tricky kids
The plan was to party on down on a glacier with Tricky collaborator Ragga and her Magic Orchestra. Instead, we went skinny-sipping in greem slime and stared into a volcanic abyss during the mother of all blizzards.

In Iceland, no one can 
hear you ice scream.

snow fun: alex griffiths & stef'n ungerer

R-R-R-R-R-R-N-N-N-N-N-N!!! The snow bike squeals like a wounded pig as the back slides off the track cut into a steep glacier on the mountainous western coast of Iceland. Hail pelts down like bullets, visibility's atrocious, and my frost-bitten ass is about to become history on the barely visible rocks. Ascending Snaefellsjökul, a 1,400m mountain capped by a gigantic, prehistoric slab of ice, is proving tricky....
   "Don't go over the line," says our gide, an hour and two hundred Hail Marys later, having halted the party a metre short of thin grey line on the ground. So there's me and the latest song-based trip hop contenders Ragga And The Jack Magic Orchestra - Ragga, the singer, her husband Jakob, and organ player / English producer-to-look-out-for Mark Davies - staring at this line. A line which, except for ourselves and bikes, is the only visual reference point about.Everything else is white. Even my face, as it becomes apparent that we are perched on the edge of a vulcano.
   That barely perceptible line, see, is the edge of a crater that descends through the mountain under our feet and deep into the Earth's crust. Not for a laugh did Jules Verne depict this very glacier in Journey To THe Centre Of The Earth. One step forward, our guide helpfully explains, and our gnarled remains couldn't be lifted out for days. Gulp.
   When Ragga was 13 she wrote 'Shot In The Head' [now on her exquisite debut album], which tells of a dream in which hse witnesses herself killed by a man from the roof a building across the street. "It's good to confront your fear of dying," she says with Zen-like composure. "It's important to realise that being ready to go makes not only death easier but everyday life, too. You become more focused on life if you are happy enough to be ready to die at any time."
SO HOW DO WE FIND OURSELVES on a mountain in Iceland in the worst storm in [my] living memory, freezing our nuts off and one step away from a horrible demise? Though they' lived the last five years in Britain, Ragga and Jakob are from round these parts [Magnusson: the surname's a giveaway].
   Now, on the brink of trop hop stardom, the couple are home to cath up with friends and, in true Icelandic-style, scale big mountsains, booze themselves stupid, and swim in polar conditions at odd times of the night. So Blah Blah Blah's bitten the bullet, not to mention nearly the dust, to come and do what the Ocelanders do, eat and drink what tehy aeat and drink [fish and beer, then some more and fish and beer], and journey into the bowels of the bizarre and famously unhinged Icelandic psyche.

WE HAVE BEEN WARNED that Icelanders never turn up on time. So it's nice when Ragga and Jakob intercept us en route to the hotel three hours early. Ragga is aptly sweet in her yellow jumpsuit, orange bubble trainers and levitating handle-bar pig-tails. When their car borke down they hitched a ride with a farmer who brought them to the service station at which we are now lunching. We are halfway to our red corrugated iron destination, the Hotel Budir on the Snaefellsnes peninsula, overlooking the most bleakly beautiful beach.
   Ragga and her two bloke "orchestra" are the latest in the line of posters attacking "classic" songmanshop with trip hop's sonic expeditioning. Think Portishead, Björk's mid-tempo tunes, Earthling's song-based output; sweet songs underpinned by Mark's Tricky-ish off-kilter, medival-inflected experiments in sound. Setting them apart is Ragga's classical vocal talent - something of a spaced-out Shirley Bassey doing James Bond themse for 

the 21st Century. That, and climatic bursts of avant-jazz [Mark's girlfriend caning the clarinet], Neil 'Prefab Sprout' Conte's live drumming, Eastern voices from Safra Ali Khan, Paul Jones on a variety of ancient pipes and, of course, Jakob playing organ and the harmonium. A lot of old beard, you might think. But layered amid Davies's oblique dimensions of richly psychedelic epectronia, it all works gorgeously.
   And how? Rewing to Reykjavik in 1991, when Ragga and Jakob found themselves suffocating in a tiny local scene of musicians and film-makers. Simply, they were "big fish in a small pond", so they bolted to England [where Jakob served time as Iceland's cultural attache] Soon Ragga was singing 'You Don't' on Tricky's Maxinquaye debut and, later, 'Mooz' on Don Solaris by 808 State. Then, a year ago, she received a tape of Davies's music. It was immediate synchronicity.
   "When we heard Mark's music," Ragga recalls after four courses of dish, "I knew this was the guy I wanted to work with. Mark's stuff was so miles agead of anything else, so progressive. It had an operatic intensity..."
   Davies's brand of trip hop is particularly distinctive, a product of a musically errativ upbringing as he hurled himself through punk, '80s heroes like Cabaret Voltaire, Prince, Prefab Sprout and Talk Talk, and '90s progressives like The Orb and Future Sound Of London.
   "Just before meeting Ragga I was so pissed off with the pigeonholes people try to put you in. I've never been into scenes, so I justtrashed it all and decided to make music out of junk, just recycle any shit, chuck anything together and make my own way or working."
   So what do we have? A dark-haired Icelandic songstress who has worked with Tricky and808 State, whose manager happens also to be Goldie's, who sings electronially backed ballads about witnessing her own death. Ragga may be dooemd to comparison with The Björkster, but these seemingly nepotistic connections are purely coincidence. In fact, it was Jakob's original response to an ad placed by Massive Attack which led to Ragga singing 'You Don't'.
  "Tricky was very exciting," says Ragga. "So full of energy. His sound was so revitalising for us, it allowed us to move to another level of song-writing."
   Similarly, Ragga's spot on 808 State's latest album was secured through purely management connections and, she says, "I didn't knwo till much later that Trenton [harrison] was Goldie's maanger. I knew Björk when she was in The Sugarcubes. She's fantastic but I don't compare our music to hers, except maybe that neither of us habe jumoed on a bandwagon or worked to someone else's formula, we've made our own. Each of us is unique."

IT IS NOW 4AM. We are in a large van, being driven by the hotel's tearfully lvoely waitress, bumoping over morderous terrain towards a geothermically-heated natural pool known locally as Green Slime. Soon the waitress will only be dressed in her freckles. This is the frothing climax to a long day of hyperactive fits which grip the population of Iceland for the few summer months when tehy hae a nbit of decent weather and sunlight.
   Iceland is not genetically nuts, however. The truth is, the Icelanders' history and mentality have been shaped by the quest for survival in one of nature's cruellest  environments.
   Icelanders' communion with the very nature which slaughters hundreds was demonstrated at dinner that night. Courses are served on beds of grass, pebbles and hunks of lava before, finally, the main dish arrives on a whale's ertrbrae. It was nice.
   "Icelanders are very depressed poeple. We have one of the highest suicide rates in the world," says Ragga - even if she herself is thoroughly well-hinged, well-balanced and, yeah, well-nice. "But seeing the beauty of nature, when I'm halfway up a mountain or walking on a lava field, I sometimes feel: 'This is so beautiful that nothing else matters. I'm so happy I'm ready to die.' Icelandic art is epic, not tragic, it's about not being afraid to go. I'm getting better - I was really afraid of dying until this year. But now that I'm more comfortable and relaxed, I truly am ready."

Ragga And The Jack Magic Orchestra release a sinle 'Mama' on October 14th and their debut album 1000 Year-old Folk Tales in November.

Also check out the main Tricky article and the one about the tricky kid Amber Sunshower!.

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