ionnalee Celebrates Decade Anniversary with Konsert on September 2

Photo Credit: John Strandh

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.

NEWS ROUNDUP: Pazz & Jop Lives, 21 Savage vs. ICE, and MORE

Kacey Musgraves topped the 2019 Pazz & Jop Albums List with Golden Hour.

Pazz & Jop LIVES – Even if the Village Voice Doesn’t

When I received my Pazz & Jop Ballot in December, I couldn’t have been more shocked.  I’d assumed that when the Village Voice shuttered in August, the music critics’ poll would go along with it. As an NYC resident and regular Voice contributor I was sad to see the paper go, but the loss of the poll was like salt in a wound; there was something so methodical, so definitive, so objective, about tallying hundreds of critics’ top ten albums to determine the year’s best in a way that wasn’t influenced by the branding of any particular publication. And while the top of the list was interesting, the real value I got from the poll came from scouring the ballots of critics with similar taste to mine, mining for overlooked gems.

The Voice had published only one piece since its death, though an archive remained online. No one seemed to know who would helm the poll itself – some critics even thought the email ballots that had been sent were a  a ghostly, automated mistake, though some of the copy had been changed. The defunct alt-weekly began running Robert Christgau’s old year-end analyses, stretching back to 1971, when the poll began. And then, this week, a flurry of essays from Christgau, Jessica Hopper, Sasha Geffen, Tirhakah Love, and a roundtable of former editors, not to mention the poll itself, appeared.

There are five women at the top of the album list – for the first time in the poll’s history. Kacey Musgraves got the top honors, with her breathlessly praised Golden Hour, followed by Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer. Next comes Cardi B, Mitski tied for third, and Robyn’s Honey rounds things out. Noname and Lucy Dacus appear in the top ten as well. And though Childish Gambino’s “This is America” was deservedly voted best single of the year, the rest of the year’s top songs feature Cardi, Janelle, Ariana, Robyn, Mitski and Kacey as well.

While it’s hard to say if there will be a Pazz & Jop next year, this year feels at least a little triumphant, and not just for the women who dominated year end lists. It’s a reminder that music journalism, while on shaky ground, has the potential to grow, change, and most of all, to keep existing, so long as there is a community of critics willing to sound off. Ann Powers says it best: “With Pazz & Jop I bring a different mind-set to it. I am thinking about the larger community of music writers. And I care about the larger community of music writers a lot. I want us to have a home to be together, and that’s what Pazz & Jop gives us. And so, the fact that this poll still lives, it makes me feel like I still have a bigger home.”

21 Savage vs. ICE

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detained 21 Savage on Sunday, claiming that the Atlanta-based rapper was born in the UK, is in the US on an expired visa, and that felonies stemming from a 2014 arrest could lead to his immediate deportation. 21 Savage, whose real name is She’yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, confirmed that he was indeed born in London, but that he was already in the process of renewing his visa after becoming aware of his “illegal” status in 2017. A representative for 21 Savage pointed out that while the rapper had indeed been arrested on felony drug charges, he was not convicted and has a clean record, and should be allowed to remain in the US until matters of his citizenship are settled, given his fourteen-year residency and the three children he has fathered in this country.

Immigration is obviously a hot-button issue in this political climate, and some have pointed out that 21 Savage has been critical of the government’s separation of families at the US-Mexico border. Though he came to prominence rapping about life in the streets – including gang violence, drug dealing, murder, and guns – he’s given a lot back to the Atlanta community as of late, and his latest album, I Am > I Was has been a huge success. Despite lots of support from fans and the hip-hop community at large, 21 Savage has a long legal battle ahead of him – we can only imagine what is like for those facing the same battle, but without resources.

That New New

Just in time for Black History Month, Chicago neo-soul singer Jamila Woods announces her next album, Legacy! Legacy! whose thirteen tracks each honor a different person of color; the latest single from the LP is dedicated to writer Zora Neale-Hurston.

Patio shout out fellow NYC DIY band Washer in their latest single, “Boy Scout,” from their forthcoming debut LP, Essentials, out April 5.

Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast directed the latest video from Charly Bliss. “Capacity” will appear on the band’s sophomore LP Young Enough, out May 10 via Barsuk.

Foxygen’s new album Seeing Other People will arrive April 26 via Jagjaguwar and have shared its lead single.

Neneh Cherry shared a video for “Natural Skin Deep,” from her phenomenal 2018 comeback album Broken Politics.

Death Hags shared “Electrochemical Communication.”

Andrew Bird is equal parts Frank and Richie Tenenbaum in the new video for “Sisyphus,” from his cheekily-titled My Finest Work Yet LP, which comes out March 22 via Loma Vista Recordings.

The Japanese House will release their debut LP Good At Falling on March 1 after releasing a string of buzzy singles.

Thelma shared a delightfully weird video for “Stranger Love” as well as a new single, “Sway,” both from her sophomore record The Only Thing, out February 22.

Madrid duo Yawners have confirmed their first live appearances in the US will take place at this year’s SXSW; to celebrate they’ve released a video for “Please, Please, Please,” the lead single from their debut LP Just Calm Down, out March 22.

SOAK (Derry, Ireland based singer-songwriter Bridie Monds-Watson) releases sophomore LP Grim Town on April 26 and has shared its very timely first single “Valentine Shmalentine” with a cute visual.

Khalid dropped this Disclosure-produced banger from his latest album, which will be out in April.

iamiamwhoami vocalist ionnalee announced her sophomore solo album REMEMBER THE FUTURE (out May 31) and subsequent tour with lead single “Open Sea.”

Bibio shared this smooth-as-fuck track from an as-yet-unannounced follow-up to 2017 LP Phantom Brickworks.

Ariana Grande just dropped thank u, next, only six months shy of last year’s Sweetener LP.

End Notes

  • The 61st annual Grammy Awards will air on CBS this Sunday, featuring performances by Janelle Monáe, Cardi B, Camila Cabello, Brandi Carlisle, Lady Gaga, Dolly Parton, Kacey Musgraves, Dua Lipa with St. Vincent, and, in what is sure to be a train wreck of mediocrity, Post Malone with Red Hot Chili Peppers. But Ariana Grande has dropped out after the show’s producers refused to let her perform recent single “7 Rings.”
  • The Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan has been reunited with his Gish-era Stratocaster after it was stolen nearly thirty years ago.
  • Recently released from a year-long prison stint, DMX has announced an anniversary tour to commemorate his 20-year-old debut, It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot.
  • Early-aughts dance punks The Rapture will reunite for a Brooklyn show and festival appearance (at Long Beach’s Just Like Heaven).
  • Big Boi, whose very brief appearance was literally the only highlight of Super Bowl LIII, has also announced a tour with Goodie Mob and other members of Atlanta’s legendary Dungeon Family crew (but hopefully not Cee-Lo Green?).
  • Merge Records turns 30 this year, and the iconic indie imprint will celebrate in July with the MRG30 Music Festival in Carrboro and Durham, NC. The lineup will of course feature Superchunk and other label stalwarts like the Mountain Goats, Wye Oak, Fucked Up, Destroyer, and more. Tickets went on sale today.
  • Kim Gordon is getting her first-ever solo art show at Pittsburgh’s Andy Warhol Museum; featuring figure drawings, sculpture, paintings and sound installation; the show, titled Lo-Fi Glamour, goes up mid-May through September 1st.
  • Jonah Hill and Vampire Weekend took over the UWS Zabars to shoot a music video.
  • Dinosaur Jr. mysteriously appeared on the Japanese Billboard Hot 100 with “Over Your Shoulder.” The track appeared on 1994 LP Without a Sound, but unlike that album’s inescapable alt-rock jam “Feel The Pain,” was never released as a single.
  • 52-year-old Gorilla Biscuits guitarist Alex Brown passed away from a brain aneurysm last Friday.