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Dear haters, Bjork’s Vivid DJ set was actually brilliant and you are all wrong

People are mad as hell about the DJ sets Björk played at Sydney’s Vivid over the weekend, but inthemix was there and we think a lot of punters missed the point. It wasn’t about performance, it was about getting a sneaky listen to Björk playing her favourite tunes right now…and her selection of dancefloor bangers definitely didn’t disappoint.

What would you pay for an audience with queen Björk? For many in Sydney, the answer is a figure much lower than the $110 fee for tickets to her mysterious appearance at Vivid. The Icelandic auteur was here to open her new virtual reality art exhibition at Carriageworks and, as something of a bonus, stepped up for two DJ sets at the Friday and Saturday night opening parties.

But many of those who brought out their best dance moves and craziest costumes for the sets left disappointed, complaining of poor organisation because Björk’s DJ booth was hidden from view in the corner, while the music was generously described as “challenging”. She’s not the kind of artist to do things accidentally, though: the secluded DJ booth was deliberate, because she wasn’t in town to perform, she was here to talk about the exhibition and play some favourite tunes from her personal library.

Watching her at work from the distant second level viewing platform, it was clear she wanted to be hidden away to play her favourite tunes in peace: she was dancing like mad at every track, throwing up trap arms and cutting rave shapes, and obviously taking delight in hearing her most-played tracks thumping through Carriageworks’ massive soundsystem.

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And her selections went a long way to explaining how she’s stayed at the cutting-edge of music and art for almost 30 years. Her taste is impeccable (although not her DJing skills – she wasn’t bothered with the intricacies of mixing or beat-matching). I can’t think of another 50 year-old artist who’d drop a DJ set bringing together intense, speaker-rattling bass bangers alongside pop gems from Beyoncé and Ariana Grande and left-field selections like satirical ‘50s crooner Spike Jones and His City Slickers and abrasive experimental rap crew Death Grips.

I was expecting glockenspiel-heavy Icelandic whimsy, crate-digger world music and challenging experimental electronica in the vein of her previous record, 2011’s Biophilia, which delved further than ever before into crisp, complex dance production with punishing low ends. And all three of those were delivered in spades: the dancers in the half-full room went nuts for an Icelandic cover of disco classic I Will Survive, cut strange shapes to Sufi singer Abida Parveen, and looked perplexed by the un-Shazamable, un-danceable experiments in sound design.

But what I wasn’t expecting was the buffet of pop and RNB hits presented alongside cutting edge bass and club music that wouldn’t sound out of place at a festival stage. Producers like paranoia-weaving Bristol pair Mumdance & Logos, Irish future-club producer bonsai, Houston’s Rabit and ear-challenging Londoner Brood Ma all made appearances with tunes weaving together jungle, footwork, early hardcore and RNB.

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Cloud rap and alt-RNB also made appearances in the form of Jeremih and the OVO-signed Roy Woods, and there was more than enough quality pop to go around: Brandy turned up twice (for Angel in Disguise and What About Us), as did Ariana Grande, Beyoncé’s Formation and Rihanna’s Work. It was the kind of set that felt like you were sitting in Björk’s living room while she cycled through a bunch of the bangers she’s loving right now.

Björk’s always ridden with the avant-garde: her new art exhibition at Vivid uses cutting-edge virtual reality and 3D camera technology for a series of video art exhibits based around her new and old film clips, and like the exhibition, her DJ sets demonstrated why she’s stayed at the cutting edge, taking bits and pieces from experimental artists and making them into something a touch more palatable.

Understandably, if you went in expecting an evening of revelling in her company, then you would’ve been disappointed. But if you were content to get a sneaky listen to her favourite tunes right now, then the DJ sets delivered in full. Can we get a Boiler Room now please?

Nick is an editor at inthemix. He’s on Twitter over here.