Looking back

The year 1993 saw two somewhat inauspicious debuts. On New Year's Day, Björk played her debut solo gig at The Academy in Manchester. Eight months later, Studio K7 released the first in their second series of dance music videos, "X-Mix Vol. 1." To a large degree, the two things had little to do with one another at the time. Björk was considered the spasmodic lead singer of an exceedingly eccentric pop band popular with college kids. K7 was making electro-pixilated eye candy for music that was the purview of wild-eyed rave kids. These were, to say the least, minor events on the cultural radar.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the 21st century.

Björk would go on to become a pop star of the oddest magnitude. Combining insistent creativity, future-aware production and that voice, each of her solo albums would expand the boundaries of pop -- and popular -- music. That two of those albums went platinum (another is gold) utterly destroys the notion that the musical landscape must necessarily be a lowest-common-denominator cesspool, because at the end of the day, nobody sounds like Björk.

But as rich as her recorded output is, Björk has made just as considerable an impact in two other areas -- music videos and live performance. In the same way that her albums are thoroughly challenging, Ms. Gudmonsdottir has never been satisfied with simply shooting a simple video or putting on a standard concert. So, as part of a "spring cleaning" reissue series -- culminating with this month's release of a four-CD/one-DVD live box set -- Björk's real legacy is becoming more apparent. Throughout the summer, a stream of DVD reissues (two concerts, a disc of TV appearances, two documentaries and two video compilations; none priced higher than $16.98) have crystallized her reputation as an all-round visionary. Whether it's stunning videos, such as "Hyperballad" and "Isobel," or completely mind-blowing concerts of the caliber of "Royal Opera House" (a 2001 show, featuring glitch duo Matmos, electric harpist Zeena Parkins, an orchestra and an Inuit choir), it's clear that Björk's artistic vision doesn't simply end with the recording of an album.

Similarly, Studio K7 was ill content to confine their mission to merely making club videos. After a couple years of X-Mix success, it was unsurprising to see a record label emerge from the studio's German headquarters. What was surprising was the way that !K7 Records radically reshaped the way most people view electronic music. It started innocently enough, with a series of "DJ-Kicks" releases, in which various deckheads would cobble together their favorite tracks in the style of a live DJ set. At the time, this was all too common; the market was flooded with techno, big beat and drum & bass "DJ mix" sets.

What set !K7 apart was simply their selection of curators. Culled more from the realm of producers than from club DJs, folks like Nicolette, Terence Parker and Nick Holder defined a progressive, future-soul vibe that obliterated the mindless vapidity then posing as house music. Along with later trailblazers like Kruder & Dorfmeister and Funkstorung, the label laid the foundation for (and popularized) intelligent electronica including the downtempo and IDM movements. Few 'heads can forget picking up their first "DJ Kicks" disc and being completely blown away by how good a mix CD could be.

Coupled with a substantial artist roster -- Ursula Rucker, the G-Stone collective, Terranova -- that's consistently reshaping the reality of contemporary electronic music, the label stands tall among its peers. "!K7150" celebrates the label's 150th release by compiling two CDs worth of tracks old and new (everything from "No Government" and "Black Baby" to Tiga's cover of "Hot In Herre") and a DVD of 14 videos (including the oh-so-sexy "Honey" by Tosca). Almost as much as the slew of Björk reissues -- the label helps makes it abundantly clear just how far future music culture has come in the past decade ... and how much of it came from inauspicious beginnings.


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