DiS does by:Larm: Day One
Artists: Wildbirds & Peacedrums, Lykke Li, Kleerup, Serena Maneesh, Shining.
The ethos behind Norway’s by:Larm (that’s: “bee-larm”) is admirable. Essentially a roving festival / conference designed to promote Scandinavian acts and assist improving links within the industry, it also highlights the fruitful nature of the local scene – each year a new town, new bands and new venues to accommodate the raft of visitors and media-types in attendance. While lectures take place all day throughout the city, DiS is in town first and foremost for the music (though a hotel room is appreciated too, given current sofa-surfing status).
Touchdown in the country is later than anticipated following delayed flights and whatnot, though the fjords and snowy conifers visible from the plane make up for this (window seat score!). One speedy train ride into Central Oslo later and we UK press junket are left floundering in the icy wind attempting to find our hotel, convincing ourselves it’s not that chilly (it is apparently warm for Oslo this time of year). Soon however all is sorted, bags are dumped, free drinks tokens promised and off we tromp to the International Delegates’ bar. It’s here DiS meets Kari and Christian, who patiently waited for our arrival at the train station earlier and are more than happy to show us around the city while filling us in on the history of the place – a good thing too, as with some 220 acts slated in a variety of different locations things are somewhat overwhelming. It’s worth pointing out at this juncture how the festival works: once equipped with an armband you are free to roam the streets of Oslo where every venue is within easy walking distance. The acts are limited to thirty-minute sets, a masterstroke in terms of increasing the amount it’s possible to see in one evening, with many due to make more than one appearance.
Onto the artists then, and upon reaching a riverside complex comprising three delightful warehouse venues, the first act I witness a-proper are Swedish duo Wildbirds & Peacedrums in Blå (that’s “bloh”). Propelled by Andreas Werliin’s mercurial drumming, Mariam Wallentin’s vocals caterwaul about the place in a hypnotic manner. Adorned in percussive tools and making sparing use of a stand-up sitar, she is a powerful, none-more-sexy frontwoman who delivers these free-spirited pop songs with extraordinary self-belief. At times it’s hard to believe the majesty and racket emanating from the stage is the work of but two musicians, such is the impact they have.
Next up is fellow Swede and hot tip of the festival Lykke Li (pictured top), who I first experienced a few months previous sharing a bill at Camden Lock with The Dirty Projectors and Caribou. But for all the promise and talent on display then, Li truly comes into her own tonight with an energetic, wholly self-assured display I have absolutely no qualms labelling pop genius. Debut album Youth Novels goes some way towards approximating her live appeal, but if it’s evidence you want of her virtuosity look no further than the clamouring fans in the front row who already seem to know every word of the set. Li herself owns the stage, storming around without a trace of the demure charm that sold her to me previously – she is alluring, breathtaking, and the vigour lent her by a stronger backing band is welcome (as much as it’s impossible to keep your eyes off her alone). Single ‘Little Bit’ takes down the house and the force of the megaphone-wielding ‘Breaking It Up’, and floor-tom pounding ‘Window Blues’ is staggering, not to mention the grace of the slower numbers. A performance at once idiosyncratic, universal and catchy as hell to boot. Phew.
Following this Kleerup takes to the stage (he behind Robyn’s ‘With Every Heartbeat’) and offers up a pounding, psychedelic swirl of a show, trance-happy version of ‘Over The Rainbow’ and all. It’s great stuff, though perhaps overshadowed by the strength of that which preceded. At this point the Norwegian lager and rum and coke DiS has been nursing much of the evening begin to make their presence more keenly felt, as I completely fail to realise I’ve missed Sereena Maneesh across town, but am having so much fun assimilating the vibe of the place I don’t even mind that much.
On our Norwegian accomplices’ recommendation then, we head over to a rather statelier venue (lacking the ramshackle charm of Blå – no masking tape on the windows in Sentrum), and watch a set by Norwegian noise-mongers Shining. And oh boy, can these guys make a racket. Ostensibly led by Jørgen Munkeby (resplendent in a black vest you just couldn’t get away with were you not fronting, well, a band like this), the band are purveyors of ornate, bludgeoning, intense ROCK MUSIC. As intricate and hearteningly unfashionable as it is though, it’s when Munkeby whips out the oddest-looking (in fact the only) electric clarinet I’ve ever seen that things become really interesting. And what’s this? A saxophone? Yes, yes it is. This technically astute, intrinsically bizarre addition to the band’s swathes of volume somehow makes complete sense, and the fast-growing crowd seem to agree. As the band hit their stride they really do become something of a spectacle to behold – like a caged, flailing jazz-monster teased with slabs of bloody dangling meat. Or something. Awesome.
DiScerning pick of the Day: Really, Lykke Li and Wildbirds & Peacedrums were both incredible, so I’m just going to cheat and say both of them.
The Kissaway Trail
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DiS does by:Larm: Day Two
Artists: The Lucky Bullets, Sigh And Explode, Salem Al Fakir, The Kissaway Trail, Bloodgroup, Slagsmålsklubben.
YAWN! I wake up a touch dehydrated on Friday morning, the repugnant odour of tobacco, rum and calzone wafting like an unwanted, unseen guest in my room. Thankfully though, two bottles of iced tea and one shower later I’m just about well enough to spend the afternoon with one Lykke Li and the wonderful ladies of EMI Norway getting involved in some snowflake-fuelled fun. As the EMI entourage roll off towards more press commitments I decide now might be a good time to start writing up the festival. Unfortunately my return to the hotel becomes a lost, hungover fugue more than anything else and I have considerable trouble dealing with the lawless roads and co-habiting trams that seem to be coming for me wherever I turn.
I reconvene with much of the UK press contingent in a restaurant sitting atop a basement venue in the city. Named ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ (although you wouldn’t know it, for this joint is so cool signage is deemed an unnecessary expense), the pizzas here are legendary, so DiS naturally goes halves on the most expensive one with good friend and general top-chap-journo Mr Greg Cochrane. Feeling more at home in this most hospitable of cities, we venture towards Sub Scene to see young Norwegian hardcore act Sigh and Explode, stopping en route in a vintage clothes store’s opening party for a blast of old-school rockabilly courtesy of Oslo’s own The Lucky Bullets. Sigh and Explode are the more memorable of the two, an At The Drive-In-esque treat boasting a hyperactive singer and talented sticks-man with a fine line in tough, muscular jams recalling Thursday at their finest.
Onwards then we roll, back to Sentrum for troubadour Salem Al Fakir, who trades in ebullient, piano-led pop both sweet and slightly cloying though rapturously received (he’s hit the top spot in his native Sweden). Making a break for it early proves a wise decision, as DiS plonks itself squarely front centre-stage in one of the two adjoined Fabrikken venues in anticipation of Denmark’s The Kissaway Trail. Having heard only good things about this quintet but nary a note of their music, the blissful thirty minutes that follow leave an indelible mark – an epic, triumphant rush of pop splendour that finds the entire band singing. Buoyed by consummate marching drums, The Kissaway Trail rock, hard: in their anthemic sweep it’s possible to glean some sense of forebears The Arcade Fire, though where Win Butler carries the weight of the world on his shoulders, these five posit a playful, optimistic approach and are all the more enticing for it.
Next door and it’s the turn of Iceland’s Bloodgroup whose sleazy, grimy electro-funk certainly turns some heads. The boy-girl vocal interplay is a nice touch and they’re a lot of fun, though it occasionally feels like front-man Janus should be fronting a hair-metal band more than anything else, and his deranged cries (“Do you want one more!?”) sound to this scribe a tad contrived. The set in fact seems to end so many times I begin to feel like I’ve strayed into the close of The Return Of The King, minus the emotional resonance. Maybe not though – maybe they just weren’t as good as The Kissaway Trail.
Slagsmålsklubben see me return to the room previous for some highly recommended Swedish DANCE music. Maybe it’s the weight of expectation, maybe not, but this sextet seem in thrall to the sound of the UK club scene some years ago, and despite some decent wobbly synth fail to imprint anything truly new on the genre. They do, however, have the majority of the crowd’s hands in the air, reverberating to a sound dated yet oddly jubilant – hard to articulate, it most likely has to do with the general air of inebriation in the room. Back to the hotel it is then (via the delegates’ bar for some heart-wrenchingly expensive drinks), where one calzone later I’m sleeping soundly and gracefully in preparation for what will prove the downright strangest day of the festival so far. Do tune in!
DiScerning pick of the Day: The Kissaway Trail, undoubtedly, for a simply majestic set.
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DiS does by:Larm: Day Three
Artists: Unni Løvlid, Oslo Radio Orchestra, Blackpowdershooter, Truls & The Trees, Miss Li, 22, Rumble In Rhodos, FM Belfast, Harry’s Gym, Det Är Jag Som Är Döden.
Eugh. This morning proves the most difficult yet to rise from my slumber. En route to grab some hangover quelling iced tea I can’t help but blame the intense cheese hits of the calzoni I’m almost wholly subsisting on for some very strange dreams indeed. Not to mention some ominous intestinal rumblings.
It’s a brisk, beautiful Saturday morning in Oslo, however, and by:Larm has organised a press trip to a mausoleum of all places. A depleted number of us bundle in a coach over to the tomb of artist and sculptor Emanuel Vigeland (who it’s fair to say might have had a few ‘issues’ – entirely devoid of windows, the interior effectively one massive painting entitled VITA, the centre-piece of which is a phallic pile of naked, copulating humans “climbing to heaven”. Oh, and two sexing skeletons). As you might imagine it’s not particularly cheery, lit sparsely by flickering candles and so cold we’re issued with lambswool blankets upon arrival.
The resonance of the place is why we’re here, and it’s awe-inspiring: every sound made in the mausoleum reverberating for around twelve seconds off the high ceiling and macabre walls. Thus when Norwegian folkstress Unni Løvlid places herself at its rear and begins to sing the effect is magical – akin to literally bathing in harmonious sound (or “drowning” in it, a new acquaintance later points out). The chamber magnifies and contorts her voice to literal, actual spine-chilling effect resembling nothing I’ve ever heard before. The ambience is disrupted somewhat though, when my unruly stomach growls in between one of her songs (ahem) the ensuing echo so loud and lengthy I think I can almost see it bouncing off the ceiling. Afterwards we’re treated to some dry-cured reindeer (bit gamey) and numerous shots of local special Aquavit (bit alcohol-y): I stomach only one and keep my head down in the instance I might be scoped as the offending tummy-rumble. An odd way to spend a sunny Saturday morning, no doubtin’.
Back in the city, some of us head towards a district full of bustling coffee shops and parks, which evoke a very healthy ‘scene’ as it were, not least when we hit the Parkteatret café. Situated in close proximity to an old folks’ home – many of whom now among its patronage – DiS whiles away the afternoon treated to the Oslo Radio Orchestra, a group of grizzled old jazz veterans headed by a silver fox of a singing drummer. Excellent.
But anyway, time is marching on, so it’s back to the circuit of fine venues and soul-crushingly expensive beers to reunite with friends and take in some more shows. The first of which is that of Oslo’s Blackpowdershooter in the Rockefeller Annex, who make not entirely serious, almost theatrical sludge-rock, and present themselves as a Norwegian family from the ‘50s (sample song title: ‘You Bitch’). Hmmm. HMMM.
Next! DiS scampers next door to check out hot property Truls & The Trees. I count nine onstage (including violin, sax, accordion and mandolin) though it seems the whole ‘Trees affair is an organic, cast-rotating Oslo equivalent of Broken Social Scene. Portly frontman – Truls himself, I presume – is blessed with a voice of such unfeasibly high register that the boy-girl vocal trade-off is markedly reversed. Their first song is overwhelming, and saunters gently towards a euphoric climax, and although requisite structural contrast isn’t held throughout (nine players giving it their all can render the sound slightly busy) it’s hard to fault their enthusiasm or heartfelt gratitude. “Skõl!” they cry near the end of the set, a rousing Norwegian drinking toast. Skõl, Truls!
Sentrum is our next port of call, where we stick our noses in on Miss Li. Having divided opinion all weekend, this Swedish chanteuse baffles DiS more than anything else, blessed with a fine set of lungs and of a gleeful onstage demeanor though she may be. Unfortunately her cracked, husky tones wrap themselves around completely anodyne lyrics, and the stifling efficiency of her band render proceedings almost completely soulless.
Off we dash to Fabrikken for Rumble In Rhodos, but before doing so have the ill fortune to chance upon 22, who on top of their stridently unimaginative moniker peddle a Red Hot Chili Peppers-lite dirge, nasty funk bass and all. It gets me rememberin’ that Crazy Town band, who I thought I’d happily expunged from my memory banks some years back. Thanks a bunch 22. Like, not.
‘Rhodos thankfully blast all these shiver-inducing memories from my head with a refreshing dose of vibrant hardcore. Like fellow Norwegians Sigh and Explode yesterday though, they would do well to stray further from the shadow of their influences. The vivacity on display is warming however, in spite of a largely static crowd. Oh, and their bassist is well mustachioed. Well done sir.Iceland’s FM Belfast are next on the agenda, as I throw itself from one genre to the next without seemingly care or regard. Theirs is a midnight set in swanky underground venue The Villa, initially composed of a slower-paced electro-soul than I’m used to this weekend and more effective for it, deep waves of sonorous bass offsetting cheeky vocal repetition (“We are rolling down the streets in our underwear”). Featuring members of Mùm (though you’d never guess), they up the tempo throughout the set to accommodate their “wonderful dancing crowd”, and mighty enjoyable it is too.
DiS returns to favoured drinking haunt Mono next, into one of those wonderful scenarios where you chance upon an act never to have crossed your periphery prior, who then go and prove one of the highlights of the event. The band in question is Harry’s Gym, a bruising, sonic squall of an affair led with admirable gusto by talented guitarist Anne Lise Frøkedal (also of I Was A King, evidently with a predilection for unusual band names). Dramatic, dark pop is the order of the day, Frøkedal’s guitar on occasion skyscraping and her vocal melodies deliciously bittersweet. Echoes of Pixies and Blonde Redhead permeate throughout, splendiferous final tune holding up its sleeve some enormous and not unwelcome riffage – a crashing end to an entirely engaging set, equal parts delicate and muscular.
Barreling it across town once more to Fabrikken, I catch trio Det Är Jag Som Är Döden, who trade in a percussion-heavy electronica/guitar hybrid. They’re good, certainly, falsetto vocals and all – and while I can’t really remember the words, I do recall some fairly unusual subject matter. It’s quality foot-tapping stuff, fast tumbling into the annals of my hazy, alcohol-imbibed recollections.
Into the streets once more I soon find myself in the central tent (or VG Teltet as it’s otherwise known) before returning to the delegates’ bar where I close out the festival dancing to the likes of The Strokes, Los Campesinos! and Yeasayer in an unexpected and agreeable indie disco. And what a festival it’s been – immaculately organized and featuring an enormous, fantastic line-up in a variety of fascinating locales. The night ends in hugs, handshakes and pacts to return. Skõl, by:Larm. Skõl.
DiScerning pick of the Day: A tough one today with Truls & The Trees sitting pretty for the majority, only for Harry’s Gym to wing in and steal it at the last hurdle, like a feisty, ruddy-faced schoolboy.
DiS would like to thank the hospitality of Kari, Christian, Carolina, and all those who aided in Oslo. Special mentions to Greg Cochrane, Hayley Connelly and all the UK crew.