nordic goddess of nature, björk is the voice of iceland
At last week’s Iceland Airwaves festival, we asked the iconic musician about her next album and discovered why her beautiful country needs your help.
Photography Timothée Lambrecq
Five time i-D cover star and eternal music legend, Björk Guðmundsdóttir has dedicated her life to documenting nature, cosmic matters and human emotion through her otherworldly pagan poetry and experimental sonic ecstasy. Never one to hold back, she has always taken it upon herself to take things further; first collaborating with David Attenborough on Biophilia's audio-visual exploration of the universe, and later developing an app that explores the meeting of music, the environment, and technology which has been welcomed into the curriculum of many schools. Our love for Björk runs deep and her endeavours seem always to flow like determined rivers through the fjords. But today her efforts crash onwards more furiously than ever before, and she urgently needs you to get involved.
At Iceland Airwaves in Reykjavik, the masked mother nature herself headed up a press conference to a room of about twenty journalists. She succinctly warned us of the Icelandic government's imminent plans to construct a power-line across the whole island, complete with up to 50 dams and power plants that would ultimately be used to trade energy with the UK. Environmentalist and poet, Andri Snær Magnason joined her to explain that while the harnessed energy is labelled as sustainable, it undoubtedly comes at an irreparable ecological cost. Although it is first up to Icelanders to vote against the development, Björk's plan is to raise awareness of the urgency of the situation, take the issue to court, and ultimately establish a national park in Iceland's Highlands to protect the largest area of untouched wilderness in Europe.
After the conference, i-D grabbed a coffee with Björk to discuss her forthcoming album, her son's band and more importantly, why we must help her save her motherland. For those wondering, she's just as ethereal as you'd imagine; half hidden behind a beautiful embroidered mask crafted by long-time collaborator James Merry, her voice is enchanting and she will forever appear ageless. It's time to take responsibility, take note, take Bjork's good advice and make a change. It's in our hands.
What advice would you give to people outside of Iceland who can't vote against this, but want to help?
I think to begin with it's mostly to follow us on Facebook. Then we can send messages to these people with how they can help us and with things to sign in the future to put pressure on our government. I emailed Jonsi from Sigur Rós last night and he was like, 'whatever you do, we'll post it on our Facebook too.' So we'll try to start a network both locally and internationally and then depending on how many people back us up, we can decide on the next step. One idea was to make some kind of a t-shirt and sell it, because we need to hire lawyers and stuff. You can talk and talk to the media but nothing really changes unless you go into this bureaucracy with lawyers and try to push buttons, you know?
So you're bringing together a core community of musicians to first take a stand?
Yes. It's the biggest untouched area in Europe so I feel it's a big responsibility not just for Icelanders but also for all Europeans. Iceland gets millions of tourists every year and, to talk statistics, 80% of them come for the nature, and half of them go into the outback to experience this spiritual feeling of being somewhere so untouched. And if this happens, this electric line will be put through the island and that sacredness will go. So it's a debate now; we have all the best Icelandic scientists working for the government. They took all of Iceland's highlands and put it into grids and the scientists have until February to estimate data about those 54 areas. They basically said, 'we want to dam all of it, so tell us which areas are better than others'. So most of Iceland's geologists, biologists and so on are trying to figure out how to even measure something like that. They came up with this method that I listened to in a meeting for four hours; something that is like a complex multiple-choice exam with like, 100 questions. Does it have geese? Does it have tourism? And so on.
Gosh, and the fate of Iceland rests on this survey...
Yes, and even if the conclusion is be that every other area can be harnessed, it will be the same as if all of it had been. Because if you have one of the highlands of Iceland harnessed for energy, then you've broken the sacredness. It's not untouched anymore.
It seems like the government are taking the great minds of the scientists and making them work on something almost evil…
Well yes, they're put in a very difficult position to measure statistically whether places should be harnessed or not. In the past 100 years, two thirds of Iceland's nature has been built on - two thirds of it has already gone. So we're not saying that we're against dams or geothermal energy because they're really green and quite amazing. In Icelandic houses when you switch the tap on, it's basically geothermal water, which is really cheap and owned by the public. But we're saying that this is enough. Let's stop here because already we've harnessed so much. More than enough for our people. And what's quite interesting if we go into the money side of things - which is always a bit dangerous - the estimate for next year is that the tourist industry will give Iceland more money than the fisheries and the big industries combined, so it's kind of ridiculous that the politicians want to harness even more energy and ruin the highlands. They'll basically shoot themselves in the leg there, because it's not only the most precious thing that you cannot measure spiritually and emotionally, but also, financially. It's what is making most money today for Iceland. Foreigners that come to Iceland want to experience that sacredness.
In this day and age, what do you think is the bravest thing that people can do?
I think that the people involved in the global warming conference that's coming up in Paris are brave, but I think that everybody needs to take a stand on this. It's a question of life or death now. But it's also something that can be very positive and something I've spoken about previously here in Iceland in the past 15 years. You can do green energy and you can do solar power. Iceland was lucky in a strange way, because we were a colony for 600 years and didn't industrialise like you guys did. So it seems crazy to do that now. Instead we should go straight from being a medieval nature nation into being high tech. We can just fast forward over the industrialisation. That is a much better option for Iceland, to start all sorts of different green companies instead of going into heavy industries. That's part of the problem with these rednecks that are in power in Iceland - sorry, I call them rednecks - but they are following something that's a hundred years old. Nobody else in Europe is building dams anymore because it's no longer viable. It's not the future.
It's actually taking a step backwards.
I see you're wearing an Iceland Airwaves wristband. Have you seen any shows yet?
No, the last few years I'd sat on the website and listened to every single band before the festival and discovered some new music, but I've been really busy preparing for this conference and recording my new album. But yes, I have the bracelet, and I think Future Brown are playing tonight?
Yes, and do you like grime?
JME and Skepta are playing on i-D's stage, so we'll see you there. Also, I think your son is playing?
Yeah, he's played the festival for the last few years now. He's doing both on-venue and off-venue gigs. His band is kind of indie… very emotional, expressive stuff. I'm totally biased but I really like his music.
Have you ever played together?
You know, like family Christmas things but nothing proper.
He should do something on your album!
Yeah… we'll see.
What advice do you give your children? Or advice you try to follow yourself?
I think it changes every week almost. The first half of this year I got a thousand times too busy and now I just wanna do a few things and do each one really well, so right now I'm just trying to go off the grid basically and allow myself to be spontaneous. I get a bit too greedy and over-excited about thousands of things; my appetite is sometimes too big and before I know it I've got ten things coming up and they change into a to do list rather than fun. So that's probably the biggest one I'm working on at the moment. I'm trying to be able to wake up in the morning and improvise and maybe only have half the day planned… or not even that, you know? Also I'm writing my next album, so it's very important to be in this kind of space where you're off the grid and it's run by your impulses. I think that's the advice I've been listening to and the advice I've been giving to people; to not be so hard on yourself. I think sometimes we push ourselves a bit too hard and do too many things. But I have to also remember is that I get myself into these situations because I've got a big appetite for life, and enthusiasm is not a bad thing, but that it's important to focus on a few things and do them well, and to keep the freedom in there so it stays fun and not a burden. I think it's something that we're all juggling. There's not one way of doing it, each day or week you just have to re-juggle because you have to allow at least half of your time to be open to outside influences, whether that's your loved ones or friends or family or collaborators or strangers, so that there's a flow. You just need to keep it open and have entry points everywhere.
You said you were working on your album… where do you do that? Do you have a studio?
Well I usually do all the writing just in my house, and I have a small cabin in the mountains that I go to. My house here is by the ocean, so it's quite nice to be both downtown and on a beach - it's the best of both worlds really… but if I want even more to get away from it, I go to my cabin. But as I said before, I like to be spontaneous so sometimes I wake up and I'm like, I just have to rent a cabin on the other side of the island. You know, surprise myself and keep myself on my toes. Also I get guests that I collaborate with, and it's always fun when they come to stay.
Is there anything in particular that the album is inspired by?
I think it's too early to say. Very often they start off as the opposite as the previous one because I get kind of bored… you know, when you've done all the concerts. Right now I've just compiled the string album and the live album, so I'm really ready to push against that and make something that's completely the opposite. But then, there's always a chronology in your work, whether you like it or not. So there's a spine in it that I'm probably not even aware of and when I'm ninety, I'll look back and see that actually my albums are all connected.