Oslo’s Øya Festival was a trip, and we went to check out all the effortless cool in situ
As much as we all like to bang on about ‘festival fashion’ in the UK, we can all take a few tips from the effortlessly cool crowds at Øya. Effortless could actually be the operative word for everything Øya – all the signatures of a poorly run festival are put straight in the bin as soon as you get onto site.
Everything is so easy. Wandering from furthest stage to furthest stage will take you five minutes at the very most, and it’s all put on in the beautiful leafy Tøyenparken that provides a handy slope outside every outside stage, meaning you’ll be able to see the action from any angle.
So if you wanna go somewhere where people watch black metal as if its Eastenders, sip on chilled glasses of white wine in the front row of a hip-hop show as if its a matter of course, and generally see how Scandi-cool a festival can be, check out Øya. You’re pretty much guaranteed the line-up will be totally on point, and as long as you’re not filled with as much existential guilt as we were about small children picking up your beer glasses after you (one of many eco initiatives on the go), you’ll have the best time.
Here are some of the things we saw and heard over the five-day festival.
“Sad pop is a big genre in Norway”– Overheard at John Dee
They weren’t lying – we had the stuff coming out of our eyeballs by Wednesday. As we were kindly shown round the streets of Oslo on the Tuesday night, we got dosed up with sweetly sung folk-pop by the likes of a man-bunned The Fjords, a sold out gig from Apothek, and our favourite, the sad synth-swathed Amanda over at John Dee, plus more, and more and more… Fay Wildhagen and Låpsley picked up the genre almost immediately the next day, but call us patriotic – no one does sad like our own Laura Marling.
Playing to an unfairly empty field, Marling poured out her heart in the most beautiful way, far more humble than someone who has been creating stellar albums since they were in school should be. I Was An Eagle was a showstopper, so deeply personal that it hurt your heart to hear it. Only Marling could make you want to go through that again and again, and we love her dearly for it.
Courtney Barnett also gave it a good go, but we must say we like the grungier, angrier side of Courtney rather than the sadder one. Pedestrian At Best sounds so much better live than on record: heavier, fuzzier and with lots more self-loathing. Ideal.
(Photo: © Markus Thorsen)
“Tusen takk! (A thousand thank yous!)”– the joyous faces of the Norwegian volunteers at every bar
Norwegian people are unapologetically the nicest people around and they’re all as gorgeous as you might guess. Depending on which Oslo resident you speak to, they sound either British, American or Australian and speak perfect English (one of the delightful ladies I spoke to had been OD’ing on The Voice Australia so sounded like exactly someone off of Neighbours).
Everyone is also incredibly polite – so much so that you can get right to the front of anything you might to see with little to no problems whatsoever, and any queues for drinks, food or toilets are virtually non-existent. These people know how to run a festival. We’ve been told that since Øya moved over to its larger site two years ago, facilities have doubled, but the amount of tickets sold have stayed the same. We get the feeling that they take pride in improving on perfection.
Wait, stop, the food deserves a special mention: gourmet sandwiches on brioche, deconstructed tacos, sushi… and a wine bar offering three types of champagne? It really is a cut above your standard festival fare – though you might need to take out a bit of an Oslo loan before you land. We’re talking a tenner for a falafel wrap here, and it’s around seven quid a pint. You’re not allowed any bottles whatsoever onsite either, so leave your duty free back at your hotel.
(Photo: © Pål Bellis)
“FEAR THE SUN GODS”– message on Holly Herdon’s screen as all her computers broke around her
Forget the glaciers and icy tundras you might automatically associate with Scandinavia – Oslo in August is bloody boiling. This, of course, is great news for your UK reviewer (there’s lots of shady trees and cold beer to be had onsite) but it wasn’t such great news for Holly Herndon when her equipment bowed out under the pressures of the Norwegian sun, making her usually slick set something of a stop and starter.
Thankfully, her visuals guy has an almost unbelievably quick wit. Using the screens flanking the platforms over at the Hi-Fi Klubben stage, he got 90% of a bummed-out crowd to stick around. “This is awkward” he wrote while Herdon tried to get everything back on track again. “Does anyone have any good jokes?”. After around twenty minutes of this (including a tongue in cheek “we are never booking you again” and lots of “thank you so much for your patience” messages onscreen) the equipment cut back in, giving us a last fifteen minutes of the set. It felt like a miracle.
Hi Fi Klubben is also where we saw Oslo’s rap game Draco Malfoy, Drippin, lording it over the crowd. An obvious child of Norway’s love for filthy hip-hop, he spun samples like Father’s Look At Wrist into icy trap, footwork and industrial beats, even throwing up a couple of gun signs in an hour-long set that transformed a blistering early afternoon set in Oslo into a turnt basement club in NYC.
(Photo: © Mat Dryhurst)
“…I’m delirious right now…” “SCREAAAAM”– Tyler, the Creator and his crowd’s reaction
As previously mentioned, Norway goes mad for hip-hop. Well, as mad as a Norwegian crowd ever gets. Tyler, the Creator had people waiting at the front for half an hour before he appeared (which was unparalleled from what we saw) and had his feverish audience clapping in glee at anything he said. “This shit’s crazy” he announced to mad applause, before downing two Red Bulls on the head and throwing his socks out into the crowd. We predict you’ll see them on Norway’s eBay very soon. ILOVEMAKONNEN dealt out much of the same silliness, teasing the crowd with the meme-worthy and Drake-mixed Tuesday and his I Don’t Sell Molly went, as they say, off.
Run the Jewels also had at least the first four rows absolutely going for it, your reviewer included. There’s just something so charming about the bromance between El P and Killa Mike, and the pair, in Mike’s words, “danced their fat asses off” to whoops and many, many stamping feet. There was a political edge too as they opened Lie, Cheat, Steal by encouraging us to put our hands in the air in memory of Michael Brown.
Another band with a political message was The Julie Ruin. The illness that led to lead singer Kathleen Hanna cancelling their 2014 tour was now nowhere to be seen – and she’s bouncier than ever as she announces her age with glee: “Forty-six? I’m loving it!”. The band blaze through their biggest crowd-pleasers (including a Le Tigre cover and a song dedicated to “feminists and political activists”) and as they end on life-affirming album closer Run Fast, here’s more than a few damp eyes down the front.
(Photo: © Johannes Granseth)
“We’re going back nineteen years… before some of you were even born!”– Belle and Sebastian bringing the dad-bants
Awh, Belle and Sebastian, you big melts you. The Glaswegian band dealt out masterful amounts of joyful dad pop to the hordes of pleased Norwegians while lead Stuart Murdoch surfed on the ‘no crowd surfing’ sign, climbing into the crowd to serenade them, and whacking out the ol’ bongos.
Niles Rodgers and Chic were embellished karaoke at best, but great fun all the same, we suppose. A shameless self-promoter till the end, Rodgers announced each song with an unsettlingly dead-pan name, artist and date (“Madonna, Like a Virgin, 1984”) for example. It left us a bit cold and uncomfortable.
Weirdly, Friday’s headliner Beck also fell under the same bordering-on-cringe heading. Newest summer jam Dreams fell a bit flat as no one knew the words, and he had some of the strangest things to say to the Oya crowd (“hey there Oslo, step into my Volvo!”) but he did serve up hit after hit (Sexx Laws, Loser, Devil’s Haircut, Where It’s At to name a few). It was all a bit odd.
(Photo: © Johannes Granseth)
“HOLY SHIT”– a reaction to Flying Lotus’ epic lightbox show
Look around at a Flying Lotus lightbox show and you’ll see a sea of goggle-eyed, slack-jawed unbelievers. It really is that good – it flicks from visual remixes of FlyLo’s videos into swirling, hypnotisingly intricate patterns and back again, all with a bright-eyed and furiously mixing Flying Lotus amongst it all. The Sirkus stage that houses it makes anything possible. Not a drop of light enters it, so although it’s sunning it down outside, the warehouse-shaped space can transport you anywhere, and this year, it was always somewhere good.
Caribou was another highlight of the same tent, his woozy electronica feeling as warm and intimate as ever, with a similarly excellent lightshow to match.
(Photo: © Fienetta Fandango)
So there you have it – our Øya. We also took in some other bits and bobs to get a sense of how the Scandis take in their shows (In Flames was a wow, Susanne Sundfør, more of a yawn) but what we really got from Øya was a sense of goodnatured fun and frolics that don’t require everyone to fall on their heads after one too many (though we do like to do that too).
A thousand thanks, Øya, and tusen takk for a very special five days.