People who know me personally will know my love for music. I DJ’d at university, ran my own club night for three years, helped out with Oxjam Brum and even dabbled in journalism by writing a short-lived music blog. I’m a big fan of festivals and gigs too. Since moving to Oslo, I’ve been trying to find the heart of the music scene here and, well, I’ve struggled. To many Norway conjures up images of black metal and while that scene still exists, it’s smaller than it once was. Like most of the western world, British and American music dominates and the vast majority of Norwegian artists sing in English, with English or American accents, so defining the “Norwegian music scene” is not easy.
This weekend Oslo hosted the Øya Festival, headlined by Pulp and Kanye West, with the rest of the bill made up of a broadly 50/50 split of Norwegian and international artists. Oslo also hosts other festivals such as Norwegian Wood, which this year featured Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton and Patti Smith.
The city is a regular stop off for international artists on European tours, with Tori Amos and PJ Harvey both coming up soon. Many mid-size artists also stop by at smaller venues such as Blå – in my first few days here I saw Metronomy and hope to see Friendly Fires in September.
However, despite Oslo’s status as a venue, I think the heart of Norway’s music scene is actually a six-hour train journey away, buried within the wind and rain of Bergen. I’m heading to Bergen in October with my friends Chris and Graham. Quite apt really, as Graham is/was a regular gig buddy of mine and Chris regularly sends me new music to listen to and we share a fascination for all things Thom Yorke.
Many of Norway’s international successes hail from Bergen, including Kings of Convenience, Datarock and Röyksopp. In researching this post I’ve discovered the term “Bergen Wave”, a term from the late 1990’s to describe the surge of Bergen-based artists making it big, particularly in the UK. Wikipedia sums up the Bergen Wave well:
“Many of the bands also share a low-key melancholic tone, regardless if it is electronic dance music or conventional guitar based pop.”
If you like things harder and more edgy, you need to travel north. Far north! Deep within the arctic circle, Tromsø is the undisputed home of Norwegian electronic music. The Tromsø “techno” scene has produced artists such as Bel Canto, Mental Overdrive, Röyksopp (although formed in Bergen, they were undoubtedly at the heart of the Tromsø scene), F.A.C.E. and Alog.
It’s legacy lives on in the form of the annual Insomnia Festival. The 2011 event features lots of Scandinavian talent including The Amplifetes, Montee, Telephones, Biosphere, Sandra Kolstad and Uusi Fantasia, alongside Mesak and Solar Bears from further afield. I’d love to go, but oddly enough it clashes with the weekend me, Chris and Graham are going to Bergen.