Reaching ‘Utopia’ with Björk
To celebrate the release of Björk’s newest album, Utopia, we asked a cadre of artists to reflect on her influence. Read on for ruminations from members of DEVO, the Drums, Death Cab for Cutie, Liars and more.
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Björk’s records, videos (and documentaries, press kits, photos, interviews!) helped me find and appreciate the link between technology, art and desire. As a nerdy girl teenager, I felt burdened with guilt for finding so much pleasure in my interactions with microphones and instruments and recording equipment, and music and literature … I felt like something was wrong with me for playing around with things so much instead of figuring out everything in a clean and technical way and keeping my emotions to my shameful self. But her work showed me how I could approach art with a punk curiosity, without compromising my sexuality. – Jenny Hval
Björk’s Post was the record that got me really into dance beats and electronic music. It made me want to understand how that music was made. Besides, I just loved the record. I am very comfortable with having a very emotional response to music and that being what thrilled me about it. The type of melodies on that record, the way that she would let her voice just go from kind of cooing to screeching, that was really amazing to me. But that was a life-changer in the sense of what it got me into, on top of just loving the record. – Travis Johnson (Grooms)
I got introduced to Björk quite late in life compared to many of my friends. So when I first got to ‘know’ her, it was a whole new world opening obviously. The first track I ever heard was ‘Cocoon.’ It absolutely blew my mind. Also the visuals were absolutely groundbreaking for me. It reminded me that you can do pop music in your very own way. It can be just as innovative and daring as other genres. The way she always pushes herself in her music and visuals to do something no one thought was possible is an eternal inspiration to me. – Soleima
The last work I saw with her involved a VR project that was of course stunning and somewhat creepy in just the right way. She’s an Icelandic Alien Nymph who luckily never fell to earth. – Gerald Casale (DEVO)
Björk changed everything for me! Her music and singing has influenced so many aspects of music to me, and I have found great comfort in her songs. There is such complexity, beauty and humanity in Björk’s musical universe that never stops to fascinate. – Susanna Wallumrød
I just remember walking into a record shop at the local mall where I grew up in upstate New York and the song ‘Joga’ was playing and I was just so taken by the music. I hadn’t heard anything like it before — these kinds of churning, distorted, drum loops with these really pristine, gorgeous, otherworldly vocals. So I ran up to the counter and I said, ‘Who’s playing?’ and the guy says, ‘This is Björk.’
I kind of jumped into Björk headfirst in the middle of her career. I remember taking her album home, putting in the CD and putting on my headphones — because it’s such a headphone album. I remember hearing sounds that I have never heard before. It showed me that you can really do whatever you want when you make music. I know it seems like such a simple concept, but I grew up only being able to listen to Christian-based music, and there wasn’t a ton of variety. So you can imagine going from Amy Grant to Björk and what a vast difference it was. – Jonny Pierce (The Drums)
I’ve always been a fairly decent Björk fan, especially when I was young. I thought girls that listened to Björk were super cool. For some reason that was important to me. – Angus Andrew (Liars)
At the time of Homogenic’s release, I had the good fortune of being a sixteen-year-old working the counter at a record store. I still remember my coworker asking if she could put on the new Björk record, and I’m sure I rolled my eyes and reluctantly acquiesced. Björk’s voice irritated me, and I felt her music videos were too cutesy by half. I was into Britpop and Pink Floyd, and by God, I was fine with that. Björk was too weird.
And then ‘Hunter’ began its alien march across the speakers. My ears immediately perked up. Sure, that was a drum machine, but much like the work of Aphex Twin, it somehow seemed alive, skittering across the sonic landscape like a rock skipping across the mirrored surface of a glacial Icelandic pool.
The warm synths beckoned me further inside, and there was Björk herself, cooing to me in that same volcanic purr that had heretofore turned me off. I’d barely had a moment to recover from ‘Hunter’ when ‘Joga’ delivered the knockout blow: the lushest string section I’d ever heard, playing defiantly angular figures against what seemed like samples of magma flows magically recorded at the Earth’s core, coated Björk’s impassioned descriptions of an EMO-TION-AL… LANDSCAPE. It was nothing short of musical onomatopoeia.
That was it; I was done, checking my inhibitions at the doors, I plunged wholeheartedly into Björk’s wonderful, alien world. I spun Homogenic endlessly. I went back and listened to Debut and Post and they all of a sudden made sense. Björk, of course, went on to make reams of incredible music (in fact, Vespertine even managed to top Homogenic for me), but nothing will ever supplant the thrill of discovery and astonishment I felt upon my first, fascinated listens to Homogenic. – Dave Depper (Death Cab for Cutie)
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