In the current music industry, it's not enough to simply make music anymore. These days, to make news, it's imperative for an act to combine quality music with an amazing image or interesting story. Those are three characteristics of Stockholm, Sweden's brother-and-sister team The Knife (aka Olof Dreijer and Karin Dreijer Andersson). Musically, The Knife's new album Silent Shout (Mute) sounds like the aural interpretation of horror films like The Exorcist, The Omen and The Ring. Visually, the Dreijer siblings prefer to “dress up as the music” and will only be photographed in their own macabre costumes — no exceptions. All gimmicks aside, The Knife makes the kind of cool electronic pop music that appeals to people who gravitate toward a number of genres. Might we have the first electronic act that appeals equally to fans of the Chemical Brothers and Christian Death?
The Knife is a good example of how easy it is to make music in today's digital world. In fact, if it weren't for the proliferation of computers in music production, chances are that The Knife would not exist — the extent of their musical training didn't make it past the guitar (Karin) and saxophone (Olof). The original incarnation of The Knife was little more than free-form chill-out sessions between the siblings in front of Olof's computer. “We actually didn't know anything about making sounds and producing when we started out, so it took some time,” Karin says. “We just hung out by Olof's computer, and I had a few songs I wanted to record. It took a year before we decided we were a band. I think when making Deep Cuts [V2, 2004], that was the first time we even talked about what it was supposed to sound like.”
While The Knife has certainly improved leaps and bounds in the realm of production, their core gear is still limited to only a few key elements: Steinberg Cubase, the Swedish-made Elektron Machinedrum SPS-1, Native Instruments FM7 soft synth, Casio RP-1 Rapman synth, Roland SH-101 synth and the Boss Voice Transformer. That voice transformer adds the gender-bending effects to Karin's voice that has become a trademark for the act. “It's important that the voice is a part of the music and written like its own instrument,” she says. “At the same time, we work with lots of characters in the lyrics, and the changing vocal follows the lyrics for great expression in the song. It's almost theatrical.”
As for the duo's image, it has been carefully constructed to not take away from the music. “We have masks so as to not be recognized,” Olof says. “On the second album, I got recognized, and I didn't like it. Dressing up as the music is a way of putting the music in focus.” That image translates into a newly conceived live show designed in part by Andreas Nilsson, who also directed the amazing video for “Silent Shout.” The multimedia live show consists of two giant projection screens (one in front of and one behind The Knife), two singing dolls and lots of moody lighting. To avoid being a distraction from the stage show, Olof and Karin are garbed in specially designed black suits that allow them to blend in with the background. For the live show, every song is mixed in surround sound, and roughly half the tracks are versions not available on any album. Even though that seems like a show conceived through years of trial and error, The Knife has only ever performed live a few times in six years. They just didn't feel like it was possible to perform electronic music well in a live setting. After rave reviews for the new show, more dates are being announced, and there is word of a possible U.S. tour.
With recent coverage by the mainstream press of electronic-based acts like M.I.A., Mylo and Ellen Allien, there couldn't be a better time for The Knife to break out in a big way. Musically, they don't sound like anyone else, and aesthetically, they reek of coolness. There's also a sense of rebellion and attitude in Olof and Karin, and that's incredibly appealing. You may not get to see the real people under the costumes; so instead, just turn up the speakers and let the music cut through.