We've been trying to get the Knife in The FADER for forever, but as you'll see, easier silently shouted than done. We put our man Evan Shamoon on the case and he came back with this story special for thefader.com. Check it out and check out the Knife's new album, which is finally out domestically this week.
The Knife's Sharp Silence
by Evan Shamoon
Attempting to get in touch with the Knife is not unlike inserting their namesake into your lower abdomen and twisting it very, very slowly. Interview appointments are missed. Emails are left hanging. Publicists are pushed to their theoretical limits. Expanded acronyms like “WTMFF?” are tossed around between editor and writer like a massive, flaming beach ball full of great white sharks.
And yet despite the hoop-jumping, conference-calling, message-forwarding theatrics required, contact is eventually made with the Stockholm-based, brother-sister dance duo of Olof Dreijer and Karin Dreijer Andersson. And as it turns out, the two are courteous, pleasant conversationalists once you get them on the line. This is somewhat surprising, perhaps, since the band is about as big as Swedish bands get—their most recent album, Silent Shout, debuted at #1 on the Swedish pop charts, and has seen stateside release courtesy of Mute Records. Such friendliness is also unexpected because the Knife is notoriously under the radar; striped cows jumping over blue moons show up on the pages of magazines more frequently than do interviews with the band. In an age where self-promotion is the name of the game and anonymity is damn near impossible to preserve, the Knife seems both content and amazingly capable of lurking deep in the shadows.
“We just wanted something very clear,” says Dreiger on the conception of the band’s name. “We’re attempting to make music with clear expression and good focus. Sharp music.” Indeed, focused says a lot about the sound: the Knife produces dark, melodic electro-pop, matching machine-made, grid-based music with chaotic, rock-inspired sensibilities. Jagged drums and stabs are offset by heaving basslines and layers of round, fragile, techno-inspired synth melodies. Andersson’s vocals crawl mightily atop the tracks, fitfully making their way across a vast tonal and emotional landscape in the process. Imagine Le Tigre beating the digital shit out of a room full of drum machines with sharpened glowsticks and machetes on a rainy day in a desolate Scandinavian park, and you’ve got a good place to start (sorta).
The songs range from sedate and contemplative to aggressive and abrasive, often literally in the same emotional breath. The juxtaposition is, if nothing else, intentional. “I think it’s necessary to have something white in it if you want to tell a black story—otherwise the black doesn’t appear black,” says Andersson. “A calm surrounding makes a panicked voice even more efficient.”
By virtue of being stuck under the same roof, both Dreiger and Andersson listened to the same music growing up—thanks mostly to their father, who would regularly throw on Latin and afro-centric world jams in the living room, along with the likes of Miles Davis, Bob Marley and Jean Michel Jarre. Once out of the house, the siblings’ musical interests went in different directions. After her requisite Cyndi Lauper phase, Andersson became immersed in indie rock—Sonic Youth, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Dinosaur Jr, to name but a few—eventually starting her own band Honey is Cool. At the same time, Dreiger was gravitating towards dance music and hip-hop—while he’s less inclined to check names, the dirty dirty and hard techno were both formative influences. On a whim, the two recorded a couple of songs together and released them on a 7-inch in early 2000 and have since gone on to release three full-length albums to an ever-expanding fanbase.
Aside from Karin’s emphatically human voice, the Knife’s music is intensely, entirely electronic. While second album and global spark Deep Cuts was made mostly with free-to-cheap software plug-ins—resulting in what Kreiger calls “a very democratic sound”—Silent Shout is the product of high-end soft synths and the output of the expensive, Swedish-made Elektron Machinedrum. “Artificial but warm and cold at the same time,” is how Andersson describes her band’s music. It should be noted that Dreiger, who handles all of the group’s production, has never sampled a piece of wax. “I’m making new sounds all the time. I try to be as innovative as I can, and we have quite high demand from ourselves,” he says. “We even try not to use analog synths. We stick mostly to FM synthesis—the results are much more varied and fragile.”
It’s a familiar refrain for the band—namely, the notion of maintaining self-imposed limitations in order to further a central, often political conceit. As for the pair’s seeming absence in popular media? “I don’t understand why people say that,” says Andersson. “I think we do a lot, but I guess it’s relative. I prefer to make music than talk about it.”