Leila Arab Looks Back On Nearly Twenty Years Of Collaboration With Björk
<p>The Warp Records artist writes about her days spent jamming with the Icelandic singer.</p>
I met Björk in 1993 when she was looking for someone to play keyboards in her band for the Debut tour. When she first contacted me I explained that I had spent the last three years doing a film/media degree (watching Eastern European art cinema and sleeping through pretty much everything else) and, though I played piano by ear for fun, I thought it was perhaps a mistake for me to even go and audition for the job.
She said come anyway. I did (I was about to graduate, so it was an opportunity to drop some shit off at home) and she hired me. At the end of that tour, I told her I really couldn’t do the keyboards/backing vocal thing again, but I did want to learn live mixing. I had seen the techno bands that supported us and knew that it could be the ultimate instrument, especially for a control freak like me. She then hired me for the Post tour in 1995 to do live mixing on stage. I really didn't know what the fuck I was doing and she was basically paying me to learn at her expense.
Now, I really am what you Americans would call a "ballache"—I can be contrary, rude, combative and have little regard for authority or superficial notions of protocol. I left after the Post tour, did a couple of albums and watched some TV. I then went back on the road with her for the Greatest Hits tour of 2003.
On this tour we performed a track that was improvised and I had the vocals in my desk on stage (a technical nightmare—just ask the front-of-house guy on that tour. If he had had any hair, he really was metaphorically pulling it out. The potential for feedback and error were beyond headache-inducing, as was the noise sometimes). This track would become “Storm” on the Drawing Restraint 9 soundtrack.
Video of Leila performing “Storm” with Björk at the Fuji Rock Festival.
Forward to 2011 and Bjork is completing Biophilia, a project three years in the making, with her very much at the helm of all technical aspects of the design, concepts, science and the theories… she really is a fucking geek. After this extraordinarily hard period of work, who does she call to come in at the last moment? The fucking ballache. So I fly to Iceland to become involved with a record that is, by all intents and purposes, already out.
This particular encounter became unbearable in less than two weeks, a record even by our standards. She was not having it and neither was I—and I wouldn't have had it any other way—but two control freaks in a confined, pressured space is interesting, to say the least: like watching two super heroes circling each other—respectfully but somewhat warily. Agreeing to disagree, I asked what she wanted and did what I could.
Which of you could dream of writing about your on-off boss/collaborator/friend like this? Never mind one of the great artistic minds of our time? And why am I telling you this… like this? Because she is a phenomenal being who is instinctive, brave, gracious, uncompromising and generous with her talent. She feeds courage to anything that comes into contact with her.
And finally, I must say that almost 20 years later, three world tours and 100s of gigs down the line, she can still floor me with that voice. You can never really be fully prepared for that, live and alive in front of you.
She is glorious Technicolor in a world full of paltry pastels and ingratiated greys.
Leila Arab is an Iranian producer and DJ based in London. A longtime associate of Björk and Aphex Twin, Leila has released music for labels such as XL and Rephlex, and recently produced parts of Björk's Biophilia album. Leila Arab's fourth album, U&I, was recently released on Warp Records.