For a country whose musical identity is so heavily linked to the idiosyncratic noodling of its cosmic dance producers and the no holds barred intensity of the black metal scene, this year’s Øya Festival is surprisingly diverse.
Spread over a staggering four days, the Norwegian festival, located in its capital Oslo, boasts an exciting line-up of both local and international acts, with headliners including Kendrick Lamar, Lykke Li, Patti Smith and Arctic Monkeys – albeit set to an impressive backdrop of apocalyptic showers and the occasional lightning bolt.
Nevertheless, the mood is left unhampered as hundreds of festival-goers flood between the six stages, located on the hilly façade of the city’s Tøyenparken. And if the weather isn’t enough to make a stir, Wednesday’s schedule, a heady mix of Phoebe Bridgers, Arcade Fire and Arctic Monkeys, feels like a scream.
An intimate set by 24-year-old singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers kick-starts the day – a succession of first-person accounts of heartbreak and loss sung with her trademark feathered vocals. Next up, indie rock band Arcade Fire la-la-la’s their way to a crescendo with Everything Now – a disco-laden melody that, though weathered a share of criticism upon its release last year, serves as a jovial anthem to the evening’s proceedings. Headliners Arctic Monkeys bring cheek and charm with renditions of songs old and new. The Sheffield band’s lexicon has adapted into a mix of British rock’n’roll with ‘okey cokey rhythms and skinny-jean sleaze – the only throwback is the somewhat subdued crowd.
On Thursday, however, this crowd of straight-faced Scandinavians is coaxed out of their shells by Moses Sumney’s crooning vocals. “This is for anyone who thinks they’re too cute to sing,” he smiles before bringing his ethereal soul to track Plastic. With selections from his 2017 album Aromanticism – which explores themes of love and loneliness – the Californian singer proves once again the ineffable beauty of his songwriting.
But the night’s crown goes to Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar, whose songs King Kunta and Humble seize the crowd with full force. With his most recent music for Marvel blockbuster The Black Panther serving arguably as the sound of the new Afrofuturism movement, the weight of Lamar’s set feels monumental: his words embody a cultural zeitgeist of resistance.
The next day, St Vincent’s Annie Clark brings her trademark meta-pop sound to the show. A fast-slow disco of guitar riffs and synth, watching Clark can at times feel like stepping into an alternative universe. There are blue-skinned aliens performing aerobics on the screen behind her and disjointed dolls that bring to mind the images of surrealist photographer Viviane Sassen.
By the evening, the crowd is split between Swedish artist Lykke Li and German electronic trio Tangerine Dream. For the latter – a group that’s seen many manifestations over the course of its 50-year history – this was one of the first times performing since the death of founding member Edgar Froese in 2015. The show is intense and the tent packed with well-seasoned ravers. The collision of prog-Krautrock noises by Thorsten Quaeschning’s synth is a throwback to the band’s 1970s heyday, while the futuristic blips of Ulrich Schnauss on sequencer and rhythms are interrupted by bursts of violinist Hoshiko Yamane, who proves a somewhat refreshing female presence in a room of predominantly white and middle-aged men.
Afterwards, when people spill into the streets, festival-goers of all tastes blend together. Øya Festival is a thrilling hodgepodge of genres and styles, and all the better for it.