You will forget the bank-breaking Norwegian exchange rate. You will forget that, before boarding the plane, you asked the Stansted Bureau de Change to exchange your hard-earned English Pound Sterling into Norwegian Krone, and the Stansted Bureau de Change lovingly charged you the bank-breaking Norwegian exchange rate, but handed you Swedish money instead (which is worth just a wee bit less than Norwegian money), forcing you to change it a second time after landing in Oslo, and forcing you to risk more than £30 in transaction losses - AND that depressingly annoying-bleach-blonde-boat-brat who leapt across the promenade to your table in mid-much-needed-booze-reload at the karaoke bar in nothing but a nightie and socks to ask you for a cigarette in a language that you don’t know and it is only at this point you remember that you should have made an effort to learn a couple of ways to say please or thank you, but you didn’t, so whilst sonically bombarded by the locals’ vocal interpretations of 'Born in the U.S.A.’ and ‘Simply The Best’ you stare at her blankly until she resolves to pointing and charades. But you’ll let it all slide - and then, your face will hurt from smiling because, it is that beautiful here.
We’re not just in some field on some cow-pat-covered farm in the middle of nowhere. Perched on Slottsfjellet (‘Castle Hill’), providing a choice view of the harbour, Slottsfjell (pronounced ‘Slottsf-yell’)* Festival *sits just north of Tønsberg city centre surrounding the lookout tower and foundations of 12th Century castle Tønsberghus. To a sold out crowd of a cool 8,000, Slottsfjell introduces new feature Kastellnatt, a warehouse club space that provides two additional stages, bringing the count to seven stages full of festival frenzy. The more, the merrier.
First ones up are ‘50s revival band The Flatliners. The female-fronted quintet spit out tunes fit for one of those Dreamboats & Petticoats compilations that have had your gramp and gran waddling out to the shops for lately, and in a sunny festival environment, it absolutely works. Best song is ‘Zombie Ate My Boyfriend’ which very well could have been just ‘Someone Ate My Boyfriend’ but zombie is so much more interesting, right? Is that a four-year-old child collecting glasses? Are their no child labour laws in Norway? Is this some sort of traditional Norwegian baby-sitting system? I’m impressed.
This has to be the best scheduled festival ever. There’s no weird battling sound-spaces, no sacrifices, and every band wins an audience because no matter who’s playing, people let their curiosity carry them away. But a name like Fuck Buttons is reason enough to make people curious. When it comes to live music, it’s all about location, location, location - and Fuck Buttons work best when they can smother a small space. Unlike me, most of the crowd seem unfussed. A smoke machine this early? Or is the stage on fire? Is that a Gameboy? Yes, Andy is using a Gameboy. Absolute legend.
One of the best moustaches in the business and bona fide festival up-starter Gogol Bordello is a nightmare for the photographers because the bugger never stays still. The endurance of this lot is absolutely mind-blowing. It’s ear-blisteringly loud, it’s brain-meltingly fast, and it never-ever-ever seems to stop. No doubt, the energy rubs off on the crowd who dance feverishly in response. What is this? Who is going nuts in this crowd? It’s not just the New Age cat-lady-spinsters burnt out on organic produce, it’s all the fourteen year olds! Perhaps this generation is more sophisticated than us, I am rather stunned. I just wish that Bordello was wearing some underwear underneath those joggy-bottoms.
Oslo’s Lukestar draw a large crowd who greet them with love and affection. Big, sky-scraper guitars and canine-restricted-registered vocals make this sound like a cross between Coheed & Cambria and Youthmovies - and I’m being generous. The guitarist who’s playing in itsy-bitsy baby-blue pants almost makes this bearable.
When was the last time you heard a rapper greet his audience with, “We’re going to rap for you today, and we’re going to have some fun?” Away from the grassy knolls, across the fjord, late-night acts like Canadian Cadence Weapon perform in Kastellnatt, an industrial clearing that works like a half-sheltered rave. Stripped of the token hip-hop tough-guy persona, he uses a refreshingly sarcastic approach to rap. Inspired by the Gogol Bordello term ‘gypsy punk’, he self-proclaims himself a ‘rap punk’ while spitting flow about real estate and politics over DJ Weasel’s relentless scratch ‘n’ mix. Cadence Weapon leaps all over the stage, over the fence, and into the crowd, and they have no idea what he’s raving about, but the audience eat it all up.
So she’s pretty, she’s petite, and she wears those hip-sailor-cut flares. Oslo's Ingrid Olava has that whole quaintly-cool-Feist-on-a-piano thing going on. There’s absolutely no reason why she’s shouldn’t be the Next Big Thing. On one hand, the sweeping, heart-bursting, and life-defined-by-love with moody-chords-thing works on this beautiful hillside but then again, it’s a bit of an overload. Is she actually singing a song about Romeo and Juliet? That’s it, I’m outta here.
While Olava’s lullabies were putting all the fest-infants down for their afternoon nap, Norwegian mod-squad Master Piece of Cake hit the stage like a meteor. Armed with mop tops, white wayfarers, and matching shirts, they deliver flawless garage-rock energy that never seems to wane. Like a pint-size Hives, their set is like a series of ticking time tombs. If they’re this impressive while this young, it’d be interesting to see how they progress. And that has to be like, the best band name, I’ve like, ever heard.
Who died? The heavenly sunny weather definitely amplifies just how over-dressed iLiKETRAiNS are. Whilst the heavenly blue skies compliment their aerial, ever-expansive sound, I’m pretty sure the Norwegians have no idea what the vocalist is on about. There’s a strange conflict in this imagery - a band dressed in all black fronted by abyssal, guttural vocals against clear skies and a happy-go-lucky festival atmosphere - but the audience warm to the band’s modest politeness.
The two additional stages that are perched higher on the hill and closer to the lookout tower open today. They’re up some hundred-plus stairs of hell, but the exquisite view is worth it. First ones we witness on the larger of the two is quirky quartet Miracle Fortress. Like everything else out of Montreal that has burst into indie acclaim in the last five years, their sound is synth-proofed and soft, with windswept co-ed vocals. Some bad jokes create some awkward silences, but we all just kinda forgive ‘em because their songs make us feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
I’m really relived to trot down the stairs of hell, but my smile instantly turns into a frown once I realise that I’ll have to trek right back up. At the bottom of the hill, we catch the last bits of LA’s Little Ones who I don’t think realise that most Norwegians speak English because their song-break comments seem a little on the sarcastic side, which is really out of step with their sunny, wide-eyed kid-approach to music making. It’s a lot of play, little speak, which works for the best - but there’s no doubt that their playground-pop shines in this perfect weather.
There’s this terribly xenophobic notion that the further you go east, the cheesier the pop gets. This wouldn’t be the case if artistic abominations like Norway's National Bank didn’t exist. They’re like a new-wave version of Hall and Oates if Hall and Oates were completely and utterly keyboard obsessed. Crowds of ladies are swooning and falling all over each other. How is this so popular? Millions of people buy Maroon 5 records, but I don’t know anybody who knows anybody that knows any of those people. Who are they? The keyboardist replaces lead guitar as the instrument in control, and boy does the keyboardist know it. He is absolutely in love with every single sound he makes and validates this with relentless pelvic thrusts and expressions of euphoria. Uh, more like National Wank.
Like any self-respecting 20-something, I’d normally avoid that teenager knick-knack like the plague because I’m so, like, much more mature and stuff. Back up the stairs, I’m absolutely stunned by the power of Aussies Operator Please... or more like stunned by the power of lead vocalist/guitarist Amandah Wilkinson. She owns that stage. She owns that audience. And she uses the f-word a lot. They ‘effin drop the bomb with a cover of Salt ‘N Pepper’s ‘Push-It’.
It’s been difficult getting a grip on most bands making an appearance here at the festival because although most of them sing in English, they interact with the audience in Norwegian. So basically, most of the time, I have no idea what’s going on. London-based legend Piney Gir, here appearing with the ever-impressive, sailor-tailored Age of Reason and The Reasonettes, are a relief, make me homesick, and charm the audience in every sense of the word. On this tiny little stage on the top of the hill, Piney serves up musical sweets to a hopelessly devoted audience that can’t get enough. An unforgettable festival moment arrives when a very unexpected encore catches Piney by surprise and she humbly responds, “Ugh, we actually only know _one more song...”_
It’s probably all Ray Winstone’s fault, but the east London accent has to be one of the funniest accents ever. Wanna know what’s even funnier? Listening to Norwegians imitate an east London accent. The crowd is full of ambitious Norwegians gettin’ down with a bit of the “SHIZZ-EL MY NIZZ-EL, LLEEE-THOOL BIZZZ-ELL”. Back on the bottom of the hill, Lethal Bizzle, doesn’t miss a beat and serves a show full of swearing, crotch-grabbing, and a little bit of hip hop. Mr B delivers a grade-A set, but the audience are far more entertaining.
Later that night, we rush across the fjord to catch Swedish electronic duo Dial M For Murder! in the club-themed stages to find that only two other people had the same idea. It’s because everyone at Slottsfjell is a pervert and has buggered off to the burlesque show on the opposite stage. What the perverts don’t know is that they’re totally missing out. Drum machine + guitar + bass = dry dry dry angular electro fit for a hipster’s paradise. It could all be crap, but that has to be the best hair I have seen in a decade.
My musical experiences here at Slottsfjell have been sourced solely from recommendations. Sometimes the best discoveries stem from complete chance. This is not one of those times. When it comes to Lars Winnerbäck, despite the dude having ‘winner’ in his surname, a seven-person-plus backing band, and this wall of folky-rock sound, he must be Sweden’s answer to Bruce ‘effin Springsteen. And that’s not a compliment.
My first impression of Danish trio Small is not a good one. One singer/guitarist leaps out solo to have a go on the drums and unleash some jibberish on the crowd. Not all Scandinavian countries speak the same language, right? Is he speaking Norwegian? Maybe he’s speaking Danish. Maybe that’s why no one’s responding. Day three, strike two. Don’t worry, there’s a happy ending. While this stunt is totally obnoxious, their music is totally not. ‘Sunshine Lovers’, what the heck does that mean? It’s probably a case of lost in translation but their sorta-schoolyard-shoegaze is lovely.
The mob that clogged those stairs of hell 15 minutes earlier must have been jonesin’ for some Lapuna. Each of the quartet looks like they were hand-picked from a rock ‘n’ roll marketing catalogue and they create a wicked breed of Swedish cock-rock to match. Like a more soulful Pat Benatar, the lead vocalist rocks the festival like a hurricane.
As we begin to feel drops of rain, Ólöf Arnalds has a quickie sound check with a sound man that doesn’t appear to be listening. What appears like a recipe for disaster turns into one of the best performances at the entire festival. In between telling the sound man how to do his job, she sings pristine Icelandic folk songs, and with a cover of his ‘I’m on Fire’, even makes Bruce Springsteen sound good! When it sounds like it couldn’t get any better, Arnalds takes requests from the audience and ends up busting out some Metallica - it’s magic.
Although there is the typical technical malfunction, when London-based Stereolab hit the stage, there’s nothing but smiles a mile wide. For the first time, I’m not desperately searching for something to like about a performance, it’s just nice, it’s just lovely, and no one seems to care that it’s raining - except, perhaps the proper mentalist that’s gyrating off the beat, screaming random noises, and invading my personal space.
What always makes festivals worth going to is the opportunity to experience something you might never seek out in the first place - like, lose your toupee whilst speed boating with noise soldiers from Bristol, or, in this case, get your ears blown off by some metal. Whilst expecting the crowd to go absolutely crack-brained for black death metal force from Oslo, 1349, a slight sight of the band’s black and white get-up, and I have a mini-heart attack before the friggin’ thing even starts. Turns out everyone in the audience is too wasted to go crackers and just surrender to the satanic supremacy. 1349 provide relentless auricular abuse. It’s absolutely the most impressive intensity I have ever witnessed and we end the festival on a complete high... and with a bit of tinnitus.
Check out the official festival website for updates on Slottsfjell 2009
Photos:* Rob Lewis*