Is it art, is it not, and do we care...?

If there's one word you wouldn't use to describe The Knife, it would be "predictable". 

Since its inception, the Swedish duo has gone from producing radio-friendly electro-pop to scoring a conceptual techno-opera inspired by the work of Charles Darwin.

When siblings Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer announced a run of live shows in support of their latest sprawling double album, ‘Shaking The Habitual’ (Clash review), it was clear their live show was never going to be a straightforward prospect.

As expected, the anticipation running through tonight's Roundhouse crowd is palpable. The support act consists of an amazingly flamboyant aerobics instructor inciting attendees to move to the rhythm of Euro-house beats and wave hands in the air. And many are more than happy to oblige.

The venue is then plunged into darkness and the intense tribal rumblings of 'A Cherry On Top' begin, accompanied by pulses of light that cut through a comprehensive blanket of dry ice. The Knife has arrived.

A team of eight people ceremoniously strides across the stage, clad in tight satin and neon face paint, Karin and Olof hidden amongst them.

But as the lights rise and the collection of strange, futuristic instruments are illuminated, it becomes clear that the people on stage aren't actually playing them.

By the time a ‘Shaking The Habitual’ standout, 'Without You My Life Would Be Boring', receives an airing, it's equally apparent that nobody is actually singing.

The characters take turns to lip-sync, and all of the performers are engaged in tightly choreographed dance routines. As events unravel, the faces around us range from ecstatically entranced to acutely disappointed.

Clash is somewhere in-between. But It's understandable why some are dismayed: at one point we see a few people walk out, shaking their heads in disbelief. But as the night goes on The Knife gradually bring most of the crowd round, and bodies are gyrating with fingers firmly in the air.

A particular highlight is 'Got 2 Let U', during which a huge projection of Karin dressed as a man, mouthing the words, appears centre stage. It's another example of the band playing with gender roles - something they have always done to great effect.

Most of the set is predictably taken from ‘Shaking The Habitual’, but the crescendo comes in the form of 'Silent Shout', the title track from their third album. The venue fills with a cacophony of whoops and erupts into an all-out dance-fest.

Convention states that when you see a band live there is an unwritten contract. In buying a ticket you get to see the band play instruments and sing in front of you. Tonight, The Knife broke that deal, but Clash isn't sure that's such a bad thing. The aim was clearly to put on a performance, and whether they intended it to be art or some sort of electro cabaret isn't clear. But that, in itself, might have actually been the point.

Words: James Appleyard

Photos: Matt Wash

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