HK119 has been a denizen of London's underground electro scene for some time now. I had been curious to see her for a while, mainly because of the slight buzz of celebrity association - as every press release gleefully screams (often before even mentioning her music) she was signed to One Little Indian by experimental grand-dame Bjork, who has been known to show her face at HK119's London shows.
So it was a slight disappointment when I finally got around to it - turns out I had seen her several times before and not even registered that it was her. A fierce looking woman in a black body stocking, marching and writhing around the stage, doing showy, cabaret/ karaoke style performance. Her eyes flash wide and she bares her teeth, as if to try and make herself look dangerous - it actually making her look self-consciously wacky, a performative mannerism and nothing more. She falls into the trap of being over practiced and seemingly hermetically sealed in terms of audience engagement - it hardly matters whether the audience are there or not, except in a practical sense of there being a reason for her to play... it's cold, distant, twice-removed. Something you sit through while waiting for the next band.
Removed-ness is an approach that can work, if the music is there to back it up, for example in the case of Goldfrapp (at her best), or Beth Gibbons of Portishead. But listening to her self-titled debut album, it's clear why HK119's music doesn't. Of the songs on HK119, only a couple really rise above forgettable run-of-the-mill electroclash, constructed from familiar drum sounds, synth squeals, digital bass, and vocals - there's lots of 80's influence, lots of referencing, lots of stylistic bits and pieces crammed into it. But no meat on the bones... no humanity. Not even an enjoyable lack of humanity, as found in much of this kind of stuff. It just feels... empty. Maybe good pop doesn't need content. But my favourite pop songs of all time all have something extra in there... Dusty Springfield's vocal break in 'What Have I Done To Deserve This', or Bowie's performance on 'Under Pressure', or David Byrne's vocal mannerism on pretty much everything he did. There has to be a hook, beyond just going through the motions - some kind of real investment of effort, emotion or creative spark. And I can't find it here.
Pick Me Up is the star of the HK119 show, and the redeeming feature of the album. It's a wonderfully catchy robotic pop single with a vocal line borrowed from The Talking Heads' 'Slippery People' and a fat, stomping rhythm. But one truly memorable song on a debut album is a pretty woeful result really.
4John Brainlove's Score