“When I was about seven years old I was travelling with my father and his girlfriend, at the time, through the Icelandic highlands. We were driving one evening, along this area of volcanic ash and sand.”
“My father turned around. He didn’t see me at first, so he stopped the car, looked closer, and saw me on the floor of the car. I was super frightened. I remember the clouds. Everything was taking a certain shape. It’s like you were driving into Mordor.”
Nature has had a gargantuan influence on those that call Iceland home. It’s vivid wildness and untamed infrastructure has provided inspiration for many artists. It’s something Icelanders are very proud of, and that is no exception for the artist Clash is speaking with today.
Bjarki shot to dance music stardom with ‘I Wanna Go Bang’ a techno fuelled banger that was rinsed pretty much everywhere and gave Nina Kraviz’ трип label arguably its biggest hit. Bjarki, however, is on a deeper level than mere techno ‘bangers’.
- - -
- - -
'Happy Earthday', the forthcoming record from the Icelandic artist to be released on !K7 Records, is considered a window into the head and soul of its creator. It’s described as “saying farewell to a grown-up child who is now ready to leave” and is inspired by Bjarki’s “inheritance as an Icelander”, most notably the nature that surrounds his native Iceland. “Maybe you can feel the melancholy of my life”, he suggests.
It’s a record that nearly didn’t happen. A lavish studio was rented in order to produce the record, but it was going to have a completely different identity. All the melodies were going to be re-done with live strings. It took three of four days for Bjarki to realise it wasn’t going to happen, though some of the original work has survived. Every song has a certain pitch, a certain frequency. There is a story to tell.
It’s 9pm local time, and I’m about to sit down and chat with the Icelandic producer. Straight away you are given the impression that he feels things to their absolute full - sadness, happiness, anger, anxiety. All are explored to their maximum reach.
“Nature has had such a huge impact on everyone in Iceland”, he tells me, as we being to talk about growing up in such beautiful, natural surroundings. He tells me a story, quoted at the beginning of this feature, of a camping trip he and his father took when he was very young. They camped alongside a dormant volcano as his father explained how volcanoes work.
- - -
Maybe you can feel the melancholy of my life...
- - -
Speaking in slow sentences with a subdued voice, almost as if he has been transported back there again; it becomes clear just how large an influence this has had on the way Bjarki views the world.
“Nature impacts me as a person more so than an artist. I started to think about it more and more when I moved abroad. I realised I think differently from people who don’t grow up in this country with such free space. Most of the people, that I know, they come from big cities where they’re just a number and they have certain rules to follow. Growing up I could jump around. I had an island out the front of my house. I used to go to it after school. It had a small bridge to cross. I used to spend hours there.”
“For me, coming to cities, even like Berlin, which I find very comfortable in comparison to the claustrophobia of London, I find it hard to stay there for long periods of time. I get anxiety. Shopping malls and stuff? Forget about it.”
Our attention meanders its way from the natural beauty of the world to the very thing that threatens it. There are some world leaders that completely dismiss the scientific evidence that climate change is here and it’s a topic that quite visibly irritates Bjarki.
“I’m shocked that we weren’t taught more in elementary school about recycling and what happens to our waste”, he says. “Plastic issues in the ocean, for example, are so serious. If we lose the ocean, we lose planet, right? I can’t believe that in the last hundred years we have come so close to the end. I wouldn’t think, growing up, that I would be discussing this topic.”
“Living creatures are having trouble breathing. Imagine if there was another life form above us that was polluting and destroying our atmosphere... I don’t think we would like that, do you?”
- - -
I can’t believe that in the last hundred years we have come so close to the end...
- - -
“I was at this spa once. I paid a lot of money to go to this spa, and what do they do? Give me a plastic cup. I was like, hey, I can see you’ve got glasses over there, why are you giving me this plastic cup? The lady said, oh no, it’s not plastic, it’s ‘pla’. Pla? It’s meant to be this environmentally friendly substitute for plastic.”
“They said it’s going to be gone in one hundred years, but how do they know that? Who told you that? The company that makes the pla? The company that used to make things out of plastic and now makes pla? I don’t believe any of that shit.”
- - -
- - -
'Happy Earthday' appears to be a culmination of the extremity of emotion that the artist feels. From environmental issues to fragile moments of personal introspection, it features music that Bjarki never thought he would release. It’s certainly the artist’s most experimental record to date, and fans of his previous compositions may be surprised and just how left field it veers at times. I’m keen to learn of the artistic direction that this multi-faceted composer now finds himself leaning towards.
“I can create a techno banger and play it the next day and it doesn’t necessarily have the same impact on me as some other pieces that I’ve made when I have a troubled mind, or a certain emotion going on”, he says. “Nevertheless, it’s all my work; it’s a reflection of my thoughts and feelings at that time.”
“I usually spend hours just listening to what I’ve composed. It can take its toll, washing in the pain of the work for so long. It is a certain ceremony. I can’t say I always enjoy this method of music making. It’s difficult for me to stay in that state of mind for too long; I don’t eat or sleep.”
“Mentally, afterwards, I feel reborn again, so I don’t do music for some time. When you make this music that is more for you, yourself, this is what happens. I’ve been doing that since I started releasing music in 2014. I tried to release only music that is a part of my consciousness, especially with the LP’s, like the trio of records for Trip. It was never supposed to be an album. It’s a collection of work. That stuff was more drawn to the concept of dance music.”
“This is the first time that I’m doing stuff that I want to do. The first time I’m on a label that gives me full control. This means I can be musical, in a way. I can show a little bit more of myself.”
- - -
It can take its toll, washing in the pain of the work for so long. It is a certain ceremony.
- - -
The record is, quite clearly, deeply personal. When I begin to ask about some of the track titles (some tracks are obscurely titled AN6912 and Ana5) the producer politely refuses to comment as he feels the experience would be too traumatic. He informs me all will become clear in time.
With that, we turn our attention to the consumption of art. Bjarki’s views on this are noted in the press release. He explains that when facing the world, once art is released it is global. Now it belongs to the consumer, and each individual has a right to their opinion on it. The artist has lost control of his creation, and at times that can be quite frightening.
This is something that everyone who creates art feels upon releasing something into the world. It isn’t difficult to see why many artists are so afraid. Just take a glance at any comments section on social media. I am, however, excited to learn how an artist who has put out so much diverse work, through трип and his own bbbbbb records, has overcome this powerful anxiety.
- - -
- - -
“I have so much respect for what I do, even when I have fun”, he says. “It’s all my personality, or part of me. People are always giving negative feedback for the sake of it. They feel the need to pull someone else down with them. Some artists are not confident enough that they let themselves get sucked into this negative energy.”
“Of course, you’re always scared when you put that out. In all honesty, some people just don’t want you to do well when the topic has something to do with their interest. They may even get jealous. Music, movies, politics... they’re all very personal matters, right? We forget that there is a person behind the work. That person will rise and fall with what they put out into the universe.”
“The energy also depends on how far they will go for good or bad, like sending a rocket to space. The people are the fuel, so it depends on them how far your work is going to go and how it is going to be digested. The mind and focus, however, is the engine.”
“Every art form has its own life when it’s released. A painting has a different influence on its spectators than it may have had on the artist. Books can be read, but the understanding is different.”
- - -
When I hear music I see colours. Music and visual art has always held hands in my mind.
- - -
It will be interesting to see how varied the understanding of Happy Earthday will be upon its release. Those dressed all in black may demand the return of the techno banger, while those with the motivation for emotional reflection may be able to relate to its glitches, its mourning and its introverted nature.
What happens once the anxiety of putting it out into the world is overcome, and the critics, fans and keyboard warriors have had their say? With a clear view of his artistic direction fogged until later in the year, what can we expect from the Icelandic artist? The record, as experimental as it is, sounds like it would be wonderfully accompanied by some sort of visual stimulant. With increased experimentation comes a new challenge. Club ready music has a strict vibe that it adheres too. The people will dance, they always have, since the time dawned and fire was the substitute for a booth. Abstract forms of music need to be presented, delivered, in different ways.
“My team and I have been working on a certain vision for the visuals”, he says.” “When I hear music I see colours. Music and visual art has always held hands in my mind. Most of the time when I create there is some sort of scene going on, either in my life, or in some alternate dimension.”
“I’ve been sitting down with my team, my friends, for around a year now to discuss how I can put out similar emotions within my music through visuals. That for me is a very interesting concept. Imagine looking at a painting and being able to hear it. I’d love to give people an experience that they’ll never forget. A form of escapism.”
“That’s what I felt when I was doing the cave parties in Iceland. The feeling of taking people and letting them know you’re not ripping them off, this is for them. That’s amazing and it’s something that no one will forget. An adventure. Art should give something back.”
- - -
- - -
'Happy Earthday' will be released on February 15th.
Words: Andrew Moore
Join us on Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.