Gig Reviews

Björk (DJ Set) – Carriageworks, Sydney 3/06/16

I awake to the sound of heavy rain. My terrace buckles under the watery tonnage. I attempt to move. Dazed by my morning stupor, I forget that three hundred minutes of dancing has turned me into a boneless mass – a frail, neutered form of ‘The Thing’.

My head flashes full with images: a Nai Palm-esque bride, a babel-like tower of bags, a globe of needle-light and eyes, lots of eyes. There is no Björk-figure, no lingering facsimile. It was not her goal to mark our minds indelibly with her emblem. She was a medium, the intermediary of our collective union.   

A large rostrum bursting with light. A single individual hovering deified at its centre. Speakers vibrating heavy on either side. We are all accustomed to the overt showmanship of DJ sets. A giddy lad jaunts behind a supercomputer (not really) with the garish air of Zeus. The crowd fawns and flatters said DJ-God by moving to each miraculous shift in notation.

‘Wow dude…did you hear that drop?!?!’

Whilst I am not completely averse to such an arrangement, I find myself slightly uncomfortable with the spectator/spectacle divide that it induces. It unnecessarily promulgates a contract where we ‘the consumer’, ‘the hungry outsider’ eats up the art ‘object’ rather than participating in it and with it.  I was delighted, therefore, to discover upon entry into the main hall that there was no stage. There was no Björk. Or so it seemed.    

She was, in fact, tucked away in the corner, hugged and obscured by a micro-forest. By shirking the physical arrangement that places the male (and sometimes female) DJ at the crux of the performance, Bjork made a powerful statement. By concealing herself within a network of green foliage, by effacing her presence with a tidbit of nature, Bjork gave primacy to the music and the audience, not herself.

It nicely complemented Bjork’s recent comments about the “macho…boy club” that seems ubiquitous in the music industry. Rather than the machismo of the DJ-pantheon cum light-explosion, Björk (a singular, harrowing woman) curated a space where everyone faced inward, danced in gyring concentric circles and synchronised. She took us on a meandering musical journey – 90s R&B classics were cut with Bossa nova, industrial techno grated alongside Rihanna’s Work, and Arca’s experimental hip hop befriended the ‘Jazz Age’.  

Still, Björk managed to pull droves of dancers – all peering through septims, cloaks and reeds to catch a glimpse of the femme. But, she remained ever elusive. Static and unmoving, her face undulating with a fluorescent tape mask, she never pandered to the throng before her. In a beautiful expression of humble power, she silently channelled and moved us.

Clearly, Bjork has tasked herself with creating new forms of participatory art that collapse the boundaries between art, artist and spectator. She is coaxing us into her ‘private circus’ and then transfiguring us into active members. Go now and see Björk Digital. 

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