media » feature articles
metro feature

the ubiquity of the icelandic band's music on the box in britain, far from detracting from the impact of their songs, has in fact inspired their first film, as si hawkins discovers..

jonsi birgisson has just received some rather disturbing news. the sigur r&s singer was blissfully unaware, it seems, that this most ethereal of bands is surreptitiously taking over british television.

from adverts and trailers to sports programmes and dramas, the icelandic posi-rock quartet are everywhere. then-haunting track hoppipolla has now become synonymous with both sporting disappointments and reality-show exits. need some music for a melancholy montage? put some sigur r&s on.

'it's kind of weird.' says the slightly frazzled frontman. 'the bbc have this thing called a blanket agreement. so they can just use your songs behind a soap opera or something - you get paid for it but they don't have to ask you. hoppipolla was used a lot in planet earth, but that's kind of cool. i think. david attenborough's kind of our hero.'

birgisson and his bassist, the suave georg holm, are sitting with us in a quaint old west london pub to plug an on-screen project of their own -a documentary film called heima. with an accompanying album, hvarf/heim.

but in truth, birgisson would rather gaze admiringly at the 'amazing' old pub decor than discuss his band's latest endeavours. he and the rest of the group invariably find post-album interviews as painstakingly fraught as the studio sessions themselves, and the film has proved similarly taxing. 'it was a long process.' says holm, his grin turning into a grimace. 'actually, a really excruciating process."

heima. icelandic for homeland, is a musical travelogue documenting a tour the band undertook across iceland last summer. some 200 hours of footage were shot as they staged free gigs in tiny halls, desolate protest camps and filmed a video in a giant abandoned herring tank. director denni karlsson then took the tapes away to edit, and a few weeks later returned with a finished filmm. or so he thought. 'we felt very unhappy.' says holm. 'even though we didn't have very focused ideas of what, we wanted the film to be, we knew what we didn't want and felt that's what he had. it looked like a tourist film: a bit boring, a bit bland. too many nature shots.'

then karlsson jumped ship and birgisson admits he'd 'kind of given up'. in a bizarre twist, the film was salvaged by dean deblois - the man behind the disney animated blockbuster lilo & stitch. deblois, a huge sigur r&s fan. trawled through the footage, took the band back out on location and shot acoustic inserts.

most contentiously, he encouraged the band to be interviewed on camera: while sigur r&s were hoping for an intimate portrait of their onstage activities, off it, they remained wary of 'letting the audience get a bit loo close', says holm. eventually. deblois's cajoling paid off.

'we thought, if we're going to do this, maybe we should trust him," says hóim. birgisson. however, still doesn't sound entirely convinced. 'it's really hard to see yourself on screen." he says. in fact, against all odds. heima has emerged as something of a triumph. the band -including keyboardist kjartan sveinsson and drummer orri páll dyrason - prove warm and witty guides through the weirdness of the iceland wilderness.

the scenery and stage shows are spectacular and it's all rather moving. mind you. saw iv would probably be moving if sigur r&s had done the soundtrack. the accompanying album, meanwhile, is by far the most accessible the band has ever produced. the two-disc affair comprises an acoustic live ep and a collection of unreleased rarities.

there are still a few lush atmospheric pieces on hvarf/heim but bodi the album and film showcase the band's more abrasive edge.

holm admits that the band are viewed as "woolly sweaters' back home, kings of the oddball hippies. true. heima is awash with chaps in chunky knits but there's another side to icelanders that didn't make the cut: they work hard and play harder. "we're a naive nation when it comes to wine and liquor." says birgisson. becoming more effusive now we're off the band and on to booze.

'everybody goes crazy at the weekends. they get totally s***faced. tliey just drink their life away.' so do he and the band similarly indulge, on a normal tour? throw off the woolly sweaters and go crazy? 'yep. a lot of drink.' concludes the singer. 'it's constant drinking.'

and with that, he returns to marvelling at the oak panels. with all those unwanted royalty cheques piling up. of course, he could probably afford to buy the place. jónsi birgisson the pub landlord: now there's a documentary worth catching.



« reviews