Music and more at By:larm Show 2011

This  Norway Now reporter headed off to the Norwegian showcase festival By:Larm 2011 along with a select AB-delegation. Once there, we were dished up a dizzying number of concerts, seminars and even a sleigh ride. In every respect, a feather for the cap of the extremely well organized festival that eased navigation through the profusion of choices. So it was that each band was assigned a half hour to perform and you could set your watch by them. You only had to make sure you got there on time, as the freezing snow did its best to bring you down. Something two AB delegates experienced first hand. Fortunately everyone returned in one piece.

By:Larm is also strongly oriented to creating an intimate and easy-going mood, an informal meeting place where booking-agents, artists, promoters, producers and reporters can easily make contact. On the metro these festival-goers with inadequate clothing merged with the the locals who, well-packed in ski-suits and armed with skis, were heading out to the mountains; only a half hour removed from the central Oslo. Winter merriment assured! The intimacy of the festival was also influenced by the concert locations, all within walking distance of one another, like a small village where you could easily run into Silje Nes or Rune Kristofferson.

But all conviviality aside, there was lots and lots of music of course, far too much.  Bearing in mind a handful of reference points, we were happy to let ourselves go with the flow and be surprised, and that resulted in a fantastic first evening at the charming Kulturkirken Jakob. AcACC played with misleading filmic song-structures, tension maintained by woodwind, subtle accents were laid by the dampened drums. A fine wink made to Rachel’s. Afterwards the charming blonde Anana winked to Soap&Skin but her dreamy piano style and laptop-songs missed the heart-rending staying power of Anja Plaschg. Danish singer-songwriter Agnes Obel, on the other hand, had the audience firmly in her grasp. Stunningly beautiful melodies rose from the grand piano, Cat Powerian singing that opened a window in your soul and carried you away, with cello as cherry on the cake. Not to be missed in AB!
Jenny Hval could hold her own against Obel, with a distinctly unique sound that haunted the church. Her delicate figure and boyish haircut would never have led you to suspect it but she turned out to have an exceedingly strong voice that reminded one of Björks vocal  acrobatics, or even a semblence of Sinead O’Connor. The paper's had nothing but praise for her mesmerizing songs, headlining with ‘Jenius!’
On the last evening, in Victoria (the jazz club in Oslo and a stylistic gem), we were able to see trio Splashgirl that moves between modest experimental jazz and electronica. Repetitive piano tunes and strange contra-bass sounds unfolded into thrilling textures.

The Nordisk Music Prize was called into being to honour the best Scandinavian album, whereby great names like Efterklang, Robyn, Jónsi, Olöf Arnalds and Agnes Obel have adorned the nominations list aside lesser known bands like Dungen, Frisk Frugt and Kvelertak. Never heard of them, but its high-time to discover these unknowns. The Norwegian crown prince Haakon himself, dropped down to Kulturkirken Jajob to present the prize, which was won by Jónsi for his solo-album Go. The Icelandic bard didn't miss his chance to give the the crown prince a peck on the cheek either. The rascal! Mischievous folk singer Olöf Arnalds, one of Jónsi's fellow countrywomen, closed the festive presentation with her unbelievable vocal timbre, a number of tender songs and the appropriate humour: ‘Yes, there has to be a sad song about a broken heart too.’

Aside all those musically twinkling stars there are unavoidably also disappointing acts in the By:Larm heavens. I'm still not sure if the girls of Iceland's Pascal Pinon intentionally played as if they had never held and instrument in their lives or if they really were so awkward. In any case, Amiina already exists so Pascal Pinon is superfluous. Then I'd rather have the bad ass chicks from Deathcrush who (a day later in that same Internasjonalen), writhing, wiped their sordid rock all over the stage. The young sprouts from My Little Pony pulled a few fine pop songs out of their sleeves but their high ‘prom night’ factor was a joke in comparison to the scorchingly loud noise-rock of Årabrot. Eskimo-doll Nive Nielsen and her Deer Children didn't meet the high expectations, even though she surrounded herself with a cluster of top musicians, including Tom Pintens. Her sweet songs often loosened associations with songs that had been better presented by someone else. Eirik Glambek, one half of Kings Of Convenience, presented his new band Kommode but their danceable, thirteen-to-a-dozen  pop-songs seemed to be a little too easily made. His Kings-companion Erlend Øye certainly liked it though, as he went wild on the dancefloor.

The richly filled concert calender and the many peripheral activities made By:Larm an experience that goes further than Norwegian music. You make contact with a culture in which nature, modernism and experiment harmoniously blend. 

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