Molotov Jukebox, according to Wikipedia, is only an addendum in Natalia Tena’s career. Below acting roles in Harry Potter and Game of Thrones, the band gets only a paragraph. Although they are fairly new (and Tena’s screen appearances always enjoyable), I expect that will change soon enough.
Their debut, self-titled EP was an interesting experiment in blending Latin and electronic influences. Imagine a rough-cut, tropical Caravan Palace with more intelligible vocals. The next two albums have improved with a wider range of influences and a deeper, more polished sound. The third, Carnival Gypsy (2016), is their most eclectic yet.
Their final tour this year took the band across the UK to play at small, intimate venues. Here in London they appeared at the Oslo Hackney, a swish, polished bar/restaurant. Upstairs, the dance floor exactly resembles a student dive: poster-lined walls, inexplicably sticky flooring, exposed piping, and a shallow platform for the stage.
Molotov Jukebox warmed up the crowd with the brass and bubble-gum Pineapple Girl. Smooth and breezy, its the closest they have to a pop single. I took this as a cue to dive into the packed crowd with my rum and coke (in a red-cup, of course).
According to the tour poster, there was a fancy dress theme for the evening. Fortunately for me, only a few people – if excellently got up as pirates – had made the effort. On stage, the band were a motley bunch of old-time sailors and sea-dogs (and something tropical for Tena). All in all, the tone was more uni-night than the carnival I was expecting.
What surprised me, however, was just how fantastic the music is live. On the album, their songs can feel somewhat sedate. Live, what they lost in nuance they gained in bombast and flair. From ska to swing, Latin rhythms to Balkan beats, their songs elided into a high-energy medley. Like a particularly good club mix, only with far more vim and an irresistible urge to let loose. On the dance floor this six piece band – and Tena’s suave singing – really shines.
Above all it was earnest fun. Towards the end of the set, Tena and co. got in a little chit-chat with the crowd. A lucky few were even awarded prizes, such as a large tin of pineapple, for their costumes or their dance moves.
The last song of the night was Gypsy Funeral. For the sombre interval, Molotov Jukebox got the crowd to kneel (or, in my poor judgement, squatted) – and jump right back up for the mad-cap finale.
The only gripe I had that evening was with the crowd and their belongings. Both were on the dance floor in generous quantity. Personal space is one thing; a shin-high tumulus of stuff, requiring your tipsy self to vault over it to get anywhere, is a little much. Thanks to the young woman who lent me a hand over the side.
Regardless the evening was a blast. For something different and a little more thrilling on your nights out clubbing, definitely check out Molotov Jukebox and their retro-tropical-gypsy-dance music. It sounds much, much better than it reads.