s alter ego and first solo project, there’s no mistaking her identity or the project’s unique sound — which reminds her of “feverish rays or beams.” (That’s where the project’s name comes from.)

Christoffer Berg (who mixed The Knife’s work), and the Stockholm production duo Van Rivers & The Subliminal Kid produced her self-titled debut, which came out last March. Karin uses more analog instruments (like the piano and double bass) than in her work with The Knife; the final product is a harrowing daydream, with dark, weighty rhythms and imaginative lyrics that tickle the subconscious. Songs like “When I Grow Up” and “Dry and Dusty” have a gloomy, glaucous nature, while others, like “If I Had A Heart” and the telling “I’m Not Done,” are more uplifting.

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Photo credit: l_c_m_tt_

The juxtaposition is a reflection of the woman behind the music: Karin spends long days in darkness living in Stockholm, but is most inspired by places with light along the Mediterranean Sea like Barcelona and the South of France. She also finds inspiration in the films of Jim Jarmusch, Julio Médem, a Spanish writer and director, and the Jesus Lizard, a Chicago-based alternative rock band.

Andreas Nilsson, Karin’s longtime friend, also designed the masks, costumes, and live shows for the Knife, so creating the dark and creepy costumes for Fever Ray “has been a very natural and easy going process,” and is “the fun part of making an album,” she says. Both Andreas and Karin think it’s essential to work with the whole room; using smoke and lights is their way of removing the space between the music and audience. “There aren’t many artists who work in this sort of theatrical theme,” she explains.

While Fever Ray is an incredibly personal project for Karin, she doesn’t have a favorite track or tune. “It’s a whole album, and all the tracks, they need each other,” she explains. She will say that the best time to listen to it is “driving in your car, with a really good stereo system.” And if you happen to live in New York, and don’t own one? “Well then, you’ll just have to come to my show,” she answers furtively.

Fever Ray plays at Metro in Chicago on October 3; at the Regency Center in San Francisco on October 5; and at the Music Box in LA on October 7.

When I Grow Up from Fever Ray on Vimeo.

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