Some things you’ve probably heard about Oslo: It’s really cold and it’s really expensive. These things are both true, but neither are as bad as you expect until you’re standing outside the most upscale 7-11 you’ve ever seen eating a pizza wrap you just realized cost you seven dollars and the snow is more or less literally slapping your eyeballs. But it’s also a place where people seem really excited about live music—any live music.
For this year’s By:Larm festival—essentially a Norwegian version of New York’s CMJ that showcases local bands both huge and tiny—everyone converged at the same hotel to spend their days walking around the city in a confused daze (just me?), and their nights catching a combination of mostly completely alien bands (probably still just me).
From outside my hotel window I can see what looks like to be a12 floor mall with an H&M at the top (there are more H&Ms and 7-11s in downtown Oslo than I have ever seen in any other city ever).
Here’s a picture of an old looking ship and a cliff:
The first band I caught was Fontan, who are on Information—the label of relaxed Gothenburg based space disco/beach rock dudes Studio. They played at the top of a tall building with the slowest elevators ever. Only six people were allowed in at a time, and each elevator took somewhere around five minutes to get to the top and come back down to the bottom. A lot of people opted for rushing the stairs, arriving breathlessly at the top just in time to witness three dudes on stage at the back of a purple hued room looking like they were playing in three different bands. All the way on the left a guy in glasses hunched over a Korg like he was studying for a final exam. A quick scan of the stage meant you’d miss him—instead catching the man in the middle, wearing only a too-big white t-shirt and a black beanie pounding at a drum machine with tiny glowing sticks and next to him the kind of guy you find at the back of any guitar store shredding the same endless guitar solo on a combination double bass/guitar. Somehow between the three of them they managed to take Studio’s already dynamic sound and beef it up. It made it a little proggier, sure. There were more guitar fireworks, an occasional gong, a lot of sampled whooshes of wind. All that combined with the site of the snow shooting horizontally across the sky made for a pretty intense moment. But even if it had been awful, every band plays for just 30 minutes, just enough time to make a decision about how you feel before it’s over.
From there it was on to Sentrum Scene, a much larger venue, to catch Supersilent. I got there a little bit early and caught some of Pow Pow who apparently look a lot like Cold Cave on stage. Also the first 15 seconds of all their songs happen to sound like Cold Cave as well.
Supersilent, on the other hand, were pretty much 30 minutes of dudes going nuts nonstop. I didn’t get any pictures because it was dark the whole time. I was also sitting down. Also my eyes were closed. It was that kind of show. Once gothic organ drones were overpowering layers of skittering drums I lost track of time, got up to go to the bathroom, came back and it was over. I’d missed the conclusion. The only bright side is that I discovered there’s an apparently pretty legendary band called The Dumdum Boys. Do the Dum Dum Girls know about this? I took a picture in the bathroom, which, in retrospect, was a weird thing to do.
Right next door, the awesome, vaguely assholeish (in a good way!) British music newspaper The Stool Pigeon was throwing their showcase. Ungdomskulen played last. They sounded like a less technically proficient Mars Volta and one of their guitarists was very small and wore a bright sequined shirt. Once they tighten up, their live show will be pretty ridiculous, but for right now they look like they spend more time practicing in the mirror than actually practicing their instruments. Still wildly entertaining though.