Not so much a medieval fortification as a curlicued Victorian folly tucked into the Scottish wilderness, Inverary Castle seems like a fitting venue for a Björk performance. Her best work, which has always aimed to fuse the synthetic with the elemental, erects rich and strange musical structures in unexpected places. From plumbing clubland’s hidden depths in Debut, through to finding a voice for global geopolitics in Volta, she has played with many themes while being something else entirely. An original.
The Björk who takes the stage at Scotland’s underpopulated (and muddy) Connect Festival looks every bit the princess of ‘kook’ her Spitting Image puppet would lead you to expect. Her cloak and headdress combination makes her look equal parts Shere Khan and the Wicked Queen from ‘Snow White’. From the moment she strikes up with ‘Innocence’ however, all suggestion we’re in for an evening of ‘It’s Oh So Quiet’ era Disney-ish camp are dispelled as she and her band effortlessly recreate the dense, complex soundscape of her sixth studio album. Her fusion of visual spectacle and musical invention was reinforced by an astonishing version of ‘Hunter’, rearranged for the all-female Icelandic Wonderbrass ensemble, which culminates in streams of ribbons exploding from her sleeves.
From here, Björk continues on a career retrospective set which mirrors her own artistic journey by carving its own tricksy and unexpected path through her records. Avoiding the familiar hits of Debut and Post in favour of songs such as ‘Hidden Place’ and ‘Pagan Poetry’ from 2001′s Vespertine, she capably translates her intensely private language of this period into the public sphere. The festival environment also proves a perfect fitting for material from Homogenic, perhaps her most artistically coherent work, ‘Immature’ and ‘Jóga’ in particular sounding every bit as rugged and volatile as the Icelandic landscape that inspired them while lending Connect’s Argyll setting an air of the Nordic.
The set also gives lovers of Björk’s experimental dance and electro side something to be cheerful about, with collaborator Damian Taylor putting some of the more well-worn songs through an acid house mincer. In his hands ‘I Miss You’ is recast as nu-rave salsa, and he engineers an audacious bridge between ‘Hyberballad’ and ‘Pluto’ that smashes one of Björk’s most delicate songs to bits before reassembling it as one of her most sonically challenging. The surprise of the evening, however, goes to recent single ‘Earth Intruders’; a song that was somewhat too dense and quirky to really work on record is a revelation live. Given air and space its occasionally crowded beats make sudden sense and provide the rabble rousing high point of the concert.
When finally propelled back on to the stage to thunderous applause for an encore, she closes with a two-song coda that blends old and new Björk seamlessly. Backed by Wonderbrass, ‘Anchor Song’ could have been lifted straight from its incarnation on Debut, whereas ‘Declare Independence’ (which she mischievously dedicates to the spirit of Scottish nationalism) shows that while her journey away from pop into more inscrutable territories may have baffled some, her power to move dancing feet is undiminished. Connect Festival itself may have felt like a damp squib end to a rather soggy summer, but Björk herself is never less than incendiary.