Bedroom Community

Press Reviews for Ekvílibríum

Valgeir Sigurdsson: Björk's right-hand man takes centre stage

He's helped a superstar on her great musical leaps. Now he's taking one of his own. Nick Hasted spends a few days in Iceland at the remote live-in studio of the producer Valgeir Sigurdsson

Valgeir Sigurdsson was at the recording controls for eight years as his Icelandic countrywoman Björk conducted her most crucial experiments. He has also brought other ground-breaking artists – Bonnie "Prince" Billy, CocoRosie, Maps – to his home studio in the Reykjavik suburbs, where they live till their work is done.

Now, Sigurdsson has stepped out of the shadows – first with his own label, Bedroom Community, and this week with his solo debut, Ekvilibrium, which distills his warm, liquid, organic-electronic sound.

Driving through the ash-black lava fields around Reykjavik airport to his home studio, the Greenhouse, the isolation that Sigurdsson's clients agree to becomes clear. It is here in the suburban sprawl in the hills around the city, in a street built for artists in the 1970s, that he and Björk first conceived their philosophy of "domestic music". "She would bounce crazy ideas off me, like making a song out of all the sounds in the kitchen," he says. "Quite early on, the conceptual side existed in [her Vespertine of 2001]: the intimacy of the vocal performance, and using chamber music, because that was created in the home.

"I've carried on that domestic way of working here," he continues. "It's full on. There's no divide between living and music. Will Oldham [aka Bonnie "Prince" Billy] created pressure for himself when he brought all his musicians here to Iceland in the middle of winter for last year's The Letting Go. It could fail, and it would be a disaster if it did. But taking musicians into my home feels like the right way to make music. It's obviously very personal, because you can't escape. I get really involved emotionally. Ending a project feels like ending a relationship."

This intensity is expressed in the characteristic intimacy of Sigurdsson's productions – the way you can hear Björk and others breathe, sucking you into the sound. At concerts growing up, Sigurdsson says, "I was always disappointed by how distant things were, how messed up it sounded. My records are how I hoped a concert would be. In the studio I have the ability to focus on things you can't hear normally. You can physically push closer and closer, like you're putting your head inside the instrument, until you feel it tremble."

Of course, the 36-year-old does not just exist in the Greenhouse's musical isolation ward. When we drive into Reykjavik's downtown 101 district, he is surrounded by friends: Sruli, a Jewish-Australian artist who makes shoes from whale foreskins; Johann, who plays Bedroom Community records at his fashion boutique. By midnight we're drinking in Kaffi Barrin, the bar that sold Damon Albarn on Reykjavik a decade back. It's a bohemia that barely extends beyond one street.

"It's good because it's a small society, based around downtown," Sigurdsson says. "And I like to be part of that, to an extent. But the place I have my studio is ideal. If you notice, it's a dead end. Nobody comes there except to work. It's a good combination of being isolated and connected."

Back at the studio, the contrast from Reykjavik 101 could not be greater. The door is open to the garden on a grey, wet afternoon. A piano, guitars and 10 speakers are scattered across the pine floors. He is mixing Aton's modern Icelandic chamber music: he sits back, listens, then rushes to twist dials and shove his chair back to the keyboard, silently conducting a world of sound. His analog mixing desk is hooked to the keyboard for digital editing – just the sort of balance, the equilibrium, that his record refers to. "That's how I think about things in general," he admits. "The need to make music for me is when I feel an imbalance. Music heals that, for a while."

Sigurdsson grew up in an Icelandic fishing town of 1,000 people. At nine, he learned to play guitar from his Anglophile cousins' punk records. He soon moved on to Kraftwerk, Prince and classical music, and in his teens invested in a sequencer and drum machine. His break came when Björk invited him to engineer her songs for the Lars von Trier musical Dancer in the Dark (2000). By the end, as well as recording her soundtrack album, Selma Songs, he was synching her music into the film and recording a 90-piece orchestra. "People are proud of her," he says of Iceland's most famous daughter. "It's good for us that the figurehead for Icelandic music is so odd and individual."

The same words could be used of Sigurdsson.

Ekvilibrium is out now on Bedroom Community

Nick Hasted

The Independent (September 21st 2007)

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