Aurora is a rare breed in the world of live music. You always hear about artists that have mastered the art of putting on a show, and sure, plenty of performers are comfortable being themselves. But the Aurora you see on stage feels like the same Aurora that dances around the lounge room, hairbrush microphone in hand, thriving on her love of music without a care in the world. And this honesty, humanity and unbridled joy that she projects night after night isn’t just entertaining, it’s emotionally disarming.
When she last came to Australia for Laneway Festival 2017, Aurora was a relatively new artist. Today, she’s an experienced performer and musician, with an air of new-found confidence that transformed her into a fearless warrior. That’s not to say she was once shy and reserved, but rather, Aurora can hold an army of fans in the palm of her hand with nothing more than a gentle greeting.
Her latest record, Infections of a Different Kind (Step 1), and the new singles from the soon-to-be-released follow-up A Different Kind of Human (Step 2), build on the unique sound she forged early on. Traditional Scandinavian tones built on tribal beats, combined with soaring vocals, atmospheric ambient synths and contemporary pop sensibilities. Her debut album was something of a dreamscape where one would go to reflect, heal and feel at peace or invigorated. These new efforts, however, feel much more grounded and hard-hitting, floating between lilting aural beauty and near-destructive forces that explode on stage – musically, and physically.
With plenty of room between her bandmates, Aurora lefty barely an inch of the stage untouched in Sydney. Running, dancing, leaping and thrashing around, she let the music guide her performance, willingly handing herself over to the driving beats and melodies beneath her soaring voice. Opening number “Churchyard” ran the full gamut, beginning with haunting harmonies projected from a silhouetted stage, with barely any movement and ending in a glorious call to arms against abusive institutions as she flowed with the force of a roaring river.
This beautiful physical expression of happiness, completely free from any hang-ups and reservations, characterised the performance. Grand, triumphant tracks like “Animal,” “Warrior” and “Forgotten Love,” built up and up and up, adding layer upon layer until they peaked at an explosive conclusion that threw her, and the room, into a ball of enthusiastic all-involved, energy. Meanwhile, slower, reverb-drenched, vocal-driven numbers such as the toned down version of “Murder Song (5,4,3,2,1)” gave way to flowing movements, soft-lighting and a crowd of stunned onlookers that were totally in-awe of her vocal prowess.
When it was time to perform “The Seed,” her battle cry to protect Mother Earth, you could feel the rising tide of anger directed at those destroying the planet in every verse, every chorus until the final scream. Aurora leapt and lashed about, headbanging in time with her phenomenal bandmates like an 80s meatal outfit while the audience threw their fists to their air as her call to arms ripped through the theatre. Later, “Running With the Wolves” ended with mighty, ballet-esque leaps across the stage before she turned to the crowd and whipped up everyone’s hands to clap along with the final few seconds.
In moments like this, you get the sense that performing isn’t a release for Aurora, it’s where she finds her energy, and goes to the only place where she feels truly comfortable being herself. The impact, of course, is incredibly uplifting. Her songs explore all ends of the human experience – good, bad, inspiring and utterly devastating. Yet her world is ultimately an optimistic one, and the way she deconstructs and expresses her ideas, gives even the darkest tomes an air of positivity.
And yet, there’s a shameless nervousness and perhaps even slightly anxious or eccentric quality to her personality, in the sense that she proudly embraces these aspects of herself. If a thought pops into her head between songs, she’ll express it which of course, adds to the overall humanity of the show, but also results in some delightful pearls of whimsical wisdom peppered throughout.
These included the declaration that “being human is kind of an extreme sport,” a loud “whoop whoop” when people in the crowd called out in her native Norwegian tongue, and a hilarious explanation of the fever that had plagued her head since arriving in Australia. “I actually feel really lucky because I haven’t vomited in a long time,” she said, “but I’m so hot up here. I have a sweaty butt. It’s true, and it’s the only truth.” She even stopped speaking time and again to thank people for gifts that were flying from the crowd, including a rainbow flag which she held with pride to an enormous cheer.
Her endearing dorkiness, self-deprecation and downright brilliant sense of humour are cool, because they’re human, and you can’t help but feel at ease knowing that the person on stage is no different than you (stunning musical skills notwithstanding). This broke the metaphorical barrier between the stage and Sydney crowd, as everyone in the room became one with the music.
While tones, harmonies and hard hitting beats flooding from the deepest depths of bass all the way up to the highest audible peaks, bounced off the walls and filled the room, her humanity forged an individual connection with each fan. It was like her music held a deep-seeded connection to the Earth, and the roots of her soul ran deep through the crowd, wrapping around the hearts and hands of everyone in the room. It all came to the fore one last time during her encore performance of “Queendom,” as she ended the song and show by whipping the rainbow flag around her body, letting it twist, turn and fly high with her triumphant conclusion to the outstanding evening.
Though intentional or not, Aurora has a remarkable ability to help people put aside any self-conscious sensibilities and truly enjoy life, even if it’s just for an hour or two. That, combined with her music, is a recipe that makes you feel really, really good. She’s a powerful force from deep within a transcendental forest, who has emerged to save humanity from itself. Cherish this gift.
Words and Images by Peter Zaluzny