To infinity and B-jork

NME, 17 novembre 2012

Teaming up with Death Grips, These New Puritans, Hudson Mohawke and more, Björk is blasting off to the future with her new remix project. Lucy Jones joins her

Björk is excited. She’s looking at the long list of bands on her Iceland Airwaves festival app that she wants to see tonight. There’s Ólöf Arnalds, Dirty Projectors, and newer artists inlcuding Ghostpoet, Kwes and Daughter. A swim in the hot pools to warm up is mentioned ; it’s snowing outside. She guzzles coffee in the hotel bar we’ve met in and fidgets a lot. She’s wearing a grass-green playsuit, the lace-up tie-dye wedges on her feet are extraordinary and the tips of her hair are royal blue. She’s like nothing else on the planet.

Interviewing Björk is more like talking to a wise, thoughtful aunt than the elfin eccentric she’s renowned as. She’s spent the last few years working on ’Biophilia’, an enormous musical project which involved invetning new instruments and ground-breaking apps as well as writing an education programme for schools all over the world (it’s now part of Iceland’s national curriculum). Oh, and there were some pretty good songs on it too.

Yet she’s not as holed up in her own glacial world as one might imagine. The fianl stage in the ’Biophilia’ saga has seen her moving away from volcanoes, celestial bodies and Tesla coils to entrust her work to the new generation. ’Bastards’, a compilation of remixes from ’Biophilia’, features a line-up of Death Grips, These New Puritans and Hudson Mohawke, as well as comparative old-timers Omar Souleyman and Matthew Herbert, and others.

The story behind each re-imagining is different. Glaswegian Hudson Mohawke, for example, emailed her to suggest he should remix ’Virus’, the most gorgeous track on ’Biophilia’. He adds distorted vocals, handclaps and a synthesized motif to epic effect. The versions you hear on the album haven’t been edited by Björk - she just lets them get on with it. "He took that song somewhere else and that was pretty excellent," she says.

It was the other way around with These New Puritans. "I got totally obsessed with him [TNP mainman Jack Barnett] two years after everyone else," she says. "I fell in love and listened to nothing else for two months. I thought, ’God, I have to ask him’. He said yes and I was really surprised." Surprised that a cult-y band from Southend-On-Sea would want to work with her ? "They were making their own album, for a start, and that’s hard enough..."

The first Death Grips song she heard, ’Full Moon’, was sent to her by her friend, Iranian Warp artist Leila Arab. "I couldn’t believe it. It was really raw and fresh and I like that they aren’t any one genre," she says. "I emailed Zach [Hill, Death Grips drummer] and said, ’How do you feel about doing a mash-up of ’Full Moon’ and ’Sacrifice’ ? Is it crazy, lazy or wrong ?’" The hybrid on ’Bastards’ is a writhing, polyrhythmic whirr that sticks in your brain.

One of the album’s best tracks is a dubstep version of ’Solstice’ by Current Value. Is Björk joining the likes of Korn, Cypress Hill and Muse on the dubstep bandwagon ? "The dubstep sound appeals to me," she nods. "I like it because it’s quite prankster-like - it’s trying to surprise you." Would she work with Skrillex, arguably the world’s biggest pedlar (and bastardiser) of the genre ? "I bumped into Skrillex at a festival," she laughs. "We did talk about maybe doing remixes, so I don’t know, but sometimes after a few drinks there’s a lot of talk..."

Historically, remix albums are often met with cynicism. Björk’s first, ’Telegram’, was given a lukewarm 5/10 review by NME in 1996 and the less said about the Mick Hucknall remix of ’Venus As A Boy’, the better. Recently, ’TKOL RMX 1234567’, Radiohead’s remix album, was criticised for alienating fans with it ’impenetrable’ electronica. But her old pal Thom Yorke’s experiment was one of the main reasons she decided to make ’Bastards’. "I couldn’t be bothered to find all those Radiohead remixes," she says. "It was one remix here, and another one there... I went to my favourite record shop in New York and it was all there in one CD, very convenient."

Does she ever feel nervous about handing her songs over ? "I’m in a protected situation," she reasons. "I’ve already done my version the way I want it to be. I ask people I already like, it’s not like I’m asking just anybody." She subscribes to the idea that there is more than one correct version of a song. "I sometimes compare it to jazz standards. You hear two different versions of ’My Funny Valentine’ by Billie Holiday and Miles Davis and neither of them are correct. I like the remix platform. There are invisible rules but a lot of freedom. Lots of people - when they do remixes it’s like a holiday. They don’t have to think about their universe, they can just do something else."

Although it’s experimental sounding, ’Bastards’ shoves Björk towards the dancefloor - as she puts it, to "give the songs legs to dance on". She talks about a tiny bar in Brooklyn she goes to with her friends. "We plug our iPhones in, and then after a few cocktails, do some naughty dancing," she explains. "We like AlunaGeorge, Azealia Banks, MIA. We start off with intellectual stuff like Dirty Projectors and then at three in the morning it’s loving Rihanna. I love it !"

As for the future, she’s cagey on the subject. "After all this effort [of ’Biophilia’] I have all these instruments," she explains. "In the beginning, I was writing with instruments in mind but now I actually have them." She refers to the MIDI-controlled pipe organ, gameleste, an enormous pin-barrel harp called the Sharpsichord, Tesla cils and gravity pendulum harp. "You can never promise..." she insists, although it would be a shame not to hear more from this bespoke orchestra.

First, though, the highly anticipated documentary about the evolution of music she made with David Attenborough will hit TV screens soon. She recalls a day of filming the pair did at the Natural History Museum in London, when they worked a long day without any food or drinks. Björk’s blood-sugar levels dropped, and she was suffering from the lack of coffee. "He’s not a spring chicken, but you can imagine all these years where he was just filming in New Guinea and waiting for a rare bird," she smiles. "He just closes up and sits there, reserves his energy and then they say ’Action !’ and he suddenly comes out with a fully formed sentence."

Her attention returns to the Iceland Airwaves festival. She says she’s been impressed by Seattle hip-hop duo THEESatisfaction and Samaris, an electronic trip-hop group. But those sweating on a collaboration should calm down - it’s not often Björk goes the whole hog with a new hook-up. "Usually when I find someone amazing, I’m just so happy that music isn’t dying !" she says. It’s an attitude that’s helping her sound more alive than ever, too.

thanks to m.thr.n for the transcription

publié dans NME