Academic journal article Utopian Studies

"Utopian Punk": The Concept of the Utopian in the Creative Practice of Bjork

Academic journal article Utopian Studies

"Utopian Punk": The Concept of the Utopian in the Creative Practice of Bjork

Article excerpt


This article is an attempt to firstly locate and situate the creative practice of Bjork in the cultural and musical milieu of late 1970s, early 1980s punk and post-punk world. It traces the impacts, relevancies and typifications that were a part of this milieu and describes their affect on the development of Bjork's work. Secondly it suggests that this particular cultural practice worked through notions of the utopian that were and are imbued within processes of cultural hybridity and evolved through a globalized travelogue that was always a transitory moment of unification in different locations and situations. This analysis attempts to give a sense of how the utopian can be actualized momentarily in 'pirate spaces' but also how a body of knowledge and practical work can be developed and turned into 'lifeworld' practice by these continued engagements. The article utilizes and develops ideas from Schutz, Deleuze and Guattari, Bloch, Levitas and Durrschmidt.


The quotation in the title of this article is a phrase coined by Bill Martin in his book Avant Rock: Experimental Music from the Beatles to Bjork where, writing of Bjork's time in the Icelandic band the Sugarcubes, he observes: "If this music was meant to have some relationship to punk, however, at least in its rawness, it was a generally happy, trippy, and even utopian punk" (2002, 166). What we intend to consider in this essay is one strand of Bjork's creative practice that we relate to this idea of "utopian punk." This is characterized by being a productive relationship of experimental, collaborative, and technological elements driven by a clear sense of becoming. Bjork's music here is described as a practice or assemblage of music production, lyrical composition, music performance (live and recorded), visual interpretation (through video and film), and audience reception and consumption, as a creative engagement with the themes the artist presents and the reflexive interpretations of her own work. As Becker described art worlds as collective endeavors, so the sociology of music has recently described musical worlds as sites of experience and semiotic significance (De Nora 2000; Finnegan 1989; Frith 1998). Sarbanes describes it in this way: "Music links the individual and the collective via modes of action, feeling, and embodiment, forms of relating capable not merely of reflecting existing social structures, but of generating forms of interaction that exceed and contest those structures" (2006, 18). Music in this context provides us with the strongest notion of linkage between the creative form and the utopian. The individual's engagement with specific and particular forms of music, for example, post-punk, provides a site of discovery and potential that links to a collective experience and often to transformative activity.

The intention of this essay, then, is not to seek to somehow explain Bjork's work through a notion of origins but, rather, to consider this "utopian punk" as one of the key attractors and trajectories in her work. First, we want to locate Bjork as emerging from a specific musical milieu shaped by punk and post-punk cultural practice. Second, we wish to emphasize how the emerging musical practice of Bjork worked through well-documented notions of the utopian and cultural hybridity. What is clear, we argue, is that Bjork mobilizes two quite distinct understandings of the utopian at different points in her career: from utopia as tied to a location or place to something defined as a process of actualization in a transitory moment of unification. From here we can draw connections between statements she makes about aspects of her practice and wider social changes and theoretical formulations of the nature of the utopian today.

Musical Practice and Culture as a Milieu for Utopian Vision

We consider that Bjork is involved in a global musical practice that has its roots in a musical milieu that evolved from punk and post-punk emanating from the United Kingdom and United States and moving into other cultural contexts such as Iceland. …

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