From Biennale To Vinyl: Styrmir Lays Performance Art Down On Wax - The Reykjavik Grapevine

From Biennale To Vinyl: Styrmir Lays Performance Art Down On Wax

From Biennale To Vinyl: Styrmir Lays Performance Art Down On Wax

Published June 7, 2019

Photos by
Andrej Vasilenko

Most of us at some point have taken pause to ask ourselves “What am I doing with my life?” For Styrmir Örn Guðmundsson—artist name simply Styrmir—this question came to him during a fateful walk through a Riga cemetery and became the title of his album. After more than a decade of working primarily as a visual and performance artist, the now Berlin-based Styrmir recently released his debut record, pulling together a collection of performance pieces into a cohesive musical narrative.

Created over time with a large group of collaborators, friends and colleagues, the songs were originally performed primarily within the context of art spaces and festivals. “At first it was just basically gathering people that I liked to work with and not worrying that it would have a certain sound throughout,” says Styrmir. “Just kind of getting a lot of people involved. By the time we had recorded some stuff with a few of the beatmakers and kind of just mixing, it slowly melted into a musical piece.”

The medical team

The pieces are an idiosyncratic smattering of dissonant catchy electropop, aggressive avant-garde rap, and dreamy psychedelic lullabies. Most of the songs follow the theme of not only the titular existential query, but also of physical health. “I set out to make this project with a theme of the failures and perils of Western medicine, which came from a visit to a doctor who wanted to get me hooked on some steroids because of asthma,” says Styrmir. “At that time I was writing some lyrics to songs and then came the idea of a theme for a whole record, which in some songs I follow but in some songs it just bleeds into other directions.”

Following this theme, his group of collaborators are credited on the album as The Medical Team and each hold a particular medical profession as their role in the production. “I ended up directing the performances in a way that we would be this team of self-proclaimed doctors,” says Styrmir. “Then it was kind of a cryptic titling of each person. When I invited the artists I asked them ‘What kind of a doctor would you be?’ So they self-proclaimed their own titles.”

Immediacy and dynamics

His team ended up with four beatmakers-slash-producers, and over ten vocalists, including himself. The final product still reflects the immediacy and dynamics of the pieces originating as performance art. “All the people in the project just have such different vibes and energies,” says Styrmir. “So every time we perform, it really changes the vibe, even though the songs are more or less the same. That also makes the experience very different each time.”

“I ended up directing the performances in a way that we would be this team of self-proclaimed doctors.”

Although this shift into music was very new for Styrmir, it is a direction that he plans to continue in. “I’m really happy to celebrate it as a finished project,” he says. “That’s kind of the visual artist thinking. But on the other hand I really want to continue making music. I was always this visual artist. I never believed myself to be a musician, but I will definitely continue making music. Then this project can just come and go.”

Styrmir’s album ‘What Am I Doing With My Life?’ is available on vinyl and digitally on Bandcamp.

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