‘So… You’re probably wondering what all this stuff on stage is about’ admits the refreshingly self-aware Jenny Hval. Her statement brings a rupture of laughs and agreeance from the diverse crowd of young London hipsters and older music fans gathered to watch the Norwegian perform in Hackney’s Oslo. Their laughter is somewhat understandable, as Hval’s bold performance art pushes the boundaries in similar style to her music, encapsulating some whilst alienating others, with moments in her live sets requiring a brief moment of analysis in order to comprehend that yes, an empty child’s paddling pool was really just sent on a crowd-surfing lap of the room.
Hval’s humor in these outlandish moments is essential to the success of her live show; without the beaming, genuine smile on her face at the end of each track, or the short giggles she lets out when things get a little too weird, the live show could come across just a little too pretentious for some to find enjoyable. This however is far from the reality as Hval strikes a perfect balance for this weirdness by brilliantly re-purposing her music for its new live setting, adding completely new sections to tracks such as The Great Undressing, which broke without warning into a thumping techno outro, transporting the venue from an ethereal art-pop heaven to the sweaty dance-floors of London’s underground nightclubs.
Whilst the set had an understandable focus on the excellent 2016 release Blood Bitch, the room was unified in a collective swoon as the warm, celestial organs of That Battle is Over hummed gently into life, filling the spaces between Hval’s pinpoint vocals, firmly placing the crowd under the Norwegian’s heavenly spell. Combining such beauty with mind-altering onstage antics would present a difficult task for many, but the ease with which Hval pulls it off leaves little room for any reaction other than awe, as the combination of music and otherworldly performance art intertwine and combine as one, presenting one of the most unique and provoking live shows you’re likely to see this year.
By trading in a live band for an experimental theater of sorts where each song is given its own set of props and themes, Hval continues to define herself as one of the most original and progressive artists currently in operation. Between the flurries of fruit launched into the audience, the exercise video workouts and handfuls of blood-red Roses showered over Hval, this live show strikes an incredible medium between the weird and the wonderful, sucking you in for another storm of madness as this female vampire’s wings continue to stretch out with stunning confidence.
Written by Joseph Austin