Live Review
No Livedate

Open the front door and you’re liable to encounter a universe bursting at the seams with all manner of shit music, shit films, pointless suffering, horrible people, and a number of regrets so large it means nothing. To get-over these hiccups, people travel and go to music festivals. While there are a skip-load of moral tales about how ‘leaving won’t solve your problems’, and while going to Reading this year will definitely only up your count of shit music and regrets, it seems on the evidence of this weekend that sometimes escape works. Øya festival is low on wacky fringe details, rape, and burning people alive when the sun goes down (the staples of UK fests) and instead keeps things strictly simple: an astounding line up playing on stages that sound impeccable. A mix of oddball indie acts, big names, and local gems, it was so good that you could miss someone with the calibre of Panda Bear, Motorpsycho or Raekwon and barely notice.

The torrential downpour of the first day gave way at about six to coincide serendipitously with Sleepy Sun. The San Franciscans would embody 21st Century Freakiness if Wooden Shjips hadn’t just pipped them to it, and their jowly bassist looks gloriously stoned and contented – few people in rock’n’roll can pull off a double chin so well. From their stoner psych-pop and acid folk-inflected jams, sustained with beautiful girl/boy vocals and far-out tribal drumming, it was off to their garage ancestors Iggy and The Stooges on the main stage. Presumably to make use of re-found ‘Funhouse’ saxophonist Steve Mackay, they play mainly from ‘Raw Power’ (with added sax parts) and ‘Funhouse’, dropping in a few of the (much) weaker songs from 2007’s ‘The Weirdness’ and ending on their debut’s centrepiece, ‘No Fun’. Halfway through, Iggy introduces his “Famous Norwegian backing dancers” in an old-time, American Big Band announcer voice. “Even with all the oil money,” he continues “there are still some evil little shits who wanna come dance on stage with The Stooges.” Seemingly an unstoppable, free-wheeling Overhuman, backstage he pants and hobbles his way into a waiting minibus; a reminder that, if you haven’t already, you should see this brilliant, monstrous creature and outright living legend before he calls it a day.

From the most rammed show that I caught, to the least; King Midas Sound, playing the Klubben tent on the last day were surprisingly bereft of the skanking followers you’d expect. The superlative avant-garde dub types experience some laptop demons on stage and although Kevin Martin (aka. The Bug) seems peeved by them, they actually give the affair a lo fi charm and affirmed ‘it’s live’ nature, reliant on real-time talent and skill. Kiki Hitomi and Roger Robinson’s vocals float above her additional electronics and his wildly bowed Fender to create a whirling, stratospheric head-fuck. You get the impression that the more leftfield side of bass music – here manifested as noise-laden, mutant future-dub – hasn’t quite caught-on here, yet; indeed, on the continent. “No one has any fucking clue who we are,” Martin told me later.

Drift a few 2-steps towards the middle-of-the-road though and Oslo’s youth will go ape-shit, as evinced by M.I.A. and Major Lazer’s soundsystem onslaughts. The former headlined the first night (we say Stooges were robbed, but still) and though she has the tendency to come across as a disingenuous drama-school type, barking ineloquently about problems that she sees with radical simplicity in interviews, you’d be a bit of a spoilsport purist to deny that this corporate dancehall didn’t rock with at least the spirit of its influences. Major Lazer are more authentic-sounding and yet simultaneously more deviant and progressive and, as such, their party rocked harder – something wasn’t plugged in for the first two or three tunes resulting in an unintentionally huge drop. It’s enthusiastically compèred by Skerrit Bwoy – a man that can still bounce about and verbally crowd-pummel after an onstage vodka and cognac binge – and Diplo drops some old school digital dancehall, a smattering of album tracks and Rihanna’s ‘Rude Boy’ with unparalleled deftness. While he showed how DJing-as-live-set should be done, dwarfing the efforts of whoever was on decks for Big Boi, the latter’s set was nonetheless a good-times selection of oldies that, although not giving us much insight into his new album, did rock the place with crowd favourites from the awesome ‘Stankonia’.

Falling somewhere in between the festival’s penchant for credible big-hitters in urban music and its idolising of timeless guitar heroes (if you opened this page to bask in the light of Pavement, hang-on just a second) were The xx, mercury favourites and closers of the second stage on the last night. Theirs is a subtle pop music; one that has to be taken gently and not really scrutinised too harshly or compared to its forbears (it wont stand up to them). Watched from side of stage though, with the last of the dusk light and fireworks splayed over skyscrapers in the background, they really are quite good, their set sounding typically contemporary and delicately calibrated; the drum machines operated with the softest of finger taps on trigger pads.

Much as I’d like to drop-in more than a mention of the Flaming Lips’ elaborate day-glo adventure, Diskjokke’s trippy outing with a Gamelan ensemble and Cymbals Eat Guitars’ well-crafted indie rock, there ought to be a little space dedicated to what people were calling the ‘Golden Triangle’ on the second night; LCD Soundsystem, followed by Yeasayer (2nd Stage), before main stage headliners Pavement. Our generation’s Talking Heads start with ‘US vs. Them’ and, though it’s sad they don’t then play ‘New York, I Love You…’ or ‘Losing My Edge’, they sound simultaneously bigger, more danceable, experimental and violent than on record. Yeasayer are slamming and Pavement almost defy explanation. They play only their very best songs (so mainly from ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain’) with a consciously retrospective timbre (“Hey, we’re Pavement and we’re from the ‘90s”). Malkmus, along with a select few alterno stars, has played guitar for so long that he will always look like a teenager. Cue effortless cool and an incredible creative flare; ‘Stop Breathing’ had people crying and encore ‘Cut Your Hair’ – well, I’m sure you can imagine.

I’ll avoid any half-arsed, patronising analysis of the way Norwegian culture breaks-away or converges with ours in trying to explain why Øya was such fun. Rather I’ll offer the theory that when you get this many good bands together in one place, the overwhelming weight of rubbish in the world just melts away.

L&Q: How’d you describe your sound?
“The easiest way to describe it is doom metal meets contemporary noise. We call it Mersey-Doom, (haha!) as Andreas is a big fan of Merseybeat. The idea was to do a band without boundaries, which sounds banal but if there aren’t any at the beginning you can do pretty much whatever you want.”

L&Q: How can such a comfortable, well-off country spawn such thrilling music?
“It’s boring to say it in interviews but it’s hellish from November till April, it’s a rotten place. Scandinavia’s pretty intense, Oslo got rated as the drug-addict capital of Europe recently – Heroin’s cheaper here than in Kabul.”

L&Q: Can you pick-out the roots of your sound for us?
“I guess it’s the local music scenes. Back in Stavanger, bands like Kaizers Orchestra and Helldorado showed me desert-rock and gypsy music. Also, I really enjoy Bernard Herrmann’s Hitchcock scores, along with listening to requiems, black metal and Radiohead in high school. The house/electro references probably came from the influence that French and Swedish house have had on Norway in the past years.”

L&Q: Does Oslo have a healthy music scene?
“Yes, and it has everything to do with money. We get loads of grants, free rehearsal spaces, and can afford instruments off of our parents’ money.”

Megaphonic Thrift
L&Q: Everyone says you sound like Sonic Youth.
“There is a link, there’s no doubt about that and we love Sonic Youth, but the fact that everyone compares us to them takes away focus from what we’re trying to do… it’s Jazzmasters and Jaguars with noisy sounds, you know.”

L&Q: You’re form Bergen, how’s that city compare to Oslo?
“Better, haha! Bergen’s scene is more compressed, everyone knows everyone and plays together. We know lots of nice bands from Oslo, but the Bergen scene is really good.”

By Edgar Smith


Originally published in issue 20 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. August 2010