Bjarki’s latest contribution to our own delicate ecosystem of dance music is therefore ‘Happy Earthday’, his first full-length LP for !K7. It follows on from his work on Nina Kraviz’s ‘Trip’ label, where, since 2015, he’s released a onslaught of EPs and albums that have consistently defied expectations of genre, tempo and occasionally, good taste. With festival-headlining acts currently sending BPMs soaring with harder, faster and weirder club rhythms, Bjarki’s music, which emerged volcanically and unexpectedly as the calling-card for Kraviz’s vision with Trip, is now making more and more sense.
Bjarki emerged in his mid-twenties from the Icelandic techno scene; or rather, emerged as the Icelandic techno scene. With a national population of just under 350,000, a third of which resides in the capital city of Rekjavik, there’s hardly the market for a mega-club. Exos, previously Iceland’s biggest techno export and another regular on Trip, was a natural mentor for the restless young producer, as well as a forward-thinking rave promoter, punctuating the nightlife environment by arranging performances from the likes of Surgeon and Adam Beyer.
“I never dreamed about being in clubs”, admits Bjarki. “And then, when I moved to Amsterdam at eighteen to study audio engineering, I was just blown away, like, ‘Woah, this is actually real!’ I was working with promoters who became my friends while throwing illegal parties, and it was super-interesting. And I fell in love with these guys in dirty pants, always holding a speaker, always working.”
You can trace an old-skool, DIY mentality in Bjarki’s approach ever since. After his success under the guidance of Kraviz, he was quick to establish bbbbbb, the idiosyncratic label that serves as a home for yet more music under his own name, as well as for his cucumb45 alias and friends such as Lord Pusswhip, EOD and Kuldaboli. As underground techno shifts out of its deadly serious, all-black stage and into something more spiritually minded, the style of bbbbbb is profoundly, refreshingly silly. Its visuals recall 90s experimental labels like Rephlex, Flying Lotus’ cosmic nonsense and of course, Aphex Twin, with whom Bjarki has shared an EP on Trip. In a DIY animated music video commissioned by Adult Swim for his own ‘Bacteria Ben’, shapeshifting monsters embark on a psychedelic rampage through a garish cityscape, altering every possible dimension by stealing and eating the eyes of citizens, beginning with an amateur Batman. At one point, the GrimReaper himself succumbs to death, suddenly sprouting angelic wings made of corn. Watching all three minutes while dealing with a Sunday hangover inspires confusion, then mild anxiety, then laughter. A friend of Bjarki’s tasked with managing this project shows us a series of concerned archive emails from Adult Swim management: “Can we request that the demon’s penis is either obscured or removed?”
“‘Comedy is the highest art form’, as Arthur Russell once said,” says Bjarki, citing the wisdom of the New York outsider musician whose approach continues to inspire him. “And bbbbbb is not only mine. We’re a group of people, so it’s more a reflection of our friendship group, our humour, and our tastes. We are all on the same frequency. We even like the same food.”