In the ever changing and increasingly fluid realm of commercial music things no longer work as they used to, and many have come to doubt the age-old axiom that genuine art; true quality and an authentic message, will always prevail. Belief in this and, on that ground, an unwavering belief in one’s expression so long as it is not compromised, despite all obstacles and disappointments, has always been the special serenity prayer for artists.
But these days it seems that other mechanisms determine what is brought forth, or, infinitely more often, repelled by the music and media industries; mechanisms and laws too callous, brutal and capitalistic to let genuine art survive. Rather, it sometimes seems that true art’s destiny is expulsion from publicity -into candid corners where the resigned and the misfits gather, or even back to our heads.
Therefore stories of art that is quiet and sober and true; utterances that are self-contained and do not spill over into their own contradiction for the sake of attention, yet still become successful, are genuinely comforting.
An example of such a story is that of Norwegian guitar & song duo Kings of Convenience
who are gaining traction in many countries.
Focusing on their entry into the realm of commercial music, and their tranquil ascent as artists, the first thing to look at is the attitude and statement that is contained in the name they have chosen for themselves.
According to the Kings: Erlend Øye and Eirik Glambek Bøe, the name originarily expressed the (physical) relief of working only with their voices and acoustic guitars. Acquainted as they were with the immeasurable hassle and toil that dealing with complete (electric band) equipment entails, to settle for a format that as a rule would never require anything beyond the stripped down set-up of lone voices and acoustic guitars, was tantamount to shedding monstrously heavy and inflexible downhill ski boots for delicious, air cushioned sneakers (an image all Norwegians subscribe to)
But the love of convenience is something deeper too, something reflected also in their music and in the entire attitude toward its outing and its destiny.
Because understood not as dodging real resistance or avoiding wholesome challenge, but rather as aiming for effortlessness and a subtle lightness, being a “King of Convenience”, it seems, is a position that has plenty going for it in the face of the utter fluidity and callousness of the music industry, and not least it is in fine accordance with a desire to retreat to realms of such lightness on the part of the listener.
The story of KoC is intriguing in its colouration of effortlessness and serenity. Worlds apart from the knuckle-white, hard working determination of so many successful artists; whose “truth of choice” seems to be that “making it is wanting it, more than everybody else”, KoC’s genesis was just hours and hours of quiet strumming with no particular plan or desire on behalf of their efforts, perhaps mainly because what they were doing was not an effort but something pleasant and automatic.
From this starting point came songs baring its traits; music both effortless and subtle, at the same time inconspicuous and compelling, so much so that in times when demo’s were obsolete and making commotion about oneself and extra-musical factors the recipe, KoC were signed and given leagues of leeway, solely in virtue of the songs: some songs from a room in Bergen.
Thus two quiet and somewhat odd young men from Bergen Norway were destined to circumvent the nasty battleground of the pop-art-media-consumer complex and quietly address people at home, so to speak.
‘Quiet is the new loud’ was the name of their 2001 debut, which generated a well of admiration and got a reception as if it were something entirely novel they had issued, when in fact they had simply been bold enough, in an effortless way, to make an album of songs exactly the way so many feel that music essentially should be issued.
This is not to underestimate the quality of their song-writing or their class as musicians. In both respects they stand out, not least in their untroubled play with vocal harmonies, and it is largely due to their superb musicianship that they were able to embark on this venture of theirs; to dare let the songs; voices and pure guitars alone, shimmer unprotected on record and on stage.
But KoC deliver a message beyond the songs, because they carry with them the context and attitude that was their starting point. The albums convey effortlessness and serenity in more ways than one: from the pictures, the design and colouration, to the notes, the words, and their on-stage appearance, and of course, the music itself.
The entire package is one of a subtle lightness that has struck home with selective music consumers across the world and made them embrace the untroubled silence in the art of KoC. Because the essence of what they do is in the space it opens up; the entire aesthetic is seemingly saying that “there is time, and there is room; so disregard the commotion and stay another day”.
In the wake of the success of ‘Quiet is the new loud’ Erlend and Eirik went different ways for a while, both in accordance, one might ht say, with the essence of KoC. Erlend pursued a further musical career entailing all sorts of different projects, most of them hugely successful and all with the same distinct flare of ease and lightness to them. Eirik went back to university to find anew calm and concentration, and complete his degree in psychology.
But last year they were back with their much awaited second album. ‘Riot on an empty street’ takes up all the constituents of the debut, and furthers them according to many critics, while at the same time it is different with more instrumentation and a slightly more urban and “social” flare to it. The trademark effortlessness, ease and lightness is intact however, and the record seemingly met the expectations of their many and diverse fans.
KoC is now firmly established as esteemed proponents of the kind of expression that is theirs; touring regularly across Europe and North America, and typically met by enthusiastic but attentive audiences.
Although still being very far from huge sales, large crowds and mainstream stardom, they are admired, worshipped even, across the world, by a select and out-of-the-ordinary attentive audience. And few would argue that they have gotten remarkably far considering the simple essence of what they do: a preference for space, simplicity and convenience, and a distinct ease with which they handle themselves and execute their art.
But as pointed out, perhaps it is precisely the effortlessness and the conscious disinterest in extremes, that has been instrumental in taking them to where they are now; pleasantly doing what they like with whom they like; somewhat oblivious to the hardships associated with “the industry of art”.