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Members include DanielAgust, vocalist; StefanArni, vocalist; Hafdis Huld, vocalist (1995-99); MagnusJonsson, vocalist; Siggi Kjartansson; Herr Legowitz, DJ; BaldurStefansson; Steph, DJ; and BiggiThorarinsson, DJ. Addresses: Record company--4AD Records, 8533 Melrose Ave., Suite B, Los Angeles, CA 90069.
For the Icelandic band Gus Gus, comparisons with their country's other great contribution to modern music, the Sugarcubes and their singer Bjork, are inevitable. Like their predecessors, Gus Gus also crafts delicate, structurally complex rhythms that owe much to current fashions in British electronic music and DJ/club culture. However, the band's numerous members are actually involved in several other different forms of creative expression, from cinematography to clothing design to photography. Gus Gus' live shows feature a barrage of visual elements programmed to interact with their trip-hop, lyrically poignant music.
Gus Gus originated in Reykjavik, Iceland around 1995 when Baldur Stefansson hired filmmakers Stefan Arni and Siggi Kjartansson to make a short film for Iceland's Social-Democratic Party. At the time, the Party employed Stefansson who had studied political science at the University of Iceland as a political strategist. He had initially attempted to direct his talents away from the performing arts since both of his parents were involved in film and theater as directors.
As a favor for the job, Stefansson agreed to be cast in a short film by Arni and Kjartansson. Six others cast to appear in the film, and they would eventually form the core of Gus Gus. They were singers Daniel Agust and Magnus Jonsson, singer-dancer Hafdis Huld still in her teens and three DJs: Steph, Biggi Thorarinsson, and Herr Legowitz. Agust was a veteran of several bands, Thorarinsson was a computer programmer by profession, and Legowitz was a dancer, producer, and DJ. Huld had several years of performing experience behind her, despite her youth, and had once formed her own circus troupe at the age of ten.
Financial problems brought the members of the project closer together, especially after Arni and Kjartansson asked Stefansson to act as producer. "I wound up putting the whole thing on my Visa card," Stefansson told Kieran Grant in the Toronto Sun. "It was probably one of the most stupid things I've ever done. But it worked out." The result was the short film Pleasure, which appeared in theaters in Iceland before the 1996 Drew Barrymore vehicle Mad Love. They also found they rather enjoyed working with one another. "After six weeks of shooting, everybody was in such good spirits that we decided to go to the studio and do an album together," Stefansson said.
Agust, Jonsson, and Huld began recording as T-World, but changed to Gus Gus by the time they released their self-titled 1995, Iceland-only debut. Pronounced "goos-goos," the name was borrowed from German cult film director Rainer Werner Fassbinder's 1972 movie Fear Eats the Soul, in which the North African culinary staple couscous figures suggestively. It was also designed to pay homage to American film director Gus Van Sant. Gus Gus landed in the hands of an associate at the legendary alternative label 4AD after Lewis Jamieson's London roommate visited Iceland and brought back the record. Jamieson then gave a tape to 4AD's founder, Ivo Watts-Russell, and as Jamieson told Billboard's Thom Duffy, "Ivo came back saying, `I love it,'" he recalled. "What I like about everything they do is the combination of their talents. They're at the cutting edge of dance and soul," Jamieson enthused.
The group's first release outside of Iceland was 1997's Polydistortion, which offered a surreal amalgamation of progressive electronica with ethereal sounds. "Polydistortion actually sounds like everything you've ever heard and, for the most part, all of it," assessed Mike Goldsmith in New Musical Express, "an irrepressible wig-out of the highest order." The record sold 150,000 copies globally, and Gus Gus became a favorite of the European music press.
The members of Gus Gus remained involved in their original passion, filmmaking. The videos made and directed by the band for Believe and Polyesterday were more reminiscent of their arty short films than standard showcase videos. Neither depicted the band performing and were saturated in lush colors using very long camera shots. "What's most important to us is to not make music videos [that look like] TV commercials," Kjartansson told Billboard's Gina van der Vliet.
In 1997 the band signed with Los Angeles-based Satellite Films, and began working on a full-length feature film in Iceland for which they received a grant from the Icelandic National Film Fund. They also launched their own clothing line and became involved in making studio remixes of the works of several different artists, from Bjork to Depeche Mode to Joe Henry. They also contributed a song to the soundtrack of the motion picture PI and covered Depeche Mode's "Monument" for the tribute album For the Masses.
After touring for over a year, Gus Gus returned to the studio to record their sophomore release, This Is Normal, which arrived in the spring of 1999. Once again, the band earned deep critical accolades. Reviewing it for Spin, Barry Walters called This Is Normal"an extravagantly pretty album ... throbbing with the restless psychedelia of a culture lacking any modern identity but heaven-bent on crafting one." Writing in Billboard, Mark Solomons noted that the band "has recast itself in a more conventional pop mold; notwithstanding its amorphous and arty origins, this is a real band with real songs." Solomons went on to note that Gus Gus' This Is Normal "covers a wide beat-infested terrain that combines nuances from acts as diverse as Massive Attack and Lionrock, as well as elements of early `80s electro beats and late `80s house rhythms." Huld left the band just prior to embarking on a tour in support of This Is Normal.
by Carol Brennan
Gus Gus's Career
Band formed in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1995; released debut LP, Polydistortion, on 4AD in the United Kingdom, 1996; released This Is Normal, 1999.
- Selected discography
- Gus Gus , Skian Records, 1995.
- Polydistortion , 4AD, 1997.
- This Is Normal , 4AD/Warner, 1999.
- Billboard, February 1, 1997; July 26, 1997; March 20, 1999.
- New Musical Express, April 19, 1997; May 6, 1999.
- Spin, June 1999.
- Toronto Sun, July 24, 1997.
- Village Voice, April 22, 1997.
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