Nordic Tracking: Oya Festival, Day 1

August 17, 2010

Once I had to babysit six 12-year-old girls at Warped Tour. The job was for close to twelve hours and I only got paid about forty dollars. It was hot, water was expensive and I had to nurse at least one girl back to hydration out of my own pocket—so when confronted with outdoor summer music festivals, there is always this latent malaise harkening back to that experience. That sentiment has now been completely overridden by how totally pleasant it is to attend the Oya Festival. I am accustomed to the usual fare of hot dogs and hamburgers, impossibly long lines for beer going hand-in-hand with a one-per-customer rule and a two-to-one ratio of trash to people. This is not the case at the Oslo institution. They serve potent thai curry! You can order a carrying case of five pint-sized plastic cup of Ringens (Norway's standard brew)! There were booths set up for people to exchange heaps of theirs and others refuse for kroner, making the space strangely clean! I was a little disturbed at first to see children running around the grounds wearing massive neon-colored headsets to protect their little ears, stacking up plastic pints. But then to find that they were being awarded for their good deeds and not hired under some 'lax labor law shit, I was happy to pass on my fallen soldiers for their gain. All of these things were a big surprise.

One festival non-surprise? Mud. Lots of mud. August is also a particularly cold and rainy month in Oslo, so the wet earth was to be expected—but on day one, the skies were open particularly wide for the first few hours. It was close to torrential when Fucked Up took the stage. Their set was a particularly radical display that Damian Abraham is a man of the people. Instead of using the moderate shelter of the stage, Abraham jumped off to splay himself across his fans, mitigating the distance between him and them created by the barricade and, ultimately, fully ingratiated himself into the audience. One of the sound guys dragged the microphone cord across the stage, mirroring Abraham's back and forth, giving him more lead as he went further in to the crowd. Did I mention he was shirtless in a see-through rain poncho? He was shirtless in a see-through rain poncho. And after singing to a kid in a Teen Wolf shirt, he yelled, "Nothing weird about a shirtless dude hanging out with a kid in a Teen Wolf shirt, right?" and then ripped the thing right off of his body. Punk's not dead! Thank you, Canada!

But I'm not that punk, so I went to the tented stage—Klubben—to see what Sleigh Bells were up to. Klubben was certainly club-like—dark, flashing lights, orbital projections. The thought of this space at an outdoor festival taking place somewhere with a humid climate is so appalling, but was so warmly welcomed considering the Olso chill. I don't want to give the rain too much credit, but I think it was too blame for the lack of freakout during Sleigh Bells' set. They are know for electro spasms and their audience was racked in docility. It also just wasn't loud enough. When the industrial slams of "Tell 'Em" begin, I want to be filled with concern that I won't be able to hear quite right for the rest of the day. Didn't happen and neither did that much dancing.

At the main stage, it was hard to get a full view of the crowd unless you were sitting in the Oya International section—a grassy knoll that separated us media folk from the rest of a festival by shallow moat. While it was a hub for the majority of the festival, the first day's downpour made it an unfavorable place to watch bands. I don't know what the response was like in the front for Iggy and the Stooges, but there were an exceptional few who took Iggy's invitation to dance on stage. When their slam session was over, Iggy said, "Even with all the oil money, there are still punk kids willing to dance with The Stooges." Rock ’n' roll's higher powers willing, we will all have the same energy that Iggy will have until he falls down dead, mid-hip twist, screaming "Shake Appeal" at age 462.

MIA closed out the main stage and sounded amazing. She ran through a medley of her Arular and Kala joints and broke down "XXXO" into crucial '90s bar/bat mitzvah jam "I Like to Move It" by Reel 2 Real and Gyptian's "Hold Yuh." With TruffleFryGate and all the bad press surrounding her recent live performances still imbuing most people's expectations of what an MIA set would be like, she really turned it out and was hyper-self-aware in a really slick and almost charming way. When she stepped behind the DJ booth, she assured the crowd that she wasn't Googling herself and didn't get angry, just moved on, when people weren't singing along at her request. But she still included the people who were really happy to be there. She and Rye Rye, playing hypewoman, requested a small number of girls to dance on stage—a nod to another recent debacle at the Big Chill Festival in the UK—and stream their hands through her lasers, which played sounds when touched.

Other notable light shows: Strobe assault during Norwegian metal dudes, Shining, and the sun going down right before Ariel Pink's set, making the magenta lights look mystic.

Nordic Tracking: Oya Festival, Day 1