Jenny Hval + Olga Bell, Ancienne Belgique, 21 October, 2016
“This one goes out to all the existentialists in the house…reading Sartre,” Olga Bell announces from the stage of the Ancienne Belgique’s intimate AB Club. Her sparce, minimalist beats paired with vocal fortitude make her the ideal choice as opening act for the experimental post-pop of Jenny Hval. She launches into ‘Your Life Is a Lie’ off of this year’s Tempo, punctuating the song with air-punches as she runs in place. Hers is a mixture of 90s era trip hop and experimental R&B as heavy on the bass as it is on the vocal manipulations.
Jenny Hval comes on stage with a blow-up pool. She is here tonight to present songs the majority of which are off her newest LP: Blood Bitch, an album she has bluntly stated (on the record itself, no less) as being “about vampires.” While the image of the 70s female vampire, the kind of which was embodied by Delphine Seyrig in Daughters of Darkness weighs heavily on the theme – it is also an album tackling the subject of blood, specifically the menstrual variety.
She is joined on stage by dancer and choreographer, Orfee Schuijt, who wonders around the stage drinking wine. The first strainings of ‘Lorna’ tinkle through the crowd. Schuijt cradles a bunch of bananas to her, rocking them like a baby. As Hval speaks of desire from the stage, Schuijt passes out fruit to the crowd.
‘Conceptual Romance’ features Schuijt walking around the stage, drawing on a pad of paper with a marker, holding up to Hval who scribbles on it as she continues to sing. “ I’m still wondering if I”m really singing or I’m a ghost,” she tells the crowd, “ sometimes you feel like a ghost even when you’re still alive.”
As Hval recites the harrowing spoken-word of ‘Untamed Region’, Schuijt takes a seat in the pool, seemingly oblivious as she eats fruit and reads a book. She produces a bouquet of roses, languidly picking off the petals, sprinkling them over her head and throwing them into the audience. Eventually, she rolls across the floor maniacally throwing the detritus into the air.
“ You can dance,” Hval tells the crowd, “ or you can do aerobics to capitalism and death. I hated physical education and I wanted to kill it, so let’s kill it. We’re going to kill it with some nice, zombie horror moves,” she instructs the crowd as a lead-up to ‘The Great Undressing.’
“ You seemed so quiet at first,” she says to the crowd as she sinks down beside Schuijt into the pool. “ This is a modern type-coffin,” she explains of the pool, “ for a modern vampire. But it also is a pool, right? Sometimes you just wanna have a break, sinking down, hide from the world,” she puts on a pair of shades, “ sit in the pool with sunglasses on.” Heavy beats punctuate Hval and Schuijt as they wipe neon pink “blood” across the surface of the pool as she sings ‘Period Piece’.
For the finale – ‘Female Vampire’ and ‘In The Red’ – Hval sings as Schuijt swirls on stage like a witch at a sabbath, pink stained hands flying through the air. Both join together ‘In The Red’ for an infernal bat dance, spinning in ecstasy. They finish off the set by passing out the remainder of the fruit to the enraptured audience.
The performers retire back stage and the lights come on. The audience turns to one another bemusedly. A guy says to his mates: “ That was crazy. But good crazy.” There seems to be an urgency to discuss with the nearest person what was just witnessed. It is one of those rare concert experiences that feels utterly unique and invigorating. Few could pull of what Hval is capable of doing: high, conceptual art that tackles serious topics all the while embracing a sense of the ridiculous. The audience goes off into the night, refreshed and stimulated by the intimacy and originality of the evening.
Words: Megan Beard
Photo credit: Elise Haultecoeur
Jenny Hval live dates
*opening for The xx
29 Nov Forum Karlin Prague, CZ*
30 Nov Hala Nr 2, MTP Poznan, PL*
1 Dec Nowy Teatr Warsaw, PL*
3 Dec Compensa Arena Vilnius, LT*
15 Dec Debaser Strand Stockholm, SE
16 Dec Mejeriet Lund, SE
17 Dec Folk Gothenburg, SE
28 Feb Rich Mix London, UK