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BJORK @ CAMPFIELD MARKET HALL, MANCHESTER 10/07/11 – REVIEW BY PHIL KING

Bjork is due to release a new CD called ‘Biophilia’. Apparently it is a ‘Celebration of natural phenomena from the atomic to the cosmic’ which if nothing else should start alarm bells ringing due to the utter pretentiousness of that statement. Still, one has to have an open mind with rock music and Bjork’s has a track record of producing fabulous music, and all the signs were that this would be one of the great concerts of the year. ‘Biophilia’s’ core subject appears to be the fine balance between science and nature, though, more predictably, there also appears to be a complete absence of any reference to that boring subject climate change.  I know there’s no law that demands that rock stars have to make a reference to global warming in at least one song, but if you’re going to base a whole album on the ecology, then a casual mention of it may make it look like you’re on the ball. Bjork had elected to stage her new project in the unusual setting of Campfield Hall Market in the Museum of Science and Industry as part of the Manchester International Festival. Not a place that springs to mind as a venue for a multimedia extravaganza, but surely the irony of giving this event its premier in Manchester, the birthplace of the industrial revolution where most of nature’s current problems began, wasn’t lost on Bjork.

So what did everyone get for their £45 plus booking fee? Well, it bought two musicians playing all kinds of laptops and occasionally two or three unspectacular handmade instruments. It bought recordings of national treasure Sir David Attenborough introducing the tracks from ‘Biophilia’. It was a bit like a rich man’s version of ‘Tubular Bells’ but without the humour. It bought some accompanying videos which are pretty dull in the main. It bought an all-female Icelandic choir called Graduale Nobili who flounced about and sang beautifully. And it bought the chance to watch Bjork amble round the stage in an orange wig. The music’s not too good either and on first listen there’s nothing here to compliment the great songs she’s produced in the past. In fact it’s all rather underwhelming and wasn’t worth it. From the snippets of lyrics I hear, Bjork sings about fire and gravity and tectonic plates and crystals and the moon, though strangely, and I could be wrong here, not one word about volcanoes. You would have thought volcanoes with their loud bangs and flashes of light would have be perfect fodder for this project but for some reason Bjork chose to ignore these noisy natural giants.     

Oddly former punk Bjork employed an army of security personnel to stalk the auditorium while she performs. Their sole mission it seems is to prevent anyone talking a picture of Bjork with a cheap camera or mobile phone, though quite why isn’t really made clear.  However it’s rather amusing to later find that some or all of the new tracks played tonight will be released as ‘apps’ which one can download onto a mobile phone. One has to wonder it’s a subtle attempt to educate people about the ecology using the wonders of the latest technology, or a novel way to exploit an untapped revenue stream. Obviously whether you’re a fan of Bjork or not will inform your opinion, I would though ask you though, to dispose of your mobile phone carefully because the toxic substances contained in this new technology are having a deleterious impact on the ecology in the form of landfill.

I can’t deny that I was genially excited at the prospect of seeing Bjork in such an unusual setting. Sadly though, I feel now that both music and presentation rarely worked well and was on the whole nothing less than a disappointment. However I can supply the answer to one riddle. In the little ‘Biophilia’ booklet that was handed to everyone as they walked into Campfield Market Hall, one reads that a facet of this new project is the creation of a music school to teach children about Bjork’s musings on Science and technology. If one reads further, one finds that this is sponsored by none other than Manchester Airport. Ahh, so that’s why there’s no songs about volcanoes.          

Setlist:

Thunderbolt
Moon
Crystalline
Hollow
Dark Matter
Hidden Place
Mouth's Cradle
Isobel
Virus
Jóga
Sacrifice
Sonnets/Unrealities XI
Where Is the Line?
Mutual Core
Cosmogony
Solstice

Encore:

One Day
Unravel
Declare Independence

http://bjork.com

Review by Phil King – and sadly none of his fantastic photos here!