by Bartek Wilk
Every musical fascination, like a distant journey, starts with a small step – an impulse that opens your eyes. You probably have your own story about such a musical journey. This is mine. It was 2 AM. The local radio station was about to finish its musical broadcast. The last song started. I heard sounds. I heard words, but I didn’t understand them; I didn’t even know what language I was hearing. I grabbed a pen and wrote down – not without errors – Svefn-g-englar. In the Internet search engine, I typed ‘Sigur Rós’ (this was years ago, so it was going through the telephone modem). Luckily, they shared music on their website. I was thrilled. I just had to share my discovery with my music authority, my elder brother. What I had unearthed was nothing new to him; he gave me a CD comprising songs without titles, songs without lyrics, but with words. With that, I was lost – for good.
If a drop of water can cause waves, what effect can such an encounter have? I didn’t know then, but I do today. Without that significant moment, there would be no Polish fan page dedicated to Sigur Rós or portal dedicated to Icelandic music, no radio shows or concerts of Icelandic artists in my hometown, and this article would never have been written.
Twenty-three busy years
It is hard to believe, but the band turns 23 this year. Since the release of their debut album, Von, in 1997, Sigur Rós has been consistently one of the most creative and innovative contemporary bands. Yet the band struggled in the beginning. Jónsi and Georg didn’t have much money. In fact, the album was produced because the owner of Bad Taste studio, owing to his affection for the band, agreed to let them paint the entire studio in return for recording time.
From hope (Von) to the good start (Ágætis byrjun) Sigur Rós formed their unique style, and their music flourished. This earned them a growing fan following comprising people who appreciated the band’s sincerity, consistency in following their own path, perfectionism and diligence. Just before the release of Ágætis byrjun, Kjartan Sveinsson joined the group. As the only bandmate with a musical education, he wrote their compositions in notes. This allowed the band to enrich their arrangements with strings (‘Staralfur’) and even a brass section (‘Ný batterí’). The so-called ‘black album’ was a breakthrough for another reason – it was the first album on which Jónsi sang with the full power of his extraordinarily colourful voice. Hearing the songs sung in their native language made the album even more interesting, more authentic and natural. Just after the album was released, Ágúst, the drummer, left the band. He was replaced by Orri Páll Dýrason. At that time, Sigur Rós also started working with FatCat, which opened the gates for them to reach a wider international audience. The first copies of Ágætis byrjun, folded and hand-glued by the band members, are invaluable and unique today.
Fans would have to wait more than three years for the next album. In October 2002, a minimalist record appeared with two brackets ‘()’ in lieu of a title. Officially, the album was untitled, as were the songs on it. Further, all songs were sung in the non-existent language ‘Hopelandic’. The recordings were made at Sundlaugin, the band’s own recording studio, set up in the building of the former pool. It was on this album that such unique songs as ‘Vaka’ (1), ‘E-bow’ (6) and ‘Popplagið’ (8) were released. The last one is iconic, featuring at almost every one of the band’s concerts.
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