Arctic Monkeys and Arcade Fire battle it out for ultimate festival headliner at Øya 2018

Brockhampton and Phoebe Bridgers also stun on day one of the Oslo festival

“Thanks, we’ve been Arcade Monkeys,” jokes Arcade Fire frontmanWin Butler as their early evening set draws to a close at Øya 2018 – spotlighting the rare and baffling privilege of seeing a band of their standing and calibre in the early evening before another of indie’s stadium-filling heavyweights. They’ve both topped the bill at Glastonbury in the past; both monumentous and very singular moments in music history. But who will prevail when they’re sharing the main event?

The rain pours down on Oslo as the masses rush from work to Tøyenpark for Arcade Fire. The sense of occasion of seeing their Space Odyssey carnival before sunset is lost on no one – least of all the band themselves, who still perform like the last gang in town. From the glitterball majesty of ‘Everything Now’, the religious fervour of ‘Rebellion (Lies)’, existential anthemics of ‘We Used To Wait’ to the squawking sweetness of ‘Sprawl II’, Arcade Fire shine as a band forever in flux but always on form. Rolling over each other with abandon and staring down the whites of as many audience eyes as possible, it’s a performance that’s oh so easy to get lost in.

“I’d like to dedicate tonight to David Bowie,” Butler sighs with humility, introducing ‘The Suburbs’. “I don’t think anyone should be here without David Bowie”. Amen. But with their chameleon swagger between alt-folk antiquity and space age disco carnival, Bowie’s celebratory and adventurous spirit is at least channelled, if not reincarnated. Day or night, Arcade Fire play for love alone. Whether in sunshine, whether in moonlight, they bring the good times, they bring the boogie.

Arcade Fire at Øya 2018

Arcade Fire’s setlist was:

Everything Now
Neighborhood #3 (Power Out) (w/ “I Give You Power” snippet)
Rebellion (Lies)
We Used to Wait
Electric Blue
Put Your Money on Me
The Suburbs
The Suburbs (Continued)
Ready to Start
Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
Reflektor
Afterlife (w/ New Order’s ‘Temptation’ outro)
Creature Comfort
Wake Up

Capping things off, Arctic Monkeys bristle with much more of a cool stoicism – but that makes you want it all the more. It takes a certain something to break the chic nonchalance that Scandi crowds are often renowned for, but as the lounge lizard graceful tension of ‘Four Out Of Five’ rushes into a feral outing of ‘Brianstorm’, the bubble bursts in the revelry of witnessing modern masters scale yet another peak.

Rather than a pedestrian teasing of newbies to build the predictable crescendo into indie classics, the four lads from Sheffield via a Kubrick-esque hotel on the moon rollick in the decadence of their back catalogue with early outings of ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’, ‘Teddy Picker’ and ‘Crying Lightning’. Meanwhile, the Laissez-faire strut indelible with their current ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’ personas means that the esoteric nature of the likes of ‘One Point Perspective’, ‘Batphone’ and ‘Star Treatment’ render ‘505’, ‘Cornerstone’ and ‘Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair’ less as the elegiac desert rock experiments that they were once considered, and now clearly as essential flourishes in the three-dimensional picture of Arctic Monkeys in 2018.

With no bells, whistles or banter, Alex Turner and co’s latest vampiric evolution dazzles with just class, charisma and a weird but wonderful charm alone. While Arcade Fire’s ‘Everything Now’ campaign completes its much-deserved victory lap, there’s no doubt that this year belongs to Arctic Monkeys.

Arctic Monkeys’ set list was:

Four Out of Five
Brianstorm
I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor
Teddy Picker
Crying Lightning
505
Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino
Do Me a Favour
Cornerstone
Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?
One Point Perspective
Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair
From the Ritz to the Rubble
Do I Wanna Know?
Knee Socks
Batphone
Pretty Visitors
Arabella
Encore:
Star Treatment
Snap Out of It
R U Mine?

Arctic Monkeys at Øya 2018

“You are now watching the greatest boyband in the world,” shouts Brockhampton‘s Kevin Abstract around the corner on the Vindfruen stage in their pre-headline slot. Decked out in a uniform of white T-shirt and black jeans, their pop-loaded rap finds many fans here in Oslo, inspiring more than a few moshpits and screams of adulation as they preach for sexual freedom and a greater freedom and understanding. The word ‘boyband’ need no longer mean shallow and manufactured. Here’s one that matters. Here’s the boyband that 2018 needs.

Indeed, young blood reigns throughout the day. The all-female trip-hop tinged electro-pop of Norway’s own Sassy 009 bewitches the Sirkus tent with their dreamscape idiosyncrasies, while Phoebe Bridger‘s raw-nerved take on indie-folk from her marvellous debut ‘Stranger In The Alps’. Self-deprecation and rarely leads to such celebration, but there’s something about her open-hearted exorcism approach that strikes chord with the many late teen devotees that line the front row. “I appreciate the ‘almost’ mosh pit to my songs,” she chuckles to her unusually maddened crowd. “No one has any fun to my music”. Call it what you want. We want more.

Øya Festival continues today with performances from Kendrick Lamar, 6Lack, Wolf Alice, Fever Ray and many more, while Lykke, Li, St Vincent, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and more will perform throughout the weekend. Check back at NME for the latest from Øya 2018.