Five ways Björk has stayed on creative technology's cutting edge
Björk has always seemed to be a few steps ahead of most musical trends -- so much so that it typically takes a while for her listeners to catch up to her radical shifts in direction and style. But when they do, it often inspires a devotion to her work -- spanning the fringes of pop, electronica, jazz, folk, and more -- that makes any live experience an essential event.
The Icelandic pop chanteuse is set to headline night one of the upcoming Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago on Friday, and many Twin Cities fans are heading down. In celebration of this rare show in the region we take a look back at just a few of the ways that Björk has harnessed modern technology and the music industry itself to share her vibrant artistic vision.
5. She was broadcast on Icelandic radio at age 11 and offered a record contract
While many fans think Björk's musical career began with the Sugarcubes, she actually landed her first record contract at the tender age of 11, after one of her elementary school instructors submitted a recording of her singing Tina Charles' "I Love to Love" to the only radio station in Iceland at the time. The Icelandic record label Fálkinn soon approached her with a record contract, and in 1977 her self-titled debut solo album was released. It featured a few Icelandic interpretations of familiar pop songs (including the Beatles' "The Fool On the Hill" and Stevie Wonder's "Your Kiss is Sweet"), as well as some original material from a then 11-year-old Björk. While the limited-edition record didn't make any waves outside of her native Iceland, it was clear very early on that Björk was destined to become a musical star. Plus, how adorable is that album art?
4. She understood how important remixes would become early on
Björk brought plenty of her experimental tendencies to the Sugarcubes, and those adventurous musical qualities were captured exquisitely in not only the band's studio efforts, but in remixes by electronic musicians and club DJs at the time (Tony Humphries, Justin Robertson, Todd Terry, and Mark Saunders, to name just a few). That limitless, untamed creative spirit continues to inform and influence Björk's innovative music to this day.
3. She formed an early creative partnership with Michel Gondry
By the time Björk left the Sugarcubes behind to pursue her solo career, she had a imaginative artistic vision in mind for both her sound and her style. She quickly found a creative soulmate in the emerging director Michel Gondry. After Gondry directed a few videos for his French pop group, Oui Oui, Björk and Michel first collaborated on the groundbreaking music video for "Human Behavior," a standout track on Björk's sublime Debut. The enterprising duo have gone on to work together seven more times, with Gondry's brilliant, pioneering videos for "Army of Me," "Hyperballad," "Bachelorette," "Crystalline," and others all helping to shape the interpretation and emotional weight of Björk's songs itself as well as redefine what a music video could (and should) be. While many of her contemporaries were giving up on the legitimacy and increasing costs of music videos, Björk embraced the medium, a prescient move which not only helped enhance her idiosyncratic persona and ingenious musical creativity, but also helped establish Michel Gondry as a avant-garde, experimental filmmaker whose talents continue to amaze us to this very day.
2. She has repeatedly collaborated with techno/electronica/trip-hop/hip-hop visionaries to propel her sound forward
While Björk was still in the Sugarcubes, she collaborated with Manchester electronic outfit 808 State, a move which would pique her longstanding interest in house music. Straight away in her solo career, Björk tapped Nellee Hooper -- who produced Massive Attack's seminal Blue Lines -- to produce Debut. After working with Tricky on his Nearly God album, he returned the favor by producing a couple tracks on Björk's second album, Post, along with Hooper, 808 State's Graham Massey, and the upstart Scottish electronica artist/producer Howie B.
That trend continued on Homogenic, as Björk continued to expand and experiment with her sound and style by working with Guy Sigsworth, Mark Bell, and even designer Alexander McQueen, who is credited with art direction on the celebrated album. Since then, Björk continues to work with musicians as diverse as Matmos, Zeena Parkins, Rahzel, Mike Patton, Timbaland, Antony Hegarty, Thom Yorke, Dirty Projectors, and many others, all helping her realize her expansive artistic vision.
1. She released Biophilia as series of iPad apps
As the technology around her caught up to her musical and artistic aspirations, Björk found the perfect creative marriage of the two on her most recent, and some would say her most ambitious, album to date, 2011's Biophilia. Four years after Volta, Björk wanted to make a technologically advanced statement with this record, and certainly did just that. In addition to the standard CD and digital releases, the album was also available as a series of apps for the iPad, which would allow users to manipulate and immerse themselves within the music itself through a series of ten unique games and interactive experiences for each song on the album. The apps themselves both explore and expand on the themes Björk cultivates in the songs themselves, while also allowing the users to take the music in their own distinctive direction.
That has carried over into Björk's live shows in support of the album as well, with one of the artists responsible for the app itself now handling the striking images which now color and accentuate Björk's performances. Biophilia was without question an adventurous and innovative musical and artistic statement from an artist who has been making them her entire career, leaving all of her fans wondering just what Björk is going to come up with next.
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