The Finnish group bringing the glam to a cappella tell Catherine Sylvain why they're not just another covers band
Wasn’t a cappella once something just done in pricey Yank universities, alongside hazing and stealing social network formats? Now it seems it’s a slick, ritzy affair dominated by statuesque blondes – at least if Finnish company FORK are anything to go by.
Blame Glee perhaps, for faintly ironic, perky reinterpretations of yesteryear’s pop that have lately reached a new credibility. But Pink Noise, the glam a cappella covers show by FORK, promises to surpass Glee’s tweens in cutting-edge pop-plundering performance.
“When you say a cappella, people think certain things,” Mia Hafrén of the band tells me in clipped Scandinavian enunciation. “We want to make a cappella sexy and interesting.
“What we do is we take the best or the funniest cover music from the '80s, '90s and today and make our own a cappella versions of them,” Hafrén continues modestly, “and the show is all about humour.”
FORK, though, are far from a humorous side show. In their native Helsinki, the band members are celebrities, with vast gigs and four studio albums to their name.
“I would be very skeptical about going to see four people singing a cappella for 70 minutes,” member Jonte Ramsten concedes from atop a mountain, apparently the only place in the Finnish countryside with mobile signal. “We package it into something spectacular.”
“I think people will be surprised” adds Hafrén.
FORK certainly promises to be a spectacle, taking many of the same visual cues as stadium pop; strobe lights, video and crucially a liberal amount of zany costumes. Fringed leather and corsets glisten alongside the peroxide mane of the band’s resident dreamboat, Kaspar Ramström. Can an a cappella band have groupies? “Hell yeah!” says Ramsten emphatically, “We have a lot of fans who follow us around. It’s excellent”.
I hear a snatch in Ramsten’s demeanour of the former theatre student’s camply-named on-stage persona. But don’t let pseudonyms like "Chiq LaDesire" or "Angel D’Ville" write FORK off as sub-Eurovision silliness. The band cranks a cappella covers to a level that might just show up its source materials. Where Britney requires a matrix of machinery and medication to perform ‘Toxic’, FORK eek out the squealing riff with just their vocal chords.
Though strictly speaking all the noises they make are live, Pink Noise does have a sound technician and a vast mixing deck. To a stern barbershop fan this might be blasphemous, but Ramsten gives a compelling explanation: “The human voice is basically like a guitar. Whatever you’re playing—a classical guitar or Spanish guitar, blues or heavy metal—it’s still the same six metallic strings you play. For over half a century it’s been OK to make these strings sound differently, with different distortions and effects and stuff. And I think the human voice should be seen exactly the same way.”
Indeed, FORK’s four voices, two male and two female, with Anna Sunta completing the utensil analogy, make the electric guitar appear rather redundant. Is the show really all about humour? Their scarily accurate enactment of 'Bohemian Rhapsody’s' guitar solo will have you chortling in awe.
At the end of the prong though, FORK are really just looking to spread some Scandinavian cheer. “The audience will be smiling when they leave our show,” assures Hafrén.
Despite performing together for an astonishing 15 years, this will be the first time FORK face a UK audience.“We’re so happy to come to Scotland because there are so many FORK virgins there.
“We want them to laugh and scream and shout. At the end of the show we want them all to stand up on their feet and be happy.”
And why is the show called Pink Noise? “That,” Hafrén explains, “is actually the sound you hear in the background when you turn on the TV and see snow.” Funny, I’d always thought that was white noise. FORK seem to hear the world through rose-tinted headphones.
But it’s refreshing. As pop gigs cross over to psuedo-performance art and the price of tickets seem to pretty much preclude the possibility of fireworks shooting out of someone’s breasts, FORK are a cynicism-pricking bargain.