23 janvier 2008

Sydney Festival

Sydney, Australie


Icelandic space pixie alights on butterfly wings
A few minutes after the designated 9pm kick-off, the lights around the Opera House’s forecourt dimmed, the crowd of 6000 people cheered wildly and a procession of 10 Oompah Loompahs carrying an assortment of trumpets, tubas, trombones and French horns marched onto the stage with military precision. They were dressed in robes lurid enough to make the members of the Polyphonic Spree look positively drab and each had a red flag protruding from their head.
The Oompah Loompahs raised their instruments to their lips and began to play, triggering a small explosion at stage left. As red smoke enveloped the stage a petite woman in an Alfoil dress with enormous butterfly wings and the kind of colourful facial make-up favoured by members of the Battlestar Galactica cast gambolled to the centre of the stage. She was clutching what appeared to be a small porcupine, but may have been a pom-pom.
Bjork Gudmundsdottir, the Icelandic space pixie whose voice has been compared to "an ice-pick through concrete", certainly knows how to make an entrance.
In stark contrast to the day-glo Oompah Loompahs, the rest of Bjork’s band were a serious-looking bunch. The drummer struck his kit with fluffy orchestral mallets while two colleagues manipulated the electronic beats and samples by peering at the screens of their laptops like technicians at a nuclear power plant.
There was nothing staid about Bjork’s performance, however. As the singer launched into her second song, Joga, she began to hop and skip in what appeared to be an Icelandic version of the funky chicken. The drums clattered and a single green laser beam shot out of the stage and scribbled on the pristine white sails of the Opera House.
Then two girls in the audience in swan outfits - a homage to Bjork’s bizarre appearance on the Oscars red carpet - writhed with pleasure. Bjork finished the song. "Tink-you," she said in her odd blend of London and Icelandic.
Apparently Bjork was booed by Rage Against the Machine fans when she appeared on the same bill as the American rockers at the Gold Coast leg of the Big Day Out on Sunday. Perhaps they thought she wasn’t political enough. They’ve got it all wrong, of course. Rage are pantomime anarchists - Björk is the revolution.

Richard Jinman - Sidney Morning Herald

Oompah, death metal and that voice : perfect
As my bum went numb on the hardly accommodating steps of the Opera House, it occurred to me there was something both crazy and appropriate about Björk being a star attraction at a mainstream arts festival.
On any objective criteria you would be perfectly within your rights to say that the woman is an Icelandic whack job. Let’s look at the evidence on this night alone : the show features a marching brass band introduction to the stage ; a thunderous opening of Earth Intruders coming across like a stampeding herd ; the way her music can veer from warped Spanish turns and German oompah to something almost Chinese and then a bit of Iceland via Pakistan ; the absence of any of her “hits” ; a climax where death metal and techno coalesce ; a song like Hunter, where skittering drum patterns inspire a dance that seems to turn her and her ruffled dress into a golden catherine-wheel.
And that’s without mentioning her soaring, vaulting, childlike-one-moment, operatic-the-next voice, which at times seemed to be being beamed from across the water, possibly carried out of the Overseas Passenger Terminal by one of those fruit bats swooping above us.
But it all made sense. First when we danced, and kept dancing. Then when we sank luxuriously into the oddly shaped ballads that took up the middle of the set. And finally when she told us in Cover Me : “While I crawl into the unknown, cover me/ I’m going hunting for mysteries/ I’m going to prove the impossible really exists.”
That’s what you want at a festival, isn’t it ? Especially a festival where the contemporary music program, working on the fault line of folk intersecting with pop and art music, has been consistently fascinating, without ever sinking into obscurity. Mysteries have been hunted, and enjoyed.
In that sense Björk—mad, funny, a musical bowerbird, a deceptively pop-savvy writer, a fearless challenger of norms—fits right in. Crazy and appropriate.

Bernard Zuel - Sydney Morning Herald

It sure was a coup for the Sydney Festival organisers—Björk, the quirky Icelandic singer who’s been one of the most consistent fixtures on the musical landscape over the last twenty years (and most recently in the news again for attacking a photographer after landing in New Zealand airport), had agreed to participate in Sydney’s biggest cultural festival—just another reason why, alongside the 10,000+ people street parties and nightly parties at the Becks’ Festival Bar, Sydney has been an exhilarating place to be this January.
But consistent with the unusual character that she is, her involvement had to be under her terms of course, and Björk wanted to perform at a unique venue—on the harbour to be exact. And that’s the story of how the 42-year-old star ended up performing under a full moon to a crowd of more than 5,000 at the Sydney Opera House forecourt.
Excitement levels were high, but prior to the gig it was hard to know what exactly to expect. She’d received mixed reviews for her Big Day Out performance the previous Sunday on the Gold Coast, with disgruntled Rage Against the Machine fans complained about having to watch her ‘unusual’ antics while waiting for their beloved headliners to come on. And daily rag The Brisbane Times were less than kind in their appraisal, describing her set as “painful”, the cheeky reporter proceeded to make reference to her classic showtune It’s Oh So Quiet. “How apt those lyrics turned out to be, considering the mute reaction afforded Björk by the 53,000 music fans... Just what possessed the Big Day Out’s organisers to invite Iceland’s bad girl of pop to Australia’s premier music festival was anybody’s guess.” Ouch.
But as it turns out, the Brisbane Times can’t be trusted to capture what’s happening in the musical world beyond the latest Delta Goodrem stadium performance because at the Opera House last Wednesday, on a perfect summer night, Björk did nothing less than captivate her audience.
When she first pranced onstage a little after 9pm she was dressed in a frilly silver and gold dress, her face painted with that same red and green we’d seen from her first shows. It’s no secret that she’s an eccentric lass ; she’s always fallen outside the boundaries of what we expect from our musical starlets and now that she’s approaching her mid-forties, it seems this is becoming even more pronounced.
Of course, that’s all part of her charm : she exuded such an overwhelming charisma on stage, so much so that you knew you’d just go all silly if you ever got to meet her. And on the topic of her eccentricity, there was a strange contradiction in the energy she was conveying to the crowd. As she danced around the stage without a care, she was equal part an uninhibited little girl, and crazy old lady who’s retreated into herself. Being the complex character that she is, it’s no surprise the mainstream media just don’t get it.
The rest of Björk’s sizeable entourage wore jester-like outfits, and behind them a row of raised banners adorned the wall which looked like they’d been plucked straight from an old English court. What images graced these banners ? Animals of course. Duh. And her quirkiness was never more on display than when she’d occasionally halt her beautiful warbling between songs to thank the crowd in her unmistakable Icelandic accent. Looking towards the sky at one point, she exclaimed that, “The moon has gatecrashed her party.” Waves of affectionate laughter echoed through the crowd. It was simply the most whimsical thing she could have possibly said.
Opening with Earth Intruders, the crowd were mesmerised immediately and the first truly emotional moment of the show came when she whipped out Joga—a song that perfectly captures the way Björk has brought organic instruments together with electronic sounds throughout her career. It began with those familiar strings and her haunting, impassioned vocals, but when that industrial percussion rose to take prominence halfway through, it was greeted with its dazzling visual equivalent : bright green lasers that cut through the sky above the Opera House. It set the scene for what was an exhilarating performance, and the tone was lifted even higher when Björk launched into her rendition of Army of Me. That was the most dancefloor-friendly moment of the show, but the song that got the biggest reaction was Hyperballad ; bringing the two girls behind me to tears no less.
There was a ten piece female Icelandic brass section providing a musical backdrop to the evening’s entertainment, but while Björk herself may have been the centre of everybody’s attention, she was supported by a fairly hefty sidekick in the form of the cutting-edge musical technology that sat on stage alongside her. The crowd were permitted to observe via the visual screens on either side of the stage, and the device hyped the most prior to the show was the Lemur, a computer touch screen that was able to manipulate electronic sounds on the fly. But even more astounding was the ReacTable, a large circular device again operated via a touch screen, with its operator perched above it looking like he was peering into a witch’s cauldron. On the outer edges of the round table were a series smaller circles, each sporting a rune symbol that when he drew them with his index finger into the centre of the table, he proceeded to manipulate by twisting and turning them, each movement reflected in the synthetic sounds pumping out of the speakers. At one point the operator did something particularly gratuitous, moving one circle back to the outer edge of the table and then quickly drawing another two in and spinning them around quickly, and the crowd collectively gasped in amazement.
But the time Björk walked off the stage a little after 10pm and the lights went down, I thought that was all we were going to hear. After all, encores just didn’t seem to be her style. But again she proved to be unpredictable, as it wasn’t long before she bounded back on stage for a rousing performance of Oceania followed by Declare Independence, dedicated to our country’s indigenous population. With rousing shouts of “Declare Independence, Don’t let them do that to you, start your own currency, make your own stamp, protect your language,” her entourage were dancing around on the stage with her, those green lasers again being blasted into the sky, confetti exploding onto the crowd. And then the show’s stunning climax : fireworks exploding into the sky above the Opera House.
It was one of those moments that made you feel like a wonder-struck child, staring in awe. As the crowd strolled away afterwards down the streets of Circular Quay, we knew we’d witnessed something special, something truly beautiful and a unique experience never to be repeated. Even if the subtlety was lost on that hapless Brisbane Times reporter.

Angy - same-same.com.au

After a ten year gap, Björk finally returned to do a series of concerts as part of the Big Day Out festival. Thankfully, those of us not willing to put up with the noise and heat of what has become a rite of passage concert event for Australian teenagers were able to see Björk in more intimate surroundings at the famous Sydney Opera House. Well, to be completely accurate, outside the Opera House, on the steps leading up to Australia’s most iconic piece of architecture. A night under the stars, if you will.
Apparently, Björk’s only request for the concert was that she be near the water. That request was easily met as the sun set over Sydney Harbour and 5000 fans went crazy as the all female brass section, dressed in heraldic colours, marched in single file and Björk skipped onto the stage, all tribal and painted, and launched into the chanting chaos of ‘we are the earth intruders, we are the sharp shooters’. It was a moment of madness in every sense of the word, her voice drowned out by the audience and tribal beat of the song. It was a great way to start the gig, all joyous and confusing but, thankfully things got much clearer as the evening progressed.
We needed to hear that voice, crystal clear and sparkling with the beats and electronics providing the perfect accompaniment, and that’s exactly what we got. The set list included material from Volta as well as a good number of crowd pleasers rearranged to include the brass section and clubbed up, to coin a phrase, for maximum dance floor action ; Hyperballad, Pagan Poetry, Pluto, Army of Me. The gig ended with a scorching version of Declare Independence complete with fireworks courtesy of the Sydney Festival.
Ten years since her last appearance in Australia, Björk captured the mood of the crowd, and sang it back to us, mirroring our joy and moving our feet in a gig that was part collective embrace and part ‘necessary voodoo’ ... I could quote Bakhtin and go on about the carnival and the grotesque. There’s a thesis here waiting to be written, on how Björk’s concerts are a celebration of the intimate AND the spectacular and how she creates a hybrid of pop, dance and performance art in a totally unique and contemporary way. Let’s hope it’s not another ten years before she returns.

Adrian Robinson - Spacelab Radio


01. Brennið Þið Vitar
02. Earth Intruders
03. Hunter
04. Unravel
05. Jóga
06. Who Is It
07. The Pleasure Is All Mine
08. Pagan Poetry
09. Desired Constellation
10. Army Of Me
11. I Miss You
12. Bachelorette
13. Cover Me
14. Wanderlust
15. Hyperballad
16. Pluto
17. Oceania
18. Declare Independence

sur scène

  • Chris Corsano
  • Damian Taylor
  • Jónas Sen
  • Mark Bell
  • Wonderbrass (Icelandic Brass Section)

habillée par

  • Bernhard Willhelm