From Iceland — Eulogy To The Knife/Birth Of Zhala: The Future Of Popstar

Eulogy To The Knife/Birth Of Zhala: The Future Of Popstar

Published November 9, 2014

Photo by
Matthew Eisman
Alda Kravec

The Knife has cut and run its course. As last night’s concert demonstrated, when the yahoos join the fray to crush beer cans on their foreheads before engaging in fist fights in a crowd that hoists up shoulder sitters, the caché appeal seems sadly gone. Not that the set wasn’t an heartpumping, eye-popping extravaganza of deliciousness. The thump-thump was on and the dance number that is ‘Shaking the Habitual’ was faultless. Still, there was something about it that felt eerily reminiscent of the superficial decadence of Capitol city parties in Hunger Games. Maybe I’m too serious or missing the irony, but when the aerobics instructor MC introduced the set with an half hour of new-agey inspirational doublespeak, getting the crowd to repeat mantras like “self-consciousness is the illusion that this is only happening to me,” it really got me missing The Knife’s old lines about false consciousness, re.: “You make me like charity / Instead of paying enough taxes.”

Well, here’s to the old Knife, which never sounded better than at Sirkus, ca. 2006-7.



On the other hand, there’s no need to despair. First of all, I doubt the revolution is coming through the vanguard of Swedish pop music, unless that is, we’re talking about a revolution in Eurovision. Secondly, new voices bring hopeful distractions.

The influence of The Knife’s cutting edge carries on in the birth of their Swedish compatriot, Zhala. She is the future star to preview at Airwaves this year. Fusing haunting electro-pop sounds, tantalizing lyrics and a sickly-sweet performance, Zhala’s act leaves you at once confused and wanting more (I believe it’s called a blodad tand).

Zhala’s live performance in Harpa’s Norðurljós on Friday night was as much visual art performance as sound piece. Richly inlaid with crusty relics that might have come from a recent show at one of our local post-art-student run collectives—a skinny white kid in tie-dye tank-top and undies, masked by scarf and baseball cap, crouched under a houseplant and stirring like a cat; in the backdrop, a couch lined with a sheet of shimmering polyester satin mounted by a young, nude model, who languorously sits, sucking on what looks like olives, the pits of which she indifferently tosses over her shoulder. Meanwhile, in Zhala’s corner–hookahs, ample lace and cloth coverings and a rose-water spray bottle she dispenses on the crowd at intervals while seductively peeling off and re-cloaking articles of clothing from the seemingly endless heap of garments she has donned. The symbols were bursting with flavour, and while they clearly evoked the meeting of Zhala’s Kurdish heritage and her Nordic upbringing, I would really need one of those contextualizing captions to understand the specific references.

Zhala by Alda Kravec

While Zhala has only released a handful of tracks, each one is a carefully crafted work of art. “Slipping around”  and her most recent “I’m in Love” are both accompanied by socially evocative and aesthetically experimental videos. While currently working on her debut album, Zhala is not rushing it, but is taking her time to make something substantial. Fortunately, having sung back-up for Lykke Li, Zhala’s skills have not gone unnoticed and now she’s got backing of her own, having become the first artist to sign with Robyn’s label Konichiwa records.

Don’t miss your chance to see Zhala at Airwaves TONIGHT, Sunday, at her off-venue show at Kex, 19:30 and welcome the new visionary.

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