Vulkano, live at Sebright Arms, December 2nd
Post-punky Swedish duo Vulkano rise from the ashes of indie pop band Those Dancing Days like a quirky, restless phoenix. Lisa Pyk-Wirström and Cissi Efraimsson are joined by a young man on guitar as they grace Bethnal Green’s Sebright Arms with their presence for the first date of their UK tour.
A minimal drum kit comprised of three tom toms and a cymbal, a keyboard and an electric guitar sit silently on the stage of the Sebright Arms venue, innocent in the diffused stage lights. They lose any sense of tameness once Vulkano take the stage – because if there’s one thing can be said for certain, it’s that Vulkano are LOUD.
A solitary prolonged synth note builds up a state of tension before the band breaks into their first song. On the rhythm of the tom tom drums, Cissi Efraimsson sings while staring out at her audience with a vacuous look on her face, as if accusing us of something we don’t yet know we’ve done. Slowly the song picks up beat as the drums intensify, supported by distorted, grungy guitar riffs. Before letting the energy die down too much, Lisa grabs a pair of bongo drums and starts banging on them ferociously with a drumstick, and, without the song come to a real end, Vulkano ascend relatively gently into Spider Spider. Upon a basic beating of drums, Cissi’s voice sings: “I am out on a spider hunt, I collect them, I collect them”. The rhythm is fairly chaotic, unnerving even, the lyrics simple, and Cissi’s shrill voice somewhat childish. Yet somehow, it really works. There’s a certain musicality to it, although I’m not quite sure where it’s coming from. Their sound is raw, a primitive energy rushing through their music. Standing at the centre of the stage, Cissi pounds mechanically on the drum. Dressed in a white skirt and blue satin jacket and coldly staring out at us, she resembles a sinister marionette doll. There exists a thin line where cute and creepy meet. Vulkano stand confidently balancing on that line.
In “We Ride”, her voice cries over a rolling of drums. “You never know who’s listening” she sings, again that hostile gaze, frowning at us, dead serious. Vulkano’s songs all share a similar rhythmic pattern made of quieter verses with a spoken-word quality to the lyrics, broken by more aggressive, punk rock intervals. Each song seems to cover themes related to nature and characterised by a certain playfulness. For the intro of one of their strongest pieces, Choir of Wolves, Cissi and Lisa howl stridently into the microphones, inviting the audience to “feel free to howl if you feel like it”. As in Spider Spider, the song is sweet and quirky in all the right places, accompanied by a synth tune vaguely reminiscent of MGMT’s Kids. The girls’ peculiar character and naivety so intrinsic to their live performance, is also evident in the song’s video, in which a group of girls in faux fur coats and face paint dance in front of a colourful cardboard cut-out desert scene – complete with volcano – as they bite into chunks of raw meat.
The next song, Too Young to Die, might be somewhat clichéd, but encompasses the essence of an all-girl punk rock band. Though the Sebright Arms is hardly half full, Vulkano unleash the same energy which you’d imagine they’d greet a much larger and tightly-packed venue with. Occasionally, Lisa steps away from her keyboard to dance madly by Cissi’s side, or join in on the beating of the drums. “Please don’t kill me I’m too young to die!” they cry.
Their best-known song, Vision Tricks, is slipped into the middle of their set – but Cissi halts the song a few seconds in, coyly explaining that “it was a little bit too quiet” (it really wasn’t). So they start again, even louder. Distinctively post-punk in influence, Vision Tricks is catchy right from the start, with its opening line of “Endless nights of fun fun fun.” Nearly everything about the song echoes with traces of Siouxsie and The Banshees – though maybe a slightly bubblier Siouxsie Sioux.
A song “about psychos” follows, after which all is still, except for an eerie inquisition: “Do you hear the silence?” Cissi’s asks repeatedly, her voice sweet and crystalline over throbbing guitar notes. Needless to say, the music is marked by that same haunting feeling which characterises nursery rhymes in horror films – and those are the sort of vibes we’re getting even before the distorted organ notes break in.
For their last song, Vulkano “take us to the jungle” – The Jungle quite simply describes, well, a jungle scene, with comical jungle rhythms in the background, but it’s the perfect song with which to end the show on a more playful, sweeter note. Hey, Cissi and Lisa even smile at their audience. With their distinctive attitude of buoyant cheerfulness mixed with sinister angst, they have definitely got their own thing going on.
Vulkano’s debut album, Live Wild Die Free, will be released in the UK on February 3rd.