SMERZ LIVE AT NATIONAL SAWDUST, NYC

Smerz is an electronic/pop music duo based in Norway, comprised of Henriette Motzfeldt and Catharina Stoltenberg. They’re currently signed to XL Recordings and are touring the world after having just released their sophomore EP, Have fun. 

The very cool National Sawdust venue in Brooklyn hosted the late night concert on the 11th of May. The fierce MHYSA opened for the duo with a unique and unsettling performance. The crowd was never sure of what was about to come, whether it be a poetic lullaby or an interlude of blood curdling screams. She set the tone of the night with her alternative experience. 

When Smerz, took the stage, the lights dimmed enough for the crowd to barely see their silhouettes. The intimate room with detailed white walls of metal was utilized as a dark space where the sense of sound reigned.

With their decks facing each other and them looking to each other for timing and cues, the solid musical partnership these two women have formed was evident. Their vocals both opposed and harmonized with each other, almost sounding like the inner voices in your head communicating harsh truths about love and relationships.

Stoltenberg introduces ‘Oh My My’ in a stiff whisper, setting up the track for Motzfeldt’s higher pitched, melodic vocals. Warped distortions are brought together at different intensities serving as the backdrop, while a back and forth ensues between the artists as they call out their hypothetical love interest. Lyrical themes of romance were intended to be central to the group’s music, with their etymological title coming from the German equivalent Schmerz im Herz, loosely referring to the feeling surrounding love and its pursuit.

Soon after, ‘No harm’ came up in their set and breathy vocals about lust and lack of connection washed over in increasingly tense cycles. Warps and heavy bass interjected innocent vocals from both sources.

They often implement the effect of field recordings in their music, where noises of crowds and conversations come up in the background, not from the people spectating them in the moment but previously recorded snippets. The duo has already reinvented and added to their style within two solid EPs, taking creative elements from unconventional sources such as iPhone recordings of conversations and parties. Creatively, they are just getting started.  

Fortunately, they played ‘Because,’ a sassy single featured on their first EP, Okey, talking about the power play within a seemingly ending relationship. Motzfeldt’s voice teased as Stoltenberg’s interjected and emphasized. Their obscured words, heavy beats and bass, along with cut up hi-hats, flooded the room in waves. 

Throughout the live set, the two would constantly play off each other. The dark space where they performed only highlighted the music coming from their mixing decks. Their style is minimal, while full-bodied and off-putting. Idiosyncratic beats and melodies are glued together to build track after track. The duo’s sound is attractive because it is unique and disconcerting, it can be heavy with fast beats and hollow noises, or charm you with sweet melodies and feathery vocals.

The small crowd at National Sawdust of tops 150 people were able to see the two at their best. They were feeding off each other’s energy, physically bouncing along to the beat before their respective decks, and producing music for those who have been listening to them and truly understand what they’re about. The two do not try to fit styles and genres with their music, but build off of one another and their experiences, whether captured through tantalizing vocals or recorded affairs in passing.

Just awesomely esoteric sounds for those who know, you know?

[+ SMERZ

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