Bristol expat Zoon van Snook is as special as his name would suggest. His music resides in a corner of the electronic spectrum that owes much to Four Tet’s seminal album Rounds, with a touch of Sigur Rós thrown in. At the core of his creations are glitchy, imperfect recordings, collected from as far as Iceland. Through a combination of Zoon’s own work on the guitar, lyre, ukulele, beautifully-constructed songs are created. Most recently they’ve come together on his album, The Bridge Between Life & Death, lauded by Dummy Mag, The 405, Clash Music and more. We’re delighted to exclusively stream Zoon’s favourite from the album below (Thufur Thoroughfare), alongside his latest single and a remix of James Yorkston.
The selection he’s put together for us is nothing short of exquisite. Delicately assembled, like his own work, and enough to lull you to sleep as you helplessly sink into the sofa. It’s proof that the best mixes are not always the ones that encouraging you to don your dancing shoes. Tracklist is below, and it’s free to download on our Soundcloud.
Your latest album The Bridge Between Life & Death, is based on field recordings you made in Iceland. Why did you choose there, and can you tell us how it all came together?
Perhaps predictably, Björk was the first person I’d heard speaking about Icelandic culture in the early 90s. Her music continues to be ground-breaking, her genius is unparalleled and her music is still a constant inspiration to me. After subsequently hearing Sigur Rós and Múm, I knew I had to go there one day and in 2009 I was able to save up enough pennies to finally visit. There was a good dose of field recording on my first record, (Falling from) The Nutty Tree, but I knew it would be a great opportunity to gather the requisite sounds on which to base a whole new album.
I collected recordings from the centre, port and outskirts of Reykjavik, and the surrounding South Western area. From national parks to canyons; from hot springs to glaciers; from folk songs to folklore. I had a message from the Alan Lomax Archive recently saying how proud he would have been of the album – THAT blew my mind!!
As well as the principal subject of each recording, all the glitch rhythms on the album are created from the unintentional background noise or static created whilst capturing it. When I returned to Bristol, I messaged some of my other favourite Icelandic artists: Sin Fang, Amiina and Benni Hemm Hemm to see if they would like to collaborate on a track each – and luckily they all wanted to be involved. Sometimes I played over the top of a recording, other times I wrote the piano, guitar, lyre, ukulele parts first and then fitted the recording to it afterwards.
The title comes from a bridge in Kópavogur that the locals call The Bridge Between Life and Death because it has the nursing home on one side and the cemetery on the other.
It’s no coincidence that your sound can be compared to other Icelandic musicians like Sigur Rós and Múm. Can you elaborate on how they’ve influence your work?
I had never heard anything like Sigur Rós’s Ágætis byrjun before. How he used his voice as another instrument, irrespective of whether anyone knew what made-up language he was singing in. It’s similar to Liz Fraser in that respect, but at least you can make SOME words out with the Cocteau Twins’s stuff!! That wall of ambient post-rock knocked my head sideways, and still does every time I see them live. I think it’s the heart-smashing progressions with Sigur Rós that get me every time.
With Múm, and specifically Finally We Are No One, it was the delicacy of their glitched-up rhythms mixed with the over-lapping of perfectly formed melodies that influenced me the most. Combining a full folk/rock band with sympathetic electronic sensibilities changed the way I wanted to play and write music.
Your first album was based on your late uncle, and your latest about life and death. It seems you’ve carved out a reputation for yourself as a heavy-hitting concept album specialist. Was this intentional, and have you got similar plans for your next full length?
I don’t know any other way to write than in a sequential, theme-led way really. I find it very difficult to just write ‘meaningless’ tunes that don’t fit together in a bigger picture. I need to have the inspiration of a person, emotion, occurrence in mind, in order to generate the requisite motivation to write a meaningful progression. I don’t sit there dreaming up themes for the next record or anything; “write what you know”, as they say…
What’s your favourite track off the album and why?
Tricky. I suppose I’m like a bad mother in this respect: I conceive them [the songs]; nurture them and help them grow; labour over their development; and when they’re old enough, I can’t wait to see the back of them! With this record it’s not quite as bad as normal, because there is so much Iceland in it. When I listen back to it, I remember the places and the experiences vividly. If I had to choose, I would say Thufur Thoroughfare (featuring Benni Hemm Hemm). I just love the way the field recordings sit with the progression.
You’ve got a single out this week. Can you tell us a bit about that?
The Gaits (which features Sin Fang) is the last song on the record and it’s the end of the story but also the beginning (don’t make me get all ‘Elton John’ on your ass!!). I wrote it around the time that some very dear friends of mine lost their son – it is written for and dedicated to him. The name is a play on words of the ‘gates’ of heaven, or whatever you perceive that to be, but is also a reference to the two extra gaits that Icelandic horses have. One is so smooth that you can carry a tray of drinks whilst riding and not spill a drop! The field recordings on this song are the church bells of Hallgrímskerkja in Reykjavík and of the Great Geysir in the Haukadalur Valley.
Remix-wise, I wanted the singles to come away from the Icelandic theme, so as to get a fresh perspective on the songs. I’ve loved Ulrich Schnauss’s music for many years and we have narrowly missed each other a few times on a collaboration level since then. To also have an electronic music legend involved, in the form of Paul Hartnoll, was just another dream come true really. It’s difficult to put into words what Orbital’s music has meant, and continues to mean, in my life.
What was the idea behind the mix you made for us?
The new LP is delicate but purposeful and is linear in its construction. It has an unspoken narrative that can hopefully be felt and interpreted through the melodic and rhythmic changes throughout the record. I was trying to do this but with other people’s songs for the mix.
And lastly, a bit about your hometown. You’re from Bristol but based in Barcelona now. How come you made the move south and, from a musical perspective, how do the cities compare?
I am, and will always be, a Bristolian; but I felt like it was time to extend the reach and depth of my musical endeavours, by sharing ideas and techniques with chaps and chapesses from other countries – probably off the back of the Iceland project.
There is a healthy electronic music scene here, which is one of the things that attracted me, but there is also a lot of positive energy bubbling away under the surface – partly because people are starting to realise that a change needs to happen politically and partly because of the drive for independence. All this makes for quite an exciting atmosphere.
Do you still have much of a musical connection to Bristol? Are there any new artists you’re liking from that part of the world at the moment.
My older brother Sean is a well-known musician/songwriter in Bristol, who’s been working with Beth from Portishead recently, so I speak to him now and again!!!! His new LP is being released very shortly.
Hmm, new artists, no-one’s been telling me about anything mega-new that I would like. I love Minotaur Shock and really like the new Disraeli stuff that I’ve heard; Cajita has a beautiful new album out at the moment; and I can’t wait for the new SJ Esau record either. Please do forward me anyone new that I might like!!
If you were to make an album based on field recordings in Bristol, what sounds would you like to capture which sums up your relationship with the city?
I used a few bits of street music on the first record, distant recordings of buskers, homeless musicians etc. (I gave them some money of course!) But perhaps it would be nice to record some elderly Bristolian folks talking about how Bristol has changed and then write an album or EP based around that.
He Can Jog – Suite Part Three
Caribou – Dundas, Ontario
Bonobo – Brace Brace
John Tejada – Daydreaming Disaster
Franz Waxman – Suspicion (Prelude, Sunday Morning)
Alarm Will Sound – April 14th/AFX – Untitled (from ‘Analogue Bubblebath 5’)
The Books – Smells Like Content
Zoon van snooK – The Verge of Winter
Zoon van snooK – Thufur Thoroughfare’ (feat. Benni Hemm Hemm)
Icarus – Gnog
The Album Leaf – The Light
B. Fleischmann – Composure
The Acorn – Restoration (Four Tet Remix)
Adem – Statued (Intro)
Gorodisch – Alexithymia (demo)
Zoon van snooK – Lyre! Lyre!
Flying Lotus – Testament (feat. Gonjasufi)
Trinité – Le Feu de Saint-Elme
Autechre – krYlon
Minotaur Shock – Saundersfoot
Cornelius – Wataridori
Dick Hyman – Time is Tight
Underworld – Jumbo
Zoon van snooK – Magret The Outlaw