föstudagur, apríl 16, 2010

Biogen in the Spotlight @ IMX

Biogen - Icelandic Weirdcore
Sigurbjörn Þórgrímsson has been a defining influence on the Icelandic electronic music scene since the early 90s - first as a member of hardcore breakbeat outfit Ajax and later as Biogen and Babel. As Biogen he was a founding member of the Thule record label and a remixer of fellow countrymen múm and Sigur Rós. Lately Biogen has focused on playing live shows around Reykjavík and plans to bring his livesets to an international audience in the near future.
He has also been busy with Weirdcore, a monthly event aimed at reviving the electronic scene in Iceland by giving artists a platform to perform their music live. He has also released two Weirdcore compilations as free downloads, featuring artists that have played at the Weirdcore nights. He is now working on gaining recognition for the scene abroad and plans on promoting selected artists and release their music internationally.
Artists that have appeared on Weirdcore compilations so far include Ruxpin, Yagya, Biogen, Skurken, Futuregrapher, Anonymous, Quadruplos, Steve Sampling, Tonik, Sykur, Yoda Remote, Frank Murder and many more.

Interview by Iceland Music Export of Biogen:
What were your first forays into electronic music personally?
I started out on the Commodore Amiga around 1988 I think, making some weird beats and stuff. In 1990 I got in touch with a DJ, Þórhallur Skúlason, and we started making music together under the moniker Ajax.

Goldie, who was then a graffiti artist, made a short visit to my bedroom studio and we sampled some vocals of his and he later helped us release our EP in the UK.
What was the spark that made you dive into this kind of music? Was it a live show, hearing something on the radio, any particular record or artist?
Fiddling around with computers more than anything. Discovering trackers on the Amiga. Figuring out I could actually make something decent at home that people would listen to. Maybe music like early Public Enemy and some Chariots o Fire type synth music was an early influence but it wasn't until I met Þórhallur that I was introduced to the contemporary scene of electronic dance music.
You've been called the Aphex Twin of Iceland - what do you think of that description?
In one way it's flattering of course, in another way it implies that I'm some sort of copycat. I guess the comparison was originally made because I made glitchy music and was considered a bit weird. It's a handy description for those who are not very familiar with my music.
When were the peak times for electronic music in Iceland, and what defined the scene when it was at its strongest?
Around 1998-2000 there seemed to be a lot happening. Thule Records was churning out releases by electronic artists and helped develop the sounds of bands like múm and Trabant. Acts such as Autechre and Biosphere came over to play shows here. Thule's focus was mostly on minimal techno and got some international attention for some releases by Thor, Ruxpin, Sanasol, Yagya and others. But there wasn't a lot of purely electronic bands doing live shows back then.
It seems to have dipped into a lull of late – why’s that?
I think the indie scene and "krútt" pretty much took over and Thule Records went under. Everyone started playing the xylophone and harmoniums and singing like squeaky children. The scene became fragmented and electronic musicians returned to their studios working in isolation.
What is Weirdcore and why did you start it?
After Thule records quit there was no centralized venue for electronic music and I thought that is something that was needed to give the scene some boost. I thought that if artists would atttend each others shows they would be inspired by each other and hoped eventually we could stumble upon an Icelandic "sound" that we could market abroad.
What have been the main achievements for the Weirdcore movement so far?
Condensing the scene and establishing a vibe around it. Getting artists more active and interested in each others work. Releasing two great compilations featuring world class acts. Raising our fellow Icelanders’ awareness that there is indeed an electronic scene here.
To this end you have also created a free compilation, what can you tell us about that?
There had always been compilations documenting the electronic scene, the first one being "Icerave" in 1991,

then we had "
Icelandic Dance Sampler", "Egg 94" "Fishcake" and some others. There had not been one in a while and I thought a lot of good music would be forgotten if I wouldn't compile it in some form. So I got in contact with the people that had played at our events and made a pretty decent compilation out of the tracks I received. I figured that giving it away on the internet for free was a much more sane business model than manufacturing CDs that would probably not sell to cover the costs. And it also meant that more people would be able to listen to it for free. A win for everyone.
What characterises Iceland's electronic scene today? How does it overlap with and also divert from the international scene, for example?
I think the scene is very much inspired by the German and UK scene, but I think we are well on our way to developing an Icelandic sound. Nothing happens in isolation. Of course our kind of electronic music is not very mainstream and since we live in a small community the local market for it is quite small, so it is harder for artists here to get established internationally than in countries with more population and more established scenes.
What plans have Weirdcore got for the future?
I think we will continue to do compilations on a semi-yearly basis and I also hope we will do some tours abroad with a line up of purely Icelandic electronic acts. It all comes down to promotion and money. Touring costs and touring is a promotional stunt but no one comes to your show if you haven't promoted it. It's a Catch 22. But hopefully we can calibrate our efforts in the near future to make this possible. We have already released one EP by Futuregrapher, which is available in most electronic music stores, and plan to make more electronic releases and see where it goes from there – whether it's feasible or logical for us to release vinyl or CDs.
What's the best thing about being an electronic artist in Iceland in 2010?
The scene is thriving and the future seems brighter than ever.
Live @ Aldrei Festival, Easter 2010

Photograph of Mugison & Biogen @ Thingeyri Swimming Pool, April 2010 by Wim Van Hooste

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