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The mothers of invention
Their music is frequently called ‘electronica’, but Icelandic band Múm are a lot more intriguingly organic than that.
Karla Healion, 07 Apr 2004
Iceland’s Múm, on one of the UK’s most progressive independent labels, Fat Cat Records, have spent most of the last year recording in isolated lighthouses – surrounded by both tape reels and Pro Tools. Here they found the esoteric modus operandi for Summer Make Good, their third studio album.
As much as dance music speaks of cities and hard structure, Múm’s music portrays beautifully the environment in which it’s composed.
“It’s something we did for ourselves, but that of course has an effect on the music, because what affects us affects our music,” says Gunnar Orn Tynes in his thick Icelandic timbre. “It was just as a vacation, basically, but we took a lot of instruments along and worked on music there.”
This is a distinctly darker piece than its predecessors, but their songwriting and production techniques seem to embrace instrumentation and organic processes as much as the notion of ‘electronica’, a genre in which they are often pigeon-holed.
“For us this is a learning process. When we started out and did our first album we didn’t know what we were doing, and a lot of the songs came about by learning how to do stuff and through mistakes,” explains Tynes. “We still use the same amount of electronics and a lot of our songs depend on a computer-oriented structure, but now because we use a lot of acoustic instruments our sound somehow is more acoustic than digital. I personally prefer the analogue sound, but of course you can’t do everything on tape that you can do on computers.”
When you’re signed to a label that nurtures the individualism of its acts, you can afford to experiment with instrumentation range, diversity of media, and collaboration, and this suits Múm like Savile Row. They often write soundtracks for films (previously for Eisenstein’s iconic Battleship Potemkin, and presently for a contemporary New York release, The Raftman’s Razor), or to accompany poetry.
“Through the years we’ve been very interested in collaborating with different types of artists and different types of art forms,” he continues. “We are busy bees, always doing something, some small projects, either individually or together or helping friends, so there’s always a lot happening. And also we’re starting our tour on April 14, and will probably be touring all over for four months or so.”
But their unifying passion is music. Coming from Iceland, Tynes says, “The general music scene here is American, radio-based pop crap so there’s a lot of bands here that are really promising but a lot of them are not going anywhere outside Iceland. They just make these small releases, like 500 copies.”
Múm suffer the inevitable Sigur Ros comparisons, but apparently “It doesn’t annoy us at all. I actually think our music is very different, and the comparison comes from people’s fairy tale vision of Iceland in their heads. And I think they associate us both with nature.”
They may be compared to other Icelandic acts, and Kristin Valtysdottir (with Tynes and Orvar Smarason she completes the band’s core line-up) may provide haunting vocals, but their own taste is never narrow.
“All of us enjoy listening to a big variety of music. People who enjoy music seem to decorate their lives with songs and different types of music and the best way to do that is not putting any limits on what you listen to,” Tynes reflects. “The Beach Boys, for example, are always a great inspiration because you’ll always find something new. I’ve been listening a lot to Smile, which is amazing.”
With a range of production styles and tender, impassioned songwriting, Múm manage to keep their dark electronic releases invitingly warm and organic.
Mum give their Summer Make Good album a live airing on April 29 at Vicar St., Dublin