Why you should watch: Bjork at Bestival 2011

Bjork at Coachella 2007 by Mark Austin
Bjork at Coachella 2007 by Mark Austin

Chris Eustace looks at just why Bjork will be unmissable at Bestival 2011, plus a Bjork Spotify playlist to get you in the mood.

Listen to our Bjork Spotify playlist.

Bjork has always been ahead of the game, but as her only outdoor festival show of the year at Bestival 2011 nears, it looks as if she’s now playing a different one altogether.

Her new ‘Biophilia’ project, encompassing a new album, phone apps, internet installations and specially made instruments, made its live debut at The Manchester International Festival in June to rave reviews.

Her first UK shows in three years, there was a 24-piece Icelandic choir, a one-off digital pipe organ, a “gameleste” (hybrid of a gamelan and orchestral celeste), four giant “pendulum harps” which make musical patterns using the Earth’s gravitational pull, a 10ft barrel harp called a “Sharpsicord” and a synthesizer that “plays” lighting, as hexagonal screens played strange projections above.

That’s some of what we can maybe expect from the big Bestival finale, but we’re talking about someone who specialises in the unexpected. Having released a solo album at the age of 11, and having some success in cult band The Sugarcubes, she released the much-lauded ‘Debut’ in 1993. While still her most commercial work, she was still experimenting with different sounds, with the Bollywood-influenced strings of ‘Venus As A Boy’ a marker for what was to come.

1995’s ‘Post’ took things further, with Bjork’s interest in trip-hop and industrial beats coming to the fore, but it was 1997’s ‘Homogenic’ when the idea of an album being more than just a collection of songs began to surface in her work, with the ‘Bachelorette’ video, directed by Michel Gondry, who has also worked on ‘Biophilia’, one of several made to accompany the songs.

Subsequent releases have pushed the envelope even further, with 2001’s ‘Vespertine’ using choirs, chamber orchestras and guest “sound manipulators” such as Matmos. Much of 2004’s ‘Medulla’ was purely vocal-based, before the more direct, outgoing sound of ‘Volta’ in 2007.

She’s no stranger to controversy onstage either, having to cancel her appearance at Serbia’s Exit Festival in 2008 with her management citing safety concerns after she dedicated ‘Declare Independence’ to the people of Kosovo at a show in Japan. She was also criticised by the Chinese government for dedicating the same song to Tibet at a concert in Shanghai.

That same year, she also attacked a photographer (having already infamously done so in Bangkok in 1996) as she arrived at Auckland International Festival to play at the Big Day Out festival.

More happily, Bjork’s last outdoor UK festival appearances were met with huge acclaim. Her headlining set on the Other Stage at Glastonbury 2007 featured a series of flags, several costume changes and a spectacular laser show, with classics like ‘Hyperballad’ and ‘Army Of Me’ in amongst the newer tracks.

Reviewing the set, VF called her a “force of nature”, saying that “the combination of screaming glitch-electro and ethereal soundscapes is a feast for the eyes and ears.”

A performance at Scotland’s Connect Festival, meanwhile, was “a fairytale for fans [who] bounce ‘til they can’t bounce no more.”

The Manchester gigs saw the likes of ‘Hidden Place’, ‘All Is Full Of Love’ and ‘Isobel’ among the new material, and while few would complain given the stunning nature of the new songs, you wonder whether Bjork will make any concessions to the festival crowd, and play some more “hits”? She even played ’It’s Oh So Quiet’ at some of her ‘07/’08 shows, so it’s not impossible.

In the end, the beauty is that only she will really have any idea about what will happen when she steps onto the stage at Robin Hill Country Park, and regardless of what she plays, revellers will be able to celebrate one of music’s most restlessly creative figures. One thing you can bet on though: with “Rock Stars, Pop Stars and Divas” the fancy dress theme for this year, Bjork will have the “best costume” prize on lockdown.

Bestival 2011 takes place at Robin Hill Country Park, Isle of Wight from 8-10 September.

All tickets are sold out.

Ferry tickets from Red Funnel are on sale. Book now to avoid the rush and the disappointment of not being able to get onto the Island.

Finally, those with frightfully short and miserable looking legs (like myself) might want to get their hands on a pair of Wedge Wellies for extra long, sexy looking pins for the Bestival weekend. We’re offering a 20% discount for a limited time – just use the code ‘FAB20’.