Scott and I arrived in Oslo early Wednesday morning, which gave us plenty of time to stave-off jet lag, get our bearings, and check email before venturing full-on into by:Larm 2010. If you’re unfamiliar with the festival, it’s an annual event that brings together new, familiar, etc., Nordic bands for three days/nights of shows, panels, and the like. (I attended the one in the more northerly and icy city of Trondheim, Norway a couple years ago.) As I told someone yesterday who asked for my two cents: by:Larm’s exciting because it involves some actual discovery. It’s not often you can go to a festival these days without already knowing the story and music behind every name in the lineup. So here’s to ignoring Google for a few days…
It snowed our first actual night out in Oslo. Considering the weather we’ve had in New York, it made things homey. I was in Oslo a few years ago for Øya and have (so far) been surprised by how much of the city I remember. The bigger challenge is putting the memories into a coherent map. For example: Scott and I have wandered in the wrong direction more than once. So far, though, we’ve had especially good luck when asking directions: In most cases the person/kind local happened to be going to the place we were trying to find. Either that, or they sensed the cluelessness and decided to give us an armed escort out of Nordic sympathy.
We’d left town briefly on Thursday to eat food on a mountain, but made it back in time — and to the Garage venue — to catch the last few seconds of Izakaya Heartbeat. They do a sort of driving early/mid ’90s alt rock thing, mentioning Sonic Youth, MBV, Trumans Water, Unwound, Can, Mudhoney and 100 other bands you know as influences. Their guitar sound is definitely Thurston/Lee, but unlike SY, they have members who can headbang their impressively long locks when locating a locked noise-rock groove. After Izakaya we went to Villa to catch a little laptop in-dueling by “Avant Electro” duo Munn Til Munn Metoden. They were creating interesting sounds — and they definitely enjoyed their own beats — but it was only 9PM and this sort of stuff usually works best in a live setting sometime after midnight. Maybe they’ll play an afterparty sometime before Sunday.
What I said about everyone getting us seamlessly to our destination? Not entirely true: Samfunnsalen stumped half a dozen locals until we lucked into someone who knew the place of the temporary club (it’s one of those venues that pops up for a festival and then goes back to being a city council building, or whatever). The object of our trek were Chrome HIll, a noise-jazz quartet that includes Shining’s Jørgen Munkeby on saxophone/Torstein Lofthus on drums. Guitarist Asbjørn Lerheim is usually mentioned first in descriptions of the band, but Lofthus’s tricky drum math and Munkeby’s sax-with-muscle-shirt managed to steal the show (except when Lerheim made like late-period Earth and built a kind of solo spaghetti noir backdrop before this bandmates joined in). I keep joking that there are half a dozen Shining side projects (plus Shining) at by:Larm this year, but when you start adding up your Elephant9’s and Bushman’s Revenge’s, and etc.’s, Shining are clearly the most quietly ubiquitous band this weekend.
We’d seen a few moments of The Megaphonic Thrift during the by:Larm opening night ceremonies (which took place in a tent in the center of things), but they’re one of those bands everyone keeps mentioning, so we walked the couple of blocks to Rockefeller to get a better look: They definitely (like Izakaya Heartbeat) like Sonic Youth, straight down to the boy-girl trade-off vocals. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: The songs are shiny and muscular. Even at its best, though, things sound a bit too familiar. Still, it’s good to see a guitar-rock resurgence. We stuck around Rockefeller to see two other “buzz” bands, all-boy Bergen electro-rock falsetto crew/shadow puppeteers Casiokids — who we also caught at SXSW 2009 — and local all-girl quartet Katzenjammer. The latter had a Gogol Bordello gypsy-rock thing, but with acrobatic Beth Ditto-on-jazz cabaret vocals instead of the beer-drenched punk chanting. They also have a very large Cheshire Cat bass. Not really my thing, but they offered the biggest surprise of the night via a cover of “Land Of Confusion,” a song Scott and I had been talking about a few hours earlier for no apparent reason.
The night ended with its most satisfying set, a masterfully seamless performance by Jaga Jazzist. We wrote about the nine-person electro-jazz ensemble during our last trip to Norway, but catching them indoors, in the beautiful sit-down Sentrum Scene theatre, was a bit of a revelation. Live, they sound like one person, not a small army. The stage was decorated with One Armed Bandit slot-machine fruit and a flashing/pulsing light show — they could’ve played without any decoration and remained just as immersive. Like if Tortoise were still interesting. With horns. (Check out One-Armed Bandit, if you haven’t. It came out the end of January via Ninja Tune.) Not a bad thing to have swarming your head while wandering back to the hotel in even more snow at 2AM.
As far as the present: If you happen to be in the area, tonight we’re hosting our Stereogum Showcase at Stratos. As a reminder, it features Icelandic beauty/noise-maker Kira Kira (with Eiríkur Orri Ólafsson on trumpet/electronics), local pop favorites Kråkesølv, Altaar (who leap John Cage, Bathory, and Burial Hex in a single drone), and Finnish Spaceman 3/VU-nodding trio Joensuu 1685. Between bands I’ll be DJing a mix of noise-pop, death-rock, black metal, and Phil Collins. (Fast walkers: Check out a few minutes of black metal youngsters Obliteration at Villa before heading to Stratos to catch the start of our event with Kira Kira.)