Øya Festival

I Did the Unthinkable and Discovered New Music at a Festival

Øya in Oslo was the antidote to a summer of messy live experiences, and a perfect place to stumble across Norwegian acts.

by Tshepo Mokoena
15 August 2018, 10:00am

J Hus stage diving at Øya Festival 2018 (Photo by Ihne Pedersen)

For a minute, it felt as though the bubble had burst. Live music this summer seemed cursed. And that’s not because bookers haven’t nailed down great acts, from pop and electronic music at London’s Lovebox to Spotify’s Rap Caviar playlist made sentient at Wireless. But… surely I can’t be the only one who’s looked back on the UK festival season this year and found it peppered with more shit-show stories than usual?

The hottest summer in about 40 years would seem primed to background The Most Incredible Festival Experiences in Recent Memory. And yet. Instead, Camp Bestival was evacuated after torrential rain hit the site and threatened to wash away all the middle-class families’ festival-fortified baby buggies. People shared stories on social media of queuing for more than two hours for drinks at Festival Republic in London, or of struggling to even hear headliners Queens of the Stone Age and Liam Gallagher. You’d best describe the experience of exiting Citadel festival, relocated to west London for the first time, as “hellish carnage,” for which the festival later blamed Transport for London. The police shut down Brighton station after Britney Spears’ Pride performance. Wireless replaced a DJ Khaled headliner set with a 20-minute Drake one, months after people had bought their tickets.

So, frankly, lots of city festivals felt like a write-off. Accordingly, I ditched England and headed for Oslo’s Øya Festival. Running since 1999, the four-day event takes over the city’s Tøyen Park (relocated in 2014 from the Medieval Park, over in the capital’s centre) and combines an impressive line-up with a not-too-big and clean site. If you’re after the typical fest experience, of gurning teens, treacherous mosh pits, hours lost to drunken blackouts and faces sticky with Vaseline and glitter, you won’t find it at Øya. At times, while watching straight men clutch their girlfriends protectively during Kendrick Lamar or Brockhampton’s electrifying sets, I wanted to shake people’s shoulders and tell them it’s OK to let loose a bit. But, besides an incredible amount of confusion at the bars about what you can and cannot buy with one drink token (it’s a cash-free affair), you will find a well-oiled, if somewhat sedate, machine.

This year, headliners ran the gamut from Kendrick, Patti Smith and Lykke Li to Norwegian rap breakout star Cezinando and Arctic Monkeys. On smaller stages, Moses Sumney led the crowd through one of his signature sing-a-longs; St Vincent fucked shit up as she has continued to since last year’s Masseduction tour; Fever Ray exploded in a gender-bending dance party; Charlotte Gainsbourg and her band looked bored and nonchalant as hell while pumping out slick disco gloss and an unexpected Kanye cover. And all of that was great, but most of those acts I’d already seen, at various points in London. To take advantage of both the chance to see music in a language I can’t understand for shit, and the fact that porous and polite crowds made it really easy to push to the front of most sets, I sampled some of the music coming out of Norway too.

It’s a country that invests that sweet tax money in culture and the arts, which shows in the variety of acts seriously pursuing music (often young enough to make you question what exactly you were doing at 17). At Øya, a tiny stage called Biblioteket, tucked in an eastern corner of the festival site, put this all on display. “It's important for us to have a small stage,” says the festival’s incredibly smiley and warm founder, Claes Olsen, “where we can book the tiniest new local acts in order to give the new talent a chance – this without the pressure that comes with playing any of the bigger stages. Hopefully these acts will be discovered by some of the music industry or press that are present at the festival.” And I get it: you might not recognise a lot of names here. But every now and then, it’s great to boil the “festival experience” back down to what it used to mean, before braiding bars and mobile phone company-sponsored ferris wheels or whatever. There’s joy in discovering new music, seeing artists you’ve heard about online before or catching others that someone in a bar queue recommended to you in spontaneous conversation. Here are five Norwegian acts who made Øya shine.

girl in red

Who? Marie, a 19-year-old guitarist and singer who drew a frankly massive crowd to the festival’s Norway-focused Biblioteket stage on Saturday.

What do they sound like? Man, honestly like the boisterous energy of first-album Best Coast crossed with the introspective lyricism of Daughter. Marie’s break-out hit “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend” is an understated queer banger, as much as any acoustic guitar-led song can ever be called a banger. Live, she chucked herself into the crowd to stage dive as her band play on behind her during this one. I screamed “it’s lit” at least once.

Why should I care, though? Mental health has turned into a commodity in the music industry, but Marie writes about it with a deftness. Add to that how she openly sings about sexuality and love and insecurity and all the things that matter the most as you wobble through your teens and twenties, and you’ve got the makings of a star. She’s ace.

Start off listening to: Girls

Isak Shorty

Photo by Mathias Ertnæs

Who? An 18-year-old white rapper who looks about 12.

What do they sound like? Um, I don’t speak Norwegian so god knows what he’s saying, but Isak’s music sits somewhere near the Scandi interpretations of trap and ballad-leaning Soundcloud rap, capped with an ‘I can sing as well’ delivery. He played the Biblioteket stage on Wednesday, joined by a very enthusiastic hypeman, and worked his way through a set with his trademark on-the-beat flow.

Why should I care, though? Come for what looks like a child on the mic at their bar mitzvah, stay for his self-aware physicality and grin. The lad knows he’s tiny, but doesn’t care.

Start off listening to: Venna

Smerz

Photo by Johannes Granseth

Who? Smerz are 26-year-olds Henriette Motzfeldt and Catharina Stoltenberg, two XL-signed Norwegians who’ve decamped to Copenhagen as their career has taken off.

What do they sound like? A club scene from a dystopian futuristic drama, to be fair. Their music is experimental in genuinely exciting ways, jolting from sounding reminiscent of Tic and fka twigs’ jittery production on twigs’ debut EP one moment, then the techno throb of Yves Tumor the next. Playing on the Friday, their set hit at a perfect late-afternoon moment when you might have started to droop before the necessary energy boost of some dinner. A proper wake-up call.

Why should I care, though? These two look like they both give a shit about their art and know how to have fun with it. At one point, two people rolled out gym equipment on either side of the stage during their set. From the wings, two shirtless and glistening Scandi-Adonis men appeared, looking like they’d been submerged in Fenty Beauty Body Lava then pointed towards the festival. They proceeded to work out for the duration of a song, subverting the male gaze that every casual objectification of women’s bodies have made normal. It’s a perfect tongue-in-cheek distillation of how Smerz marry stage production value with the musical chops to back it up.

Start off listening to: Worth It

Boy Pablo

Photo by Anna Lerheim Ask

Who? Nicolas Pablo Muñoz, a 19-year-old guitarist-singer from Bergen who’s basically Norway’s answer to the lo-fi/bedroom pop craze of the last year or so.

What do they sound like? Sunshine, if sunshine were a person. Not unlike girl in red, Boy Pablo are all about distilling the general lovesickness and joy and embarrassment of being young. In their case though, Nicolas leans heavily on the jangly, borderline-out-of-tune guitar sound favoured by acts like Gus Dapperton in the US, and Rex Orange County in the UK. Like Clairo, Boy Pablo sonically look backwards – Nicolas got bang into 60s pop on YouTube while starting to write his own stuff – while pushing ahead too.

Why should I care, though? I mean, do you like happiness? If so, you’re good. If not, babe, you’ll probably find some comfort here too.

Start off listening to: Sick Feeling

Dutty Dior

Photo via PR

Who? Twenty-one-year-old rapper Kristoffer Eriemo, one of loads of artists who played a – low-key nepotism alert – VICE Norway festival afterparty on the Wednesday.

What do they sound like? It was so sweaty in Samfunnssalen, the ballroom-like venue repurposed from hosting banquets and conferences, that all I can really remember is a belly-wobbling bass. On a night like the one he played, Dutty Dior’s main challenge was to stand out: the line-up featured more than ten other names, after all. And his brand of playful trap-ish rap did the trick.

Why should I care, though? Let’s be real, a lot of mediocre rap floats around out there. As other countries have taken on the black American and Latinx genre, exporting it from the Bronx to the suburbs of just about any small town, it’s been diluted by some along the way. There’s a fine line between taking on a genre from outside your country, and slipping into imitative minstrelsy. But Dutty Dior has flow and a charisma that translates across the language barrier I’m trying to peek over. He’s one to watch, and well worth seeing in person.

Start off listening to: Famous

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