Karin Dreijer’s distinctive, disfigured vocals have earned her a reputation as one of the most fearless innovators in music history. Whether releasing under solo moniker Fever Ray or with brother Olof as part of The Knife, there’s an impressive continuity which links everything she touches and sets her apart from her contemporaries. Despite her success, Dreijer frequently deflects the spotlight. She masks herself – sometimes physically, sometimes by hiring actors and models to play the protagonists of her videos. It’s precisely this mystery which makes her anomalous in the context of a music industry now built on exposure.
Dreijer is meticulous when it comes to releasing projects. Every synth, string and steel drum feels carefully considered, adding more layers to a disarmingly consistent sonic blueprint which, despite small fluctuations, remains both legendary and distinctive. This same attention to detail is evident in her music videos; sometimes creepy, sometimes vulgar, her visual back catalogue reveals her willingness to take risks. In celebration of Dreijer, we combed through her back catalogue to unearth a series of visual highlights which have cemented her enduring credibility.
Pass This On (2003)
It’s impossible to write about Karin Dreijer without first mentioning The Knife. The influential, avant-garde group released a debut album in 2001 which never caught on; it wasn’t until 2003’s Deep Cuts that the band’s unconventional electronica and performance art sensibilities permeated the mainstream. This rare television performance of Pass This On shows that, even in the early days of Dreijer’s career, she was reluctant to star in her own videos; instead, she left the lip-syncing to drag queen Rickard Engfors, who also performs in the official clip. Drag, dad dancing and steels drums – what more could you want?
What Else is There? (2005)
The Knife followed up the momentum of Deep Cuts with their stone-cold classic, Silent Shout, in 2006. Meanwhile, Dreijer was also busy lending her solo vocal talents to a slew of collaborations with production duo Röyksopp. They’re all excellent – Tricky Tricky in particular – but only 2005’s What Else is There? was accompanied by an official video; a moody, atmospheric clip which, surprisingly, features Dreijer herself. Although the vocalist is played by model Marianne Schröder, the elusive star makes a cameo as a ruff-wearing sorceress seated at an elaborate banquet table.
If I Had a Heart (2009)
In 2009, Dreijer launched a solo project under the moniker Fever Ray. If I Had a Heart was launched as the album’s lead single, which is fitting; Dreijer’s pitch-shifted vocals and the menacing, swelling beat are the perfect introduction to the breed of dark, spectral electronica Dreijer mastered on Fever Ray’s self-titled debut. The accompanying video, directed by Andreas Nilsson, is equally creepy, depicting vast, abandoned landscapes, what appears to be the aftermath of a murder scene and, once again, Dreijer herself – this time dressed as an immaculately-painted Grim Reaper.
When I Grow Up (2009)
Second single When I Grow Up came accompanied by another visually arresting clip, this time directed by Martin de Thurah. The track is more uptempo than its predecessor, featuring Dreijer’s vocals laid atop a beat which thrusts and swells before building up to an invigorating climax. This progression is depicted visually by a leaf-strewn pool which bubbles up as the video’s bedraggled teen protagonist throws some seriously impressive shapes on a series of diving boards. “The initial idea was… about a double headed creature not knowing which way to turn,” explained de Thurah of the video’s concept. This sense of chaos and danger penetrates the visuals, resulting in one of the best clips of Dreijer’s career.
Triangle Walks (2009)
One of the most beautiful things about the all-encompassing visual world of Fever Ray is that it can be completely enchanting even when very little is actually happening onscreen. The Triangle Walks video is exemplary of this; by this point, Dreijer had built so frequently on the twisted, freaky aesthetics that also permeated the videos of Silent Shout that seeing her in full, corpse-white face paint was nothing new. In this clip, she lip-syncs deftly as shadows flicker and envelope her partially-obscured face, mimicking the ping-pong synths and steel drums which bat back on forth on this album highlight.
Stranger Than Kindness (2009)
A few other videos were released from the Dreijer’s debut as Fever Ray, but none were as noteworthy as Stranger Than Kindness, a cover of the Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds original. Although only a bonus track on the album’s deluxe edition, the eerie clip splices together strobe lights, lasers and, of course, creepy dudes in masks to terrific effect. Both spooky and engaging, the visuals act as a perfect kiss-off to the menacing yet melancholy aesthetic Dreijer perfected with her solo debut.
The Dirty Diaries Trailer (2010)
It’s no secret that Dreijer has a tendency to drop off the face of the earth for a while between releases. In fact, it took her almost a decade to release a sophomore Fever Ray record; in the meantime she gigged extensively, released Shaking the Habitual with The Knife and contributed guest vocals to more tracks by dEUS and Rökysopp. Most importantly, she explored politics – more specifically, the politics of sex. Her work on the soundtrack of Dirty Diaries, an excellent compilation of queer, feminist porn can be retrospectively seen as key to understanding Plunge.
Switch Seeks Same / A New Friend (2017)
2017 was the year Dreijer dove headfirst into fetish, fucking and filthy, filthy queer sex. Sophomore album Plunge was explicit from the start, as these two teasers show. The first sees a latex-clad, lipstick-smeared romantic perusing a dating site: “sadist, empathetic switch seeks same,” reads the text which rounds off the visual, soundtracked by Dreijer’s wails of “this country makes it hard to fuck!” In the second, we’re led through a blood-strewn warehouse into the office of Carnal Kinksters, inhabited by a phone operator whose primal growls body crusted in white paint and rubber offer Fever Ray’s own twisted take on today’s obsession with dial-up desire.
To the Moon and Back (2017)
Without a doubt one the best visuals of her career, Dreijer plunges into forbidden desire in this gloriously seedy video for To the Moon and Back. The journey through a Technicolour world of kink begins with the revival of a bald protagonist who wakes up disorientated but, ultimately, horny as fuck. We follow them down dark alleyways and up illuminated escalators into a beautifully off-kilter orgy where our hero is bound, fed, tantalised and eventually pissed on by a cast of lovers dressed in flowers, inflatable muscle suits and gimp masks. The song itself celebrates the urgent ecstasy entailed by these taboo turn-ons, with Dreijer’s vocals building and building until she reaches a defiant climax of her own: “I want to run my fingers up your pussy“.
Wanna Sip (2017)
Preceded by another enticing teaser, The Twosome Takeover, the recently-released Wanna Sip video is a manic depiction of queer desire and the very specific urgency that comes alongside needing to be fucked immediately. In the clip, our two protagonists – the crumbling, kinky phone sex operator and the horny, bald star of To the Moon and Back – come together in a twisted, perverse first date which shows what the Channel 4 franchise could be if it were helmed by sex-positive performance artists. The video cleverly fuses fantasy and reality, with the track’s whirring synths symbolising a switch into the characters’ super freaky sexual subconscious. Their bodies eventually come together in perfect synchronicity, beautifully encapsulating the resounding, brilliantly filthy message of Plunge: that it’s acceptable, if not commendable, to dive headfirst into queer desire.