From Frances Wave to Dagny, Scandinavia is home to one of the freshest new music scenes in the world.
And at By:Larm festival in Oslo, Norway last weekend (March 2nd-5th), many of the best and brightest hit bars and venues across the city. There were a few established acts (Niki & The Dove, for example), but the majority of those billed for the festival were exciting new bands and artists looking to connect not only with the 5,000 punters but also with record label scouts and music execs who’d travelled there. Essentially a mini European version of SXSW, there was stunning new music to discover around every corner.
With a sound that lands somewhere in-between Queens of The Stone Age, early Oasis and Royal Blood, Frances Wave cram onto Verkstedet’s minuscule stage to thrash through a barrage of desert-rock inspired cuts. The shy Norwegian crowd are guarded in their response to an impressive opening trio of ‘Råkke’, ‘All Or Nothing’ and ‘Kramer’, but as the boys from Trondheim continue to work their magic the punters loosen up and contribute to a steamy climate. Frances Wave’s debut single in particular – ‘Black Star’ has real hit potential with a twirling bassline and heaps of crunching guitars, melting together to provide a cracker that would not feel alien on ‘Songs For The Deaf’. Speaking to the band, they revealed that they are currently in the middle of recording their debut record and recently received a music award that prize money will “definitely help us on making this album as good as we want to”, and if the tunes on show were anything to go by, we’re engrossed by the potential these guys posses.
Backed by a three-piece band, Norwegian songstress Dagny provides a masterclass in shimmering Scandinavian pop – one that the capacity crowd are happy to be indulged in on the Drømmeteltet stage. The biggest reaction arrives for set closer ‘Backbeat’, which has already racked up an astonishing 6 million streams on Spotify in under a year. Dagny commands the stage like a pro and her unique brand of well-oiled synth-pop blended with her soaring vocals, help establish her set as one of the weekend’s finest. Having moved from Norway to London, Dagny noted how it felt to return to her native country and receive such a warm welcome. “It was amazing! I’ve wanted to play By:Larm for years. It was great being there, seeing other artists, playing two great venues and just feeling the vibe of the festival and the crowds”.
Closing Friday’s festivities with real clout is Electric Eye from Bergen, Norway. In their set at Uhørt Bar, the four-piece showcase their existential, mind-blowing take on psych-rock. Drawing upon the face-melting riffs of T-Rex and the soundscapes of early Tame Impala, Electric Eye’s set is a cosmic freak-out of stratospheric proportions, with each member burning bright in their moment in the spotlight.
The Prettiots, from New York via Los Angeles play the opening set at the Mono bar on Saturday with a half hour of gentle, folk-tinged indie-pop. There’s irony and wit aplenty in several of their tracks, which are lifted from their debut ‘Funs Cool’, as well as covers of The Strokes and The Venga Boys. A jovial mood is maintained by duo’s frequent crowd interaction, with both ‘18 Wheeler’ and the intentionally hilarious ‘Boys (That I Dated In High School)’ being two standout moments from the set.
Playing a healthy of portion from his debut solo record ‘The Names’ was Vampire Weekend bassist Chris Baio. With the band currently idle since their 2013 album ‘Modern Vampires of the City’, Baio has since decamped to London and has released a diverse palette of stunning disco and electro-pop bangers. ‘This is George [guitarist] and I’m Baio and this is our 41st show’ he revealed, clad in a buttoned down white shirt and red bowtie to the full venue. For 2012 track ‘Sunburn Modern,’ Baio asked the crowd to imagine they were on a ‘beach in Lanzarote’ and not in chilly Oslo, before serving up a cocktail of Caribou-esque electronica (and a fair dollop of Dad-dancing), which subtly shifted into his album’s lead single, ‘Sister Of Pearl’. Scorcher.
With the youthful naivety of ‘Leisure’-era Blur and catchy pop hooks ripped straight from Two Door Cinema Club, teenage prodigy Magnus Bechmann has the look and the tunes to go real far. Barely removed from high school, the 19-year-old from neighbouring town Sandvika ripped through a barrage of early material in his hasty 20-minute set at Verkstedet. His debut single ‘Keep On Playing Nice’ possesses the playful wit of a young Alex Turner and even saw the energetic crowd belt along the words to the upbeat chorus. Following the show, Bechmann acknowledged the pressure of playing the festival; “I absolutely felt the pressure, but it was in a good way. I think it gave me an extra kick knowing that these people came to Verkstedet to check me out.” Bechmann is certainly shooting for the stars – and you’d be a fool to bet against him.
Hailing from Trondheim, Norway, Mats Wawa the six piece band sport ‘Sgt. Peppers’-era moustaches and glittering shirts for their ramshackle 30-minute set. Their sound is hard to classify, but with the occasional hint of a Led Zeppelin’s monster riffs and several quirky pop melodies, the group’s latest EP ‘Classics’ give an insight what Mac DeMarco would sound like if trapped in the ’70s. Speaking to the band following their show, they reminisced about how their first By:Larm show drew a pitiful crowd of ten a few years back, but seeing the crowd loosen up and having their music “resonate with the audience, it’s the best thing we could hope for”.
At Oslo airport on Sunday, the bands, fans and execs still adorning their festival wristbands look noticeably glum. It’s understandable – they’ve just been a part of one Europe’s best festivals in a hip, trendy city. The good-natured crowds and characterful bars made the festival a roaring success from start to finish, as Oslo (and Norway) stakes their claim as the cultural hotbed in Scandinavia and Europe.