Scandinavia’s most important new music festival is a breathtaking affair at the best of the times: things will always be expensive here in Oslo and temperatures in February will always be teeth-janglingly chilly. But this year it’s colder than ever - the Norwegian sky dumps snow over this beautiful little capital city all weekend, and it freezes, leaving revellers slipping around all over the shop. And with the world economy falling flat on its arse too, the cost of doing business here is more astronomical than ever. International industry delegates and foreign hacks seem noticeably less in the mood for a party. Perhaps everyone’s saving the pennies by skimping on six quid beers.
But this doesn’t mean we’ve witnessed a damp squib - far from it. There’s still a good smattering of promising - and in some cases amazing - bands nestling in the fat programme of sometimes slightly generic Scando-pop.
Star of the show Ida Maria wasn’t playing the game though. She stormed off stage during her high-profile festival opening show.
But others had more of their hearts in it.
First Aid Kit make a lot of people get very excited. Their show is so rammed that even BBC Radio 1 - who had the gig slated for on air coverage - are refused entry to the packed venue. These two sweet-faced Swedish girls win plural plaudits for their cover versions: Fleet Foxes’ ‘Tiger Mountain Peasant Song’ and Bob Dylan’s ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’. And that tells you most of what you need to know about them: the two seem possessed by the spirits of bearded thirty-something male music geeks. Odd but affecting, certainly.
Bergen’s The New Wine get the home crowd jiving with their synth-driven 70s funk-rock, but unfortunately there’s something a little bit damp about the end result of there twiddling and sashaying around.
Fellow Bergen boys Fjorden Baby! Strike a more forceful groove, hitting their peak when they play songs that rip off The Happy Monday’s with an easy efficacy. They let themselves down later by straying into reggae territory though.
From Denmark, Choir Of Young Believers jam a massive musical session group of Arcade Fire-proportions onto the stage for their show. Promising in places, yes but sadly there folky whimsy is a little bit boring too. But if they trim the fat and rev up onstage we could be looking at an altogether more exciting proposition.
Which brings us to Casiokids. Truth be told, at these kind of festivals you have to sit through a lot of mediocre tat in your search for musical gold. We’ve spared you the details of some of that chaff because, although it’s a lot more fun to take the axe to ego-fuelled musicians than to big them up, we’re not in the business of slagging off the random bands of teenagers we accidentally end up watching in some random tent.
Basically, there a lot of duff bands on at ByLarm (sorry!) but Casiokids are the real deal; brilliant blizzard of analogue synths and wonkily camp disco-pop. But what’s happening to them? They’re turning into a boy band, that’s what. They look like one now - the five with their floppy fringes and snake hips are attaining something approaching fame in their native Norway.
So just in front of the stage at this secret gig is a gaggle of Oslo’s hottest girls screaming and dancing. And for a city filled with beautiful people, that is saying something. What we’re getting at here is that Casiokids have turned into A-ha for a new generation. Spellbinding stuff. mind you.
The Whitest Boy Alive are a perfect end to the festival. Erlend Oye’s Kings Of Convenience side-project has snowballed into something much more than the sum of its parts now. And even if he is a moody sod and looks just a bit stupid when he tries to throw rock shapes, he nonetheless delivers a rousing performance. A chanting Kaiser Chiefs-style crowd seems utterly antithetical to what WBA seemed to stand for before, but then Scandinavia does have its quirks. Regardless, the band are a local treasure who’ve spread the word of Norwegian music worldwide.
And that's it. Apart from one last stop off at Oslo’s most amazing venue, Stratos, literally a club on top of a twelve floor office block. We arrive in this stunning place to be greeted by an on-the-money dubstep set. But then the DJ bows to pressure and plays 90s dance-pop hit after 90s dance-pop hit. We consider throwing ourselves off the top of the building but decide instead to write it off as a lost in translation moment. We’ll be back next year - let’s hope the 90s dance DJ won’t.
Photo by Sigurd Fandango