Blagging It At By:Larm Festival, Norway’s Answer To SXSW

No thermals, one pair of £15 jeans, two crappy jumpers, a lot of pickled fish and one piece of cured reindeer heart: it’s official, Brits abroad can survive sub-zero temperatures (minus 10… in the muthafuckin’ daytime) and weird Nordic culinary staples with absolutely no pre-planning whatsoever.

Admittedly, I had realised before going to by:Larm festival in Oslo that Norway wasn’t gonna be that hot. But I didn’t exactly anticipate it being the kind of place where body spray warms you up.

The Megaphonic Thrift (picture by Bjørnar Håland).

So what was I doing there, all under-prepared? Well, by:Larm is sort of like a Scandinavian cross between SXSW and Camden Crawl, but with a hell of a lot of British media rather than rowdy locals and/or music fans. While those with a penchant for sitting in uncomfortable seats listening to journalists blather about why the profession is doomed can slit their wrists at endless conferences called things like ‘Wristmarketing – The next generation of festival wristbands’, there’s also a lot of fun stuff to do too while by:Larm takes over the city.

Oslo’s a pretty tiny capital (pop: 500,000), and the festival essentially crams as many up-and-coming Scandi bands into its 20+ venues as possible over a three/four day period. There is, obviously, a lot of shit. By far the band we saw most people going mental for was Lars Vaular, whose horrendous cod-rap single ‘Solbriller på’ – an ode to wearing sunglasses on the walk of shame home (see below) – is massive out here, for some reason.

Scary, huh? Anyways, aside from novelty (c)rap, it’s mainly cutesy elfin-like women, blippy geeks and big fat burly metal bastards who make these parts (sort of) famous musically. In the big fat metal department this year were Altaar, who feature ex JR Ewing singer Andreas Tylden.

Essentially they’re a bunch of doom metal and Phillip Glass obsessives with a penchant for massive white candles as stage props (we get an entire row of those bollard-like ones from Ikea at their Samfunnsalen gig). Add to that some of the most hilarious slow moshing ever, and a completely unexpected turn from a freeform saxophonist near the end of the set, and Tylden and his mates are surely onto a winner.

Altaar (picture by Brian Cliff Olguin).

Oh No Ono, who take to the stage a couple of acts after Altaar, seem to be the great white hopes of the festival, but fall way short. With a frontline threesome of impressionists/rip-off merchants to be cherished – from left to right we get a Klaxons obsessive, a Bowie (circa ‘Fame’) and an MGMT super-sub (complete with kaftan) – they do look the part. But it feels like they’re blagging it a little, and their so-so George Harrison-influenced ditties don’t really transcend on any level other than the one marked ‘going-through-the-motions’.

Danish newcomers Chimes And Bells, on the other hand, have no such trouble in rousing more than just a pulse from their audience. They’re signed to Bella Union and recently supported labelmates Beach House, who the lighter moments of their set definitely give a nod to.

There’s elements of Polly Harvey and Portishead in there too, but their songs are more drony and Velvets-inspired when stripped down. More than that, they look the part too – drinking beer and slouching around the stage. Maybe it’s because by:Larm is predominantly an industry-led event, but that sort of lax attitude seems to be a rarity here. I want more.

Elsewhere, Casiokids are merely ok. They seem been around so long now that they’ve surely missed the boat a bit (even though they are massive round these parts). Local guitar bloke Jens Carelius – with his seven-piece band – does a pretty decent Scandi-Scally stab of Coral-y/SFA stylee UK guitar-folk-pop, and Serena Maneesh – back about half a decade after the release of their debut album – sound like Sonic Youth and pack out the Sentrum Scene auditorium.

But it’s another Thurston Moore aping outfit, The Megaphonic Thrift (pictured at the top of this blog), who have something a bit more exciting about them.

They’re new, they look moody and pissed off and even though you can’t be in a band like that without being deemed at least slightly derivative, they’re big time fun. They do the loud-quiet-loud thing better than most, and – like the festival’s other big winners (for me, at least) Chimes And Bells – it’s nice to see a band who aren’t afraid to wear their influences on their shoulders – especially when they can actually pull it off musically.

So, that’s it. I made it back alive, I didn’t spend thousands of Norwegian krone on simply surviving (a Snickers here costs £2…a pint is about £7), and I don’t even seem to have picked up a cold either. Result! Bye bye, by:Larm!