Nor-wave Goodbye To Oslo: Stereogum @ Øya 2006

One thing to know about Oslo: Most people are honest (except cabbies), friendly (except customs agents), extremely beautiful (no exceptions), and obsessed with the export of their arts. So Øya is ostensibly an international festival, drawing on credible, on-the-rise indie acts (Cold War Kids, The Knife, Midlake) and legendary industry stalwarts (Morrissey, Yoko Ono, Beck) alike. But after a few “casual” conversations, the agenda is clear; there are a slew of Norwegian acts that you must check out. And after being disappointed by four or five of these “must-see” sets, it becomes pretty clear that either these Norsemen are behind anything that is done competently (and without regard to quality, which is the only explanation for the adoration for an act like Heroes and Zeros), or these “Oslo folk” are just really great salespeople.

But the weekend was not without its share of Norwegian acts worth talking about. I’ve already mentioned 120 Days, a Band To Watch in a literal sense; few acts seemed ready for export, but — like ‘em or not — those kids will be on these shores soon. Brandon anointed New Violators his favorite Norwegian find and — after taking a listen to their melodic and urgent new wave (and later running into lead man Per Borten, whose personal style was accurately described to me as being the love child of Morrissey and Vanilla Ice) — I gotta say that the man who gave Apologies To The Queen Mary a 9.2 may be on to something.

New Violators – “Burma” (MP3)


My favorite “discovery” was the Norse, noise outfit Noxagt, now three albums deep with Load Records. Highly recommended by the guys in Serena-Maneesh, Brandon, and others I’d run into, Noxagt’s latest turn was to trade their viola for guitar, and build their factory-sludge rock around recognizable riffs (rather than strict tonal chaos). The word I heard is that Thurston Moore has given this band his blessing as first-rate purveyors of “noise” (and I tend not to argue with Mr. Moore). Here’s a sample of their machine-grind detonations. (Warning: Not for everyone.)

Noxagt – “Soft Sugar” (MP3 Link Expired)


Stereogum hearts The Whitest Boy Alive’s Dreams, and this was one of my most anticipated sets in Oslo. Unfortunately, it was a let down; nothing about this music must be experienced live! The lo-fi, four-note funk jams stretch on for ages, and the set just felt like the same twenty-second phrase on repeat. Beginning as an electronica outfit and slowly evolving into a fully live, sleepy-eyed pop-funk band, The Whitest Boy Alive is a dish best served on your iPod. But we still love you, Erland Øye!


The rest of the Norwegians were a mixed bag. Enslaved is one of Norway’s finer black metal acts, but I felt vaguely uncomfortable every time those ginormous Norsemen would scream indecipherable couplets at me with their wild, blue eyes. But then, their lead guitarist was just a spiral Les Paul away from being a dead ringer for Zakk Wylde. So I forgave them.


I had to check out Marit Larsen for a minute ’cause she came highly recommended (and ’cause her name is an anagram of mine!). After said minute, I got the skinny and moved on; sunny pop stylings (reminiscent of the The Corrs), with a happy-Alanis vocal and an angelic smile. Awww.


I bounced over to the Sjøsiden Stage for the high octane glam-punk of Silver, an award winning Norwegian act fronted by Emil Nikolaisen’s brother. Think Skid Row and Guns N’ Roses. Leather, smoke, and (I assume) berating your audience, and them loving ya back.


And finally, the nine-piece Jaga Jazzist, who were proficient and at times inspired, but a bit too new agey in their prog-jazz leanings for my tastes this weekend.


And now to the rest of the world’s acts. You guys got it right with Spank Rock. When people say half-baked shit like “he brings the party” when describing an artist, I tend to get skeptical. But not only did Naeem make all of our “dicks turn racist,” he kept a fist-pumping party going through pelting, frigid rain — through sick mic-spitting and deft dance-moves alone! This level of enthusiasm was otherwise absent festival-long (and came from a crowd composed of the same folks that would later show their adoration for Morrissey through reserved smiles and over-enunciated sing-alongs). Spank Rock indeed brought the party.

Spank Rock – “Rick Rubin” (MP3 Link Expired)


One of the most anticipated (and adulated) sets of the weekend came from Swedish siblings Olof and Karin of The Knife. A trip to their webpage bills the Silent Shout tour as “An Audio Visual Experience,” and that is no lie. The duo remains behind a black-tinted scrim for the show’s duration, with futuristic (and abstract) images projected from both sides. Some will scream “Blue Man Group!” and, frankly, they’ll be right. But the body-paint-and-neon mixed with the jittery dance moves and inhuman detachment work with the Swedes’ “mysterious” aura (and awesome material). I hear the duo only intended on playing five shows as The Knife; Øya marked their eighth already, and their first US show at Webster Hall will be the twelfth. This means that we Americans are very lucky; “Heartbeats” will kill any (and every) crowd it meets, and I’m sure that the upcoming indoor-club dates will be well-loved bouts of art-school worship and reefer madness.


Liars put on one of the best sets of the fest, so I made sure to delete the photos. Just a few days before at the Pitchfork party, Angus Andrews was with long locks and nearly naked, but he turned up in Norway sporting a three-piece suit and a preppy cut, providing paradoxical imagery to the twisted, tribal rants of the “Mt. Heart Attack” and “Drum” variations. Few were there to enjoy it, however, siding with the tail end of !!!‘s jetlagged set (again, deleted photos).

I caught up with Cold War Kids at various points in time and place all over Oslo, including the tiny Vika stage at Øya. Holy shit were they good. When we first told you guys to watch out for ‘em, we did so somewhat tentatively for fear of backlash and over-hype. Now, with a sweet deal on Downtown Records, some great new songs, an ever-improving live show, and a full length on the way, let it be known that they are the real fucking deal. They even take requests in hotel bars!


This was my fourth time with Hot Chip, and I’m beginning to suspect that there’s no burning out on this band’s live set. And although I loved it, Alexis later told Kris (aka the man who signed Mr. Yorke) and I that he felt the Seaport Show (with LCD Soundsystem’s Pat on the kit) was one of the best they’d done to date. Scott and I missed it ’cause of Lolla, but I told the Hot Chippers that y’all told us it was a dance party.


After the jump, Twilight Singers, Doveman, Yoko Ono, Beck, Love Is All, Wrens, and much möre!

Greg Dulli of the Afghan Whigs brought his Twilight Singers for some festivalen, but it was when Screaming Trees’ Mark Lanegan joined on tunes like “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” that the set became memorable. That, my friends, is a baritone with presence.


Øya also served as an ideal place to catch up with Thomas Bartlett (aka Doveman), in town as keyboard player for one Yoko Ono. Spending time with Thomas was a riot ’cause he’d say things like “Yoko?s all about the love this time” — and be speaking from experience! In addition to the perils of being flown first class to play in Yoko’s backing band (with ex-members of Skeleton Key), Thomas is busy lending his keyboard skills to The National for their upcoming record, playing bass for The Frames on their upcoming tour, gearing up for the Brassland re-release of Stereogum favorite The Acrobat, working on the follow-up to that amazing record, and succeeding in making me feel like a very lazy blogger.


Yoko’s set was much as Thomas warned us it would be: heavy on spoken-word performance-sets, political (at one point Yoko rocked an agreeable Abu Grahib hood while holding up a peace sign), and frightfully energetic for being lead by a woman of seventy-three years. The band forged ahead with a deep pocket (and Thomas took a great piano-turn in interpreting Lennon’s guitar solo on “Walking On Thin Ice”) but a set like this isn’t assessed on the merits of the backing band. I’ll just say that I hope I have Yoko?s energy when I?m a septagenarian.


Beck was at his Scientological best, hitting Øya with a puppet show, that silly dancer dude, and some songs that surprisingly hit the spot. The band crushed “Black Tamborine,” and in listening to the Odelay cuts performed later, I remembered when that sound seemed so inventive, and dismayed at how it’s become so generic. You could say that’s a testament to his creative genius — to take something radical and make it commonplace –but really it’s a testament to the music industry’s willingness to hop a rad sound and drive it into the ground.


And yet, despite all of these acts new and old, the single greatest set of the entire Oslo experience came at the last night’s after party, when Love Is All burned down the John Dee’s club through 40 minutes of frenetic, buoyant pop. We’ve raved about their live show before. Just know this; it wasn’t a fluke. They are so. Much. Fun.


The Wrens followed that set with some kick-ass energy of their own, and I ran into a rambunctious Tim Harrington stage side. “You’re a long way from McCarren Pool, dude,” he said. True, Tim. Very true.


I’d definitely suggest going to Oslo. It’s a lovely city with a deep love for music. Just be prepared for ten dollar falafels and fourteen dollar beers. And if you’re serious about making the trip, but wouldn’t know where to get the skinny on the emerging artist scene, we have an upcoming post that will uncover the city’s hidden gems with an eminently qualified tourguide.