I discovered Johann Johannsson by complete accident. It was 2008, and I was working in the buying department at Virgin Megastore in New York City. We’d just gotten the usual box of promotional cds, and forthcoming releases. And I did the usual thing, putting them on one after the other, mechanically listening for anything with sales potential and all that. One of those cds was Johann’s “Fordlandia”. It blew my mind. It obliterated everything I’d played before it. It was classical, but it wasn’t classical music. It was as melodic as pop, but it wasn’t pop music. All I knew was that I couldn’t wait to get it home and hear it on headphones.
I excitedly told my co-worker Marvin about this new discovery and upon hearing it, he too became completely obsessed . We soon embarked on a mission to hear/own everything Johann had released: it was absolute love. And so when his first U.S. tour was announced in 2009, including a date at Le Poisson Rouge in NYC, we had no choice: we had to be there.
It was June 25, 2009, a gloomy, rain-sodden and humid evening. While standing in line to get in, to finally see Johann, the door guy offhandedly mentioned to me that Michael Jackson had died. This was staggering and shocking, and at that moment impossible to fully absorb. And now I was about to go into this dark room and hear Johann Johannsson play some of the saddest, most epic music on the planet. Music, that more often than not, I’d tended to use to soundtrack the darkest of times.
It was a pretty weird emotional experience. Thinking about Michael, and my own internal rubbish simultaneously while listening to this otherworldly sound.
The show was brilliant, and just cemented how important Johann and his music were going to be to me, for what I knew would be a long time to come.
Marvin and I were now officially “fan girl & boy” keeping tabs on releases and collecting Johann catalogue in all formats. And in keeping with our mania, went to see him again at LPR in 2010. In the lobby was a small merch table. And in the empty lobby, behind the merch table was Johann himself. Looking shy and unassuming. There he was trying to make change for me after I’d bought a cd. “You know I’m going to ask you to sign this now”, I smiled at him, and again he shyly smiled back and obliged. And then he went onstage and conducted and played the most beautiful and heartwrenching music you’re ever going to hear.
I only realize now how fortunate we were to experience him at that time in such a small place.
And so Johann died today. Only 48 years old. And I’m writing this only having heard about it like 20 minutes ago. Just crying…because this guy was such a genius and so incredibly gifted, and created music that’ll be beautiful for as long as the earth is turning.
There’s so much to recommend but for the sake of brevity, wanted to share a little homemade “best of” playlist below to get you better acquainted if you haven’t explored his work. It’s pretty subjective of course, as in it doesn’t feature any of the mega film soundtracks Johann has done over the past few years, but I think it’s his best stuff : it will all take you somewhere far away. What a genius.