Organised annually in Norway, the by:Larm music conference and festival is the highlight of the year for the Nordic music industry. SixDegrees went along to find out just what it is that’s bringing so many people together.
WITH subzero temperatures and the high cost of, well, everything, Oslo may not feel like the most hospitable place for a winter music festival. But with all of the gigs taking place in venues within walking distance of each other, and the number of up and coming artists waiting to be discovered, this is most definitely the place to be if you’re into music.
The party has already started when I arrived in Oslo on Thursday evening. Streets are filled with people heading to gigs or just taking in the atmosphere of the Nordic capital of music in which the city has turned into – at least for the duration of by:Larm.
The festival is packed with an overwhelming number of gigs, and the artists have all been delegated two half-hour slots to make the most of. I’ve pinned down a few “must sees” while leaving time to stumble upon bands I may never have heard of. After setting down my bag at the hotel, I head to the first concert that I want to catch: Danish singer Agnes Obel.
Walking through the slushy streets of Norway’s capital, I find my way to Kulturkirken Jakob (literally “Culture Church Jakob”), an old church turned into a concert space. The setting is perfect for the serene voice of Obel, accompanied by the grand piano along with a little help from her friend who swaps between the cello and acoustic guitar. There could hardly have been a better beginning for the festival than this.
Once Obel wraps up, it’s time for Norwegian Jenny Hval whose performance is unlike any I’ve seen. The vocals are filled with incredibly sudden changes in scale and interesting lyrics, to say the least. In the following day’s festival magazine she is declared a genius – yet it seems that you either love her or find her music completely incomprehensible. I’m not entirely sure which of the aforementioned groups I belong to, but I do find myself sneaking out before the gig ends along with a bunch of other confused looking music lovers.
On my way towards to the main festival tent in the heart of Oslo, where back-to-back concerts take place on two stages, I stumble upon a gig by another local band Montée playing pleasing enough pop to a sizeable crowd. But they don’t manage to hold my interest for long and soon I find myself out in the cold again.
Finally finding my way to the tent, I step in just as the bizarrely magnificent local duo Ost & Kjex begin their show. A combo of electro and funk with the support of an eight strong gospel choir, this is a unique occurrence I’m happy to have witnessed. The duo keep the full tent entertained with a sea of people dancing their hearts out in front of the stage – and could’ve easily kept the party going for much longer than 30 minutes.
As by:Larm is a festival by night and seminar by day, on Friday I decide to sit in on a few lectures to see what the people behind all that music are talking about. The first seminar I attend is held by Jonathan Forster from Spotify – yes, the very same Jonathan whose voice you’ve heard countless times if you use the free version of the service.
With the company having expanded to Norway only three months prior, the talk is very much concentrated on local issues, and fair enough. With rumours floating around of more expansions in future, someone pops the inevitable question – to which Forster answers that Spotify is planning to take over the world, but one thing at a time. After this I listen to a talk with Simon Napier-Bell, the music biz legend from Bella Union records. Soon it’s time to grab some lunch, however, and prepare for the evening.
The first gig I see tonight is by Pascal Pinon, a group of very young Icelandic girls who play innocently cute pop songs. The lead singer keeps the crowd smiling with her quirky humour and endearing presence, and they don’t sound bad at all – but gosh they look young!
From here I step across the road to the tent and catch a few songs by Margaret Berger, a local songstress who has reappeared after some years of silence. She plays catchy pop that reminds me a little of Robyn.
Next it’s time to see what our Finnish boys French Films have in store for the crowd. The venue they play at is a dark basement and it’s jam-packed with people. The boys enter the stage true to their image with one of them in Ray-Ban’s – who cares if you can’t see as long as you look good! They take the crowd in with tons of energy and everyone seems to be having a blast. “Hyvä Suomi,” someone calls out and I can’t help but feel a little proud.
Later on I catch Niki & The Dove and fail to squeeze into the packed venue where Thelma & Clyde are about to play. Gutted about that, but luckily it allows me to see another Finnish group, Zebra and Snake, who put on a decent show of their own.
The final day has arrived, but nothing is over yet. The first gig I witness is by the hyped local band Deathcrush who play at a much-too-small-a-venue for their music, which just about blows the windows off the building. Powerful stuff.
From here it’s across the road to the tent again to see local phenomena 22, whose live performance is truly unique with a ton of energy and even more strobe lights. Next up it’s back to the cold and towards the Rockefeller venue to take a peak at the Danish outfit Treefight for Sunlight; a group that plays happy elaborate indie pop that has been compared to the likes of MGMT and The Flaming Lips.
Soon I find myself lining up to get in to see local band Brighton. The temperature is way below zero, so I’m hoping standing in the cold will be worth it – and it really is. Brighton play pleasant indie pop, dressed in a band uniform of a shirt and black tie – they look and sound great.
Last, but most definitely not least, I head to the Sentrum Scene to witness the ever so popular Swedish threesome Peter, Bjorn and John. With one of the biggest venues at the festival packed to its capacity they deliver a performance filled with incredible energy. Their hit Young Folks makes the crowd go wild, what a shame they weren’t delegated a longer slot.
So the weekend has come to an end and I’m near to overdosing on music – if that’s possible! With more than 20 gigs down, it will take a while to process it all. Thank you Oslo, I had a blast!
By:Larm festival took place 17-19 February 2011 in Oslo.