Our first couple days in Oslo were all about wandering and seeing as much as possible, but Friday involved staying put in a single venue for most of the night. The festival organizers asked us to curate a showcase of Nordic bands: We made a general wish list and it was narrowed down a couple of times, etc. The end results were hosted at Stratos, a club on the top floor of a tall building/mall, Youngstorget. The space included an outdoor balcony with an excellent view of the city: It was cold, but the view was good enough that even non-smokers made their way onto it throughout the night. Outside of curating, they’d also asked us to DJ. I threw together a set that moved between extreme metal and pop. An example: Cobalt to Dum Dum Girls to Burzum to Velocity Girl to Beherit to jj to Alcest to Fuck Buttons to Hooded Menace. Then there were the actual bands.
From beginning to end, the place was packed. Icelandic multi-instrumentalist Kira Kira offered a noisy, eccentric entrance into the night, her nonstop smile a welcoming beacon amid murky swatches of fuzz and fog horn. Clearly a hit with Oslo’s teenage girl population Bodø pop group Kråkesølv make youthful, spirited music I’m told is playful and smart lyrically. They do it all in Norwegian, though, so you end up following along with misheard phonetics. When they played “Privat Regn,” clearly the big hit, the aforementioned girls jumped up and down and pointed to each other, shouting the lyrics. Nice to witness some honest joy like that. And got me curious about whether teenage girls in Brooklyn would act the same way.
One of my two favorite sets of the festival came via HTC-plugged Altaar, a sometimes trio, but tonight five-piece who construct sturdy, heavy, tight, classical, darkly atmospheric and anthemic post-metal decorated in candles. They ended ended up soundtracking the horizontal snowfall out the windows to their right and left, a storm that shifted according to the rise and fall of their set. People in the area kept referencing Sunn O))), but this is something very different. Altaar’s central figures are multi-tasking “noise guru” Sten Ove Toft, who seems to have a dozen different ongoing projects, and ex-JR Ewing dude Andreas Tylden. If I were them, I’d put all my eggs in this basket. After Altaar came Finnish trio Joensuu 1685, who made like J&MC/Spacemen 3 across long, densely smokey, uplifting songs with plenty of warm, hypnotic atmosphere. You know, stoner church music. Their sound was huge, but constrained by the tight schedule: I’d love to see them expand their wings on a full-length, non-festival set. Our showcase was closed out by Diskjokke. I’d expected to see Joachim Dyrdahl up there by his lonesome; instead, he was surrounded by a full-band in sparkling shirts, offering all the more for the folks up front to focus on while once the dance party really started.
The next day things started with my first taste of deer heart (a bit like a beef jerky/fruit roll-up hybrid) during a trip to listen to Susanne Sundfør perform with her voice and a piano in the mausoleum/museum of Norwegian artist Emanuel Vigeland. I don’t know that I’d necessarily liked her work in a different setting, but in that space it sounded incredible, each sound/word ricocheting off the walls and creating dark overlaps. As far as the mausoleum, you had to duck your head to get through the entrance, even if you aren’t 6’5″. Once inside, it was incredibly dark, illuminated by a few candles. The fresco on the walls and ceiling look like dark tattoos against old skin and “[depict] human life from conception till death, in dramatic and often explicitly erotic scenes.” I was told by a few people that Nick Cave goes there to meditate when in Oslo. I found myself in a similar mind-state by the time we left, so when Norwegian television asked me for my two cents, I said it seemed too deeply personal to turn into two cents.
After catching a Q+A with Steve Knopper and an afternoon hot dog party (aka “sausage fest,” as Sten Ove Toft noted), I went to see Cold Mailman, a pop group featuring ex-members of anarcho-screamo crew the Spectacle, perform in a coffee shop called Rubber Soul. The sound wasn’t the greatest (because it was in a coffee shop), but they clearly write good songs (one featuring a rhyme with local Oslo hero, Thurston Moore). Looking forward to hearing them elsewhere.
That night, I rolled the dice and lost a few times. After sunset I saw CCTV, who make like Coldplay making like Joy Division. (I should’ve gone to see dark post-hardcore dudes Kollwitz across town.) After ducking out of CCTV, I headed to Rockefeller and watched the wrong Blood band: Blood Command, a group with some interesting influences (Antioch Arrow, Hot Snakes, New Order, Holy Molar, Minor Threat, Rocket From The Crypt) didn’t do it for me live. Their frontwoman Silje Tombre sported a red dress which seemed too “bloody” obvious because the music wasn’t exciting enough to shift my focus. Should have stuck around and watched Purified In Blood, but instead jumped ship after Rubik, who played in Rockefeller’s downstairs venue, John Dee. I’d seen them in Finland last year and wasn’t all that excited, but folks kept talking about them over the weekend, so I caved in and decided to check again. I’m not sure who told me they sounded like a U2/Animal Collective combo, but that person was wrong: It was basically Broken Social Scene/Arcade Fire with higher pitched vocals. Lots of clapping and brass. And a member who made me think of Dan Deacon. Even with the expanded lineup, still not my thing: The extra hands felt extraneous.
All wasn’t lost, though, because I made it to Wardruna. If you’re unfamiliar, the group is a project of Kvitrafn (Jotunspor, Gorgoroth) and motherfucking Gaahl (Gorgoroth), who use traditional Viking instruments, drone, and a female vocalist who truly sounds like an evil Enya (thanks, Matt) to explore Norse history. I was with a Norwegian friend who translated some of the lyrics involving trolls and forests. Or, as they put it:
Musically, the main focus is on recreating the Norse cultic musical language and the near forgotten arts of galder and seidr, as well as the daily acts of life. This is mixed with impulses from Norwegian/Nordic folk music and music from other indigenous cultures.
The performance took place at the old Olso opera house, the Folketeateret, a gorgeous space decked out with Art Decco glass, boxes lined with crushed velvet, a vast and creamy ceiling, etc. Imagine that space with all this accessorizing — and a flashing light show — happening inside of it.
I figured I’d go to sleep after that — because what’s going to top it? — but NYC’s biggest Wardruna enthusiast convinced me to go with him to an after party (“Brandon, what would Gaahl do?”) where he pulled out dance moves he’d invented in Oslo but that shouldn’t stay in Oslo. At 5:30 we wandered through the snow back to the hotel, just in time to organize our things and hop on the plane.