Be Bold, Part Four: Bjork

I have very few regrets in my life. One of them is missing out on seeing Bjork headlining the Phoenix festival in 1996 because I was tripping off my tits and couldn’t find my way out of a two-man tent. To say I am a huge Bjork fan is an understatement. Trying to pick one track for this post is impossible. So I’ve chosen three.

No-one makes music like Bjork. No-one sounds like her, looks like her, performs like her, and no-one ever will. She is a rare gift. Her evolution since she broke onto the scene as part of The Sugarcubes in the 80s has been singularly spectacular and never obvious. Iceland’s biggest superstar, singer, Oscar winning actress, performance artist, instrument creator, producer, DJ. Bjork seems to have a never-ending creative drive, always pushing, always looking for a fresh sound and new aesthetic. She is hands on in the studio, obsessed with the minutiae of the mixing desk. Yes, she has worked with some of the most innovative male producers, directors and designers (Nellee Hooper, Timbaland, Howie B, Guy Sigsworth, Matmos, Michael Gondry, Alexander McQueen) but Bjork remains the creative driving force behind everything. And yet, some people find this hard to believe.

If a guy had done all the strings, all the choir arrangements, and a lot of the production on his album, he would have credit for his work. It’s always like I’m this esoteric creature; that I just turn up and sing and go home. People still don’t seem to take me seriously as a songwriter and arranger and producer.

In the electro-age, music is no longer as straight forward as X played that instrument, Y played this. Especially with music as complex and layered as Bjork’s. There is nothing about her that fits into a safe box, which is why she is often labelled ‘bonkers Bjork’. She is a grown woman, yet is regularly called a ‘pixie’ or ‘elfin’, as if she is stuck in some perpetual mystic childhood. In the early days, her supposed ‘weirdness’ was easy to parody; her iconic hair, her videos, her clothes (such as the famous swan dress she wore to the Oscars). This kept her safe, accessible, chart worthy.

Women in music are allowed to be singer songwriters singing about their boyfriends. If they change the subject matter to atoms, galaxies, activism, nerdy math beat editing or anything else than being performers singing about their loved ones they get criticized. It wasn’t until I shared a heartbreak I got full acceptance from the media.

The heartbreak Bjork is referring to lead to the album Vulnicura. It is a study of the breakdown of her marriage. Lush, cinematic, bleak, intimate and always experimental, what sets this album apart is the creation of whole new ways of experiencing sound and vision. The video for Black Lake was commissioned as an installation in the New York Museum of Modern Arts, the song Mouth Mantra has a video filmed entirely inside Bjork’s mouth as she sings, Stonemilker is a 360 virtual video, and her latest project is a full virtual-reality immersive experience. She has commissioned a series of masks for her performances, each more elaborate and alien than the last, pulsating with light like deep-sea jellyfish or gossamer moth wings quivering with spikes.

 Bjork’s music is geography, it is science, maths, politics, sex, nature, it is animalistic. She creates intimate, dripping sonic jungles and vast, orchestral landscapes. She is a natural feminist, the matriarchal society of Iceland giving her pride, autonomy and respect as a woman, and as a single mother. Her album titles alone speak to a new musical  language she has created: Debut, Post, Homegenic, Vespertine, Medulla, Volta, Biophilia, Vulnicura.

She is always bold, ever changing. She is, to put it simply, a genius.


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