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Almost all reviews written about Icelandic artists – Sigur Rós, Björk, Múm, etc – include the words ‘mystery’, ‘magic’, ‘elves’ and ‘childlike’. Underline them in the following review, count the number of occurrences, then mix the letters together and find the secret formula to turn alarm clocks into mammoths.
‘Cabaret Sauvage’ means ‘wild cabaret’, and it does feel like the venue is situated in the wild, albeit a science fiction kind of wild. As I make my way to the venue, walking along the Parc de la Villette complex, I pass hot houses surrounded by hollyhocks. In the distance, the Geode movie theater, a shining steel globe, looks like a metallic moon. As I near the riding center, the smell of horses grows strong – so strong it makes me think of animal quarters around circuses. I turn the corner and there it is: the Cabaret Sauvage itself, built like a circus tent, only more glamorous. Judging from the crowd waiting outside, it isn’t clear where the line is between audience and animals. I join the herd and file in.
Inside the tent, we are soon organised as a primitive tribe. The men go hunting for beer while the women set up the camp, laying coats and bags here and there. Since the stage is very low, the audience has to sit on the floor to see the artists. Looking at the huddled bodies, I feel as if I am at a camp fire, or in some kind of gather-round-and-I’ll-tell-ya-a-story fantasy scenario. Under the red velvet tent and the colored light bulbs, we wait for the magician’s act to start. The lights go off: Múm appear in a warm red glow. The wind begins to howl, and the magic starts for good.
The electronic elves play a set of mostly new songs from the album Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy, due September 24 (apparently the band is already working on the next album, because the show also includes a couple of “new new songs” that haven’t been recorded yet). The band has become faster, louder and folkier than on their previous LPs, without renouncing the cranking, crunching, scraping sounds and handmade feel that have been their trademark to date. A friend of mine suggested I bring a pillow to a Múm show, but stirring songs like ‘Dancing Behind My Eyelids’, ‘A Little Bit Sometimes’ and ‘They Made Frogs Smoke ‘Til They Exploded’ prove him wrong.
‘I Was Her Horse’ feels like a perfect song considering the setting, and the audience neighs with pleasure. The set grows to epic proportions with ‘Rhuubarbidoo’, a song about Estonia featuring a choir in the tradition of Eastern European folk anthems; as usual, the members of the band swap instruments, electronic and otherwise. Part of Múm’s live magic is that you actually get to see how they make these intoxicating sounds – of course, there are a lot of machines involved in the mix of acoustic live instruments and electronic beats, but seeing this doesn’t break the spell. Throughout, there is the unmistakable halo of childlike wonder above and around the audience’s faces; every individual is held, spellbound, until the end of the show, which falls on the stroke of midnight. Then, the magic circus becomes but a live venue again, beer glasses and coats are picked up from the floor, and the herd exits.
But on their faces lingers a mysterious glow…
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