Park life (and the living is easy)
Festival season is about many things. For centuries now we seem to have agreed that hey, maybe let’s get together and have fun for a few days? Maybe do something religious, while getting shit-faced round the camp fire each night of course. There’s a definite path from Chaucer’s bawdy 1470s Canterbury Tales that somehow inevitably leads to Vice’s “We spent 4 days getting high at Coachella with CharlieXCX – here’s what went down”.
With this historic mission in mind, Alex Mayor and Thomas Venker checked out Norway’s ØyaFestival scene for Kaput.
But if most modern pop festivals are just another occasion to lose your mind in a distant field while compromising your personal hygiene standards in a consensual atmosphere, a select few events have found a more delightful way to have fun.
At Øya Festival in Oslo they’ve hit on the formula: a massive party in a city park, a rolling green and sculpted environment that’s somehow a metaphor for a bill that can bring you Chic and Belle & Sebastian on the same stage within 3 hours of each other. Or Courtney Barrnett’s poetic hard-rocking followed by the witty swagger of Norway’s Sondre Lerche some 90 minutes later.
Up the hill and some teenagers seem to be having their first ever dancefloor smooch to, of all things, Moodymann’s hilariously eclectic set. It’s somehow very Øya – bringing together a dab of Depeche Mode, a nip of Nirvana, all washed down by some smooth house and soul. In a park it seems the musical approach is a vast picnic spread.
In fact, blur your eyes a little and it’s possible to believe you’re just at one of those ultra-cool weddings, (where for some reason I just don’t happen to know the bride and groom?) After the industrial fun machine of some festivals Øya feels delightfully scaled, almost like the whole city was invited.
Shamir’s first day set captures the mood perfectly, winning over the crowd with his naïf 80s New York dance party. The Norwegian crowd is first bemused then charmed as the sun beats down on a bunch of killer tunes that’s seem to have fallen out of a mid-80s Prince side project. And oh, that voice and charm!
Twenty minutes and only 100 metres later, we are being sonically flayed alive by Enslaved’s metal rain before the night gives way to the slinky hips of Caribou and their genius mixture of drone-pop and hi-voiced-euphoria.
How to end this sun-baked brilliance? It’s only day one and the entire park proceeds to lose its collective sh*t to Chic’s history of awesome pop. Speaking to a few of the 2x-ers in the crowd it’s clear that everyone kind of knows this is the show to be at, but can’t quite place “Chic” as a thing. However, such is its DNA of pop, every single song sparks up euphoria and looking up the hill at all the dancing smiles I can only think that all parks should have a Nile Rodgers bandstand. By law, for the good of the people.
So high set standards have already been set for the days to come. Standards which Sunn O))) easily live up to the next midday. Maybe they hit the spot even harder in the dark night of this year’s Primavera Festival where 20.000 howled liked wolves at the moon with them. But really, these drone masters could turn planets inside out when they get going, and their sonic expanse seems to be channelling the very energy of the sun that continues to beat down beautifully all day.
The sounds may have nothing in common, but this fascination for music’s deep patterns is shared with Danish electronic producer Courtesy who rocks the HiFi tent. Najaaraq Nicoline Vestbirk builds up her nicely danceable set from a wide knowledge of electronic music, from minimal composer to techno’s hard-pushers, finding her own language and attitude.
Her friends Smerz are up next, delicate voiced, it’s soul music from an electronic planet… There’s a charm to it, inner feelings bubbling up to the surface, some clever programming, but will these become classics? In the hot of the Oslo afternoon maybe it was too glacial for us…
A short gambol down the hillside and somehow we’ve gone 20 years back in time as Bad Religion take to the stage. For old fans it seems to be a nostalgic moment… but compared to the level of some bands we’ve already seen the show lacks a bit of charisma and energy.
Not, it must be agreed, something you can say about Ride. It’s a taut and reverent performance of their old material, but in this era of the endless comeback someone should also have a “classic band” also needs “classic songs” – against such a strong bill a lot of their material sounds strangely underpowered. The 5 minute feedback finale cheers us up here, but who is not able to come up with that, right?
In what must have been one of the festival’s unapproachable highlights the lounge lizard king Father John Misty literally swaggers onto the stage and proceeds to make love to the entire audience for an hour. From the opening bars of “I love you honeybear” FJM and band proceed to establish their place in Norway’s heart. Coming off like an American Jarvis Cocker, with a need to fall in love with every face upon the ToyenPark hillside, this is entertainment with a capital “E”. You’ve got a new best friend and a deadly sexual rival.
They say a good relationship is about strength in adversity, and for Holly Herndon and her husband Mat Dryhurst (who contributes live computerised visuals to her sets) this adage gets sorely tested. With the fierce Oslo sunshine having seemingly melted the soul of Herndon’s computers mid-way through her set, the duo have to improvise for some 20 minutes. Her intriguing glitchy techno-chanson had been transfixing, but with the vocal processor all hot and bothered Mat starts a one-way monologue from his computer filling the LCD wall behind them with the increasingly Dada utterances. It’s a moment of unexpected humour and keeps the crowd in the tent, waiting, waiting until finally the laptop chills out enough to get the set back on track. “This can just be our little secret” Mat writes as the music kicks back in.
Over the other side of the park, IloveMakonnen doesn’t have too much technology to worry about. His DJ simply cuts in and out one classic hiphop track after the other, from Dr. Dre to Gang Starr before the man himself enters the stage, looking like a ‘C-class’ dealer from the East side. The Rolex and Chanel might be fake at this point, but when the beats and rhymes start kicking from his tongue it’s really rather entertaining.
How did Paddy McAloon put it in that Prefab Sprout classic “Devil Came A-Calling”? Ah, I remember: “My memory is hazy, I’m sure that I declined.” Can’t think of better words to describe what “went down” Thursday night at Oslo’s Jaeger club under the musical direction of Mister Derrick Carter. Once again Chicago House music led us into the light.
Future Islands set was a marvellous example of the manic in music. Sam Herring and cohorts’ set is a consistent slinky madness, his infamous onstage dancing a bizarrely charismatic spectacle that keeps the crowd right where he wants them. Herring’s Walter-Matthau-directed-by-David-Lynch peacher’s growl is bathed in mid-afternoon light giving everything even more of a strange churchy atmosphere.
On the amphitheatre stage for Friday night’s closer, “Beck’s back” might cover the current state of mind of the great man. With recent albums like Morning Phase fairly reflective in tone it’s easy to forget that he was once the genre-hopping wunderkind. Not tonight though. Once through the more recent material the old Beck, playing up his possible, probable, Norwegian heritage, turns back the clock for the party jams of Midnite Vultures and Odelay.
Coming after Nile Rodger’s own peerless showmanship 2 days earlier, this is another Øya highlight – Beck reappearing in a southern disco gentleman’s all white suit for a massive slowjam of “Debra” and “Where It’s At”, freestyling bits of Christopher Cross’s “sailing” into the mix just for laughs. A joyous thing from Mr Hansen.
There are hundreds of festivals in Europe at this point and your humble correspondents attend a fair few of them. But it would be fair to say this is one of the best.
And perhaps the hidden star of the show is Oslo itself. Its laidback friendly civilisation, its sun always low in the sky. Indeed, its green and pleasant parks make this more a massive artful garden party than one of those 3-days-in-a-field horrors that you just about survive. And when you come, be sure to explore. Nature’s still a daily part of the experience here and Oslo is ringed by beautiful forests, islands, and of course the sea. Those timeless things that our ancestors decided it was worth inventing festivals and holidays for in the first place.