On January 22, 2019, I saw the British-German musician Anika perform at the Empty Bottle. Under the moniker Anika, Annika Henderson hasn’t produced any new music since 2010, and yet she can still fill a room in the middle of a Chicago winter on a cold and damp Tuesday night.
Anika’s self-titled album from 2010 is comprised mostly of cover songs. Covering a song is a precarious thing. Unless you can breathe new life into a song, it’s cover is often superfluous at best, or intolerable to listen to at worst. Informed by her past work as a political journalist, Anika successfully asks us to approach these songs from a different perspective. Stylistically, Anika’s vocals exist somewhere between singing and speaking. The backing tracks provided by the band Beak> are propulsive, dub-influenced, and bass-driven. Unsettling is probably the first adjective that comes to my mind when I think of Anika’s music, but unsettling in the most bewitching of ways.
Often compared to Nico, Anika’s stage presence is that of the detached European cool girl. On stage, it was just her, a laptop, distortion pedals, and a microphone. At this show, she dressed in an all white suit and patent leather heeled boots. As she sang, she stared off into the distance at no one and no thing in particular like she was contemplating all the complexities of the world and existence itself, simultaneously aware and unaware of the presence of others. However, on several occasions, she would climb down from the stage, activating the entire venue as the audience shuffled around to move out of her way. She moved through the space as much as the microphone cable would allow and stood in front of show goers staring them directly in the eyes, daring them to stare back.
At the end of her set, Anika seemed unsure if she wanted to play one more song, though it was clear that the intent to play the song was there from the beginning. An acoustic guitar sat on the side of the stage, unplayed for the entire set. When she first started towards the stage stairs, the guitar caught her eye and she paused for a moment, then turned back towards the stage and paused in clear contemplation of trying to decide something. She started back towards the stairs, but then committed to picking up the guitar and nervously announced one more cover song. I was unfamiliar with the song, but the delivery was imperfect and quieter and more gentle than the songs she had played earlier in the evening. The audience was offered a moment of vulnerability from an artist who comes off as unaffected and untouchable. Fittingly, the night ended with Anika once again challenging the notions of what is to be expected.