The Nordic Music Prize | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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The Nordic Music Prize

2013's Best Album: The Knife's Shaking the Habitual

Mar 04, 2014 The Knife Bookmark and Share

On Saturday, March 1, the fourth annual Nordic Prize was given out in Oslo, Norway during the annual by:Larm music festival. It seems shocking that the award—inspired by the Barclaycard Mercury Prize—is only in its fourth year. As reflected by this year’s nominees, the region (which includes Norway, Sweden, Denmark, The Faroe Islands, Greenland, Finland, and Iceland) certainly contains its share of talented musicians. (Is it the long winters? Government grants? Or just musical genes?)

Culled from a larger pool that included Sigur Rós, Trentemøller, and Sin Fang, this year’s twelve short-listed nominees represented the extremes in music. Among the genres represented: psych rock, punk, ethereal pop, R&B slow jams, sugary/sexy pop, and not one, but two feminist manifestos. (The Knife and Jenny Wilson for those of you keeping score.) Bands vying for the prize included:

Atlanter: Vidde
Death Hawks: Death Hawks
Hjaltalín: Enter 4
Iceage: You’re Nothing
Jenny Hval: Innocence Is Kinky
Jenny Wilson: Demand The Impossible
Minä ja Ville Ahonen: Mia
Mona & Maria: My Sun
Múm: Smilewound
Rhye: Woman
Synd Og Skam: Lad Mig Falde Ind Til Dig/Center
The Knife: Shaking The Habitual

The jury made their final decision during a three-hour closed-door session/debate on Saturday, mere hours before the ceremony. Given that many of the lesser-known artists were in the city performing at by:Larm (which, like the award, is dedicated to showcasing the best in upcoming Nordic music), an upset seemed possible. Sure the first award was bestowed on Jónsi for his debut Go, and last year’s award went to Swedish sister act First Aid Kit (who performed at this year’s event). But 2011’s winner was a dark horse, Swedish jazz trumpeter Goran Kajfeš—a name that most outside of Sweden probably won’t recognize.

It would have been exciting for Jenny Wilson, who has never had an international release outside of Sweden take the prize. Or perhaps in the spirit of international collaboration Rhye’s Woman, which was written and performed by Canadian singer/songwriter Milosh and Danish producer Robin Hannibal. Or perhaps either Múm or Hjaltalín—both bands who seem fated to live in the ethereal shadow of their country mates Sigur Rós.

At a brief bilingual ceremony held at Oslo’s Sentrum Scene, The Knife was awarded the honor. The decision seemed like an odd one given the band’s checkered relationship with publicity. Their press photos usually obscure their face, they give limited interviews (if they do interviews at all), and the only time they show up to a ceremony is to openly mock it. Perhaps it would have been better to give the honor to a band that would use it in the spirit it was intended, to advance the cause of Nordic Music?

But the Swedish brother/sister team’s fifth album simply couldn’t be ignored. They’re created a song-cycle that flies in the face capitalism, consumerism, and male-dominated hierarchy. But to understand it, first the listener has to invest in the process, shifting through guttural groans, atonal scales, shrieking synths, and an album manifesto that includes the cryptic phrase, “To us the body is no longer psychological. It’s certainly not a container, we don’t believe in metaphors.” Shaking the Habitual isn’t pretty by any means. But as Nordic Prize Jury member Andres Lokko explains, that’s sort of the point.

“This year’s winner of the Nordic Music Prize is radical on so many levels,” says Lokko of the jury’s decision. “Lyrically, visually, musically and politically. It’s a brave and challenging work. Both dazzlingly contemporary and totally uncompromising. The [Knife] themselves described this record as ‘playing with people’s time and attention spans—in an era when nobody seems to have any.’ Shaking the Habitual is much more than a collection of songs, it’s a complete statement.”

Since The Knife is known for recontextualizing elements for their own means, it would have been exciting to see the band accept the award in person—embracing the honor in order to further their own agenda. But given that their manifesto also includes the phrase “When we travel between thresholds, people say: ‘you’re hiding.’ Not everything can be so easily explained,” the duo was predictably absent.

Instead, the trophy was collected by the band’s tour manager, who replied with a simple “Thank you.” The lack of fanfare was a bit disappointing. (And we can probably put money on the band not performing next year.) And sure, The Knife was a predictable choice to receive the award—just as the band’s responding by not responding was also par for course. But in a world of microgenres and one-hit wonders, The Nordic Music Prize committee should be thanked for honoring a band whose ideals and beliefs remain consistent, even as their music tumbles further and further down the rabbit hole.




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