Karin Park triumphs over adversity to launch album in enthralling fashion
Despite the tight-packed, gorgeously-attired crowd, not a soul could be seen in the dark smoke-swirled basement of the secretive Scotch Club in Piccadilly. A faint, looming presence hovered on the stage; an electronic hum drifted from the speakers. Then a flash of bright blue light momentarily illuminated everything – revealing Karin Park poised over the microphone like a bird of prey. Small, feathered wings hung at her shoulders; a ragged white corset cut in strips like a ribcage, bound her torso; black fabric clung to her waist, vividly contrasting the pale tights that covered her long legs. Her mahogany hair was cropped short and her wildly intense gaze was accentuated by streaks of black eye shadow. She raised her arms slowly, outwards, as if about to swoop over our heads. An entranced silence had fallen on the venue like a veil of gossamer.
A gentle rhythm pattered on the drums, and Karin’s serrated voice cut through the quiet. Then, just as we’d all been shorn of self-consciousness and woven into one seamless ambience, the fire alarm screeched, the power to half the instruments failed and the spell was broken as if by some malicious and mischievous Greek deity, unwilling to allow us our moment of transcendence.
It was an unfortunate turn of events for the Scotch Club. The flawlessly elegant venue, sequestered from the touristic frenzy of Piccadilly in Mason’s Yard, was one of the coolest spots in 60s London. Its mystique is increased by a strict no-photography policy.
“This,” Karin intoned over the screech of the fire alarm, “was not to be expected.”
She had chosen the Scotch club as the setting for the launch of her latest album, Highway Poetry. This is the Swedish singer/songwriter’s fourth studio album, due for release on the 4th of June. Karin has seen great success in Scandinavia, where she has won four Norwegian Grammys; Highway Poetry will be her first release on Portsmouth-based label State of the Eye, as she looks to gain a wider European following.
Her style is an intense, brooding electronica, a sound she has gradually evolved following a lighter first couple of albums. She plays with her brother, David, whose attire at Scotch provided a striking contrast to Karin’s intricately-designed outfit – his long mane of golden hair rested on a battered old Slayer t-shirt. The texture of sounds the two of them manage to create is immensely impressive. David ripples over the drums while generating the bass with his feet. Karin sings and fluidly paints her musical visions with a laptop, remote keyboard, and many-knobbed synthesiser.
To start with though, with the power down and the fire alarm intermittently squawking into life, Karin was forced to improvise. She and David did an excellent job, playing drum-and-vocal-only versions of two key tracks from the new album. After a brief discussion in Swedish with her brother, she bravely threw herself into an a cappella opening of Restless, the album’s main single. Karin’s voice trembled through the room before the song burst into rhythmic life with the percussion-driven energy of the chorus. This electronica twosome managed to get people moving without the aid of any electronics whatsoever. They followed Restless with Wild Child, in which Karin drew on the audience to provide a mesmeric humming to texture the bare song.
Karin frequently mentions influences including existentialism, feminism and the dark, sparse forests and vast natural spaces of northern Scandinavia – so she was mentally well-prepared to take on such an unanticipated challenge. Still, it was a great relief when, following Wild Child, the power returned and the gig could be proceeded with as it was originally conceived. Karin’s resulting performance was intensely engaged, channelling the stress and frustration into the brooding energy of her music.
Fleshing out the vocals and percussion with electronics, produced darkly misted dreamscapes that, at times, drifted atmospherically through a whole song and at others, exploded into propulsive body-moving rhythmic sections. Through the fantastic Explosions, a sharp beat-driven track infused with uncertain desire, she fully embodied the song’s edgy pulse in the strange, strong movements of her limbs. She played a short set, only six songs excluding the improvised opening. But it was utterly entrancing. Her varied, unpredictable, often jagged singing style inevitably draws comparisons with Bjork and as with the Icelandic singer, it floats and leaps from the electronic backing like some strange creature in an iceberg-strewn ocean.
Karin takes her music seriously and has described it as standing on the prow of a boat voyaging in an unknown direction, with a rabbit in one hand and an electronic drill in the other – capturing the soft, vulnerable aspects of her style as well as the gritty, determined and aggressive side. Judging from this intensely immersive performance and the quality of the songs on Highway Poetry, it is a strange journey that anyone looking for powerful, sincere, inspiring new music should be keen to join.