Fever Ray: ‘There is a lot of work to do within #MeToo to include everybody’
The Swedish artist – and Body & Soul curator – on the problem of white feminism
Karin Dreijer as Fever Ray: creator of visually popping, expressive live shows
Don’t try to encapsulate Karin Dreijer by using tired old metrics. The breadth of her vision is such that it requires the most powerful of scopes to bring into focus.
Her recently released album as Fever Ray, Plunge, was just one ripple of Dreijer’s virtuosity. There’s the oeuvre she forged with brother Olof under the banner of The Knife. There are her videos – strange, otherworldly creations that tickle your brain in almost forbidden ways. Dreijer also writes music for theatre and film. She’s a DJ and creator of visually popping, expressive live shows. You’re dealing with a relentless creative who refuses to be shackled to the boundaries of the term “musician”.
That’s why Dreijer’s Body & Soul collaboration is such an interesting prospect. Her creative inklings will be indulged over an entire night as Fever Ray is not only performing at the Westmeath festival on Friday June 22nd, she’s also curating its main stage that evening. Her chosen line-up will feature performances by electronic music artist Fatima Al Qadiri, South African house duo FAKA, plus a DJ set from her Knife cohort Olof Dreijer.
The music industry, as a lot of other organisations, it is super sexist and patriarchal, I would say. I think this is a great way to try to change things
“Firstly, they make amazing music,” Dreijer says of Al Qadiri and FAKA, speaking to me via Skype as her tour gets under way. “I think they are incredible musicians and composers. Both of these artists, I play when I DJ. It is what I listen to.” And what about bringing her sibling along too? “That’s fun, then I can meet him,” she says with a laugh. “He’s a great DJ. Sometimes we DJ together also.”
Having been approached by Body & Soul with the idea, Dreijer was attracted to an event largely organised and run by women. She’s also a big supporter of the forthcoming Statement Festival in her home country Sweden. Conceived and executed partially as a protest at the number of rape and sexual assaults committed by men at music festivals, the event will only allow cisgender women, transgender women and non-binary to attend.
Dreijer believes separatist events are important for change. “The music industry, as a lot of other organisations and other structures, it is super sexist and patriarchal, I would say. I think this is a great way to try to change things.”
The limited number of women on Irish festival lineups is something that has been highlighted in recent years. A Daily Edge article in 2017 revealed that as little as 16 per cent of festival line-ups last summer were made up of women. (Forbidden Fruit being the chief offender with just the four female artists.) Dreijer is troubled by the problem. She has chosen to only perform with female musicians on her tour.
“I tried to very carefully think of the representation of the people I work with and the people I hire, crew wise. I think it’s 50/50 men and women in the crew. I think that is an artist’s responsibility. If you are able and if you say and if you want to change things and how things work, that’s a very important way to work.”
Released in October 2017, Plunge’s brash beats, manic arrangement and provocative themes raked in the kind of plaudits that teetered on the edge of embarrassingly gushing. Just her second record as Fever Ray and first since 2009, for Dreijer it was a scintillating return to the moniker.
“I think it’s been great. Overall, I don’t go into reading too much about what people think about it,” she says. “Of course, it’s good to have an album out when you go out on tour. The record makes it possible to go out on tour. Playing live is my focus now and that is so far working really well.”
Plunge was released in the immediate aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Dreijer, whose body of work is underpinned by themes of feminism and empowerment, salutes the ongoing campaign #MeToo and #TimesUp.
“I think the #MeToo movement spread very well in Sweden,” she says. “There were different #MeToo organisations within many different [industries]. Sportswomen had their own hashtag and their own organisation. Women within healthcare, within culture, dancers and also, of course, musicians. So it got pretty big. I know within the music industry, a few guys have lost their jobs because of sexual assaults that they have continued doing for years and years. It is great that, finally, the people who are hiring these guys have to do something about it.”
Today, ‘she’ or ‘they’ is perfect for me. It’s different from day to day, actually. I’m fine with ‘they’ and ‘she’. I think it’s important to ask everybody about their pronouns
Yet Dreijer also has concerns about the movement – specifically its capacity to exclude women of colour, transgender and non binary: “I think, in Sweden at least, there is a problem that you can call white feminism – that is feminism for white privileged women. I think there is a lot of work to do within this movement to include everybody. But it’s a start.”
Dreijer has described herself in the past as “very gender-fluid”, an identity she has developed over time. On her preferred gender pronouns, Dreijer says her preference can switch. “Today, I feel like ‘she’ or ‘they’ is perfect for me. It’s different from day to day, actually. I’m fine with ‘they’ and ‘she’. I think it’s important to ask everybody about their pronouns because a lot of people take stuff for granted.”
Reproductive rights is also a focus of Plunge. Dreijer demands “free abortions and clean water” on the bubbling electro requiem This Country, a barbed retort to anyone who attacks women in Sweden’s right to choose. Dreijer admits not being up to date with what’s happening in Ireland but is inquisitive about the forthcoming referendum when I ask for her perspective.
“It’s a very effective patriarchal way to oppress women – to control their bodies,” she says. Sweden has one of the most liberal abortion acts in the world, though Dreijer has witnessed what she calls “conservative forces” trying to etch away at the law.
“It’s very dangerous to take this kind of freedom for granted,” she warns. “A lot of people think Sweden is a very feminist and equal country, but you always have to fight for these freedom. It’s not anything you can take for granted.”
Ireland’s decision whether or not to repeal the Eighth Amendment will likely have been determined by the time Fever Ray takes to the Body & Soul stage. The result will alter the backdrop of the event, adding just another layer of unpredictability. The line-up might be determined, but who knows what will enter the head of Dreijer between now and then? Just don’t rule anything out.
“The last tour I did with Fever Ray was eight years ago. I’m definitely not an artist that has touring as its main interest I would say. It is fun from time to time to do it. I have a great band to play with and playing music, that’s amazing and it’s super privilege to be able to play music and other people want to listen to. That’s great.”
Chosen Three: Acts at Fever Ray’s Body & Soul stage
Fatima al Qadiri
The Senegal-born, Kuwait-raised musician, now based in New York, makes haunting, politically engaged electronica. Inspired by the recent protests in Ferguson and Baltimore, her 2016 album Brute tackled police brutality and the denial of civil rights.
Olof Dreijer (DJ set)
Djing for two decades, expect the Knife co-founder’s set to feature a bold mix of West African pop, acid, rap, R&B, techno, kuduro and house.