When Saints Go Machine

Mutating the Past

Sep 24, 2013 Photography by Thomas Skou Issue #46 - June/July 2013 - Charli XCX
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When Saints Go Machine's third LP, Infinity Pool, begins with a bold statement of purpose. The '90s-indebted debut single, "Love and Respect," sees the electro-pop group corralling the excellent Atlanta rapper Michael Render (aka Killer Mike) to spit some lines over a moody earworm. The Danish musicians are longtime fans of the Southern U.S. rap scene and met Killer Mike when he performed in Copenhagen.

"I think fans of our music might be surprised there's a rapper on our album, since many of our songs are very pleasing, but we felt it fit well with this album's harder style," says frontman Nikolaj Manuel Vonsild. "We didn't expect Mike would say yes, so we were very excited to work with him."

The backbeat edge of the Killer Mike collaboration sends ripples throughout the rest of Infinity Pool. As such, this new full-length avoids being a facsimile of the group's award-winning 2011 breakthrough, Konkylie, or their promising 2008 debut, Ten Makes a Face. The highly synthetic and shadowy tone matches well with Vonsild's androgynous, Arthur Russell-like vocals.

"I've always enjoyed singers that don't possess a strong male or female identity while singing," says Vonsild. "I think some of the best songs come from that mindset."

Vonsild's delivery is haunting and obscured, his eerie melodies floating like a ghostly mist over the keyboard lines of Jonas Kenton and Simon Muschinsky, and the polyrhythms of drummer Silas Moldenhawer. Tracks such as the spooky single "Iodine" and rave-inspired "Degeneration" are dynamic headphone-listening experiences. In all, When Saints Go Machine's pop is both energetic and ornate, thanks to a vast array of old-school influences being mutated by the group.

"We wanted to recapture the energy of '90s rave, trance, and house songs because we all grew up with that type of music," explains Vonsild. "Some people say they don't like that kind of music, but it's something that we instantly understand. There's a lot of melodic punch to dance music. It seemed natural to us because we love melody."

Still, Infinity Pool plays tricks on any pop enthusiast's hopes and predilections. The grand house strings on "Mannequin" amuse, but deeper cut "Deadboy" has a frightening ambiance that gets under your fingernails. This yin-yang experience can make for a difficult first listen, but Vonsild thinks the time invested will be worth it.

"Making just four-on-the-floor dance tracks is fine and has a place, but we want to search for something rhythmically deeper," he says. "We tried to make a simple record, but we kept layering instrumentation."

Despite the critical and commercial success of Konkylie in the European market, When Saints Go Machine didn't receive a ton of attention from American press. Vonsild hopes to change that situation with their first ever U.S. live dates later this year.

"We're a relatively small Danish band, and it's expensive to tour around the U.S., so we were waiting for the right time," he says. "We may be musicians, but we're not that stupid."

[This article first appeared in Under the Radar's June/July 2013 print issue.]



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