A Different Kind: Remembering Biogen - The Reykjavik Grapevine

A Different Kind: Remembering Biogen

A Different Kind: Remembering Biogen

Published January 7, 2017

Five years have passed since Biogen left us, but his influence is still keenly felt among Icelandic electronic musicians. In the early ‘90s, Sigurbjörn Þorgrímsson was one of the pioneers of the modern electronic scene as a member of the old skool hardcore band Ajax, whose tracks can be heard today in DJ sets by the IDM king himself, Aphex Twin. Under his Biogen pseudonym he further cemented his reputation as an artist who continuously pushed the limits.

Biogen was a different kind of musician, in many ways. He always travelled the road less taken. He’d start his live sets with fragile and melancholic ambient to lure people in, then add on extreme glitches and noises in order to sift out the ones that came for an easy fix. It was supposed to be a challenge—and the audience would be rewarded in the end. His releases were not easy to come by. Often he’d sell his music on Laugavegur—sometimes to unsuspecting tourists who were intrigued by his Viking-like appearance, or mesmerized by his big blue eyes.

One famous Icelandic music critic once described one of his albums as an anti-LP. All laws were broken. There were no chords, no build-ups and no traditional drum patterns. Instead Biogen offered his listeners fragmented shreddings, constant irritations, glitches, imbalance—and enough creative ideas to supply a whole battalion of electronic musicians. You’d rarely hear his music on the radio or in the clubs. But things change—recently his tracks were featured on a Fabric mix by the Russian superstar DJ Nina Kraviz, and he featured on a vinyl earlier this year with Aphex Twin, on Trip Records. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, as much more of Biogen’s work will see the light of day in 2017. His musical creations weren’t made to serve the past or the present, but the future.

His works were full of contrast. Occasionally it was soft and mellow—like a cloud in trousers. The listener would be aware after minutes of listening that they’d hardly taken a breath. Biogen would call it “sofatrance.” Other times the music was harsh and uncompromising. There would be uncomfortable, irrational beats and glitches. It was “Weirdcore”—a vast uncharted territory. Some might be tempted to connect the contrast and sometimes contradictions in his music to his hard, long battle with manic-depressive disorder. The disparity in his music was its strength. The listener could never know what to expect. Each release and every concert offered something different.

Many young musicians owe a lot to Biogen. In 1995 he was among the founding members of Thule Records, a breeding ground for many of today’s most notorious electronic artists. Around 2007 he was one of the leading forces in the Weirdcore movement, a group of artists focusing on the unconventional sides of electronic music. He’d encourage young artists to release their music into the cosmos. There would always be words of support. Artists were encouraged to make mistakes and learn from them—and that wouldn’t be done while sitting in a basement. Many electronic musicians have memories of their first concert, standing behind their laptops or shyly hiding behind a bundle of cables, watching a tall and comforting figure hovering above everyone else in the crowd. That was him, and it happened rarely that he wasn’t there.

He was a friend and a mentor to many of those who are now the leading members of the Icelandic music scene. The scene itself owes him for his hard work and creativity. Earlier this year his friends and family, with the help of hundreds of backers on the Karolina Fund website, released a double-CD compilation and a 12” vinyl with some of the works done shortly before his final departure. That wasn’t released as some sort of closure—but as a beginning.

Listen to Jónas’s “four essential Biogen tracks.
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