Friday. 11/10/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Robert Bound

Iceland’s sonic calling

Time to make like Bjork: don the swan dress, tie your hair in bunches and rrrrrrreally rrrrrrroll your Rs. If you’re a musician on a mission and have an eye on the bottom line, you might find yourself hopping aboard a bird to Reykjavik to record your next album. Iceland Music, the country’s musical-export body, is set to launch Record in Iceland, an initiative that offers a 25 per cent rebate on studio hire, travel and hotels, as well as the all-important time of a studio engineer, to all overseas musicians who record on the island.

Ms Guomundsdottir is Iceland’s brightest star, of course, but the island has a considerable musical backbone, better yet that it errs on the side of the subtle, beautiful and strange: Sigur Ros, Olafur Arnalds, GusGus, Emilíana Torrini. The country’s studios are also drop-dead gorgeous. Reykjavik’s Greenhouse lives up to its name while Grettisgat and Syrland might do likewise but, frankly, who knows? We do know, however, that they are favoured sonic hangouts for the musical cognoscenti, from Blur to Kanye West.

Bowie in Berlin and the Stones on the Côte d’Azur show that crossing borders has always gone hand in hand with focus, expression and just enough madness. Musicians of all stripes have noted that it’s easy to concentrate in Iceland. Boring? No way. Oh so quiet? You got it.

Transport / Seattle

Single fare

Commuters travelling between Downtown Seattle and the city’s indoor stadium and museums district have reason to smile this week. The Seattle monorail has – finally and after 57 years of separation – been integrated into the city’s bus, train and light-rail system. The new policy means that regional transit passes (Orcas) can be used to pay for fares across the network in a move designed to avoid the tedium of fumbling for change. Ridership on the monorail, popular with tourists, is expected to increase by as much as 16 per cent as a result; simplifying the scheme should encourage more locals to ride the rails too. Urban districts around the world should pay attention: if the move changes the fortunes of this long-maligned Seattle service it will show that there’s more than one way to grease the wheels of a city’s public-transport needs.

Society / Global

Home truths

Not content with redefining retail with its fabled flatpack furniture in walk-through warehouses, Swedish homeware giant Ikea has this week published a report on its customers’ changing attitudes to the home more generally. The poll, involving 33,500 people in 35 countries, strongly suggests that privacy is more important than ever (so say 85 per cent of respondents) but that a large number feel their yearning for a little alone time isn’t currently met, much to their anxiety and chagrin.

The report sheds a little light on the human toll of diminishing domestic spaces as homes shrink, density peaks and co-living projects abound. Maybe we do need to learn to share space better in the cities of the future but, as the report reminds us, we need to be building places that feel like home as well as looking the part.

Retail / Japan

An upward trend

A result of diplomatic tensions between South Korea and Japan, the boycott of the latter’s goods by the former is beginning to bite. Japanese fashion retailer Uniqlo’s sales in South Korea – which account for 8 per cent of its profits – dropped more than 40 per cent this summer. Although this falling figure would spell disaster for most firms, particularly as business at home in Japan remains sluggish, it has had little effect on the brand’s global growth. Uniqlo has ambitious expansion plans: it just opened its first Italian outpost in Milan and first Indian shop in New Delhi, while working on a footprint in Malaysia and Indonesia. Plans for automated checkouts are also in the works. Meanwhile, the company continues to thrive in the all-important Chinese market, where it now has more than 700 shops. It seems wearable clothes at affordable prices is a concept with worldwide appeal.

Culture / Australia

Change on the menu

Think Neighbours and Home and Away are Australia’s leading TV exports? Think again. MasterChef Australia, the cooking show that pits budding chefs against one another like a culinary X Factor, has become a global sensation over the past decade. The glamorous Aussie format – with its regular eliminations and sensationalised “countdowns” – makes for much more compelling viewing than the UK’s earnest original from which it was adapted. It has spawned countless iterations, selling the recipe to countries from the US to Turkey. Meanwhile, the flagship Australian product continues to be an international hit: it is one of India’s most watched English-language shows and has feverish fanbases across Europe and Asia. All this means that viewers across the world are digesting this week’s news that the show’s original judges are being replaced in 2020 by a younger, glossier and more diverse trio, comprising chefs Jock Zonfrillo and Andy Allen, and food writer Melissa Leong. Sounds tasty.

M24 / Monocle on Design Extra

‘Sound in Mind’ with Yuri Suzuki

We speak to the sound designer and audio-branding specialist about his new showcase, currently at London’s Design Museum.

Monocle Films / France

The secret to baking bread

Paris baker Christophe Vasseur runs the successful corner shop Du Pain et des Idées and knows the secret of the perfect loaf.

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