He was never very talkative. Very thoughtful, though. Every time we saw each other – in his homeland Iceland, in Ancienne Belgique or at foreign festivals – I had to pick up the vibe from the sparkle in his eyes. Because it spoke volumes. Jóhann was mainly receptive in conversations. He listened, absorbed everything. His way of communicating was never via ‘the conversation’. Rather, via his music. And it was extremely pure. And minimal. Often the strict minimum.
I was confused when I heard the news of his unexpected passing, last Saturday during a Tamino concert in Charleroi. That he is about my age – barely late 40s –made it suddenly even more tangible. I immediately texted his closest friend Adam Wiltzie (A Winged Victory For The Sullen), who turned out to be in LA with his American agent. ‘Surely not?’. –Beep– : ‘I am truely gutted. Put on some of his music today, please.’ Lump. Throat. Seeing as we served as DJ that night in club Eden, we immediately played ‘Odi Et Amo’ by Jóhannsson, the sublime opening track from his debut ‘Englabörn’. It turned out to perfectly suit Tamino’s set. The venue quietened down. Suddenly even felt cold.
And I reminisced. Remembering the three concerts he gave in AB. In ’09, ’11 and ’12. In the superb company of electronica masters Fennesz and Jon Hopkins and classical minimalists like Hauschka and Dustin O’Halloran. Music was his language. His great story. As could be heard on the likes of his album ‘Fordlandia’ (’08) which was about the failed utopia of Henry Ford (who wanted to build the ultimate American city in Brazils Amazon forest). Or like on ‘IBM 1401, A User’s Manual’ (’06): an ode to the very first IBM computer imported into Iceland in ’64 via his late father.
You don’t know Jóhann Jóhannsson? Then next time you walk through the snow, pay attention to the scrunching sound. A feeling that you can rarely experience every year in this country. And cherish it. It is namely the next best thing to come close to Jóhann Jóhannsson.