Jenny Hval at Rich Mix, London, gig review: Striking and spontaneous

The event was always as much, if not more, about witnessing the intriguing individual behind it

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Even the briefest encounter with Jenny Hval’s music leaves a lasting impression of her favoured themes: corporeality, ritualism, the unsettling.

It is wholly appropriate, then, that the stage at the Rich Mix Centre in London is bathed in red light ahead of her arrival, the scarlet streaks suggestive of the body’s inner workings, of desire and death.

When Hval does take to the stage with a whispered “Hello”, she dedicates her first words to an explanation of her costume, which transforms the contents of a crafts box into a dangling mass of veins and gore: “It’s a good thing maybe they created skin,” Hval notes, pieces of string and flaps of material dangling from her torso. “To keep it all in.”

Despite being accompanied by samples, synthesisers and tuba, good mixing ensures that Hval’s vocals are never drowned out or distracted from. Every word remains emotive and clearly enunciated, with the clarity of her delivery allowing the often-murky themes of the lyrics to shine through. 

The setlist leans heavily on Hval’s last two albums, with a rendition of “The Plague” proving particularly potent. Sprawling sound collages are not known for being obvious crowd-pleasers, but the extended running time gives Hval and her backing band a chance to stretch out and experiment.

In one striking passage, warm electronics form a softly spiralling backdrop to Hval’s evocative description of sunrise: “Colours are slowly being painted onto the cars / In the parking lot and on her internal organs.”

Yet Jenny Hval gigs are not just about the music. The spontaneity of her – and her band members’ – movement onstage has more in common with performance art than conventional choreography.

Her striking outfit served as a versatile prop, enabling her to visualise her captivation with the body - at times she sings with a crimson cape draped over her head or studies the tangle of arteries trailing from her wrist.

This event was always as much, if not more, about witnessing the intriguing individual behind it.

After all, there is something to be said for seeing a performer – especially one so fascinated by blood and bones – in the flesh.