Shrouded in swelling clouds of volcanic ash, Bedroom Community’s 2010 European tour was far from a perfect start. Spitting out clouds of volcanic residue, rising like a mushroom cloud, the plume of ash grounded planes across the European continent, closed off the airspace – like, really, really shut it down completely – and a thousand and one cancelled flight announcements could be heard echoing throughout European airport terminals. While this might have been bliss for the oft tormented residents living beside major, International airports (and I must admit, the peace in the silence was profound, and a little eerie), musicians had to face the disappointment of cancelled shows, and the public the disappointment in cancelled tickets. It can be a struggle to recover from a bad start. The disruption, which cost airlines around one hundred and fifty million euros a day for six, straight days, had its explosive epicentre in a volcano that had previously lain dormant for 200 years. The eruption was on a mega scale.
Fasten your seatbelts for this, because Pierre-Alain Giraud’s documentary, premiered at the Reykjavik International Film Festival, tours alongside Bedroom Community, the Icelandic record label established in 2006 and ever rising on the wings of success. And we are allowed a first class perspective behind the day-to-day running of the label, thanks to the camerawork on offer. The collective of musicians, united as one, united under music, hail from the USA, UK, Iceland herself and, on the flip side of the globe, Australia. All are passionate musicians, never taking an easy way out or a tempting, desirable option, always striving for excellence and always striding forward, musically and artistically – and you can only take the long road if you wish to run from the standard crowd.
You have to have the desire. Because of this desire, together, the music is made even stronger. Every nuance, tone and texture contains unbelievable emotion and effort, a sound that requires a lot of time and patience to cultivate, where the classical meets the contemporary. A low disquiet can be heard rumbling over the heavy strings, acting as a premonition to the difficult scenarios that everyone faced on the tour.
Charting the label’s 2010 The Whale Watching Tour, Everything Everywhere All The Time features a cast of four very different musicians, all working together – Sam Amidon, Ben Frost, Nico Muhly and Valgeir SIgurðsson, the founder of the label. Over a year in planning, The Whale Watching Tour – there’s a history to the whale watching theme, as the catalogue numbers are named ‘hvalur’, meaning whale in Icelandic – took in 40 shows all across Europe. Kicking off at The Barbican, in London (or, at least, supposing to), on the 10th of April, 2010, the tour recovered from a rocky start to receive high praise and positive reactions.
It could be that the northern geographical location helps infiltrate a kind of musical isolation, tapped into the music and leading to an outpouring of creativity and improvisation, an increase in concentration, high levels of musicianship and artistic acceptance. The label supports artists with a remarkable freedom. Surely this, coupled with a perfect, professional environment, is one of the many reasons why the output of the label continues as a sensational form. We’re given a look inside the sub-zero Greenhouse Studios, in Reykjavik, the place where the music is at home. Ben Frost in particular refers to Bedroom Community as a true home for his artistic soul, recounting his first experience with the label affectionately, welcomed in and allowed the space to blossom – “Immediately, I had a sense of belonging there”. Never feeling entirely, or even remotely, at ease in Australia, he describes “living in a country where it’s fucking 40 degrees in summer”. Iceland couldn’t be further away from Australia’s cultural and temperate climate.
Not only were a couple of shows cancelled, but Nico and Sam were left stranded in New York, and when they did find each other a lack of rehearsal time became a serious issue (as did Nico’s shock when seeing the colour scheme on the tour t-shirt merchandise, describing the design as “a committee of lesbians in the early 90’s”). The tour bus was “stuck in a tunnel in Holland”. Another trouble chained to another trouble. Only Valgeir made it to The Barbican, setting up a video link on the stage in a theatre of sobering silence, facing rows of empty seats as he discussed travel arrangements with Nico. Finally, Nico and Sam landed in Gateshead for the start of a delayed and much anticipated tour.
A 2-hour sound-check often turned into the hasty, last minute preparations for a show; those rehearsals, so vital to performance, took up the sound-check schedule, and the set-up was such that the actual sound-checks suffered. This isn’t, of course, a fault. No one could have predicted or foresaw the rushed situation the musicians found themselves in. There just wasn’t enough time, and, in fact, everyone associated with Bedroom Community deserves praise for even putting everything together and going forward with the tour. And as the stage lights fell upon the musicians, the slightly rushed nature of things, caused by the ash-cloud, led to some slightly under-par performances.
“Okay, let’s go and do a train-wreck”.
The frustration was evident when Ben Frost phrased the multi-national, musically diverse coming-together of musicians like, “forcing two different species to fuck”. Cohesively, making everything coalesce together, as one, presented issues that took an even longer period than normal to work out and settle, to which the response was “we will be good. We have no choice”.
An air of increasing tension slowly filtered through as the seconds ticked on and on. Coupled with natural frustration, even this anxiety couldn’t penetrate the excitement, and possibly relief, of getting the show on the road. Nico’s words of “let’s try to avoid physical violence if we can” sum up the pressure everyone was under. Enclosing everyone on a bus and in close proximity to each other, it’s amazing that some form of cabin fever never materialized. And while the first show may not have run as smoothly as they would have liked, the second show raised the bar to a whole new level – the release and the relief. This is only a testament to the high levels of musical expertise and musical quality. And when it goes right, boy does it go right.
Disruption can often lead to stress, and in the process produce rushed results. A positive, can-do philosophy seals everything tightly around the label, all the time. Yeah, they might go through a lot, but they’re all in it together, and they have music to perform. Their light spirit consists of brave endeavour, bold adventure, and just plain fun! Smiles embrace music live in the studio and on the stage, but the music is deadly serious. In the studio, you could record in the middle of the night, early in the morning, or the space where the two time zones introvert in on each other – this freedom encourages creativity.
It’s an incredibly insightful documentary, with interviews – placed beside a lovely bloom of music – and prime insights highlighting the many struggles along the way, and on the road. Everything Everywhere All The Time gives us all unrestricted access – even from inside the tour bus, where personal conflicts or artistic differences can take hold (the latter of which don’t present much of a problem). Photo shoots give a flash of the friendship and intimacy between one another. They also have a wicked sense of humour – if you were lucky, and if you bought any 3 items, you’d receive a bag of volcanic ash “that’s concentrated, pure evil”.
What really stands above and beyond all else is the friendship, love and commitment to one another, not only linked by a passion for musical excellence but a mutual love for music that stands head and shoulders above what musicians love to call creative differences. Heartening moments are filled by lighter interactions, evaporating the tension in the process – “do people ever tell you you look like Doc Brown from Back To The Future?”
It’s also an honest documentary; while singing songs of love and death, Sam was wondering what movie they’d be watching later that night on the tour bus – the sleeping quarter of which is described as a “coffin of solitude”. It can be a lonely journey as well as a rewarding one.
Personal conflicts are infinitesimally small in the schemes of all things music – what really shines through is the spirit, and the passion for the music – it’s everything, and it’s everywhere.
Just don’t let Nico glimpse one of the t-shirts.
The Whale Watching Tour…
An Icelandic blue tint – one that sends a cold shiver down the spine – introduces the faded, slightly discoloured film of The Whale Watching Tour. The finale of the tour brought together violist Nadia Sirota, violinist Una Sveinbjarnardóttir, bassist Borgar Magnason and trombonist and vocalist Helgi Hrafn Jónsson. ‘Dreamland’, with its foreboding chill hovering over the strings, could have come directly from an Icelandic lake. As the musicians took it in turns to perform, Nico Muhly’s flourishing piano playing, along with the dissonant cry of ‘Music Under Pressure’, writhes with anxiety; it could be a stressful, city street encounter, or it could be the manifestation of their problems. The concert took place at the National Theatre of Iceland, landing back safely on home ground.
‘Honest Music’, with close-up shots, where every last ounce of emotion is wrought out of the violin’s strings, is simply stunning, and will captivate you within seconds of the first note. Caught between the frenetic and the stately, the violins soar and mourn. The camera does the music justice by way of lightning-fast shots and tender moments that zoom in on the fingers slowly, so clearly that the viewer can see the holding down of certain strings. Bedroom Community are successful because of their high levels of attention and care, and this performance, and this presentation, sums it up perfectly. The levels are adjusted. The crackle of bubble wrap exhales against a microphone. Just shy of two hours, it’s an invitation and an opportunity to see music surround everything completely. Everywhere. All the time.
Available to buy here