Swedish electronic music-maker and multidisciplinary artist ionnalee had intended to tour this year in a globe-trotting celebration of her decade of sonic and visual experimentation. With the tour canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she’s bringing the show online with Konsert, set to premiere on September 2 at 7pm Central European Summer Time. This won’t be the first time she has performed in the virtual space. Her project iamamiwhoami went live online in 2010 for In Concert and again in 2015 for Concert in Blue.
More recently, ionnalee and her iamamiwhoami collaborator Claes Björklund (aka Barbelle) played a stripped down, outdoor mini-concert for Isolation Live in Ödeshög. Part of a 24-hour live stream in honor of the National Day of Sweden on June 6, the set is still available to watch on YouTube and was released as an EP in July. The event lends insight into an artist whose work at the dawn of the 2010s was initially shrouded in mystery.
When ionnalee and Björklund performed the iamamiwhoami track “N,” during Isolation Live, the singer commented that the track marked the “first chapter” in her evolution from a singer-songwriter to an electronic music artist. As Jonna Lee, she made indie pop, releasing the solo albums 10 Pieces, 10 Bruises and This Is Jonna Lee in the latter half of the ’00s. The start of the new decade, however, brought a new artistic vision, one that would reflect the mood of an era while maintaining a sense of individuality.
In the beginning, the identity of iamamiwhoami was unknown to audiences. The project emerged with a string of semi-anonymous teaser videos that captured imaginations and prompted some wild speculation as to who was behind them. (Karin Dreijer? Lady Gaga? Christina Aguilera?) Even after the guessing game ended, iamamiwhoami kept this new and growing fan base rapt with audiovisual albums, offering a fully developed visual and musical presentation in a digital-first package at a time when that was still novel. The project became a cult sensation – videos racked up millions of views on YouTube in the years since their release – and, after ionnalee embarked on her solo work, she was able to fund her 2018 world tour in four days of launching her Kickstarter campaign.
While iamamiwhoami achieved a level of viral notoriety at the onset of the endeavor that was, and probably still is, enviable to many in the music industry, the project, and ionnalee’s solo work, wouldn’t have built and sustained a long-term fanbase if it weren’t for the content within the content. That’s something that might be more more obvious in ionnalee’s quarantine projects.
Peer through the comments on ionnalee’s Instagram and YouTube and you’ll find fan after fan remarking on how profoundly her work has impacted them. The level of care and detail that ionnalee has put into her quarantine projects indicates that the fans have impacted her as well. Over the course of weeks spent off-the-road, ionnalee released a series of alternate versions and rarities as part of a playlist called Kronologi, the same name that was used for her canceled U.S. tour. These songs, which were produced, mixed and mastered by ionnalee, were unleashed on a weekly basis and accompanied by her own watercolor paintings. The collection was ultimately offered as limited edition vinyl and CDs through her website.
Quarantine concerts have become a regular part of music life in 2020, but there’s an intentionality to ionnalee and Björklund’s performance in Isolation Live that makes this one stand out as an extension of what they’ve long been doing, rather than simply a way to make do in the midst of this very strange global moment. In a pastoral setting, ionnalee sings into a mic that appears to be wrapped around a branch and plays on a wood paneled synthesizer. In the background, you can catch a glimpse of a small door that (to a city kid, at least) looks as if it could be the entrance to a fairy’s house. Her emotional, electronic music is very much at home in this setting.
For decades, electronic music has been imagined as the soundtrack of either an industrial present or a machine-led future. Musicians often lean into those tropes. Gritty warehouses and factories, robots, computers, and slick, sci-fi cities are the visual references for electronic music. But, much of ionnalee’s work is grounded in majestic nature, from the vast waters that were part iamamiwhoami’s audiovisual album, Blue, to the forest on the cover of her solo album Everyone Afraid to Be Forgotten. Even her robot co-star on the cover of her 2019 album, Remember the Future, is standing on a rocky mountainside. She brings together the electronic and the organic and, in the process, builds worlds steeped folklore, ritual and nature. In a decade where the growing crisis of climate change has turned more people towards environmental awareness and conservation, this imagery is poignant.
Her approach to Konsert is equally poignant. While donations will be accepted, ionnalee notes in an Instagram post that it is a free event “for all to enjoy as most of us are struggling now.”
Whether with iamamiwhoami or solo, ionnalee has spent the past decade doing something different. She’s worked outside of the music industry paradigm, independently releasing music, while developing collaborations with like-minded artists and building a strong and authentic fan base in the process.