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Music review: The Knife, Roundhouse, London


Some people just can’t stand to have their boundaries gently nuzzled, let alone pushed. Beware, for shovy Swedish electronic pop siblings The Knife care not for your cultural proprieties.

They’ve always been defiantly, daftly intellectual, and their new live show puts into action the title of their challenging, hit-free fourth album Shaking The Habitual, laughingly wiggling free of the conventions and expectations of a rock gig.

These are their first shows for years, long slavered-for, but reaction has been violently mixed. So what is this daring art-concept-performance-revolution? Will stages be drilled, instruments defecated upon?

The stage is lit low; hooded, darkly glittering figures begin to creep on to the barbed, dark thrums of "A Cherry On Top" . Too many, surely? Five, seven, nine... is the red-haired, glitter-smeared girl opening her mouth and beginning to sing Karin Dreijer Andersson? Hard to tell, especially as she seems not to be the only one singing in that same voice....

Yes, The Knife have caused uproar merely by... taking themselves out of centre stage. As conceptual statements go, it’s hardly bloody Fluxus, is it? Indeed, by subsuming their often awkward, shy selves within a troupe of lithe, charismatic young dancers, they’re arguably just making a practical decision to best benefit the performance.

As the roiling ‘Raging Lung’ builds to a climax, the magnetic, aggressive bodies work themselves into a fascinating frenzy, whirling and spinning in boyband-worthy choreography, hornpiping gleely through the ominous "A Tooth For An Eye". Both visually and sonically, clear cues are avoided; it’s often difficult to tell who’s in the band and who isn’t, and their biggest songs are left off the setlist. How anyone could be bored enough to bother feeling cheated, though, is a mystery.

The hipster Pan’s People approach doesn’t always fly; the rippling, furious "Full Of Fire" needs more than a bunch of lamé-clad figures standing stock-still before erupting in freestyle robot. When it works, though, tonight wraps The Knife’s wit and terror in the panache of a big pop show to euphoric effect.

As the troupe end with "Silent Shout", they act out a traditional band/audience dynamic, two separated out as ‘rock stars’ on the podium, before the boundaries blur and the others join them ‘onstage’, dancing in abandon. If that message wasn’t clear enough, as they take their bow, they point out into the crowd and shout “You!”. Half an hour earlier than a usual curfew, the DJs begin. Over to us, then. Yet some are still craning for a clear glimpse of their icons, waiting for an encore. Loosen up, squares, and get with the concept groove! Even your granny’s a hologram these days.