Charli XCX, Drenge, Sleaford Mods and more take on Norwegian festival
Tønsberg is an orderly, unassuming place 60 miles south of Oslo that’s thought to be the oldest town in Norway. It’s also the birthplace of two giants of Norwegian culture: Grandmaster Magnus Carlsen, current chess world champion, and Lene Nystrøm,singer of Aqua, who’s 1997 monster smash ‘Barbie Girl’ has sold more copies in the UK (1.8 million) than The Beatles’ ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ and Bryan Adams’ ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It For You’. No joke.
Whereas the bigger Øya is a city festival that takes place within Oslo, Slottsfjell has the feel of being on holiday, and that’s its charm. Tønsberg is the kind of place Oslo people visit in summer to get away from the city, but the two events also have things in common, especially with regards to their booking philosophy – multi-national and a mix of genres. And so on Thursday at Slottsfjell, UK groups like Drenge, Jungle and Circa Waves find themselves sprinkled around a bill heavy on Norwegian acts (Anna Of The North, Marit Larsen, Team Me), Swedes (Death Team, Tove Lo) and, from the US, freak-blues crooner Ezra Furman and, oddly, LA-based Irish punk survivors, Flogging Molly.
Even when the music isn’t on, people mill around site to see Slottsfjellet, a castle-like tower erected on a hill in 1888 around which the festival takes place with heart-stopping views across the fjords. Friday, and Charli XCX, who proved at Glastonbury she knows who to play power-pop to a big oudoor crowd, is superb on the main stage, followed by Sleaford Mods on a side stage and the bizarre/hilarious experience of hearing songs about job seeker’s allowance being barked out with quite some venom to baffled residents of what’s officially the most democratic country in the world.
Perhaps the Norwegian group that translates best to British ears – grunge/punk trio Dark Times, from Oslo – also play on Friday, then it’s a climb up the hill to find out that celebrated Oslo modern jazz supergroup Jaga Jazzist have gone electro and not that many Norwegians care about Swedish hardcore band Refused’s second reformation in five years. Finally on Friday, in a warehouse space in town late at night, a perfect double bill: local hero Lindstrøm – headphone-less and masterful as ever – and his Spanish dance music brother-in-arms, John Talabot.
The winds howl on Saturday,disrupting the order of play on the stages surrounding the tower. Frustratingly, sets by Bosnian black metal band 1389 and Brighton’s Gnarwolves are pulled, but an on-form Echo & The Bunnymen (complete with endless between-song quips from reliably amusing frontman Ian McCulloch) are moved down the hill and the weather’s calmed up top by the time noisy prog trio Motorpsycho perform their 1993 double album ‘Demon Box’ in full – the weekend’s big draw for many Norwegians. Then, saying much about how genre-blind this festival is, Ellie Goulding headlines the main stage, while pop-rock quartet Slutface (who list The Wombats and Savages as influences) play elsewhere. Goulding is anodyne – robotic, distant and not nearly as fun as, say, Joey Bada$$ had been on the same stage on Friday – but she can’t ruin Slottsfjell, a brilliant festival, now 12 years into its life, getting bigger and better all the time, yet still Norway’s best-kept secret for real music heads who don’t live in Norway.