Björk: Biophilia Live – Film Review

Björk's concert film is a remarkable document of a remarkable artist still impossible to pigeonhole

Even by Björk’s increasingly esoteric standards, ‘Biophilia’ was a lot for fans to digest when it was released in October 2011. This wasn’t just a boring old pop album, she said, but a “multimedia project encompassing music, apps, the internet, installations and live shows”. Those live shows would eventually stretch out over two years, as Björk gave 70 performances on five continents; the penultimate gig, at London’s Alexandra Palace on September 3, 2013, was captured for this superior concert film.

Björk said she wanted to explore the “intersection of music, nature and technology” in those live shows, and the nature clips projected onto screens at each concert are central to this film. Shots of waves crashing against rocks, close-ups of DNA molecules and panoramas of Earth from space are all interspersed with live footage of the gig itself, and most of the time the visuals complement rather than distract from what Björk is up to onstage.

Some fancy editing aside, Biophilia Live is a document of a remarkable performance from a remarkable artist. Björk looks fantastic. Like a crazy art student, she’s dressed in a frizzy rainbow wig and a bubble-wrap dress. Sure, at first she looks a bit silly, but the playfulness of her costume quashes any concerns that she might be taking herself too seriously. That’s no bad thing when she sings a song like ‘Thunderbolt’: “My romantic gene is dominant and it hungers for union” and “Thunderstorm come, scrape those barnacles off me!”.

Her singing, often breathtaking, is filled with a childlike wonder that brings the project’s core concept to life – biophilia literally means “love of living or living systems”. Though she’s backed by a bewildering array of bespoke instruments including a Tesla coil, a pendulum-harp designed to harness the planet’s gravitational pull to create musical patterns, and what she jokingly refers to as “iPads and stuff”, some of the most sublime moments come from Björk and the Icelandic choir who provide backing vocals.

‘Possibly Maybe’ is gorgeously mournful as the choir echoes Björk’s post-break-up laments; ‘Isobel’, from 1995’s ‘Post’, becomes a haunting hymn; and the encore is a rousing ‘Declare Independence’, on which Björk and backing singers show off their best freeform dance moves. These days, Björk may claim that “David Attenborough was my rock star”, but as she attacks this song with cries of “Declare independence!” and “Make your own flag!”, she shows traces of the Icelandic punk kid who once played in a band whose name translated as Cork The Bitch’s Ass. If Biophilia Live proves anything, it’s that Björk remains impossible to pigeonhole. There’s still nobody else like her.