Øya had been on my mind for quite a while. For months it was just “that festival in Oslo with an astoundingly good line-up” but the time had finally arrived, via negotiation of noisy kids on the flight over and the Norwegian transport system in finding the hotel. One was considerably tougher to endure than the other, I will say that much.
Now, onto the festival. The site is itself a medieval park for the rest of the year. I'm not one-hundred percent sure what sort of event goes on in a medieval park, but I'd expect at least some jousting and the eating of huge, Flintstone-esque slabs of meat with bare hands. Possibly in front of beautiful women with plaited hair. In real life it contains ruins - presumably medieval? - with “don't sit on me!” signs attached, but people seem to largely ignore these.
Of course, it is raining for my first foray on site. No big problem, says he who brings one pair of canvas shoes with him. Somewhat surprisingly, umbrellas are not allowed into the park, apparently due to one being thrown into the crowd and jabbing someone in the eye a few years back. Jousting indeed. Still, the nice man at the entrance informs me that “it's OK, we'll put it over here and you can collect it afterwards”. “Over here” is a pile of several hundred similar looking discarded rain-sheltering devices in what was once a corner. With this reluctant handover comes the acceptance that umbrellas are a pain in the arse – and quite often face – at festivals, anyway. Accept you're going to get wet and be done with it.
Day 1 – Wednesday:
After a brief wander (first impressions: it is surrounded by a moat and has a lot of felt on the ground – handy in this weather) Ingrid Olava graces the main stage – one of many popular home-grown acts on the bill. There's a confidence in the performance songs and though it's well done without being mindblowing, a large enough crowd is here to capture her piano pop in their ears. It didn't exactly do a fantastic job of lifting spirits in the gloom, sparkly and spangly though her trousers were, but you can see why they're fond of her over here.
Sleigh Bells are next on the to see list, after a brief sheltering in a conviniently positioned press area. Thankfully, they are inside the somewhat flooded Klubben tent. This effectively reduces the capacity due to MASSIVE puddles, but everyone is happy enough to get close and a smidgen of standard Norwegian argy-bargey here and there is to be expected and tolerated. The abrasive duo tread a dangerously fine line between irritating and so fun you want to party the FUCK out. The beginning and middle of their performance fit firmly into the latter, the end of it the former. Much like the kid you'd sit next to in music class who would press every button on the keyboard at once. Backing track a-plenty, too.
Another rain-inflicted retreat (could really have done with an umbrella about now) to another undercover area and it's time to gasp and gawp at Iggy Pop and his Stooges. He certainly doesn't get any less energetic, but he definitely is less...pert. No matter how well-trained your body is, once you reach a certain age things will sag. Mr Pop cares not, as he invited the traditional stage invasion of, if not hundreds, then at least tens. The acceptance of a predictability in this band's performances isn't a 100% positive thing, but at least it leaves little room for disappointment, and none is found here. The old ones are the best ones, still.
Hip-hop shows are often a crushing disappointment, and this Raekwon one takes time to warm up but when it moves it moves well, and steadily through an acceleration of various well-known numbers, as is to be expected. There are some amusing things that come out of The Chef's mouth such as “Even though my skin is a different colour, and I wear baggy clothes, I'm still repping Norway to the full”. It's hard to prove, but I'll take his word for it. Ws were hanging in the air for a substantial time.
Before arriving, there was one group I was totally "stoked" for, and who would potentially be the finest single chunk of both-barrels-to-the-bollocks music available to the whole of Oslo over the week. Wisely, they'd now decided to keep a lid on the number of people in the Klubben tent, which meant queueing for a good 10 minutes with hundreds of other people to see Shining. If not exactly slaying with their latest bombs of powerful Jazz-Metal, they at least attempt to knock the shit out of me for a prolonged period of time and partly succeed. I was tempted to pull the ear-plugs out during '21st Century Schizoid Man' but then remembered I'd quite like to see this lot as often as possible with relatively complete hearing. The ever-present and ever-strange Serena Maneesh attempt to knock some more shit out of me and it's loud enough to finish off what Shining started, even from the seated stand way (wimp!) at the very back. It is still hard not to be totally mesmerised by the bass player, Hilma. I swear she gets thinner, taller and more mobile each week.
By the time I'd grown tired of staring at tall Norwegian females, M.I.A's stage show had entered annoyance central, with more barking than Battersea Dogs Home and a horn-happy accomplice - a person who appeared to have an inexplicable fondness for the presenting style of George Lamb. It is no surprise to see why she loves Sleigh Bells so bloody much, but so bloody much is exactly what this is and it can piss off. Norwood to Norway, my arse. Intolerable nonsense.
Along with the day goings-on at the Middelalderparken, there is more. Oslo is a big enough city with enough clubs so it'd be silly not make use of it, especially with all these people knocking around. Øyanatt sees a tonne of stuff from Caribou to Bear In Heaven, but we choose Jack Tatum. After threatening to be a case of “Wild goose chase. Nothing.”, Revolver is eventually located as is the remarkable sound of Wild Nothing. The music live is almost as immediate as the record, with a drummer who barely touches the skins and caresses the cymbals, wisely. The debut, Gemini, is an exceptional piece of work and, despite the sweat pouring down every surface and a long discussion about whether I'm related to the barman or not, a brilliant time is had. 'Chinatown' is a song fit to end any set, evening or life.
Day 2 – Thursday:
Today's weather a beaut'. It did the typical British thing of being overcast at breakfast but “burning off” before lunch. Perfect, and perfect to see the always-enjoyable and eccentrically Norwegian Casiokids. Sticking a genre label on them is nigh-on impossible, but “fun-pop” would come somewhere close, if it were a genre. Every time they play it's a contest between audience and band as to who's gonna smile the most and generally have the best time. They, as ever, float carelessly around the stage, into my ears and out again, tugging on my lips into an eternal grin. And that was even before the appearance of the bloke in the monkey costume.
Conversely, supergroup Broken Bells should offer a lot more than Casiokids. I mean, Danger Mouse and James Mercer. That's some pretty heavy billing right there. Massive in fact. Their record, whilst very good, can sometimes drag a bit and if the mind walks slowly away from the music a) it's a failure on the musicians part and b) it wanders towards alcohol, food or both. This is inevitably what happens here, although the final few minutes do at least have the power to keep me both awake and watching. Not quite Boring Bells, but not far off.
19:35 seems like a tad early for James Murphy and co. to be gracing the Enga stage, but it can be strongly argued that the best time to experience LCD Soundsystem is in a mid-afternoon haze of whatever it is that you choose to make you hazy. Some like to look at Murphy when performing, but I'm one of those people who likes to gaze at drummers. Pat Mahoney's gameface is always a picture and he, unlike many others in his trade, doesn't try to look too cool. It's hard, but he's so uncool he's come out of the other side. Murphy admits he's been feeling ill, but he does his best to shake off whatever it was he had. 'Drunk Girls' sure does OK for itself today, aptly enough.
Annoyingly missing Panda Bear and deciding, half-heartedly against seeing Surfer Blood, Yeasayer were the next band to fit in a set on “that part” of the site, the second stage just round the corner. The last time I clapped eyes and ears on the Brooklyn trio at the same time was over two years ago. Since then they've taken a side-step into writing space-age party bangers and ditched a member. What underwhelmed before now overwhelms. It's at this point you realise that 'O.N.E' could quite comfortably be theme tune a hundred different TV shows, and glorious it is, no more so than in the chorus which almost has me shaking my hips side to side. Almost.
Seeing Pavement is an exciting event for several reasons. Firstly it's Pavement, so I'm curious to see just what Bob Nast...erm, yeah him, what he does live. Secondly because I get to crawl round the side of the crowds near the moat into the thick of the action without too much hassle. Two very important side notes here: 1. Although the cleanliness of the site is astounding, with hundreds of people standing ready to catch your discarded plastic beer glass before it hits the floor – or even collecting them in the hope of some kind of recycling beer glass booty – it's OK to openly urinate into the water in front of, or behind, thousands. Stage fright at all? Secondly, bumping into people is not “a thing” in Norway, so nobody really minds if you crush your way to the front, providing you don't elbow someone's granny in the chops or choke-slam a pregnant woman. So yes, Pavement – reasonably but not perfectly well-drilled. We all know the songs by now, so that's not an issue, but Malkmus is rather apologetic at times. “We're Pavement and we're from the '90s” he repeats. “We haven't played this song for about 47 months...so that's a warning”, he says, before everyone seems to play a different first note to 'Elevate Me Later', maybe intentionally. Raucous enough, but I can't help being distracted by the pissing punters.
I am not ashamed at all to say I bailed on Pavement to catch the majestic Jónsi finish his set. It was no error of judgement. Like Sigur Ros's music is uplifiting in the extreme, so is Jonsi's solo work, but instantly so, rather than taking an age to reach a glacial orgasm. His swanning around in a cape is always a pleasure. Fortunately for me I'm there in time for 'Animal Arithmetic', the most euphoric cut from _Go_. The final song sees him put a headdress on and swing his neck and head around accordingly to the music, sometimes in time with it, sometimes not. A splendid and slightly spaced way end to the second day of an immensely enjoyable festival.
Main photo by Rashid Akrim for NRK P3