- born in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1965.
She grew up in a communal household
(though not a hippie commune, she's keen to point out).
Music was played 24
hours a day. "I remember a queue by the record player," she says.
would finish and you'd be ready to put another one on."
the age of five she was enrolled in music school where she studied flute and piano
for ten years.
Then at the age of eleven she made an album with the help
of her mother and friends.
A big hit in Iceland, the eponymously titled Björk
featured only one song written by Björk herself, though she became an Icelandic
celebrity on the strength of its success. "I felt a lot of guilt," she admits.
"I promised myself that I would never front anything unless I was the one who
did it." So at the age of 13 she started forming punk bands.
First came Exodus, then Tippi Tikarrass, then K.U.K.L., a band that recorded two
albums for the label run by the legendary UK anarchist band, Crass. "When I was
a punk there was no such thing as Icelandic music," she says. "We had to invent
it. Nobody even sang in Icelandic. Maybe now, the genius bands like Múm and Sigur
Ros come up.
I think it's a second generation thing. It's not such a big deal."
That first period of invention included many influences from her peers, ranging
from the compendious musical knowledge of Asmunder Jónsson, a radio DJ and musicologist
who now runs the Bad Taste organisation in Iceland, and Sjón, poet, wit, dandy
and experimentalist, whose discussions of surrealism with Einer Örn and Björk
led to many antagonistic, drunken and inspiring arguments on the nature of art.
"Being the only girl," says Björk, "it was my role to be a little punk. I was
in a punk band with this long orange hair and no eyebrows. I'd confront the intellectuals,
which is pretty brave because I didn't even have the vocabulary. It wasn't like
we were fighting but it was basically instinct versus logic."
In 1987, Einer Örn, Siggi Baldurson and Björk formed a new band, called The
Sugarcubes, with Thór Eldon, Magga Örnólfsdóttir and Bragi Olafsson. From
their first single, "Birthday", they were a band with unique qualities, combining
a raw post-punk feel with touches of experimental sonority, affecting melodies
and Björk's extraordinary, exultant singing.
The Sugarcubes put Icelandic
music on the world map, with Björk's personality, dress sense and vocal style
tailor made for an increasingly faceless music scene in desperate need of strong,
innovative and self-determined individuals.
By 1992, after 4 albums, The Sugarcubes were ready to split.
last release - a remix project - reflected Björk's growing involvement in the
UK dance scene.
Beginning a lengthy professional relationship with Graham
Massey, she had recorded with 808 State, singing on two tracks on EX:EL, but also
pursued her love of jazz by recording the Gling-Gló album with pianist Gudmundar
Then Debut, released in July 1993, changed everything.
Produced by Nellee Hooper, emerging as a leading producer after an apprenticeship
in Bristol's vibrantly eclectic hip-hop scene and massive success with Soul II
Soul, and featuring the string arranging and tablas of Talvin Singh and brass
arrangements by Björk and Oliver Lake, the album introduced Björk as one of the
most unusual solo artists and distinctive vocalists to appear in years.
Debut, her work has always followed her heart.
Early days in Reykjavik
listening to her grandparents' jazz collection, her mother's rock records, her
classical music education, the songs, sagas and poetry of Iceland, anarchist punk
bands and the arguments about surrealism were all carried with her into the musical
vibrancy of London's stylistic, ethnic and artistic mix. Debut sold over 2.5 million
copies worldwide and was followed in 1993 by Post, an even bigger success that
added Graham Massey, Howie B and Tricky to Nellee Hooper's production skills.
After Post's bigger beats, deeper sub-bass and the cartoonish big band
outburst of "It's Oh So Quiet", Homogenic, released in 1997, was more experimental
in its contrasting textures, more bold in its intensity and structure. In conversation,
Björk speaks often about courage and cowardice, both of which figure large in
the moral framework of her creative decisions. Characteristically, she has always
pulled back from situations where celebrity or habit threatened to reduce her
freedom, or she has expanded into areas of high risk where the potential for learning
outweighed the possibility of losing credibility or commercial leverage.
decision to act in Dancer In The Dark exposed her to vitriolic criticism from
some film critics yet earned respect among those who recognised her need to move
forward and take on new challenges. Her choice of collaborators over the years
- fashion designers Alexander McQueen and Hussein Chalayan, photographers Nick
Knight, Stephane Sednaoui and Nobuyoshi Araki, video director Chris Cunningham,
percussionist Evelyn Glennie, remixers Dillinja, Funkstörung and Mika Vainio -
is a reflection of this desire to work with artists at the cutting edge.
Vespertine is an adult album, full of childlike joy, sparkling with the
fragile sounds of harp, celeste, clavichord and music box. "Sun In My Mouth" has
a poem for its lyrics, one of a series of songs written in 1925 by American poet
e. e. cummings.
It comes as no surprise to find his words in a Björk album.
His capacity to merge sensuality, passion, playfulness and universal wonder with
fierce precision, uncompromising accessibility and unwavering experimentalism
mirror Björk's aspirations and achievements. Vespertine crunches through the sound
of snow, crackles with the sound of digital chatter, flutters with strange little
voices that dart at the edge of perception, whispers in the fading light. At its
heart is a big human heart.
"I think pop music," says Björk, "folk music,
just the music that humans make for humans to get through a day, everyday music
as opposed to more serious music - for it to be all these things that we never
see every day, like ukuleles, and make something magical is easy.
to use the noises that everybody is using every day - the remote control,
the mobile, the Internet and fax machine -
it's not about wanting to be weird
or something or avant-garde or any of that shit. It's down to earth.
dealing with the porridge and cup of tea. Digital stuff is all around us anyway.
Making a song out of that.
I think it's braver and more taking on the moment
than other things.