mánudagur, október 27, 2008

Interview with Björk @ Pitchfork.com

15 & 16. October I took part in the conference "You are in control" organised by IMX (Iceland Music Export) @ Hotel Saga.
Amy Phillips also took part in a panel & she found time to do a long Interview with Björk.
Amy Phillips of Pitchfork
When you buy the new Björk single, "Náttúra", you aren't just getting a brand new collaboration between two titans of avant-rock, Björk and Thom Yorke. You're also helping to steer the course of the future of the country of Iceland.
As previously reported, all proceeds from "Náttúra" go to the Náttúra Campaign, the Icelandic environmental movement co-founded by Björk. Náttúra's original mission was to protest the construction of foreign-backed aluminum factories in Iceland, but in recent weeks, the movement has taken a dramatic turn. In the month of October 2008, the Icelandic economy has crumbled under the weight of massive amounts of debt (sound familiar, Americans?), resulting in a government takeover of its largest banks. As the value of the Icelandic krona plummets, businesses find themselves unable to take out loans, and the cost of importing goods to the small island nation becomes prohibitively expensive, people are getting angry. And they're looking for quick fixes. One popular proposed quick fix? Building more aluminum factories.
Over the weekend, while in Reykjavík for the Iceland Airwaves festival, we sat down with Björk for a lengthy chat about "Náttúra" and the Náttúra Campaign. In the process, she outlined Náttúra's plan for the development of a new, independent, environmentally friendly Icelandic economy. It isn't a quick fix. And it isn't going to be easy. But when has Björk ever taken the easy way out?
Pitchfork: How did you become involved with the Náttúra Campaign? What is the organization's mission?
Björk: I kind of founded it. In a way, it's just me and four other people who share a Google group. [laughs] The other people include Andri [Snaer Magnason], who has written this book [Dreamland: A Self-Help Manual to a Frightened Nation] and Magga Vilhjálms, who has been my friend since I was 11. She's an actress, and she organized a concert called Hætta!, which means "stop," two years ago.
When I did the gig in the summer [the Náttúra concert] with Sigur Rós and 30,000 people came-- which is 10% of the [population of Iceland]-- we wanted to raise awareness for the environment. We did that and it was amazing. Then for six weeks, I was in hotel rooms and dressing rooms thinking fuck, that's not going to do shit. I'm gonna have to have one more whack at it, and try to be functionalist and not just ideological. As much as I don't want to get my hands dirty-- I would rather just do music-- I have to follow this up, or it was totally pointless.
I don't know where to start. If I spoke to you in a week, I would say something different, because every hour there is new information. It's so complicated. I think after Iceland's independence in 1944, we were not very sure of ourselves and our confidence was really low. It took one generation to sort of get over that. I'm second generation. My parents were born in 1945-46. Our movement at the punk times was like, we can sing in Icelandic, we are strong.
What's happening now is we grew and grew and grew from being one of the poorest nations in the world to being one of the richest. And then within the past 10 years Iceland discovered the stock market and it just went, went, went, went, went. I think it hit a roof and it's just crashed. Just a small percentage of the nation did a lot of damage.

Pitchfork: The same thing seems to have happened in America as well.
Björk: It was a combination of these people from my generation who went crazy on the stock market-- obviously I am simplifying very, very much-- and then the people in power, similar to your country, who were born in 1945-46. They are conservative capitalists who were supporting these guys, the free capitalists. They just let them loose. And all of Iceland's money evaporated.
Pitchfork: That's exactly what a lot of people in America have been saying as well, that the Bush administration's lack of regulation on business caused our current crisis.
Björk: Yes. A lot of working-class families are going to suffer, and unemployment hasn't even surfaced yet. What our movement has been more worried about is that many surveys have been done and the majority of Icelanders don't want [American aluminum company] Alcoa and these big industries to come, but they still just do it. And they don't give the nation any chance to vote for it or have a say in the matter.
In the last election, which was two years ago, everything that was talked about was green issues. Are you going to dam every single river in Iceland? There is literally a plan for every waterfall, every thermal energy place. In order to make two more aluminum plants, they have to dam all of them. They were just going to do it.
The winners of last election was this group called Samfylkingin, similar to the social parties in Scandinavia. Everybody voted for them, for the first time they won the majority. The conservative party in Iceland-- not far away from the Republicans-- for 80 years, they have had [majorities] in every election. But for the first time this party won, mostly because of green issues.
But then when all these people for the first time got into government with all of these kind of like Dick Cheneys of Iceland and George Bushes of Iceland-- you know what's going to happen. Maybe they just got the glow of power, but they were suddenly like, "Let's build an aluminum factory!"
Now the minister of industry, ministry of environment, and minister of foreign affairs are from this particular party. When they had the election, they had a list they put everywhere in the press, saying, "We are going to protect the country." You can take everything off the list. I think it's because these characters in government, these conservative capitalists born between 1940 and 1950, they are just so overpowering. It's always the same thing. And then this crash happens.

Pitchfork: How has the crash affected the environmental movement?
Björk: The minister of environment, she was supposed to stop an aluminum factory by the international airport by insisting that environmental value would happen, similar to what happens in all European countries. In Iceland they have just been like, "Who cares, let's just build the dams." She said, "It's gone too far with the planning, I can't stop it." And everybody was just like, "What! You were voted in to stop this!" Then they want to build another one up north, which would be the hugest one in Europe, if they get it built. She managed to stop it. She said we need environmental value, we are sacrificing too much. And now, after what happened last week, everybody in parliament, the right, they are saying, just ignore the environmental value, dam everything.
You know, the Russians are loaning us a lot of money. Roman Abramovich, the billionaire who bought [the soccer team] Chelsea in London, he got rich by aluminum factories. Now the news says that he is going to buy a lot of aluminum factories and make Iceland the biggest aluminum smelter in the world.

Pitchfork: Do the people of Iceland think that this is the answer to their economic problems?
Björk: The country's really split. I personally think that it's the generation that was born in the 40s that only sees very right-wing free trade. It's like they want to catch up. Iceland missed out on 600 years of industrialization, which was a bummer, but they want to catch up. They want to be like Germany, like, now. They want to build all these 19th century huge factories that eat up the environment. They think that's the only solution.
The extreme right-wing think environmentalists are just people in woolen sweaters who want to live in a cave and go back to medieval times and sing hippie songs. This is so not the case.
So I came two months ago and I started meeting with all of the job development centers in the countryside and saying OK, what are people suggesting in the countryside? Because there, a lot of them are like, "All the fish is gone, what should we do? Oh, Alcoa! They'll just build a factory and I just need to turn up." No, you have to grow from the roots up, you have to start small. It takes forever, two people are working at the company, and in ten years, maybe you can have five. We need to see what Iceland can do.
What I've discovered by talking to these people at the University of Reykjavík is there are so many companies that are amazing here, that are world class in biotechnics, in high-tech stuff, in computers, in artificial intelligence. These people have been on the verge of starting companies. They've got business plans, they've got everything, but they're not getting any support financially from the government or the private fundraisers. Because all the money went to this stock market roller coaster ride.
We'd been working for eight weeks, and then suddenly this thing happens a week ago. I was like, whoa. We were going to investors, setting up workshops, and introducing people to each other. We got the MBA students at the University to make business plans for the companies in the countryside who don't know how to make business plans but have amazing ideas. This is what we've been doing for the past few weeks.
This has to be our answer. What's really important now… it's such a moment of danger. All the people who are losing their jobs in the banks, who are going bankrupt, we are hoping they will get into these industries, believe in this, build this purely Icelandic thing up with Icelandic money, Icelandic companies. Icelandic people are really educated. But maybe we are at where the people in the States were 50 years ago, where they think that stuff that isn't done with a hammer or physical power is not a job. It's that backwards.
For example, there's a company here in Iceland called CCP. They made their own computer game and now they have 400 people working for them here in Iceland. We're saying that's the same manpower that's in an aluminum factory. And it's not just working class low paid jobs, functioning as a third world country for Alcoa, doing the dirty job for them, taking all the pollution and all the shit and just moving it somewhere else. We should make companies here made of Icelanders, both working class and the brainpower, discover new things that stay in the country. This is a problem on so many levels.
We're having it again tomorrow. We are going to try to make the MBAs make business plans for groups tomorrow. Because the groups need to work together. We're going to try to make a center for all the high-tech companies that are just ideas. It's one big institution where everybody who has a good idea goes and they all work together and help each other and then companies start to come out of there. But it takes like eight years. For me, it's sort of like a record company. It's like an indie label in a way. It's grassroots, where all these people can come and feed off of each other and get support. Where if one person gets a good idea, the other five will help them..
Another example of where we have to work together as a group is the health spas. [laughs] (I know, what have I gotten myself into? It's hilarious.) Iceland is only 300,000 people and there is a health spa here and another one here and they are in competition with each other. There are all these little swimming pools. We need a map of all of those and present it as one thing.
Tomorrow there's a workshop on clusters in Iceland. We've got the possible high-tech cluster, the possible health spa cluster, the possible culture cluster, possible travel business cluster, possible biotech cluster. It's especially for the rural areas, they need to work together. They're going to discuss how it's going to help us to work together, and how it's going to hinder us. Maybe the high-tech cluster needs a totally different support mechanism than the food cluster, for example.
I don't have answers to those questions. I work more as a medium to link these people together, and asking everybody to stop this competitive whatever. My motive was I don't want more aluminum factories. And now my motive is a lot of other peoples' motives as well. A lot of people in Iceland are saying what we need now is support for sustainable seed companies for a lot of different reasons. A lot of people are doing it because they're bankrupt and they can't go abroad and get more loans now because nobody will loan Iceland money. So that's where it's at now.

Pitchfork: Will these initiatives have a chance to get off the ground before there are more aluminum factories? Or are they going to take the crisis as an opportunity to ram this stuff through?
Björk: For the last two weeks, Icelanders are getting a crash course in economics. I mean, I didn't know about these things two weeks ago. The news is full of right-wing guys saying, "Stop the environmental value stuff! We should just build factories everywhere now, because that's where the money is!" And the thing is-- sorry I'm going to sound like a politician now-- but they're putting numbers in the papers that aren't true, saying that what we are getting from the fish industry every year is this much, and then just a little bit below that is what we're getting from aluminum. They're saying that aluminum is almost is as big as fish today-- that we are getting 100 billion [Icelandic] krona a year from aluminum. The thing is, the energy companies who built those dams-- the biggest aluminum smelter in Europe today that was built in the east, that was built two years ago...
Pitchfork: Wait, you already have the biggest aluminum plant in Europe and they want to build a bigger one?
Björk: We already have three. They want three more. They built a dam for Alcoa that cost $3 billion. They took that loan abroad to build this dam. Alcoa didn't pay anything on that. Iceland paid for that dam, and then they are selling Alcoa energy at a discount...They want to take more loans to do the same thing again.
The thing is, in the aluminum factories here, there's not many Icelandic people working there. There's mostly Polish immigrants. If you are from a fishing village with 1,000 people or something and everybody's leaving the town to Reykjavík, and you're 18, and there's an aluminum factory coming, is that very exciting? I mean, some people, of course, want to work there. But not all people, and especially not women. There are also numbers from Alaska and remote areas that have said, OK, big industry is our answer, and then nobody wants to work there.
These aluminum smelters, nobody wants to build them in Europe, because there's so much pollution. So it's like, "Oh, just go dump them in Iceland." We are getting them energy for so cheap that they are saving so much money by doing all this here.
Instead, what we are saying is, we've got three aluminum factories, let's work with that, we cannot change that. Why not have the Icelandic people who are educated in high-tech and work already in those factories in the higher paid jobs, why not let them build little companies who are totally Icelandic with the knowledge they have? Then they get the money and it stays in the country. Then we can support the biotech companies and the food companies and all these clusters. I think that if you want to be an environmentalist in Iceland, these are the things you've got to be putting your energy into.
A lot of investors [are] coming, and I'm hoping they will want to invest in the high-tech cluster. There are money people here that did not lose a lot of money. For example, here is one investment company in Iceland only run by women. They are doing fine. [laughs] They aren't risk junkies. They just made slow moves. The people who are crashing, they took a huge loan and then another huge loan, and so on. And it's all just air. But these women didn't build on air.

Read Part 2 @

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