Björk: Violently Appy

In the August issue, Dazed editor Rod Stanley visited Björk at home in New York to talk iPad apps, the Icelandic banking crisis, and explorers that sleep in trees

Music Feature
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Violently Appy

Dress by Shao Yen Chen

In the August issue, Dazed editor Rod Stanley visited Björk at home in New York to talk iPad apps, the Icelandic banking crisis, and explorers that sleep in trees.

The 21st century is going to be fun. To say that this is not the received view in 2011 would be an understatement — if it's not political turmoil or global economic meltdown, take your pick from climate apocalypse or any other number of emergent threats to happiness, sanity and stability. Icelandic pop maverick Björk, however, is refusing to be cowed. The future might not be the shiny utopia of self-lacing moonboots we were once promised, but she believes that evolving technology is about to reunite humanity with the natural world. Yes, the 21st century is going to be fun, she has decided. Björk leans forward to take a cup of fresh mint tea in her hands. "This is getting a bit lofty," she says, pausing to bury her nose in the fragrant steam, then looks round. "Oh, wow! The roses are really coming along."

These roses disappear around the corner of a balcony that surrounds the top floor of this apartment block in one of the older, more refined Brooklyn neighbourhoods. Björk shares this home (and one in Iceland) with her partner, the artist Matthew Barney, and their young daughter. "We moved here like a year ago," she says. "We used to have some pretty good parties upstate, but we had to organise buses for people." Björk is now in her mid-40s, but the voice and demeanour are younger. She talks fast and fidgets often. She's wearing a cute striped and hooded dress and black Jeremy Scott Adidas hi-tops with little wings, in which she skips around the apartment — enormous, uncluttered and with a few eye-catching curiosities, such as a shrunken head in a glass case.

Björk describes her new project, Biophilia, as ambitious, which is saying something coming from the person who sang to a global audience of four billion at the 2004 Olympic Games, while her dress slowly unfurled to fill the stadium. At one point she runs off to get pen and paper to jot down bullet points for topics she wants to return to. "God, I've got like five brains in this project," she says, laughing, before adding, unforgettably: "My brain is a bit like cheese." What Björk has been working on for these three years is not a conventional album but a multimedia show and "app suite". The suite turns each song into an interactive experience on the iPad, with a musical game based on something from nature, which lets the user manipulate the song while it subtly teaches them about aspects of making music. She has created software to record it and even new musical instruments on which to perform it, while working with an elite ensemble of computer programmers, musicologists, animators, scientists and designers.

She was on a camping trip in Iceland last year and "I remember going to some internet café — really, really hungover — and writing out the manifesto: this song about lightning is teaching you about arpeggios, crystals are teaching you about structure, DNA about rhythms, and so on... and all the app-makers immediately answered back, like, 'Wow! This is excellent!'" Björk invited the developers to meet her in Iceland for a "show and tell". "One guy brought a spoon with him to the dinner and melted it into his cup," she says. "They were doing all these kind of chemistry magic tricks, and talking about dark matter and galaxies over dinner. It was a slightly different crowd."

Hand-painted jump suit in electric blue crystal-flocked silk velvet, ebroidered with smashed glass beads and crystals by Stefano Pilati for Yves Saint Laurent; tights from American Apparel; shoes by Andreia Chaves, Dress custom made for Dazed & Confused by Katy England using fabric from 'Slices' by Graz Darken; tights by Threeasfour; shoes by Kinder Aggungini

Does Björk really think that we are on the brink of a revolution, about to reunite humans with nature through technology? "It’s not only that we can do it, it’s also that we have to do it," she says. "Solar power, wind power, the way forward is to collaborate with nature — it's the only way we are going to get to the other end of the 21st century." Björk loves nature but is no hippy fantasist. She is probably the only pop star who has not only been invited to the National Geographic Convention but also attended for the whole three days and sat through each lecture. She tells the story of one explorer, who had spent years walking through Africa./p>

"He can't sleep in houses any more. The National Geographic offices are near the White House ... so they say, 'He's coming over, is it OK if he sleeps in your trees?' And they're like, 'Oh him? Yeah, no problem.'"

Björk was a child star in Iceland, releasing a record at 11, before rebelling and playing punk at 14. "I went to music school from 5 to 15 and was always at the director's office. I think he thought I was a bit hilarious, and I think he liked a drink. When he was bored he would get me sent up just to have a debate. And I'd be like, 'You should not have your school like this!'"

Classical music education is so limiting, she explains. "Anyway, I complained so much that I had to come up with a solution," she adds. "And I always wanted to do my music school, but then this pop thing just happened" — by which she means a critically successful career with more than 20 million albums sold — "and it was fun, but it wasn't planned. Sometimes I laugh at how grand this new project is!" Inspirational as the project sounds, one has to wonder whether the average music fan has the time or inclination to investigate, say, the subtleties of the Indonesian musical scale. "Yeah, but there's so many people out there making electronic music, and they've been told they're idiots because they don't know the difference between C and C sharp, and that's not fair because there is a lot of musicology to a lot of electronic music. I don't want to blow my own trumpet, but connecting these worlds is something no one has done before. And if some guy making wicked hip hop beats can learn about different time signatures, and figure out there is no big deal doing a hip-hop song in 7/4, that's great."

Vintage Anthony Prince dress from Rellik; tights from American Apparel; crystals from Evolution New York; shoes by Alexander McQueen

In the past Björk has discussed the difficulties of reconciling her punk ideology with her ever-growing success. Now that technology has changed everything, does she feel closer to those original punk ideas? "Yeah, I think it's incredible — we are so lucky to live in these times," she says. "It's revolutionary. The people left in the music industry are the ones that love music — because you can’t really become a billionaire any more." That said, artists such as she and Radiohead who celebrate the levelling of the playing field were involved in the music industry at a time when you still could make a lot of money. Does she feel she has a responsibility to artists starting out today? "I do, because I'm really lucky that I'm from a generation where you could make money from music," she says.

"Now I have a lot of friends who are making music that are from the next generation, and it's a different landscape out there ... but in a way there are more opportunities. I remember when I did Vespertine [2001] everyone was like, 'Oh, computers are going to kill music, and it's all going to sound rubbish'. I just thought it was kind of hilarious. Now you can download huge files and do very complicated things — technology will always solve it. And now we have other riddles to solve."

For the next generation, politics have returned as a riddle to be solved. Volta (2007) was a more political album; this new one could perhaps be seen to be out of step with the times. Björk hums and looks at the sky. "Well, in a way in the last album I was complaining, and in this album I'm bringing solutions," she says. "I thought I would never ever get involved in politics, because when I was younger you couldn't get un-cooler than that! Then I saw how they were planning to change Iceland from an untouched natural spot into something like Frankfurt. People my age and younger didn't have a voice." Björk explains that she gave a concert that "30,000 people came to ... 10 per cent of the nation!" but felt that this changed nothing, and started workshops with her friend, the author and philosopher Oddn} Eir Ævarsdóttir, to encourage young businesses. Then the 2008 bank crash happened, almost wiping out the Icelandic economy overnight.

Metallic paper top by Paco Rabanne Haute Coutre A/W89 courtesy of the Paco Rabanne archive; green slip from Pongees

"All these economists were like our best mates by then, so we were right in the centre of it. And a lot of people in my generation who never cared about politics before were like, 'This is an emergency situation!' It was kind of amazing, though, because we're such a small country that we can actually make changes." Some of Björk's friends even formed a political party called the Best Party, with a stand-up comedian running for mayor. "And he won! Much to his surprise! So now for 11 months all these punks have been running the city! We started a petition, and before I came here to complete my album we had a karaoke marathon for five days — it was amazing ... we got 40,000 signatures, and there are only 350,000 people in Iceland. Then we delivered it to the Prime Minister; that was a moment! We will see what happens, but at least it raised awareness."

"It was a lot of work, but if you do all that work and don't follow it up it's never going to change anything." And then Björk's daughter skips in from school and we bring the interview to a close. Björk has places to be and with a theatrical air kiss and kick of those winged heels, she disappears to make the 21st century a lot more fun.

 

Edited extract from the special issue of Dazed & Confused guest-edited by Björk, on sale now, The single Crystalline is out on One Little Indian. Björk headlines Bestival, Sep 8-11

Credits
Photography and Artwork Sam Falls
Stylist Katy England
Hair Eugene Souleiman using Wella Professionals at Streeters
Make-up Dick Page using Shiseido at Jed Root
Photographic Assistant Pierre Le Hors, Amy Von Harrington
Styling Assistants Elizabeth Fraser-Bell, Daniel Edley
Video Ryan Bucci

 

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