Monday, February 16, 2015

Björk Marathon: The KUKL Era

If you guessed (or already knew) that Björk's next band after Tappi Tíkarrass is KUKL, you're right!

Meaning "sorcery" in Icelandic, what made KUKL so unique was how they got together in the first place. In August 1983, Ásmundur Jónsson from Gramm Records wanted to form an avant-garde supergroup to perform on the final episode of a radio show called Áfangar. He knew exactly who he wanted for this "supergroup": Björk, who was already well known, of course, trumpeter and vocalist Einar Ørn of Purrkur Pillnikk (who also appeared in Rokk í Reykjavík), keyboardist Einar Arnaldur Melax from surrealist group Medúsa, bassist Birgir Mogensen from Spilafífl, and drummer Sigtryggur Baldursson and guitarist Guðlaugur Kristinn Óttarsson from Þeyr (who were also famous from  Rokk í Reykjavík). After their appearance on Áfangar, they made their first live performance in September 1983, opening for Crass, and then they recorded their first single, Söngull. This single also included the track, Pökn (Fyrir Byrjendur), meaning "Punk (For Beginners)".

Söngull would a year later appear on their first album, in English, as "Dismembered" with bells replacing the guitar intro. This is another rarity single that has never been reissued and one that I wish that I could have in my collection too.But alas, like many of Björk's early works, they just don't exist for purchase anymore and can only be enjoyed online/on YouTube.

But thankfully, and finally, there's an album from one of Björk's earliest bands that has been re-issued multiple times and that I'm very happy to own, and that's KUKL's first album, The Eye. 

 I love this album for 3 reasons:

The title of the album was inspired by one of Björk's favorite books (and mine as well), French surrealist author Georges Bataille's L'histoire de l'oeil (The Story of the Eye).

I have yet to meet anybody in person who has read this. I dare you to buy it and read it! It will be the most wicked erotica novella that you'll ever not have the pleasure to read. It's sick, sadistic, and challenging. Sometimes, I'm just in the mood for that kind of read and inspiration. It's unique, that's for sure, but it's so worth its oddity (but read the synopsis first before you dare yourself to read it).

And the art work for The Eye. It's so dark, bold, surreal, and sinister like the album, and the Bataille novella.

The designer for the cover art and illustrations was Dada Nana.

And lastly, Björk's voice! Her voice before KUKL was very raw, but here, though still raw, it sounds like her trademarked howling and soaring vocalizations are starting to take shape and transform, slowly but surely. The rest of the band (esp. Einar) are just as riveting. I just love how deliciously dark and wicked this album is and its sound. There are only 8 tracks in all. The album only runs not even 30 minutes, but I can listen to this over and over again and never get bored and tired of it. It's post-punk, goth, and surrealist music at its finest, and it has remarkably aged very well.

Oh, wait, there's another reason why I love this album. So let's make that four.

The music video for Anna.

Yup, this is so KUKL. Gothy, otherworldly, and strange, and totally not caring about what people think about it or thought about them. And speaking of that...

KUKL's appearance on this TV show, Rokk Arnir, made quite a stir. Why? Because Björk was pregnant and showing off her belly on stage!

The horror! The scandal! An old lady actually sued Björk for this! Or tried to, anyway.

After this, the band released Kukl à Paris 14.9.84.

This one was only released in France, on cassette. This may be another rarity since I've never found this online anywhere and as far as I know it's out-of-print/hasn't been reissued, but of course, you can find this live show in its entirety on YouTube. And it's pretty fabulous.

This particular show and release is important and worth mentioning because several of the new songs they debuted here would later appear on their second and last album, Holidays in Europe (The Naughty Nought). The song titles would just be altered, but the songs themselves the same.

Holidays in Europe was also reissued many times by Crass Records and One Little Indian, and is another post-punk gem from this awesome band.

This album is not as dark and goth as its predecessor, but it's more complex with the electronica and use of distorted sounds and samples. They're going for more progressive here, also experimenting with art and jazz. Sjón doesn't perform, but he did do the inner sleeve writing and art work!

My favorite songs from this album are:

Outward Flight (Psalm 323)

France (A Mutual Thrill)

- By the way, these music videos were all DIY-projects for KUKL. Back in those days, many Icelandic bands basically did their own music videos, lyrics, cover art, just about everything, without the help of the record label. The label just released the album. All else was in their hands, and they proudly wanted it and kept it that way!

And lastly, my most favorite song from this album is Greece (Just by the Book).

This one is the most complex in sound and structure. It's just gorgeous, strangely catchy, and dark, so anarchist-punk. Plus I adore the sound bites they used for this too, gives it that extra spunk.

Like all the other bands, KUKL disbanded after a few short years, mostly because the band members wanted to move on and work on other projects. Björk and fellow KUKL band member, the guitarist, Guðlaugur, formed together as The Elgar Sisters, a duo-band that co-existed within KUKL. From 1984-1986, they recorded 11 songs. They never made an album, but some songs from what is now called "The Elgar Sessions" are featured in future albums of theirs as solo artists, released as b-sides. Let me tell you, those sessions are gorgeous and charming, so different from what KUKL was doing.

There's Horizontal/Zontal


 Síðasta Ég 

- This one is a b-side on the Big Time Sensuality single.

And lastly, Patré.

All the Elgar Sister Sessions can be listened to on this wonderful YouTube channel by björk HD.

The Elgar Sisters ultimately disbanded when KUKL disbanded in 1986. Two of the band members would move on from KUKL and do big things on their own, while the other three, Björk, Einar, Melax, and Sigtryggur (Siggi for short) would create a record label and a band that would make them internationally famous. Can you guess who that band is? ;) Hint, hint: it's something sweet!

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