Kaleidoscopic in the studio and a force majeure on stage, it’s no surprise that Malin Dahlstrom (vocals) and Gustaf Karlof (keyboards) of Sweden’s Niki & The Dove’s met while writing music for the theatre. While their roots are in theatre, they ultimately straddle the pop and dance worlds with a devastating musical hybrid that incorporates electronics and beats spanning from tribal to synth-pop to R&B. It is a riddle to work out exactly what the pair are-as it should be. “In our heart, we are a soul band, not an electronic band,” says Malin.
Niki & The Dove’s pop and dance sides are both evident from the very first moments of Instinct, their debut album, as the opening track “Tomorrow” unfolds a subtle pulse with pan-Pacific textures underneath Malin’s aching vocal, rising to a series of euphoric peaks as the vocals ramp up the feeling of a tribal ceremony. This was also the case with “DJ, Ease My Mind,” the duo’s debut single released in February 2010. Malin’s vocal has the urgency and vulnerability of epic ‘60s girl-group pop (The Shangri La’s, say) fused to Niki & The Dove’s unique version of joyful dance-floor release. Time and again, Instinct follows the same blueprint of intent - a blend of tenderness, explosion, hypnosis and elation - but never the same routine. In the same way as Malin and Gustaf won’t use comparisons to describe their sound, they don’t feel it necessary to discuss what music has shaped their sound. In any case, Malin says, it’s not even other music that fires their imagination. “We are children of our time and of everything we have listened to all our lives. But if anything comes through our music, it’s only sub-consciously. Our influences are other art forms; a book, a painting or a poem. Or it could be the environment.”
So they became Niki & The Dove, releasing their single on UK indie Moshi Moshi in autumn 2010. Between more recording (again with Elof, who Gustaf calls their, “critical third eye; he helps us look with a different view”), they began to play shows. Live, Niki & The Dove have a permanent live drummer, Magnus Böqvist, with Kalle Perlskog sometimes doubling up, though when they get the chance, there are three drummers, a bassist and two dancers flanking Malin’s exuberant presence, which brings the tracks’ instinctive rhythms even more to life. Instinct is an exhilarating experience, like stepping into a piece of art. Is expectation weighing on Niki & The Dove, now that they are receiving international acclaim, including placing in the BBC Sound of 2012 poll? Not according to Gustaf: “It’s wonderful, an extremely big honour, and also unreal. But we just make the music that we want to, and never compromise, so no pressure. It’s not like we can change anything anyway!”