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A velveted rawness emanates from the stage as Jonna Lee releases her first note, searing simultaneously with both emotion and control. The audience, previously teeming with movement from the last artist’s digitalized beats, is still with anticipation; the wonderment in the air is palpable. Lee stands above a growing layer of fog, in front of a large screen glowing with pure white light. The minimalism of the staging somewhat shields the audience from distraction, drawing the focus to Lee’s voice and her voice alone. Her face is slightly veiled due to a combination of fog, lighting, and the one a.m. set time, reinforcing the power of both the tone and words used. And so begins the first U.S. performance by Swedish underground superstars, iamamiwhoami.

The group was late in revealing its members, after two years of releasing a series of YouTube videos ranging from clips to full songs. Formed in 2009 primarily by Lee and fellow Swede Claes Björklund (producer and co-songwriter; he is also a member of Scottish alternative rock band Travis), the two combine with a visual team to present a three-dimensional music experience through both recorded and live performance. iamamiwhoami’s music videos are known for their surrealistic and dreamlike qualities, drawing the observer into Lee’s presented version of the world. Her previous releases as a solo artist avoided association with the collaboration through the anonymity of the name: iamamiwhoami. The reasoning behind this was a combination of limiting information to the essential, as well as protecting the duo’s early development process and shielding them from prying minds. Lee refers to iamamiwhoami as an “entity,” one that includes the various designers, contributors, associates and close companions who give to the collective in one form or another. This blurry definition suits the group’s title; iamamiwhoami was named as such to acknowledge Lee’s avoidance of defining the ensemble too closely. By making a solid break from all previous work, she was able to focus solely on the new project.

Perhaps the band’s most inherent trait is its ability to present a wide range of themes and emotions through minimal but gorgeously developed cues to the audience, thus expressing the depth of the human experience while leaving room for the listener to draw his or her own conclusions to its meaning. The result is a dynamic sound with an intangible appeal, unique in both its highlights and subtleties.

iamamiwhoami’s first stateside appearance was at Symbiosis Gathering 2013, held this past September outside of San Francisco, CA. The lineup was well-stocked with high-energy artists, primarily of the assorted electronic genres, but iamamiwhoami stood in a category of their own. The raw energy of Jonna Lee’s disarming abandonment onstage released a breath of fresh air through the audience, and after a brief moment of still observation, the masses broke out in dance. This setting proved to be an unexpected yet perfectly-suited scene for the U.S. debut of the avant-garde ensemble.

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Aside from the sonic and visual tales the group weaves, there is relatively little known about this closeted collective. The group dipped their toe into immersive pool of web listeners by anonymously emailing a selected group of bloggers a link to a YouTube video, titled “Prelude 699130082.4513225.” The fifty-five second clip opens with a meadow’s edge coming into focus, the winding tree branches jerking overhead as the viewer realizes they are in fact human legs. Flashes of a nude woman blanketed in shimmering black liquid appear between the alternate views of outstretched arms reaching from within tree trunks.

When coded alphabetically, the numbered titles of the group’s first set of videos spell out several words and phrases, including “educational” and “welcome home.” These cryptic releases spurred speculation across the web that the project was an offshoot of several possible big-name artists; everyone from Lady Gaga to Trent Reznor became suspect. After releasing a second set of videos, Lee’s face became apparent, and the mystery was solved. Once all videos were uploaded, the single-letter titles combined to spell bounty, the collection’s title.

In February 2012, the kin series was released in sequence via YouTube. The collection’s videos featured appearances of thick-haired animals, which Lee acknowledged as representing “a part of [her] and most others” (she now dons giant wooly clothing for periods of her live performances). The songs were physically released on June 11, 2012 in CD/DVD and LP/DVD format, to primarily positive reviews. bounty was released June 3rd of the following year, comprised of singles released throughout 2010 and 2011. These collections present intricately complex yet loosely defined messages to the audience, rooting their mystic appeal. The group has been the recipient of The Grammis Award for Innovator of the Year, the Swedish equivalent of the American Grammys.

Recently completing their 2012-2013 world tour, only time will tell if the mystical aura of iamamiwhoami will morph into a burning spotlight—but if history is any indicator, the group will maintain its larger-than-life presentation while simultaneously whispering secretly in your ear through delicate words and imagery.


Text by Kate Zaliznock
Photography by Galen Oakes