Show Review: Jenny Hval At The Drake Hotel

By Kalina Nedelcheva, Photos by Elise Bertin

*Generally, music critics go into a show with all kinds of preconceived notions—they have a pretty educated guess as to what to expect. I tried extending myself beyond this bias by arriving at the Drake Hotel without any knowledge of who Jenny Hval is or what style of music she performs.*

Early arrival at a show gives you a perspective into the environment, which is important in mapping out the effect of the performer. The Drake welcomed me with songs by Charles Barkley, which tied in with the already colourful illuminated stage, soon inhabited by the opening act Olga Bell. Her performance was beckoning, soft, and was strongly reminiscent of Bjork. She sang about “privilege, hipsters, coffee, and shit,” skillfully mixing rhythmic beats and superimpositions of her own voice. Her seductive dancing tied in well with her act. There was this feeling of her music being on the cusp of greatness, but missing something. Perhaps it was in the way the audience was behaving or a mismatch of electronica that gave her this slight feeling of awkwardness.

Then, Jenny Hval. She appeared on stage wearing a black tarp that collided with her pale complexion and gave the (intentional, as Hval mentioned later) impression of a vampire. The audience, attentively listening to her experimental music, was enticed by the many personal connections that she reached for by storytelling between songs. Calling it her “director’s commentary,” the performer really established an important connection with those who came to see her, and breaking that barrier between audience and performer. Hval’s girlish appearance and ambient tonal harmonies were strongly juxtaposed against her almost sinister use of horror movies and blood. Music from her new album Blood Bitch was delivered with a strong theatrical aspect—she moved in the space lethargically, but paradoxically, with a level of exuberant energy. She executed her routine with a rather unbothered quality, fully aware that she was being observed by a full room of strangers, but comfortable giving them full access to her consciousness, and welcoming the dissertations of her character—a peeping Tom’s dream.

Hval used everything at her disposal, including rapid breathing. Her stage partner helped her incorporate the biological aspect of human nature, using what I would dare say were artificial heartbeats into her music, and skillfully supporting Hval, who said that he really played any instrument. Hval’s performance was analogous to a ritual of self-discovery—”Making herself available for love”—and was often an accurate representation of what we feel, think, and fear.


Jenny Hval


Olga Bell


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