Thus far, the Knife’s work has been marked by a certain fearlessness. Ever since their 2003 single Heartbeats brought them to a wider audience, Olof Dreijer and Karin Dreijer-Andersson have deliberately swum away from mainstream acceptance, unafraid of who they alienate along the way: endlessly snubbing awards ceremonies or using them to stage oblique protests, their brand of electronic music getting steadily more challenging.
Nor do they seem to be frightened of ending up in Pseuds Corner, as evidenced by Shaking the Habitual, their first proper studio album since 2006’s Silent Shout. It apparently began with extensive reading in feminist and queer theory, including Olof Dreijer taking a course at Stockholm University’s department of gender studies. The result takes its title from Foucault, touches on environmentalism and structuralism, quotes Jeanette Winterson, features two brief bursts of noise named after characters in Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, and comes complete with a manifesto entitled Some Feelings in the Bellies of the Tankers Who Pass Us Making Sad Manic Bongs Like Drums.
It also seems that these issues have resulted in the Knife almost entirely jettisoning tunes from their work, and abandoning standard verse-chorus structures.
Oh, no. It’s bad enough that postmodern gender bullshit has made online atheism such an insane asylum over the last couple of years; why did it have to capture the brilliant minds behind The Knife and Fever Ray, too? Why? Whyyyyyy?
The idea of authenticity in music is something that’s been bothering the Knife ever since they started getting deeper into feminist theory (Olof signed up for a course at Stockholm University’s department of gender studies, while Karin borrowed his reading list). “We’ve tried to find ways to implement what we have learned in queer theory,” explains Olof. “We are really into criticising this idea that there are some sounds that people would consider more authentic than others. And the way we’d do that would be to get sounds that you don’t really know where they come from. It could be a synthesised sound or a voice or even an animal. You don’t really know about the origin.”
It still holds true for some people that if they can’t picture anyone physically singing or playing an instrument, they can’t relate to the music emotionally. “Well, we are constructed to like certain things,” he continues. “We’ve been teaching a bit at this summer camp for teenage girls who want to make electronic music, and there we often talk about this idea of quality in music and what informs our ideas of what is supposed to be good and bad music. You know that music history is written by privileged white men, so we can ask ourselves how important it is to repeat their ideas.” Bet they don’t teach that at the Brit School.
It sometimes feels as if the Knife’s feminist theory has an answer for everything. Don’t like their new tune-free tracks? That’s because you’ve been culturally conditioned to enjoy the decadent concept of melody.
Update: It ended in tears:
The Knife played their final show, entitled “Post-Colonial Gender Politics Come First, Music Comes Second”, on November 8, 2014 at the Iceland Airwaves Festival in Reykjavik, Iceland.