Ice ice babies

Iceland expatriates Gus Gus are Reykjavik's answer to the Wu-Tang Clan...and KISS

T-World may have been gone, but it clearly wasn't forgotten. The seven tracks on the new record were originally recorded back in '94 and '95 by the duo. "We edited it down a little bit, but otherwise it's the same recordings and the same mix," reveals Thorarinsson.

The result is, not surprisingly, similar in vein to the first Gus Gus album, Polydistortion (an album less poppy and more introspective than last year's follow-up), minus the vocals and with a heavier, club vibe. To their credit -- and even with the six-year delay -- it sounds remarkably fresh, the deep beats and a few now well-worn samples only serving to substantiate their early experimental leanings. "Anthem," the album's opening track, mixes bubbling arpeggios, filter sweeps, TB303 bass lines, and tribal beats into a gradually unfolding musical journey through house and trance. Elsewhere, characteristic Gus Gus-esque disco elements creep in, notably on the funky "Northern Lights."

"I used to love all the high-energy stuff from Detroit and Chicago. It's basically disco with a lot of synths," says Thorarinsson, whose influences range from American house DJs like Carl Craig, Derrick May, and Joey Beltram to early electronic groups Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk, and Soft Cell (the name T-World is an abbreviation of a Marc Almond lyric that goes "The followers of the world").

This was normal: Gus Gus, before it slimmed down to a quintet.
Deidre O'Callaghan
This was normal: Gus Gus, before it slimmed down to a quintet.

The album's sparsest track, "Rosenberg," revolves around a dirty bass-synth line and classic Roland TR808 drumbeats, punctuated with shuffling hi-hat cymbals. It's techno by numbers but with enough attitude to hold its own on the dancefloor. "That track was recorded in the Reykjavik club Rosenberg, hence the name," Thorarinsson explains. "It's a bit of a history lesson, but it's a nice, dancey, deep tribal house number that worked perfectly on the night."

Thorarinsson and Alfred More (the band's photographer, cinematographer, and DJ, also known as Steph) have recently been touring the instrumental record around France and Portugal, the two countries outside of Iceland where Gus Gus enjoy their biggest following. It's gone so well that they say a lot of their new album, much of which was sketched out on the road, will incorporate a greater proportion of instrumentals than the previous two.

"We're in quite a retro mood," says Thorarinsson. "I think dance music in general is kind of looking back and reinventing itself, and that's largely what we've been doing as a group this past winter."

Being a smaller group now, he says, is making them sharper, more focused, and edgier. "The group has tightened up a lot," concurs gúst. "It's more compact, concentrated, and we have more of a togetherness we never had before. It used to be impossible making decisions. We had to have constant meetings. But there's less of that now, which means we get more work done. The next album will definitely reflect these changes. Our first two albums are quite schizophrenic -- each track was very different. Now we're trying to build a solid one-unit base, and it's sounding much more together."

The instrumental album also marks their last for 4AD/Beggars Banquet in the United States. The group are said to be close to signing with Palm Pictures (also home of Supreme Beings of Leisure) -- a label that's appropriately interested in both the group's music and visual sides (in fact, a DVD to follow their next album is already in the works, according to Siggi).

As a touring group, Gus Gus' activities have recently been rekindled with a smattering of West Coast shows featuring all five group members. Now less of a bombastic presence onstage than in the past, they're relying more than ever on the visuals to pump up the live experience.

"What people often don't realize," says Siggi, who describes their live show as a cross between being at the cinema and a KISS concert, "is that our show is completely live. We're not like most electronic bands who use backing tapes and just fiddle with a few synth settings. That goes for everything, even the visuals, which I mix live onstage. In that respect, it's different every night. It's become a little bit more hypnotizing lately, instead of being completely in your face, like it used to be. We're going for more of a journey now, but it's still mind-blowing, which is what we have in common with KISS." Without the makeup, incidentally.

If it weren't for the fact that Gus Gus are supremely talented, both collectively and individually, the seriousness and conviction with which they discuss their art could easily be construed as conceited. They rarely crack a smile, and their humor is so beneath the surface, you need a pretty good grasp of irony to work out when they're being funny (let's not forget: This is a group whose biggest hit to date, "Ladyshave," is about shaving off your girlfriend's pubic hair...that's funny, right?). Their records have been criticized for being meandering. But at the same time, they're also charmingly diverse -- just like the individual members of the band.

"We let everybody grow within their own specialties and try to create the necessary space for each to have creative freedom," affirms gúst. "Being from Iceland, you don't get as pushed around with material that you should be listening to, so there's no need to cling together to form clubs around certain lifestyles. It's a very healthy place to be an artist. Being able to filter what's coming in, we're able to exclude the bullshit."

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