Norway’s Jenny Hval arrives in Edinburgh with a string of critically acclaimed avant-garde albums to her name, the latest of which – Blood Bitch, influenced by old vampire films and the place of menstrual blood in art and society – dominates the setlist. Sparse and pulsating synth arrangements arrive from Håvard Volden; the rest of Hval’s band absent. Unfortunately, much of their gear, including costumes and a tuba, was lost in transit, so we are presented with a unique, stripped-back set up. Hval and her companions scoured the city during the day for makeshift props, bringing colour and intrigue to the Summerhall stage, creating an “old theatre” set-up complete with flowers, a luxurious couch and a shimmering tartan-disco jacket hanging in the background that Elton John may have dropped off in a charity shop after his last Scottish performance.
Cuts from Blood Bitch including Conceptual Romance and The Great Undressing are mesmerising. Hval’s ethereal presence and haunting vocal glides over waves of bass and sample heavy synth that is unnervingly intimate and organic, while also evoking the cold claustrophobia of classic Carpenter horror soundtracks. Entranced by the ecstatic movements of Hval and Orfee Schuijt (instantly recognisable from the Blood Bitch album artwork) as Female Vampire approaches a climax, the audience are enveloped by relentless strobe lights, and thunderous applause follows.
The show peaks once it’s performance art aspect becomes less elaborate, and an untamed, contagious energy – reminiscent of punk at its most vital and visceral – is unleashed. Some of the audience are left alienated during extended instrumentals where meaning is conveyed without vocals as only the front rows can properly observe this. Drive becomes a little tedious, as Schuijt walks amongst the crowd, filming the ground with her iPhone (predictable though arguably still necessary in 2017) as Hval delivers spoken word that is hard to discern due to the accompanying instrumental. Other Blood Bitch highlights including Secret Touch and other gems from her back catalogue like Take Care of Yourself could’ve perhaps filled this brief lull in an otherwise inspired set from one of the world’s most provocative, creative and unpredictable songwriters.
Words: Fraser MacIntyre
Jenny Hval presented by Nothing Ever Happens Here, Summerhall, Aug 20, 8pm