ANNIE with RÖYKSOPP at the Opera House (735 Queen East), Tuesday (September 20), 8 pm. $18.50. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Is Annie for real? Seriously. The Norwegian DJ/dance singer seems a little too hot to be true. And I'm not saying that only because of her Scandinavian good looks and on-the-money fashion sense. As an artist, Annie Lilia Berge-Strand is an onion of hotness, every layer revealing a new layer of hot.
After spending time getting established in her small hometown of Bergen's club scene, Annie worked with producers Rºyksopp and Timo Kaukolampi (who join her at the Opera House next week), Richard X and Tore Andreas Kroknes (her boyfriend, who died in 01 at age 23 of a heart defect), and in 05 dropped Anniemal, one of the year's most charming dance records.
Catchy as sin, with robust production and brilliant arrangements, and lyrics equal parts wistful and playful (a dichotomous tone that feels distinctly European), Anniemal, Berge-Strand's reminder that the best pop music has a heart and a mind, easily won over North American critics all summer long.
The consequence was instantaneous fame, but Annie's kept a firm grip on her credibility while pursuing a massive touring and promotional itinerary. I call this extreme busyness, to the extent where Annie may not be able to DJ my upcoming house party despite my $85 offer. Then again, she's probably getting a bit more from vogue Berlin label !K7 for DJing their October release in the DJ Kicks series, a task that's had her elbow deep in numerous crates.
The perks don't stop there. Just as her friends expected, from city to city Annie also gets her share of male groupies.
"I played this really huge festival in Norway two weeks ago," she begins in her strongly accented lilt over the phone from her friend's office in Bergen. "My friends were standing in the back looking at the front of the crowd and trying to guess who of these guys were really big fans and which of them were just there to look at me," she says, launching into a fit of giggles. Somehow, the statement actually ends up sounding self-deprecating.
"You meet a lot of guys, and I'm signing a lot of autographs on people's backs and on their bellies. It's... it's... interesting. It's strange, but it's funny. Sometimes not so funny but sometimes very funny."
Also very funny is the extent to which some music writers have fallen in love with Annie's music resulting in some deliciously florid hyperbole. The second single from Anniemal, the incredibly warm Heartbeat, was recently praised because the song "encapsulates every element of human excitement." The line sends Berge-Strand into another peal of laughter.
"Wow, that's really flattering, isn't it?" she says dryly after a moment. "I used to go to a great club in Bergen, and I got to listen to a lot of music that I'd never heard before, and it sort of opened a new door in my life to new, interesting, great music. We went every Saturday and had an amazing time, and got a bit drunk, and dancing.
"It's about listening to music that takes you into some other dimension or something. I don't know how to say it in English it's about having an amazing time, listening to great music."