Published Feb 01, 2000Sometimes, as the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. Interesting then that a small, isolated country such as Iceland is home to a mother lode of highly inventive artists. With a total population of only 300,000, the island best known for its volcanoes, remarkably high literacy rate, and Björk, houses a vibrant collective imagination.
Filmmaker and Gus Gus songwriter Siggi Kjartansson explains. "There is this unbelievable creative energy in the Icelandic nation, and there always has been. Ever since people immigrated to the island, there's been this incredible need for creativity, the desire for telling stories and writing; we've got the old sagas and incredible novels that were written in the year 900."
Stories can be told in many different forms, and residents of Iceland appear to take great pleasure in communicating via a number of artistic mediums. Or perhaps it's the country's incredibly steep cost of living that has that effect. "It's impossible to be an artist in Iceland and make a living from that," says Kjartansson. "So people are obsessed with doing all kinds of artworks, but are always doing that on the side."
And doing it together. The spirit of collective working and sharing of talents runs high in this compact nation, as evidenced with both the Sugarcubes and the nine member posse that is Gus Gus. People collaborate on projects "just to help each other out in creating what we want and need to do." Which is exactly how Gus Gus came to be.
In 1995, Kjartansson and fellow filmmaker Stefan Arni decided to makePleasure , a short film exploring the overlapping of lovers that inevitably happens in a small city or community such as Reykjavik. Their cast and crew included people of many talents - actors, singers, DJs, visual artists, software designers, political campaign organizers - all coming together without thought of being paid. During a hiatus from the film project, Kjartansson and actor-singer Daniel Agust suggested that the nine create an album. Polydistortion was recorded in 11 days and released independently in Iceland, later to be re-recorded and re-released when Gus Gus, the band, signed to the 4AD label.
"We weren't a band until we got signed," Siggi asserts. "It was more like people from different directions coming together; our mindset then was that we were going to make this one-off project." Like Jack's little beanstalk, the project grew and grew. Gus Gus toured the globe, dancing up a storm and, of course, creating their own films and visuals for the show. "We truly became a band by touring," states Kjartansson. "It felt like a solid group of people making the second album."
This album, the sexy and sophisticated This Is Normal, showcases a band that has learned and grown together. "It makes you stronger if you start being an artist in here and then move to the rest of the world," muses Kjartansson; "Because the rest is easy compared to trying to make it in Iceland."