WASHINGTON, July 22, 2014 – The Norwegian indie pop band Highasakite recent performed in the “back stage” at the Black Cat, which is that venue’s more or less secondary stage, something of an extension to their first floor bar.
You could describe this space as a hole in the wall, and that wouldn’t be inaccurate. But that description doesn’t take into account just how cavernous it feels once the music starts playing. While it’s not as large as their primary venue on the second floor, however, in some specific situations, it’s the best venue for a band that’s looking to highlight its unique musical virtues.
The natural presumption, though, is to assume that a given band plays in this section of the Black Cat because it would be difficult for them to attract a larger audience—one that would merit a larger space. And as far as it goes, that observation isn’t far off the mark when it comes to Highasakite, an indie pop band from Norway.
Currently, this band hasn’t enjoyed much traction Stateside, and likely can’t fill a bigger room on its current tour. But in their recent performance here, that didn’t deter their energy or stop them from taking full advantage of the backstage area’s better acoustic plusses.
The way the acoustics works in Black Cat’s back stage area proved almost a perfect match for Highasakite and their distinctive blend of Scandinavian pop. It’s a musical flavor that seems to take on an interesting life as its own, not only separating them from their American counterparts, but also setting them apart from other localized European contemporaries.
On the surface, nothing about Highasakite seems to differentiate them to any great degree from the numerous indie pop bands out there. They’re a relatively up-tempo pop band, driven by synths and a subtle guitar touch, a description that’s fairly standard in their genre. But Highasakite doesn’t stop there.
Like other bands that call Norway and surrounding Scandinavia home, they have a way turning fairly traditional pop sensibilities slightly on edge, causing the sound they put out to feel refreshing if not bracing. Theirs is not really a dramatic shift, but somehow it sounds that way, with a great deal of the credit for this attributable to their lead singer Helene Havik.
Havik’s vocals enhance the atmospherics of Highasakite’s sound and increase the dramatic flair each song brings to the band’s performance. Her voice is powerful, but there’s enough quirkiness in the way she emphasizes each phrase that gives a playful feel to this band’s songs that wouldn’t be there without her. Her vocal style provides a resonance to the sound and an upbeat hopefulness to the lyrics, addressing the audience in a way that never sacrifices any of the band’s pop sensibilities.
Performing back stage at the Black Cat enhances Highasakite’s output, which echoed and reverberate impressively in this intimate stage space. With the band’s high utilization of synths and their subtle but distinctive shadings of bass, their performance here felt as if their output were coming at the audience from a variety of different angles.
It wasn’t like “a wall of sound,” so much as it was a bubble or dome that encased the audience in its warmth, making them, in a way, a part of the action as well. Either Highasakite was fully aware of this phenomenon, or it’s simply their natural inclination.
Ideally, Highasakite, like any ambitious band, would prefer to be performing in front a larger audience. But they couldn’t have chosen a better venue than back stage at the Black Cat to introduce audiences here to the possibilities of their presence and sound.