Wunderkammer - Norwegian Balkanesque madness

It’s tempting to draw a parallel to Serb film director Emir Kusturica when one is to describe Norwegian director Pål Jackmann’s artistic work. Jackmann shares a trait with Kusturica in that his focus is not entirely on film. While Kusturica has his Balkan-punk ensemble Non Smoking Band, Jackmann has his Wunderkammer – the latter could possibly share rehearsal studio with the former in Sarajevo.

Wunderkammer - Today I Cannot Hear Music cover

As the reader would have guessed, the genre in question is Balkan-inspired music with an additional solid dose of Jewish Kletzmer as well as more Central-European sources of inspiration from Weill and Brecht. We’re talking crying violins, sombre accordions as well as a lonely bowed saw in one instant and a all-out vodka-drenched Gypsy-party in the next instant.

But there’s more to Wunderkammer than that. The band possesses a lyrical and poetical vein that draws inspiration – and borrows words - from such well-known writers as Edgar Allen Poe and Goethe. An additional side of the band showcases a reckless rebellious spirit and sense of desperation whose equal one can only find in punk. To simplify: conjure up an image of the Bad Seeds fronted by Elvis Costello, with past study tours to both a Kibbutz as well as to Tito’s Jugoslavia completed, making a stop-over in Berlin en route to London in order to make it before the 70s have ended.

Wunderkammer have also served as musical mentors for other Norwegian bands and can be partially credited for one of Norwegian rock’s biggest successes over the last few years: Kaizers Orchestra. But, as Kaizers rapidly approached double platinum sales with their trademark Balkan-ompa, Wunderkammer remained bound at Norway’s south-western coast, sans major breakthrough. A fate that’s very much undeserved given the band’s fantastic songwriting skills, premier-division musicians from jazz and contemporary music and a highly characteristic sound that’s been hailed by critics every time Wunderkammer releases another album. Upon the release of the band’s self-titled debut album in 1999, the record was greeted with unanimous rejoicing from the nation’s critics. “This is Gypsy-punk, jiddisch rock’n’roll and a veritable Christmas night for all those who love rhythmic barbarity verging on anarchy” wrote Norwegian daily VG’s reviewer Stein Østbø, who also drew parallels to Les Negresses Vertes, Tom Waits and Elvis Costello. Dagbladet’s Terje Mosnes was equally as excited: “What’s Wunderkammer like? Leonard Cohen on speed? A young and intense Elvis Costello with a mob of furious Gypsys snapping at his heels while searching for Kletzmer-music’s roots somewhere in Jewish Eastern Europe? Pre-war Berlin-German tango decadence? Unpolished, intelligent rock’n’roll? All of it, and then some!”


Wunderkammer (Plateselskapet Skarv) 1999

Today I Cannot Hear Music (HoneyMilk) 2003

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