Imagine the festival of the future. Then hop on a plane to Oslo for the plush and green Øya, where they’ve been doing it right for a while now.
While many festivals are gloating of starting to have gender-split line-ups, Øya have been quietly celebrating such diversity for years. Most still struggle to be green, but Øya runs on renewable energy, offers mostly sustainable food and nails it when it comes to recycling, planet-friendly loos and promoting environmentalism. Loads of festivals, too, have homogenous line-ups, but Øya spotlights the best of their backyard while cherry-picking global superstars. After two years away, many events returned with logistical hiccups and organisational nightmares, but Øya is as smooth as ever.
On the Tuesday night on the eve of the festival, the shindig puts on showcase nights across the city to give a taste of rising Norwegian talent. Our highlight is genuinely terrifying Witch Club Satan – an all-female black metal outfit with an NSFW approach to nudity, blood, noise and blasphemy. Nordic talent then sees Wednesday off to a lovelier kick-off with heavenly summer-folk favourites Kings Of Convenience, before power-punk upstarts Brenn bring us crashing down to Earth with their blend of Foo Fighters-style arena anthems and pummelling Turnstile-like post-hardcore.
A fired-up Princess Nokia similarly rages on the Vindfruen stage, previewing some acts to follow today by honouring Bikini Kill in her quest for “bringing women to the front”, but her focus is fixed on tonight’s headliners Gorillaz. “I love Damon Albarn so much!” she declares, before admitting she has a tattoo of their cartoon guitarist Noodle on her arm and an “obsession” with vintage Gorillaz merch. “I need it all!” she screams, pointing out some coveted tees in the crowd.
As she and the rest of us hang tight for the headliners, US R&B singer-songwriter H.E.R. charms the hell out of the vast main stage crowd with her guitar goddess mastery, before Bikini Kill themselves prove a riotous triumph. With Riot Grrrl bangers and Kathleen Hannah calling out the “fucking disgusting” misogynistic dinosaurs of the world, the progressive Øya crowd howl back in agreement.
Damon Albarn is certainly feeling the Nordic spirit tonight, telling the main stage sunset crowd of his “peculiar” vision experienced today at Olso’s harbour, where he imagined a “tear in the space-time continuum” caused by a “Viking on the piss”. Nope, us neither, but he’s certainly full of beans as he blows a big old horn for his “Viking ancestors”. Festival bops don’t get much more unifying than ‘On Melancholy Hill’ and ‘Feel Good Inc’, and with genre-smashing party-starters and some visuals calling for the saviour of our oceans, Gorillaz aptly nail Øya 2022’s mood.
We’re welcomed to the Vindfruen stage on Thursday by the Best Band In The World (™), as Fontaines DC were crowned at the BandLab NME Awards 2022. They prove themselves worthy of that title so effortlessly: with the most arresting peaks coming thanks to 2022’s immaculate ‘Skinty Fia’, Fontaines avoid any trite stage banter and just play like it’s the last day on Earth. We then head to the Sirkus tent where one of the biggest crowds of the week are waiting for Norway’s returning queer-pop future icon, Girl In Red.
“I know how stiff Norwegians can be before 11pm,” she tells the audience, admitting that she’s “been through the shitter” with nerves for this huge homecoming show. She bounces ferociously to the sing-along of almighty LGTQ+ indie anthem ‘Girls’ and invites a “wall of death” for ‘I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend’. At one point, Marie Ulven shows us a photo of her first appearance at the festival on the tiny Bibliotek stage back in 2018. NME was there, and it was very exciting, but few could have predicted the million-streaming, Billie Eilish-approved global sensation she’s become.
Despite Nick Cave having lost tragically his son recently, he and his Bad Seeds appear to be using performance as a means to celebrate life and make the most of moments like this. Having caught The Bad Seeds many a time, this writer has certainly never seen Cave enjoy himself as he seems to be onstage this summer. At Øya, the fervour with which he delivers the likes of ‘Get Ready For Love’, ‘Higgs Boson Blues’ and ‘Red Right Hand’ is almost playful, as is his chat.
“What a classic T-shirt,” he tells someone in the crowd, before inviting the fan onstage to proudly display a tee, from Cave’s recent merch line, that reads: ‘SUCK MY DICK’. Later he tells another: “I’d love you more if you put your phone down for a second”. Uh-oh, is cranky old Cave making a return? Nope. “See?,” he offers, “You’re a good-looking guy!” With a tender encore of ‘Into My Arms’, B-side favourite ‘Vortex’ and a spine-tingling ‘Ghosteen Speaks’, Cave and his Bad Seeds give us their absolute all, and it is returned in spades.
Norway’s Dagny beckons in the weekend on Friday, bringing blockbuster party production values to her space station-themed stage set-up as she she blasts through mighty banger ‘Backbeat’ and the ABBA and Robyn-indebted electro-pop gem ‘Bye Bye Baby’. Later, she invites out fellow Norwegian pop princess Astrid S for their stripped-back duet ‘Pretty’. Things step up when she performs ‘Love You Like That’ from the crowd before rainbow flares erupt and cover the horizon.
It’s a euphoric burst of colour, something that the gloomy Bright Eyes can’t quite match, but Conor Oberst and co. give us a good time nonetheless. The band’s luggage having been lost en route to the show, Oberst shows his gratitude to the festival and Oslo’s H&M for gifting him the temporary wardrobe of a “Soundcloud rapper” as he rocks his way through a career-spanning feast of emo-folk favourites.
The indiegasm continues with Suede in the Sirkus tent as Brett Anderson displays his Olympic mic-swinging ability and combustible energy. Opening new single ‘She Still Leads Me On’ fits so easily among the well-received canon of ‘Trash’, ‘Animal Nitrate’, ‘We Are The Pigs’ and ‘Filmstar’ as the classics keep coming with a machine-gun rattle. After ‘Everything Will Flow’ from the often-maligned ‘Head Music’, Anderson tells the crowd: “Oh good, we can play that again – we can’t play that in the UK”.
When Øya starts to wind down, Little Simz brings the Saturday night energy her own way. “You wanna know where I’m from?” she asks the Sirkus tent. “You wanna come to North London?” The answer’s firmly in the affirmative, as the crowd lose themselves in a little Islington knees-up for ‘101 FM’. The rapper tells us that, when she was on the rise, she’d be told she’d never play big stages like this one. One-nil to Simz.
It’s Øya tradition for the festival to be closed by a Norwegian headliner, and it’s fitting that the organisers opted for Aurora this year. The singer wears her heart on her sleeve as she belts through the Europop ode to diversity ‘Cure For Me’ and paean to the Earth ‘The Seed’.
Her rush of celestial arena-folk closes with her choir and dancers filling the stage for the life-affirming ‘Giving In To Love’ doing exactly what it says on the tin, ending a set that reflects the celebration of mother nature, diversity, inclusivity, togetherness and homegrown talent felt throughout the week. If only every festival could be a little more like this.