The Knife's Family Affair
by Philip Sherburne | April 10, 2013
"We didn't plan to make another album," say The Knife in a video interview released in advance of their new album, Shaking the Habitual. "We wanted to do something again, but had to find a purpose." Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer, the Swedish brother and sister that make up the duo, found that purpose in a reading list heavy on queer theory and critical studies. They also found purpose in reaching out to others. "Working collectively is becoming important, letting others contribute their knowledge. Viewing the process as the creation of a collective. We asked our friends and lovers to help us."
That input has blown the horizons of The Knife's world wide open. Where with 2006's Silent Shout they were masterful manipulators of atmosphere, with Shaking the Habitual they seem more intent upon creating a multidimensional universe of which the music is just one plane among others including a supplementary text by the New York writer Jess Arndt and surreally subversive videos directed by the feminist filmmakers Roxy Farhat, Kakan Hermansson, and Marit Östberg. The current album campaign even includes a comic, by Liv Strömqvist, dedicated to eradicating extreme wealth. (The album's cover art, by Martin Falk, recalls the high-contrast iconography of Stereolab, another band known to combine electro-pop with radical politics.)
The Knife's last album was also a collaborative affair; they worked alongside Mt. Sims and Planningtorock on 2010's Tomorrow, In a Year, the soundtrack to the Danish performance group Hotel Pro Forma's opera based on Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species. But a look back over The Knife's catalog reveals that the borders of their hermetic-seeming world have always been porous. Karin Dreijer Andersson has her own project, of course, the darkly dramatic Fever Ray, featuring coproduction from Christoffer Berg (formerly known as Hird) and Van Rivers and The Subliminal Kid, whose own associations extend to Glasser and Roll the Dice. (Playing "Six Degrees of The Knife" creates a tangled web indeed.)
Meanwhile, Olof kept his Oni Ayhun project secret for a while, but fans of his squealing, psychedelic techno-improv eventually figured out that the performer on stage -- silver wig, high-heeled boots and all -- was the same person who had donned a crow's mask for the Silent Shout tour. Oni Ayhun's output has been limited to a handful of EPs on his eponymous label, but Dreijer has also remixed Nine Inch Nails, Shangaan Electro and a few under-the-radar techno producers, supplying beats as stealthy as his profile.
Here, we've put together a 90-minute playlist tracing The Knife's connections and extracurricular work, including a spooky solo joint from Karin; the duo's remixes of Hird and Jenny Wilson; Oni Ayhun and Olof's other remixes; and cuts by collaborators like Mt. Sims, Planningtorock, and Light Asylum's Shannon Funchess, who appears on the new album. Closing it all out, of course, is Jose Gonzalez' acoustic version of their song "Heartbeats," famously used in a flat-panel television commercial, the proceeds of which are still paying for The Knife's grand, anti-capitalist performance art. Oh patriarchy, up yours!