Discovering Norwegian Music – Oslo Ess

The first thing I noticed about the live music scene in Oslo was the dominance of the English language. I'm not talking about cover versions either. Virtually every one of the small local bands sang their own songs in perfect English, with a babble of Norwegian banter in between.

When I queried this with my Norwegian friends, they didn't seem to see anything unusual, so clearly it's the norm here. They did offer up a couple of explanations though. Firstly that Norwegian is “not a pretty language to listen to” and secondly that all these bands dream of international success, and the only way they think they can achieve that is by singing in English.

Norway's population is small, so when a band comes along with talent and, wait for it, sings in Norwegian, they tend to get known pretty quickly. And here I present, Oslo Ess.

These boys sure love their city. Not only does Oslo feature in the band's name, the opening scenes of the video to Hold Deg Våken are shot above the city. There's also another video doing the rounds of a live version of Alt jeg trenger, filmed on the rooftops in the old town.

Their own promos describe their music as “punk poetry”, a wonderfully fitting term. Their potential for success outside of Norway is limited due to the language. It shouldn't be, but that's the way the music world works. Other than the odd exception such as Sigur Rós, how many bands have enjoyed continued global success singing in their native language?

Last year Oslo Ess released Verden på nakken, venner i ryggen, an album that made number 1 in Norway, cementing the band's growing reputation. Following this, they appeared in front of a national audience at the annual VG Liste Topp 20 concert outside Oslo City Hall:

For a music-loving expat such as I, finding a local band I like who sing in Norwegian has given me a fresh desire to master this language. Of course, the language used in the lyrics is a little “fresh”, but that's all part of the fun of language learning, right? 🙂

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About the Author: David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a freelance writer for technology companies in Scandinavia.

6 Comments

  1. You probably know Razika too, right? All-girl ska-pop band. They’re from Bergen and sing about 50-50 in English and Norwegian. I’m not sure if they have some kind of foreign or west coast accent, or if it’s just the slower tempo in their songs, but I find their Norwegian… let’s say approachable, for Norwegian-learners.

  2. Kaizers Orchestra seems to do well outside Norway even though they sing in norwegian. Well, it’s a odd dialect in Norway they use, even most norwegians don’t know what the heck they are singing :p

    CC Cowboys may also me something to check out? Search for “Kom igjen” on YouTube!

  3. Hi, great article and good music too!

    Just a quick question; do you know what Oslo Ess sings about in their songs? And are there any other kinds of music that Norwegians generally listen to or like?

    1. It’s pretty simple stuff really! From Wikipedia – “The band’s lyrics are mostly about partying and nightlife, reflecting partly Jokke og Raga Rockers, but in a contemporary style of the 2010s.”

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