Four takeaways from the electronic pop experimentalist’s New York City talk with spiritual rapper Bunny Michael
As I walk through the curtains at the entrance of New York City’s Brooklyn Hangar, I’m handed a cherry red yoga mat and guided towards the front of the vast warehouse space, where other attendees are starting to roll out, unravel, and unwind. But this is no weekend warrior yoga class – this is a talk by Karin Dreijer, the Swedish electronic music mastermind behind Fever Ray and, previously, The Knife. Dreijer is giving the talk with her friend and tourmate Bunny Michael, a New York-based experimentalist who’s as adept at spiritual meme-making as they are at playful psychedelic rap. It’s occurring just prior to the second and final night that the two acts will spend as part of the month-long Red Bull Music Festival New York. Titled “Self Care and The Artist: A Talk on Compassionate Creative Practice”, Dreijer and Michael’s conversation aims to bring Brooklynites out of the existential cold and into the warmth of self-care.
Later, Dreijer and Michael will perform live at the venue, expressing their truest selves and pushing back against the strictures of a patriarchal society with skyrocketing hooks and buoyant anthems. The Fever Ray show involves a cast of characters, from a steroid-riddled musclehead to a leather-clad mad scientist, but comes from an incredibly personal place. The overt queer desires of “To the Moon and Back” (“Your lips, warm and fuzzy / I want to run my fingers up your pussy”) lead to roars of recognition and communal delight from the crowd, as does Bunny Michael’s swaggering “Lazarus” (“I am the sea, I am the salt / Drink of me to free your thought / Chain my puss, police my cock / No matter, I fly tree tops”). But before that, the two artists sit on-stage without their costumes, speaking in their own voices, leading the audience through guided meditations towards a higher plane of creative existence. There’s a quieter, more intimate sense of exploration of what it means to be ‘different’ as an artist and to care for one’s self in the face of oppression, derision, or disinterest.
Here are some takeaways from the talk on how to care for oneself creatively.
KEEP TABS ON POTENTIALLY SELF-DESTRUCTIVE BEHAVIOUR, AND DANCE IT OUT
If you’re feeling stuck on a project, sometimes getting up and walking around can be the perfect cure – but adding a rhythm to that can bring a new clarity and energy to the body and the mind. “The whole way of making music and touring is not so healthy in the long run,” Dreijer explains. “Things get boring, people miss their loved ones, and then people start to drink and do drugs. It becomes self-destructive.” When The Knife toured their 2013 album Shaking the Habitual, they combatted that boredom by turning it into an interstellar dance extravaganza, with shimmering jumpsuits, aerobics, and a massive, deliriously orchestrated dance troupe. “We got to bring lots of friends and toured with dancers, who are really healthy,” she continues, adding: “My kids were here yesterday – they’ve been a part of what I do since they were born. It’s important to bring your life with you on tour.”
FACE YOUR FEARS
The two Fever Ray performances booked for Red Bull Music Festival were Dreijer’s first solo shows in the United States for eight years. Bunny Michael asks about this infrequency directly, to which Dreijer responds that travelling plays a big part. “I’m super scared of flying,” she says. “When I get on a plane, I think my brain is going out into space and I won’t become a person again. I started going to cognitive behaviour therapy and started to practice going inside, grounding, focusing. Breathing and coming back inside your body is helpful. Fear always stops you, but you need to go through it to continue your work, life, and art.”
Michael, an advocate of meditation and self-connection themself, beams at the opportunity to discuss this further. Michael’s set begins with a ringing phone – a call from the artist’s higher self – before the music ripples out. There’s a grimy, ecstatic cover of Daddy Yankee’s “Gasolina” in addition to plenty of Michael’s own material, a sort of guided meditation in its own right – once connected to their own higher self, the entire audience is along for the ride, embracing a more powerful inner experience as well as the reality of the moment.
EMBRACE IDEAS AND WORRY ABOUT TECHNICAL LIMITATIONS LATER
“Having the means to make it happen, the technical knowledge, and access to studio time, is a challenge,” Bunny Michael says. “But you need a burst of ideas.” Dreijer, certainly someone full to the brim with ideas, concurs. “You don’t need much equipment to work with ideas, and it can be much easier to work with limited access,” she says. “I’ve learned to collaborate with people, and at the same time remember it’s important and super fun to learn the equipment and tools.” That sense of ownership, paired with eager collaboration, powers the entire evening. As each member of the Fever Ray band enters the stage, the event becomes familial as they build off of each other’s strengths. Helena Gutarra, Maryam Nikandish, and Dreijer bounce off of each other throughout the night, while Diva Cruz and Lili Zavala beat out percussion to keep them moving and keyboardist Miko Hansson builds out glistening structures to house their harmonies.
HELPING YOURSELF CAN HELP OTHERS
“I’m 43 now, and I’ve been doing this a long time – I’m finally getting closer to something where I might feel like an artist,” Dreijer says. “There were a lot of straight men who loved the first (Fever Ray) album, and then I noticed they don’t like this one (Plunge). I’m very happy about that.” While the crowd erupts in laughter, Dreijer’s interest in embracing the struggles and realities of a queer identity have not only emboldened some of her best work, but also made a huge impact on others. A microphone is passed around the rows of yoga mats, with fan after fan expressing how important Plunge is to them, and how good it feels to see others facing the same challenges and having the same thoughts. That’s a responsibility that Dreijer holds very dear. “It’s very important for an artist to understand their position, privilege, and channels of speaking,” she says. “It’s not necessarily a responsibility, but I find it weird when artists are not interested in the issues, or when the wrong people talk about important issues. I feel very happy and comfy in my body in this character, and I’m communicating much more with the audience now.”
Fever Ray plays London’s Field Day festival on Saturday June 2