Mugison

Mugison (or Örn Elías Guðmundsson) (born 4 September 1976 in Reykjavík) is an Icelandic musician.

Mugison got his nickname Mugison while on holiday visiting his father Muggi (Muggur) in Malaysia. His father is a karaoke singer and as the crowds at the karaoke bars in the small fishing villages they were touring had problems pronouncing his name they came to call him Mugison. Mugison is the Icelandic naming convention for the surname of someone who is the son of Muggi.[1]

At the age of one, his family moved from Reykjavik to Isafjordur. When he was six his family then moved to a series of Islands on the West African Coast by the name of Cabo Verde. His father was there as part of a volunteer program teaching locals how to fish. Mugison spent an idyllic childhood in Cabo Verde owning various pet monkeys and spending vast amounts of time swimming. He did not start school until the age of nine.

From the age of 10 to 14, he lived in and around many parts of Reykjavík . At 14 he moved to a small island in the North of Iceland called Hrísey . During the winter, he was sent to a boarding/dorm school from 14-17. This is where Mugison began to explore and discover music. Prior to moving to Hrísey he had been a keen swimmer and football player, not overly interested in the arts.

During the summer of 1990, whilst working on Hrísey, he saw a poet/musician play a gig which was a major turning point in his life. The artist in question was Kjartan H Grétarsson. Mugison was so fascinated by Kjartan’s mysterious presence, most notably his hair, that he sought him out and requested the musician teach Mugison how to become an artist. Kjartan agreed and they met every Wednesday in order for him to impart his widom and expose Mugison to all kinds of weird and wonderful music and literature including Frank Zappa, The Beat Poets and keyIcelandic poetry. He told Mugison that this knowledge was crucial, as it could lend itself to conversations all over the world, no matter where you were from or where you were. Another aspect of the teacher/pupil scenario included a field trip on how to look at women, an invaluable lesson. This union has led to a lifelong friendship with Kjartan H Grétarsson creating subsequent cover art for the album Mugiboogie.

Having learnt the tricks of the trade from Kjartan H Grétarsson, Mugison moved to Reykjavík in 1993 at the age of 17. This was the year Nirvana released In Utero and Bjork put out Debut, both highly influential albums in Mugison’s life. He attended Hamrahlíðaskóli Menntaskóli. He chose this particular school as so many artists had graduated from there, most notably Páll Óskar who Mugison was a huge fan of.

During his time at Hamrahlíðaskóli he befriended an influential character called Kiddi Kanína who owned the iconic record shop Hljómalind. Kiddi was very involved with the early careers ofSigur Rós and Bjork and turned Mugison onto artists such as Sonic Youth and Pavement. This was an important friendship which solidified Mugison’s love of music and encouraged him to participate and explore.

In 2000 Mugison went to London‘s Middlesex University SAE to complete a BA (Hons) in Recording Art. During his time in the UK he experimented with creating music on computers. Interested in creating more portable music options, Mugison visited an Apple Store to enquire when the laptop would be big enough to handle music, only to be told by a salesperson, unequivocally, that laptops wouldn’t ever be big enough to make music. At the same time Bjork was predicting that all music would be made on laptops in the near future in various interviews she gave. Sharing the same vision as someone as influential as Bjork made Mugison even more determined that he was on the right path, so he purchased a second hand Apple 3G PowerBook with the sole intention to create music on it. During his studies in London, Digigram released the VX Pocket Soundcard. This new technology was so expensive that after Mugison purchased his prize possession he could not afford to pay rent for the rest of his semester, so had to sleep on friends sofas for the rest of his term in London. The investment was worth it and he began working on his debut album; Lonely Mountain.

Whilst working on his debut album Mugison spent a lot of time listening to Andy Votel and Matthew Herbert, these electronic artists were very important to him and they both ran small record labels (Twisted Nerve Records & Accidental Records) and influenced his own music making.

Upon completing the record, he made 10 burnt copies and sent them out to various labels in hope that a record label would release it. The CD was sent to all the usual suspects (4AD Records, XL Recordings etc.). He ran out of copies but wanted to contact Twisted Nerve Records so he rather charmingly farted in a mayonnaise jar, sealed the lid and posted it to the label accompanied by a note stating, if you like the smell of this fart, you’ll love my music. Amazingly enough Andy Votel wrote back pledging to release his first split 7″ single with Andy also featuring on the vinyl record.

He also sent a copy to Matthew Herbert who ran Accidental Records, rather, it was more akin to a love letter as Mugison was a great admirer of his work. Matthew responded to the record and agreed to release his debut album on Accidental. The artwork for the record and all subsequent Mugison CDs were all handmade. The CD packaging was ambitious with Mugison and his family hand-stitching over 10,000 copies before putting them all on a boat to England. Matthew Herbert took Mugison under his wing and nurtured his talent, becoming another mentor to him. At this point Mugison had never played a live gig. In 2003 Herbert was booked on a three week DJ tour of Japan, during this tour Herbert insisted he perform live, as his support act, thus Mugison began to finesse his live performance one man show.

The Mugison show in the early days consisted of himself, alone with a guitar and various gadgets. Sometimes a little tipsy. Always shambolic. He built himself ‘The Mugibox’, a box, no bigger than a suitcase, that contained all the equipment he needed to go out on the road (including his pants). He had discovered Ableton Live by this point, and played around with looping and various other tricks that the software enabled him to conjure up. He played wild, crashing guitar while mixing vocals and distorted breathing through a laptop. There weren’t many other performers at this time using Ableton Live, thus giving him a slight edge in that particular area.

Mugison was booked to play at Sonar 2003 in Barcelona which turned out to be a monumental turning point in his career. Having grown disillusioned in his short time period of playing live, he treated Sonar as his last live gig. Playing in a basement parking garage, there were a handful of people to watch him, when suddenly, seconds after he started playing, the entire basement filled up with hundreds of people. Wishing to ‘go out in a blaze of glory’ Mugison played the gig of his life. The crowd lapped it up, and consequently became the talk of the festival. Unbeknown to Mugison, the reason for the sudden influx of people was because it had begun raining outside, however, the set was a hit and spurred him on to persevere with the live element of his career.

Sonar 2003 was a turning point and because of the good publicity and general industry buzz created as a direct result of the show he was booked to tour many headline tours around France, UK, Netherlands and Denmark. Touring became part of his life, one particular highlight was touring around Europe with fellow Icelandic band Múm during 2004.

A fortuitous chance encounter with Gruff Rhys from Super Furry Animals in London during 2003 led to Mugison Supporting the Welsh band at The Royal Festival Hall. This was a particular highlight during his early career.

After many tours during 2003/4 Mugison returned to Isafjordur and was asked to create the soundtrack to an Icelandic Film Niceland. Having no studio to create, the town kindly lent him the church in which he could record.

By the early fall of 2004 Mugison had finished his second album Mugimama Is This Monkey Music? which was recorded in an abandoned house in Isafjordur, also generously donated by the town. He moved to Reykjavik to release the album and perform at Iceland Airwaves Festival 2004. His official gig at NASA was packed and he could feel that something was happening, something big. Mugison was getting popular with the gig going fraternity. He also had his album release party at the (now defunct) NASA venue, which completely sold out. The album gained critical and commercial success.

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