Photographs by Tom Salter
What a strange career Robyn has had. The imp-like Swede has been releasing sporadic hits for the better part of two decades, each of which has almost, almost, propelled her to the heights of superstardom she always threatened to reach.
Yet, despite the globe-trotting success of tracks like ‘With Every Heartbeat’, and her position as a pseudo-institution in Sweden, there is an abiding sense that she hasn’t quite fulfilled her promise. Last year’s Body Talk was wall-to-wall (filthy) fun, released just a few months before Katy Perry’s almost impossibly innuendo-laden Teenage Dreams. Given Mrs Russell Brand’s success, you would be forgiven for thinking that the commercial environment would be at its most Robyn-friendly at any point since ‘…Heartbeat’…and yet the album didn’t even come close to the top 100.
Tonight, it seems that a pretty sizeable chunk of the people who bought Body Talk are out and ready for a high-camp experience. The 3,000 capacity Roundhouse is packed to the (incredibly high) rafters with what, it rapidly becomes clear, is the hardcore of Robyn’s UK fanbase.
Robyn appears shortly after her band, a three-piece who have apparently come as Swedish Devo impersonators, dressed in matching white overalls. An opening salvo of ‘Fembot’ and ‘Time Machine’ sets the tone for a set that draws heavily on Body Talk, Robyn flitting across the stage so quickly that it is almost impossible to keep track.
There is no denying the pure pop brilliance of some of Robyn’s output. ‘Indestructible’ is like Supertramp’s ‘Breakfast In America’ reincarnated, while ‘Don’t Fucking Tell Me What To Do’ is, for much of the crowd, clearly the synth equivalent of ‘Killing In The Name’. She is at her best, though, when she is at her most abstract: without doubt the highlight of the evening is an unexpected airing of minimalist Body Talk standout ‘We Dance To The Beat’.
This is unashamed, inescapable fun. But somehow, something doesn’t sit quite right. There is a sense of an arena event contained; a feeling that Robyn has simply squashed the budget-be-damned show she clearly wants to put on, rather than crafting something that suits the sorts of venues she finds herself playing. Two flower-cum-windmill objects rotate at the back of the stage, a nod to what we might see if Robyn was selling out Wembley. On their own, though, they serve more as a reminder that this talented, entertaining artist has been unfairly overlooked by the majority of the record-buying public.
Entertaining, certainly. But also just a bit depressing.