Fever Ray review – cartoonish camp and eco-rave vibes

Troxy, London
Swedish art rocker Karin Dreijer is best when she translates experimental music to the stage with a bang

As six cartoonishly styled women stride on stage, each taking a moment to flex in the neon strobing like a pro-wrestling heel, it’s hard to square the camp spectacle with Fever Ray’s last appearance in the UK. In 2010, the woman then known as Karin Dreijer Andersson performed her self-titled debut in darkness, engulfed by dry ice and wearing heavy robes that obscured her face. It made a feverish album about the claustrophobic loneliness of motherhood even more harrowing. In the intervening years, much has changed for Stockholm’s Dreijer – divorcing and reclaiming her name, and embarking on a Tinder-abetted quest into her queerness as documented on a second Fever Ray album.

Never mind nuclear family; last year’s Plunge is about chosen family uniting to celebrate freedom and pleasure: “Still, we’re pushing what’s possible / A queer healing / Mom just tired of feeling,” as Dreijer sings on Falling. Hence the homemade costumes – bug-eyed anarchist scientists, cat burglar, dumpster diver, fashion victim, preening bodybuilder with bulbous foam pecs – which together resemble a shambolic Avengers primed to topple the patriarchy. The Hulk and a blue-haired succubus flank Dreijer, shaven-headed and with zombie-pink eyes, who often cedes the floor and microphone to them in a characteristic refusal of ego that also distinguished her performances with duo the Knife (and almost started riots on their aggressively loose Shaking the Habitual tour). The trio play jester and corrupter, mugging gleefully and grinding in slow-motion against each other as if enacting a set piece from an aerobics-themed porno.

A shambolic Avengers ... Fever Ray (Karin Dreijer centre)
A shambolic Avengers ... Karin Dreijer, AKA Fever Ray, centre. Photograph: Troxy

Dreijer’s singing is an acquired taste – stark, declamatory cries that coalesce into electrifying pop music once the beat kicks in. Where the songs on Plunge often hit like shocks of cold water, the live arrangements are warmer and clubbier, turning intimidation into utopia. Two brilliant samba percussionists, Lili Zavala and Diva Cruz, are an inspired addition, transporting When I Grow Up from chilly Scandinavian minimalism to a lush, forest rave; the end of Wanna Sip sounds like warfare, the drummers’s bomb-like percussion clashing with screaming sirens.

Sometimes, the eco-rave vibe misfires, resembling less the height of queer counterculture than Saturday night at Glastonbury’s crusty Glade stage. A drum’n’bass rhythm sputters oddly at the end of Concrete Walls, though it enlivens a mid-set longueur. When the best parts of Fever Ray’s performance manage not just to translate experimental music to the stage, but make it bang, too, it seems oddly conventional to follow the traditional gig arc of having a slow bit in the middle before all of the fun starts again.

But start again it does: To the Moon and Back garners the biggest cheers, with Dreijer’s cry: “I want to run my fingers up your pussy.” A joyful, mad synth part that sounds like Aphex Twin tackling Japanese koto music phases in and out, adding narcotic wooziness to an already powerful sensory overload. And the night’s highlight is IDK About You, where the drummers translate Portuguese producer Nídia’s broken-latticed production into a breathless race. It should beckon a long night of excess rather than the show’s actual ending, a shamanistic rendition of If I Had a Heart that lowers the energy again. Maybe it’s part of Dreijer’s point about the multidimensional nature of sexuality – light and dark, exuberance and introversion – but it does seem ironically anticlimactic given Fever Ray’s admirable pleasure principle.


Laura Snapes

The GuardianTramp

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