by Amanda N. Nanawa
Iceland isn’t exactly a hotbed for rock music. Since the breakup of the
Sugarcubes in the early ’90s, Björk Gudmundsdottir went solo and became the
country’s sole musical representative. Then on April 8, 1997, 4AD Records
released an album entitled “Polydistortion“, the debut album of the nine
member band Gus Gus hailing from Reykjavik. Suddenly, the world is no
longer a lonely place for Björk.
Who’s responsible for the incarnation of the band? A film company. Legend
has it that six years ago, filmmakers/brothers Stefan Arni and Siggi
Kjartansson created a film production company called Kjól and Anderson. In
the spring of 1995, Kjól and Anderson were ready to start production on a
short film entitled “Pleasure” with a cast consisting of Daniel Agust, Magnús
Jónsson, and Hafdís Huld. All three performers including Arni and
Kjartansson would later join forces with electronic band T-World and become
Gus Gus; a melting pot of singers, photographers, cinematographers, DJ’s,
actors, a dancer, a computer programmer, and clothing designers. The band’s
name originates from a 1973 Rainer Werner Fassbinder film, “Ali – Fear Eats
Recently, the band performed at Irving Plaza in New York City and
presented a performance to the packed venue that was surreal, abstract, and
cinematic. From the very top of the show, the band’s manager, Baldur
Stefánsson, presents the band as if this was some sort of play or art house
we found ourselves in. Watching Gus Gus perform is like watching Moog
scientists experimenting with the latest art of machinery complete with
theatrics. Like cinematographers, they direct the green light to shine on
the crowd giving off an alien, otherworldly sensation to the viewers; and
at times, direct it to pulsate in rhythm with the music. So, this leads one
to wonder, is there in fact a difference between the music and film
“Yes,” answers Steph, one of the cinematographers of the band. “Definitely.
There’s a philosophy in the music business (that) is a bit different. For
example in America, you basically need to have one radio song – radio
friendly song – on your album. And even though the rest of the album is not
good, you sell a million copies. Yet, when you have a slightly difficult
album with no direct radio single, it’s very hard.
“But, if we try to compare the movies to (the) music business in that
section, I think it’s better to come out with an underground surreal movie
and have it as a break in America. Because for me, a song like
“Polyesterday”, I find it absolutely absurd that that song isn’t being
played more on the radio. For me, it’s so very accessible and it has
beautiful melody in it and it has all the possibilities of being played
more and heard by more people.”
Despite the anemic radio airplay the band is experiencing in the U.S., they
can still draw crowds into venues. They have a sound that is alluring to
the listener and the sleek style of presenting their shows tends to attract
an eclectic audience.
“I think people try to categorize us, as hard as they can,” continues
Steph. “I don’t think it’s possible because there are so many styles on
just the record itself that you can’t say ‘Gus Gus music is this or that’.
You can’t say it’s hip-hop. You can’t say it’s techno. You can’t say it’s
rock. You can’t say it’s pop.”
“The French have the best explanation — they say ‘groove electronic’.
That’s the word which you can say about all our songs. We always try to
approach things in a more surreal way than the obvious.”
The band is currently on tour supporting “Polydistortion”. Recently, the
band finished a short film and Stefán Arni is making a documentary while on
tour. They recorded a jingle for the Winter Olympics and the band will head
to Portugal for Expo ’98 where they will introduce their own line of
clothing with the help of Iceland’s Linda B. Arnadottir. Next summer, there
will be at least 2 or 3 short films to support the second lp.
Gus Gus is just one example among many other bands and musicians who
express creative intercourse between filmmaker and musician. The
introduction of music videos reinforces and encourages the persistence of
vision as we head into a new era of filmmaking. And the growing trend of
producing influential soundtracks are more prominent with studios, record
labels, and moviegoers than ever. So, it should not come as a surprise to
find more musicians behind the camera or filmmakers behind guitars.
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