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Blonde Redhead concertpic by Henning Poulsen/Panorama flag US - New York - Full Moon 60 - 09/02/01

Blonde Redhead
Øyafestivalen, Oslo, 11.08.01

A concert, a chat. But first, a beginners guide.

Italian twin brothers Amedeo and Simeone Pace teamed up with Japanese Kazu Makino in NYC in the early nineties. Amedeo and Kazu on guitar, bass and vocals, Simeone on drums and keyboard. Blonde Redhead have released five albums so far. Starting out as Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth) protegés with their debut Blonde Redhead (1994), it took their second album La Mia Vita Violenta (1995) to establish their own definite personality. From there on any comparison with others are redundant. Beautiful songs floating in nihilistic dissonance, each song an organic integration of themes in a way that makes the result infinitely larger than the mere sum of each part. If still in doubt, please check out "Violent Life" or "10 Feet High".

On Fake Can Be Just As Good (1997) the focused intensity slizes the air like a razor's edge. This is what punk or power pop could have been today if sythesizers and hair gel had not taken over the show in the eighties. The last two albums, In An Expression Of The Inexpressible (1998) and Melody Of Certain Damaged Lemons (2000), were produced by Guy Picciotto (Fugazi). New directions were staked out in their constant pursuit of aesthetic progression. If Fake... was the outward view, Melody... is looking inward. Allthough pop alá Abbey Road is a reference, the razor is still present, but with more air to slize, more profound insanity. A tender insanity, mediated by Amedeo and Kazu's exploration of unorthodox guitar tunings, and emphasized by the latter's high pitched vocals. No room for a single unnecessary note. So basic, so raw, so simple in a way.

Blonde Redhead are maybe not among the basic researchers of modern pop music, compared to Steve Albini or early Sonic Youth. More like the ubiquitous Beatles, the achievement of Blonde Redhead lies in the ability to find the expression that fits each song. And The Song is the centre piece. And it fits.

Saturday night at 2100. A concert.

After a fistful of concerts in Italy, Oslo was Blonde Redhead's last stop on this years Euro tour.

Indeed, it is their first time here. The arena is Øyafestivalen, a two day pop festival at Middelalderparken, the birthplace of Oslo city. We enjoy the last days of summer, the weather is nice, the sun is just about to be going down. The air is charged - maybe it is the weather, maybe it is my expectations. No. Something magic is in the air from the minute the first chord is struck. Correction, first Kazu has to remount the strap on her instrument, they have to start over, but from the second chord is struck, we bathe in bliss.

Kazu with a guitar on the left side of the stage, Amedeo with a base guitar on the right side. Drummer Simeone in the center behind the others, also controlling the synthesizer and pre-recorded tracks. During the set of about an hour (all too short, thanks to the festival management), Kazu and Amedeo constantly switch between playing the guitar and base guitar.

The bulk of the set consisted, not surprisingly, of songs from their last album. In between this and the careful selection of favourites from previous albums, they played one song I did not recognize from any of their releases (with Kazu not playing, only singing to the backing of the others).

Having been exposed to a lot of tiresome rawk'n'rawl clichés from the same stage earlier in the festival, it is funny then to see how much more guts, intensity, noise and music these three can produce in their modest apparition. No, boys and girls, there is no need to set your guitar on fire with gasoline if you can do it by mere striking the right oblique-angled chord! Shut up. Listen. Enjoy.

Some images are lingering in my head. Amedeo and Simeone in a cascade of dissonant, hypnotizing noise. Kazu groping her way across the stage, backlit by the sunset. No tricks, no mirrors or smoke. A stunning appearance.

Saturday night at 2300. A chat.

Still elevated by the concert the band delivered just an hour ago, I sit face to face with the three Blonde Redheads in their improvised backstage cabin.

Q: Thank's for a really enjoyable concert. How did you feel about it yourself?
AP: It was ok.

Q: But it was a short set, wasn't it?
AP: Well, it's a festival, the schedule is tight. They decide. We only play.

Q: Do you always travel as three musicians, I mean, is it maybe because you play only one concert in Norway?
SP: No, that is the normal way we do it nowadays. We haven't used a 4th person on stage for years.

Q: You use pre-recorded and pre-programmed tracks instead. Don't you feel inhibited by the limitations in tempo and length of each song?
AP: Did it sound inhibited to you?

Q: No, not at all, but I mean, doesn't that feel as a restriction if you want to 'go with the flow'? (they hesitate, I turn to SP) For you as a drummer you need to hear it and be in synch all the time?
SP: Well, sometimes it is difficult, but we have no choice. And it's ok, we are used to doing it this way.
KM: We find it might be an advantage, as the frame that we operate within is set and we can improvise by other means and take out the energy in other ways.

Q: When you create your music, how does the lines and themes in the songs come about? Do each of you contribute in that stage of the creation process?
(hesitation, giggles, the others look at AP)

Q: I mean, do you sit at home with an accoustic guitar or - ?
AP: Well, we don't like homework, we are too little disciplined to sit at home and compose. It's like if you have all day then (gesticulating accustic air guitar with dreaming eyes to the others' great amusement and giggles) then nothing comes out of it. We need some pressure to create.

Q: The integration of the elements is what I find as the most unique quality in your music. How does that come about in the process?
KM: (adjusts her position by a placing one leg up on the seat, considers carefully what to say) We find that picking away elements are more important than adding more. And we work hard trying to remove the unnessesary notes in the different instruments lines - we try to minimize until we have only the core left. (the others nod in concensus.)

Q: Finally, when will you start working on a new album?
AP: Well, we need to follow our own pace, it's a slow process. We first need to get back to NYC and then start working with new songs. We are not very disciplined...

My stolen minutes are over. I am happy to conclude that person to person the trio appear as sympathetic as only real geniuses are. There is no room for glamour or fake posing in their music, nor in their behaviour. A magic night draws to an end.

Photo © Henning Poulsen/Panorama

Copyright © 2001 Per Fikse e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Blonde Redhead articles/reviews: 23, Barragán, Dripping, Here Sometimes, Misery Is a Butterfly.

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