Kælan Mikla and Chelsea Wolfe, Kantine, Cologne: an ethereal Goth evening

Author Askar Ibragimov - 12.6.2024

Formed in 2013 in Reykjavík, an Icelandic post-punk trio Kælan Mikla have been seen on the rise in couple of recent years. Their breakthrough into fantasy/witchy creative realm, the fourth record called Undir köldum norðurljósum, coincided with them touring intensively — covering many European festivals and pulling off a massive US- and European tour with Ville Valo. With the most recent album, a mix of punk influences and eerie goth aesthetics became some kind of critical mass that pushed the band to universal acclaim.

This time, Kælan Mikla switched to support another Goth icon, Chelsea Wolfe, across many dates in Europe. Every time I hear them live, I can’t really comprehend what makes this music work on me. Their forty-minute set is composed from songs of several albums, mixing the fairytale songs from Undir… with the more punk sounds of the earlier albums. While the club was not packed yet, the band enjoyed a very high turnout and it seems to me that the lead singer, Laufey Soffía, was in a particularly energetic mood. The live performance, comparing to what I saw in 2023, evolves towards being more focused on stage presence (handled mostly by Laufey), punchy, and delivering strong, piercing energy across the set.

After a long break, Chelsea Wolfe is touring again in support of her recent record She Reaches Out To She Reaches Out To She. An American singer-songwriter is a well-known Goth icon, and it was the first time for me to see her live. Compared to the fierce delivery by Kælan Mikla, her music is way less fierce, more “smooth” and nuanced. One review of her latest record even claimed that most songs sound too similar.

The hall is dark, and the only bright spot besides the stage is the bathroom area, I am looking at the young girl, silhouetted against the bright wall, reacting to words and seemingly captivated by Chelsea, even though to see she got to stand in a place where sound is not the best. Seeing such involved people on the gigs is always a great, emotional sight. Chelsea performs a lengthy playlist, and her set is a whole hour and a half. The stage remains dimly lit, with some symbols projected on a small screen, and Chelsea mostly hidden behind the microphone and her hair. The band also is barely visible — apparently, visitors should focus on the music only.

One thing that I wish would be different on the gig is the lighting. Even less-known acts such as Altamullan Road are able to pull off magnificent lights nowadays. Chelsea’s setup included some interesting visual effects but it didn’t seem to me that the light technician knew where they were going with it.

In the end of day, I believe the concert really benefitted from having both acts as they worked in a really balanced way. And I especially wish Kælan Mikla to gain even more experience and be able to do tours on their own. I hope they get there in a few years.