“They’ve got under 12s collecting all the empties around the festival. It’s like little rugrats underneath your feet”, was the exclamation from one of Crack’s fellow journalist cohorts as we casually sauntered from one side of Øya’s central Oslo site location to the other in no more than ten minutes.
The use of the younger Norwegian generation to give Øya an eco-friendly and aesthetically green experience was symptomatic of a festival whose core values are as defined, as they are inherent to the Norwegian way of life. The whole ‘get ‘em in, pack it out, get ‘em pissed’ mantra, so beautifully deployed by Reading and Leeds this is not, and for Crack’s weary, British festival-hardened reviewer there is a lot to be said for a festival that places the comfort of its punters top of the bill as much any of the uber artists that are booked in to play this weekend.
The advantage of a government that places cultural initiative and the promotion of Norwegian values within a festival context means Øya’s line-up is one of the most rich and weighty around, not just in terms of the size of acts, but especially within the context of the capacity of the site. Øya is not a big festival (only four stages in all), but due to the support from the powers that be and a thriving currency, the residents of Oslo are comparatively among the wealthiest in Europe. These factors resulted in a line-up of international proportions playing in what can only be described as intimate settings. It also gives Norwegian acts a chance to share the bill with one of the festival’s primary aims being to present music from their own on a much wider scale. It has however resulted in £10 a pint prices that would in all likelihood keep your standard punter in a state of complete sobriety.
After Steve Mason’s dad rock and Laura Mvula’s uninspiring afternoon soul ballad fest, it was in a unlikely spot much closer to Crack’s native home that we started the Wednesday with the doom, stoner metal of Dorset’s Electric Wizard. Set in the sweaty Klubben tent and surrounded by much more masculine, hairy and ‘metal’ men than Crack’s reviewer, it’s rough-edged enough to galvanise, yet clichéd enough to make sure a wry smile is permanently etched on the face, all hooks and drops so low-slung they conjure a potency that remains cerebral as it is carnal. Welcome to Øya, they like this kind of thing round here.
After witnessing the most clichéd metal experience of our lives from Norwegian band Black Debbath, who have simultaneously copied the name of Black Sabbath and Motorhead’s logo and in the process borrowed every identifiable facet of both bands’ being (the lead singer has the handles and body of a motorbike as a microphone), we sought solace away the heavy stuff, in the other heavy stuff; namely the Wu-Tang Clan on the Sjøsiden second stage, whose veritable pantomime includes only four members initially appearing on stage, until the other four join in one track at a time culminating in Method Man’s appearance who, along with Ghostface Killah, remains the core engine of the Wu lyrical smashes. It’s a greatest hits bonanza, with the obligatory homage to ODB at which point Method Man announces, “ODB had so much love for Oslo”. Sure. Even so as we are invited to out-jump the Russians, as the comedy and humour and energy of hip-hop’s greatest ever group remains fully intact. It was all Ws in the air and even a flock of birds flying over the crowd in W formation that were lovingly referred to as the Wu birds for the rest of he weekend.
It was over to Blur who closed the Main Stage with a veritable greatest hits package, that included the silly (Parklife, Country House) the wonderful (Out Of Time, To The End, This Is A Low, The Universal) and annoying (For Tomorrow) and the only conclusions we could draw was that Alex James wearing tweed reinforced every negative thing ever felt about him, any Blur set that doesn’t include Music Is My Radar weakens the whole thing by around 50% and Damon Albarn’s doe eyes can win anyone over if their emotional defences aren’t fully refined. It’s perfectly British fun in a Norwegian setting and offers very little beyond the obvious, which suits us fine.
After heading off into the night for a spot of classic house on a hotel rooftop courtesy of Frankie Knuckles and a view of the city, the feeling that Øya was here to showcase Oslo as much as anything was reinforced.
The picturesque setting of Middelalderparken has been the location for Øya since its inception and going into their 13th year, you have more than the slightest suspicion that they’ve got their game tighter than most. The park itself is set upon the banks of a man made pedalo lake with the beautiful backdrop of Oslo’s hugely redeveloped waterfront or Fjord City, which showcases a rich contrast in architectural design with old brutalist buildings pitched against the iconic Operahuset (opera house) and the controversial Barcode Buildings that illuminate and dominate the skyline to the far left hand side of the park. The setting remains perfectly in tune with this rejuvenation and Øya presents itself as a forward-thinking vision of Norway’s cultural output amongst is newest visual spectacles.
With much of the music starting at two, there is ample time for recuperation at Øya, so day after day we ambled down to the sight with very little stress incurred as musical highlights came thick and fast. On Thursday Metz’s pulsating alt-punk was a much-needed afternoon wake-up call, all rushes and wails, Headache in-particular cementing Crack’s opinion that they have effortlessly scaled the heights of this particular genre ladder with consummate ease. Danny Brown’s whacked out rap misogyny is a bolt from the blue, in fact the bluest. Brown is a unique creature in the hip-hop world at the moment. Shamelessly feminine in the way he bounds around the stage, but muckier than Ludicrous in La Senza. Brown (along with Mykki Blanco) is ripping up the rulebook as to what constitutes hip-hop attire, presentation and attitude. This coupled with the fact his delivery is quite frankly mental and you have an utterly compelling new hip-hop star.
Hyped- we moved along to Grimes. Oh Grimes. After a much-publicised inner battle around the confidence of her music presented in a live setting, the continual struggle Claire Boucher has between front woman and musical performer has clearly disintegrated to tragic levels. Forgetting the words, beats out of place and the incessant need to scream inaudibly between songs grates really hard. In order to give the show more dynamism two dancers are employed to dance robotically for well over half of the performance. While their movement is engaging at the start it becomes an eye sore to see them return again and again for more of the same. Having had a significant period of time since Visions thrust her into the A-League, the fact time hasn’t been invested in perfecting a more fluid live show where Boucher feels comfortable in her role is criminal. Sure, she’s not a natural front woman and performer, but the fact she clearly feels uneasy even when navigating her biggest tracks like Genesis and Oblivion, let alone the “experimental music” she offers at the end of the set, is nothing short of a disaster at this late stage and makes it hard to have sympathy.
A man with no such issues is Kendrick Lamar who takes to his headline slot on the Main Stage like he owns the festival. With a full band backing in an effort to ramp-up his already significant remit to festival headlining standard, his swagger is significant, but Crack is sucked in by the drone bewilderment of Godspeed You Black Emperor who promptly deliver the instrumental catharsis for which we were yearning, despite one member playing with is back to the audience, which, call us traditional and old-fashioned, is really annoying.
It’s hard to expel enough superlatives to get across quite how polite and respectful a festival Øya is. From the restaurant quality food, to the first class choice of drinks, to the Tiki cocktails, to the culturally varied cross-section of attendees. The scent of a spliff in the air was an eye-brow raiser, let alone the sight of more powder based entertainment and the resulting wide eyed mongrels (the sight of which we saw a total of zero times over the course of the weekend). Øya is different, or maybe, as this Crack reviewer concluded by the end of a wonderful four days staying the right side of the metaphorical line- we’re different.
However a startling conclusion to the contrasting attitudes is definitely reflected in the ability of each nation to ‘get loose’, ‘get down’ or put more simply ‘dance’. Norwegians very rarely dance or really move that much to be honest, except, as we hypothesised after observing them for four days, under these circumstances: 1) unless hip-hop is being played, 2) unless you are in the first two rows watching a metal band 3) unless The Knife are playing Silent Shout. Crack is no Lionel Blair or even MC Hammer, but we know how to shake our tail feather with required gusto across a variety of genre. Time and time again this weekend we felt like the lunatic at the party whether than be at Slayer, John Talabot or Kraftwerk.
Friday’s fun featured a solid performance from Parquet Courts then we palm off Disclosure for Goat, who cement themselves as gig of the weekend. Their psychedelic, rock, disco, world-music fusion fostering the closest thing to a wig-out in the Klubben tent. Dressed in Arabic attire ranging from colourful skirts to straight up Burkas, their slightly controversial get-up added to a display that drew heavily on their World Music album and was masterful in it’s visual engagement as well as the music. Totally unique, the wailing vocals and wah-wahing guitar conjured music of yesteryear with a updated ethical twist and a real electronic music sensibility with huge periods of hypnotic repetition that made even the most hardened Norwegian take off his cool.
Post Goat, Kraftwerk’s 3D experience couldn’t be passed over as Friday’s headliner. Despite them only containing one original member, the continuation of the Kraftwerk project has taken a turn for the avant-art with their gigs that aren’t offering the 3D spectacle tending to take place in gallery spaces. The 3D show is Kraftwerk on mass display exhibiting their most used wares but in full Technicolor, or in this case, 3-dimensions. The VW Beetle in Autobahn comes right at you, the bikes in Tour De France do the same and it’s all very sensory and fun, but then you just end up remembering that despite the gimmick what an incredible wealth of music Kraftwerk have amalgamated and how influential and masterful it still sounds. Radioactivity rings out it’s reverberation and pulsey warnings, Computer Love retains its charm, enhanced to almost comedic value with it’s updated seedy connotations when applied to the internet generation. Closer Musique Non-Stop reminds the techno generation who the godfathers are with its progressive wind and hypnotic synth lines. It’s masterful stuff and even though the 3D is naff in places, the world wouldn’t be the same without the robots and their primitive, propulsive otherworldly projection onto the electronic canvas.
Saturday night’s headliners came in the form of two vastly contrasting heavyweights. Having finally fulfilled a lifetime ambition in watching Slayer thrash the fuck out of this reviewer’s skull, the plan was to go and generate an opinion on The Knife’s much maligned dance troupe. But we couldn’t draw ourselves away. No legendary pits, just an intense live show of majestic ferocity that leaves an indelible stamp of intensity when placed up against any of the other music on that was on display this weekend. Halfway through the set we drag ourselves away to catch the last four Knife tracks and the all female hooded experimental dancers that have formed the crux to much of the Shaking The Habitual tour controversy. Karin Dreijer’s voice is still astounding in a live setting and the set closers allow the dancing to reach frenetic peaks of movement that engage wholly with the audience despite the significant lack of instrumentation on the stage. The two toughest tracks on Shaking The Habitual, Full Of Fire and Stay Out Here sound earth shaking on the soundsystem and it’s a pleasure to watch them expressed in such an avant-garde manner. The conclusion is mixed. It would have been a game-changer to have seen both live elements and the movement combined fluidly and these hugely ambitious tracks performed live. They remain the most mad and misunderstood act in music and for that reason they evoke strong emotions and interest and rightly so. We’re still on the fence
Øya’s finest asset was the supreme organisation of the whole spectacle. No queuing, not a band on late and mix of people from metalers, to fashion conscious hipsters, to genuinely some of the best-looking punters around (beautiful blondes for the guys and rugged bearded types for the ladies), Øya’s attention to detail and almost community feel gave it a refined majesty that made it appeal to the honest music fan. It was a wonderful contrast to the music festival as we’ve come to know it.
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Words: Thomas Frost
Photos: Timmy Fist