Over the next couple of blog posts I will write about the favourite acts I saw during the four-day festival By:Larm held annually in Oslo, Norway. This was my first trip to Norway and obviously the festival and I'm already hooked.
I'll briefly start at the end by saying By:Larm was an absolutely fantastic way to experience new Scandinavian music and that Oslo was a fantastic city (bloody expensive mind, everything you hear about it is true – 7 pound beers – ouch to my wallet!). Thankfully the flights and accommodation were relatively cheap.
My friend, who I talked into coming with me last October/November when I had the urge to book tickets after seeing the initial line-up, said it reminded him of The Great Escape about five or six years ago and that analogy is spot on. It's smaller, more compact, less commercial, less crowded (over the weekend there was only one show I wanted to get into that I didn't and that was in a 95 person capacity venue that I turned up-to just as it was starting, so it's hardly surprising) and incredibly high in quality, diverse artists. There's no male-centric lines-up here and By:Larm revels in its buzzing, positive atmosphere and its focus on exciting new music (although, boy, Norwegian men are tall!).
Wednesday. Virgin Suicide. Pokalen
For me at least, Virgin Suicide were head and shoulders above are any other act playing on Wednesday evening, the launch event for the festival held at Vulkan and its neighbouring Pokalen.
It's impossible for me to write about the Copenhagen band without referring immediately to Suede, the unmistakable tone of the vocal, the shimmering, jangling guitars, that blight sing-along choruses, it all reminds me of them in their swaggering pomp. Clear, energetic pop that brought a smile and dance to all listening down the front.
I'd not heard of the band before but the UK, it seems, is already taking notice of the band with them receiving The Guardian new band of the week (and an amusing review which said very much what I said last Wednesday) just days later. don't be surprised to hear a lot more from this promising young band.
Thursday. Siv Jakobsen. Mono
I have to be careful here, I'm probably posting about Siv Jakobsen more than is justifiably allowed and I wouldn't be surprised if I received a knock at my door from the police with a restraining order any time soon! That said however, oh my fucking god, this show is incredible. What a way to start the festival officially.
I'd seen Siv play before last year at The Great Escape in Brighton (twice in fact) playing solo acoustically and that was beautiful but the addition of a gorgeous string quartet and impeccable keys add a dimension to the tracks, primarily taken from last year's The Lingering EP that simply took my breath away.
I'll be honest and say I was worried when I walked inside the venue and saw a darkened spit and sawdust sort of place, the sort you'd expect to be hosting rock acts but the second Siv and band start playing I forget all about that and am instantly transported to somewhere magical. The sensation was similar to that I had when I saw Broken Twin in Copenhagen a fortnight ago, it makes you want to close your eyes, soak in every emotion and hug the person nearest. You will be glad to know I managed to restrain myself!
The half-hour set disappears almost in the blink of an eye and I'm left longing so much more (I do see Siv again on Saturday - so that will be me writing about her again soon then!). Highlights are difficult to pick, "Bullet" is one of my favourites from the release and the strings here were especially well-placed, swooning and seductive it pulls on every heartstring and "How We Used To Love" will remain one of those songs that touches me every time I hear it. There's a new track and it stands up brilliantly with a stronger, more forceful vocal that is reminiscent of Laura Marling on Once I Was An Eagle, it hints at even more exciting future ahead, as if we needed that.
Unnveig Aas. Verkstedet
I've heard the name said a handful of times now and I still have absolutely zero idea how to pronounce Unnveig Aas but I can safely say that I was blown away by their set and this coming directly after the incredible show I'd seen at Mono just before.
I obviously have blogged about Unnveig Aas so I was familiar with her material but still, I wasn't expecting her live sound to be quite so vast and grand, with a pedal steel, a super tight band and a completely unexpected commanding stage presence I was truly reminded of the Country gallop of Caitlin Rose and you should know how much I love Caitlin...
The music fluctuated from bounce to croon giving plenty of time for toe-tapping rhythms before soothing with gorgeous ballads as Unnveig stared wide-eyed into the crowd and danced in unison with her exemplary band. It was something to saviour and sitting back here in the UK now and knowing what I know about what I saw, I regret not seeing her other show on the Saturday. For sure, those that did were in for a treat.
I keep thinking Ary is one of the hyped Scandinavian artists at the minute and this years Aurora, well after seeing her twice live over the weekend in By:Larm I'm removing the Aurora comparisons. The sound really isn't that similar...
Ary is more experimental and exotic, the synths and beats are firmly placed high in the mix (perhaps too high at times) and she comes backed by two male backing singers - the first time I've seen them since Hurts years ago (do they still have a solo male backing singer?). Anyway, the result, especially on the incredible "Telescope" is nothing short of exceptional and the crowd in the packed venue respond accordingly as Ary shows herself to be a natural in front of a huge audience, swaying and smiling in equal measures as her tracks show why she's destined to spend much more time in the limelight during 2016.
If I was unsure how good Dagny was after hearing just one track, now I know for sure, she is set to be an absolute star. Sure the familiarity of "Backbeat" is undoubtedly the set highlight but the material played during her half-hour set stands firm around it and I, for one, am fully appreciative of the tight backing band she employs around her. A traditional four piece set up that adds sheen and gloss to her ready made pop aesthetics.
Track after track is filled with glistening pop melody complete with a clever, infectious style and lyrics and it's apparent to all in the room, even more so after "Backbeat" sends the crowd in rapturous applause that Dagny will soon have room after room singing along to her every word (once further tracks are released of course).
Dolores Haze. Verkstedet
The undisputed never heard before highlight of Thursday and probably the entire festival are Swedish quartet Dolores Haze. It wasn't until after their set that I turn into their Facebook and see that nine my friends already like them, clearly I'm just late to the party. But what a party it is.
The set is filled with hard hitting drums, grungy riffs, punchy bass-lines and brattish vocals that hiss and delight in equal measure. Sure it's punky attitude that we've all heard before but something sets the quartet apart. The feisty energy and enthusiasm throughout the well rehearsed set is the sort that you can only get soaked up within and soon I'm nodding my head in agreement to each distorted guitar line and squealing vocal yelp.
There's more mellow moments too but the cover of Peaches "Fuck the Pain Away" sums up the set, growling with intensity that is raw and certainly divisive but for those who sign-up it guarantees a fun, frenetic experience. I'm completely sold and plans are made to see them again the next day.
As you can tell, Thursday at By:Larm was really quite spectacular.