This was not an evening of Björk’s big tunes but rather a disjointed, broken, melody-less, yet achingly beautiful, challenge – to both our conceptions about her music and, more importantly, our planet. In short, my senses were comprehensively walloped.
Musically, this must be the most idiosyncratic band ever to rock up for a rock concert – can this “event” even be described as a rock concert? – with the otherworldly Icelandic flute septet Viibra, a young Icelandic choir that Björk had once been part of, harpist Kate Buckley, Manu Delago on percussion (including playing water at one time), and Bergur Porrison holding everything together on synths and a MacBook. Together, they created a majestic, sweeping sound; the base layer of minimalist trip-hop beats, symphonic synths, and densely layered chorale infused with the angelic, honeyed harp and flutes, and punctuated by Björk’s still sharp and distinctive voice. It seems rather inappropriate, even churlish, to mention specific pieces that were played when this was really about the whole, but, in terms of record-keeping, pretty much everything came from Björk’s latest record, 2017’s Utopia, with the additions of Venus as a Boy, Pagan Poetry, and Notget from previous albums. It all worked beautifully, yet it was no easy listen; it was stark, displaced. You had to work hard to find true beauty in the music, which often seemed at odds with the visual aspect of the show, which was utterly stunning.
As a spectacle, this was a vast, soaring journey into what seemed to be some unfamiliar, alien landscape, actualised by stunning 3D-like graphics – organic shifting shapes that were at once vegetable, animal and mineral; forces and portrayals of life harmonised – and projected on to a huge fringed curtain in front of the stage as well as on to the wall behind it, the musicians an integral part of this world. And then there was Björk in her shimmering, silvery party dress, like the skin of an exotic fish, adorned with huge plastic shoulder pads, like the two halves of a dissected yet still inflated space hopper, and a quaffed mane of fibrous fur or hair-like strands, and glittering mask, fresh from a Venetian ball – a curious proto-creature. It felt as if we were viewing a new planet from the window of our just arrived spaceship. But of course, we weren’t.
What we were seeing, or being urged to see, was our world, our utopia, that, like the music, had been dissected and made anew just for us that very night. It was wholly beautiful; it was astonishing; it was breath-taking – yet it was wholly fragile; it was vulnerable; it was under threat. And even as that realisation hit, came the stentorian voice (in the form of Greta Thunberg on a giant projection) speaking to us individually and collectively, demanding: “What are you going to do about it?” It could have been audacious or even preachy. It just wasn’t; it was all perfectly reasonable and logical; a quite natural part of the evening; clarifying what we were seeing. This was two hours of living, breathing art, made animate – art has to have a serious message, right? It’s supposed to make us question our knowledge and experience. Art makes us look at every day, the obvious, the familiar, with fresh eyes. Whether it’s a pile of bricks, a protester throwing a bouquet of flowers rather than a petrol bomb, the Mona Lisa, it is designed to wrench us from our complacency and question what we see and feel around us. Now, who’s getting preachy?
For me, Björk is not just one of the greatest contemporary musicians, she is one of the greatest artists in any genre or medium.
By Allan Boughey
To read another of Allan’s pieces on Björk follow the link here.