Bjork Biography

Björk Gudmundsdóttir, 21 November 1965, Reykjavík, Iceland. The former Sugarcubes vocalist, armed with a remarkable, keening vocal presence, crossed over to commercial success in the mid-90s via a selection of club-orientated tracks. Come the new millennium, however, Björk was striking out for more left-field territory with a series of bold, experimental releases far removed from conventional popular music.

The success of the singer’s 1993 album Debut culminated in awards for Best International Newcomer and Best International Artist at the 1994 Brit Awards. However, Björk had made her ‘debut’ proper as far back as 1977, with an album recorded in her native Iceland as an 11-year old prodigy (including cover versions of pop standards by the Beatles and others). It was only the start of a prodigious musical legacy. Her next recording outfit was Tappi Tíkarrass (which apparently translates as ‘Cork that bitch’s arse’), who recorded two albums between 1981 and 1983. A high-profile role was afforded via work with KUKL, who introduced her to future Sugarcubes Einar Örn and Siggi. The band’s two albums were issued in the UK on the Crass label.

Björk returned to Iceland after the Sugarcubes’ six-year career, partially to pay off debts, recording a solo album in 1990 backed by a local be-bop group. She re-emerged in 1993 with Debut and a welter of more house-orientated material, including four hit singles. These chiefly came to prominence in the dance music charts (Björk having first dipped a toe in those waters with 808 State on Ex:El) via their big-name remixers. The most important of these were Underworld and Bassheads (‘Human Behaviour’), Black Dog (‘Venus As A Boy’), David Morales, Justin Robertson and Fluke (‘Big Time Sensuality’), and Tim Simenon of Bomb The Bass’ remix of the non-album track ‘Play Dead’ (the David Arnold co-write which was used on the soundtrack to The Young Americans). Björk appeared at the 1993 Brit Awards duetting with PJ Harvey on a bold cover version of the rock chestnut ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, while in 1994 she co-wrote the title track to Madonna’s album Bedtime Stories.

Released in 1995, Post was an impressive and even more eclectic album, ranging from the hard techno beats of ‘Army Of Me’, to the shimmering ‘Hyperballad’ and the 40s revival number ‘It’s Oh So Quiet’ (originally recorded in 1948 by Betty Hutton). The latter provided the singer with her biggest UK hit, reaching number 4 in December. Now an unwilling media star, Björk made the headlines following her attack on an intrusive reporter, and through her romantic liaison with jungle artist Goldie. Following a desultory remix album, Björk released her third solo set, the self-produced Homogenic. Though she received critical plaudits for her seemingly tireless musical invention, the album was also notable for lyrics revealing a more personal side to the singer, reflecting on her troubled year.

Björk subsequently switched her focus to acting, winning the Best Actress award at the 2000 Cannes film festival for her role as Selma in Lars von Trier’s Dancer In The Dark. The challenging soundtrack, Selma Songs, was written by Björk with Guy Sigsworth, Mark Bell and Vince Mendoza. Her next studio album, Vespertine, followed in August 2001. The contribution of quirky US programmers Matmos was a telling one, as was the melodic harp playing of Zeena Parkins. The hushed atmospherics and restrained beats were a long way from the club mixes of Björk’s mid-90s singles, with the serene beauty of tracks such as ‘Hidden Place’ and ‘Pagan Poetry’ revealing an artist working at the height of her powers.

The follow-up Medulla, released in autumn 2004, was an even bolder album that was constructed almost entirely out of vocals and samples. Matmos, Mark Bell and Mark ‘Spike’ Stent were among the programmers, while Roots’ beatbox Rahzel, cult UK artist Robert Wyatt, and former Faith No More leader Mike Patton joined Inuit singers and Icelandic and British choirs to provide the multi-layered vocal backing. One of the tracks on the album, ‘Oceania’, was first performed by the singer at the opening ceremony of the 2004 Athens Olympics.

After reuniting with the Sugarcubes for a one-off concert in Reykjavík on 17 November 2006, the artist resumed recording sessions for her next studio album. Volta was in places as brash and loud as its predecessor was muted and quiet, with the heavily-hyped input from R&B kingpin Timbaland adding an edge that had been missing from Björk’s music for several years. The album’s more restrained moments included two duets with Antony Hegarty from Antony And The Johnsons.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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