Entertainment » Music

Chicago bar’s Björk tribute turns 10

by Joseph Erbentraut
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Feb 25, 2011

Over the course of the nearly two decades that have passed since Icelandic musician Björk began her solo career, after a successful run as vocalist with the cult favorite band the Sugarcubes, she has never been one to adhere to the conventions of what an international pop star should be. Best known, perhaps, for the iconic white swan dress that shocked the Academy Awards' world in 2001 when she was nominated for her disturbingly raw turn as the star of the Lars von Trier film Dancer in the Dark, the singer has always pushed boundaries not only in her music, but also in her fashion, political activism and a bevy of other artistic endeavors.

And it is exactly that embrace of eccentricity that has earned Björk a large and loyal gay fan base over the years. Though typically it's a fan base that's forced to linger on the sidelines of a nightlife scene typically centered on more easily comprehensible sounds from the Gagas and Perrys of the pop charts, the Icelandic singer's music will be front and center Friday, Feb. 25, at the 10th anniversary of Berlin Nightclub's Björk showcase in Chicago.

The showcase, held four or five times a year, is the first and only known event of its kind and started by popular DJ and nightlife personality Greg Haus the same year as Björk's debut on the red carpet a decade ago. In preparation for this year's birthday extravaganza, he has tapped local artist JoJo Baby to host and commissioned the creation of some 100 custom t-shirts to be given out to the earliest arriving attendees. And, naturally, anyone wearing a swan dress will be offered free admission.

The event has come a long way since that first party in 2001, Haus said. Berlin, where he is regular DJ on Friday nights, had typically hosted parties marking the release of Björk's solo studio albums and, with the release of her Selmasongs album in late 2000, he attempted a first-ever all-Björk and Sugarcubes DJ set. The response was immediate, even among younger fans, encouraging him to pursue the theme on a more regular basis after the success of his Vespertine release party.

"I was astonished by the positive response," Haus said. "We got a very strong crowd reaction right away, but I think that if it had been at any venue other than Berlin, it would have been more difficult. Although I admired her as someone I grew up with, I found it remarkable that her younger fan base grew exponentially with [Vespertine]."

For Haus, his appreciation for Björk came at a young age -- in high school -- when a friend popped the Sugarcubes' Life's Too Good cassette into the stereo one day. The voice coming through the speakers struck him as undeniably unique.

"Björk's voice was simply astonishing. It was powerful, passionate, and unlike anything I had ever heard," Haus said. "I admired the fact that it wasn't what was considered classically, traditionally beautiful. She has proven herself even more powerful throughout her solo career."

The showcase has allowed Haus to create a rare regular space for Björk fans to share their appreciation for the artist they deeply respect and admire while listening to studio tracks, live recordings, bootlegs and remixes -- some of them exclusively Haus's -- while also watching music videos.

The event is a perfect fit for Berlin, which Haus said appreciates diversity and makes it a point to be a home to less mainstream art and music. While similarly eccentric artists like Florence and the Machine, Bat for Lashes and, to some degree, Lady Gaga, have continued to build an audience for less traditional, club-ready sounds, Haus said artists like Björk deserve more recognition in queer settings.

"I honestly wish more LGBT people were appreciative of someone like her," Haus said. "Lady Gaga has brought some of this spirit to the mainstream, which I respect, but most commercial pop music is completely soulless and uninspired. I understand when people fine Björk abrasive, but it also part of what makes her so appealing, especially to someone who happens to be queer."

Going forward with the showcase, Haus said he hopes to keep the event going for as long as there is an audience interested in it, and he's open to the idea of bringing the show on the road if any venues are also interested. He said he has received e-mails from Björk fans as far away as Australia and Spain who have asked for similar events to be brought to their countries.

"I'm just pleased by the emotional response it brings out in the fans," Haus said. "I'm deeply touched when I see a room full of people singing and dancing to music that doesn't fit the typical nightclub conventions."

The tenth anniversary of Berlin's Bjork showcase is Friday, Feb. 25, beginning at 9 p.m. at 954 W. Belmont. Visit www.berlinchicago.com for more information.

Joseph covers news, arts and entertainment and lives in Chicago. He is the assistant Chicago editor for The Huffington Post. Log on to www.joe-erbentraut.com to read more of his work.


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