When Patti Smith co-headlined Øya Festival in Oslo at the weekend, the crowd was a proffering of adoration before she even sang her first note. When she jumped, they jumped, when she performed seminal tracks like ‘Horses’ and ‘People Have the Power’, they let the momentousness of the occasion wash over them.
Not only was this set by one of music’s original riot grrrls a timely reminder that it’s okay to rail against the patriarchy, with around 60,000 punters attending over the entire four festival days (approx. 15,000 per day), it was an intimate affair with one of music’s last living legends.
But while 71-year-old Patti commanded the stage and put many of her contemporaries to shame, a colossal sea of zealous bodies had amassed on the other side of the festival grounds at Tøyen Park. They spilled as far back as the bathrooms and filled much of the space reserved for an adjacent stage.
They were there to see Cezinando, a breakthrough Nordic pop artist with a #1 album recorded almost entirely in Norwegian.
Cezinando’s debut record Noen Ganger Og may have topped Norway’s local chart and had two tracks synced to the country’s top-rated webseries Skam, but just seven years into his career, he’s far from locking in arena tours. So why was this 23-year-old given the mainstage headline slot to showcase his largest stage production yet? Because as is now tradition, each year Øya Festival organisers give the coveted spot to a local emerging artist.
Øya Festival may be renowned for its big-name international lineups – this year featured Kendrick Lamar, St. Vincent, Arcade Fire, Arctic Monkeys, Grizzly Bear and Fever Ray, to name a few – but the concentration is feverishly on local Scandinavian talent; and judging by the mass sing-alongs and sardine-packed mosh pits, attendees wouldn’t have it any other way.
Local acts like Sløtface, Smerz, Halie, Great News, Boy Pablo, Fieh, Emir, Sassy 009 and Gundelach all drew mass crowds.
Sassy 009, named after member Sunniva’s SoundCloud profile name, took ‘flute solo’ to a new level on Day One of the festival. The Norwegian trio took out the Best New Act Award at last year’s by:Larm music and showcase conference in Oslo; now, onstage with the kind of dark playfulness that only Scandis can get away with, the trio who at first created dance tracks using a pirated version of Logic Pro X are ready for the world stage.
Tracks like ‘Are You Leaving’ and ‘Pretty Baby’ weren’t just your average summer crush soundtracks (although the parallels are apposite); more than that, Teodora, Sunniva and Johanna have crafted a live show that’s as intriguing as the dance dreamscapes they deliver.
Watch Sassy009’s clip for ‘Are You Leaving’ below:
Kai Gundelach, aka Norwegian DJ-turned-solo-wunderkind Gundelach, may make electro pop with a bass that reminds you where your ribcage is, but he’s clearly an R&B fan. Headlining Day One in the same time slot as Arctic Monkeys, the 29-year-old introvert filled the Sirkus tent with a new production not even his most zealous fans have seen yet.
An extended onstage lineup, a blue light show that delineated the at times wintry elements of his sound with the smooth, soul of his music mentors – and a cameo from hotly tipped local artist ARY – Gundelach became a highlight for many after the gates closed later in the week.
On Day Two, Norway-born, Copenhagen-based duo Smerz made up for their diminutive stature by masterfully filling the stage. First, two bleached blonde, tan oiled, shirtless men joined Catharina Stoltenberg and Henriette Motzfeldt onstage to do chin-ups and pull-ups for the crowd. Then later the pair hosted a catwalk-style installation showing off all body types and genders.
The stunts didn’t take away from Smerz as a concept however; with their sparse take on dark electro-pop right at the forefront, the duo’s vocals were minimalist yet danceable, letting their production cut straight to the audience’s own interpretation.
Australians latched on to Norwegian four-piece Sløtface quite early on. Their debut Australian tour last year saw them play to crammed venues in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne – but watching a hometown show proved just how avid their fanbase is.
It wouldn’t be a Sløtface show if it wasn’t full of feminism and intertextuality. Easing the growing crowd in with the interlude to ‘Dancing On My Own’ – a tip of the hat to fellow Scandi Robyn who just released her first new song in eight years – the band’s lyric “Patti Smith would never put up with this shit” (from ‘Magazine’) couldn’t have been more fitting. Dressed in a power suit, vocalist Haley Shea beat her mic to her chest, encapsulating teenage ennui in a way only synchronous to the fans screaming along with her.
It’s within our interest to take note of the aforementioned. Scandinavia is responsible for global exports like Björk, Avicii, Lykke Li, Robyn, Aurora, Highasakite, Sigrid, Little Dragon MØ, Tove Styrke, The Knife, Miike Snow, Röyksopp, Icona Pop (hell, even ABBA and Ace of Base); many of which played Øya Festival in their formative years. They have since gone on to win Swedish Grammys, International Dance Music Awards, place in the Billboard 200, sell out arenas, headline Coachella and even take out BRIT Awards.
As an industry, Norway and its culture hub Oslo in particular has long been looked to for its progressive initiatives and ethos. Before environmental impact was a focus for Australian festivals, Øya Festival was feeding its punters from edible bowls made of grains. Before the #MeToo movement took down a cavalcade of band members from the punk and hardcore scene, Norway had brought in gender quotas at a board level. And while global festivals give overseas acts special treatment and pole position, Øya Festival flips the switch every August and still sells out.
The global industry as a whole could learn a lot from Norway, not least of which to understand that an authentic investment in local talent isn’t just patriotic, it’s a financial investment with an attractive ROI.
Steve Jobs once said: “If you want to understand what’s going to happen in the next five years, you don’t look to the mainstream, you look at the fringe.”