Last week I had the good luck to get a free pass to Oya, an annual outdoor indie music fest in Oslo, Norway. The five-day, five-stage extravaganza is a showcase for Norwegian acts, but makes good use of other groups (e.g., Band of Horses, The Very Best, Jay Reatard, Monotonix) caught in the summer festival maelstrom. Oya enlisted 200 bands, ranging from the lightest indie-pop to the blackest metal (this is Norway, after all). A little over half the bands were local and most Norwegian bands I saw were either female-led or had a strong lady presence.* Non-Norwegian lady-groups that did not fail to wow included Frida Hyvonen , Gang Gang Dance, Amanda Blank (well-known Bust fav!), Fever Ray (unanimously declared the raddest of them all, check out her interview in our latest issue), and Chairlift. Oh, and resident cover girl Lily Allen showed up.
Local highlights included Harry's Gym, which, despite the mall-punk-esque moniker, delivers sexy, slightly aggressive rock reminiscent of Lush's tougher moments, with soaring vocals by frontwoman Anna Lise Frokedal. Anna Lise also sings and plays guitar in I Was a King, a group offering unabashed homage to mid-90s fuzz-rock, complete with three LOUD, distorted guitars. Serena Maneesh heartthrob Emil Nikolaisen, outfitted in a J. Mascis wig, bandana, and sunglasses (his alternate identity, he joked) contributed mass riffs. 'Twas killer.
And then there's this thing with horns and woodwinds. The Norwegians seem to love 'em. I saw at least five Norse bands on the first day that blew - I'm talking tubas and French horns, as well as trumpets, trombones, and a few flutes. Pony the Pirate, an eight-piece of which roughly half were women, utilized brass fabulously, sporting anthemic, epic songs a la the Arcade Fire with tinges of post-punk. Jaga Jazzist impressed everyone with their nationally-treasured brand of apocalyptic, post-jazz electronica. Even Little Hands of Asphalt, a sweetly demure boy-girl group in the Bright Eyes vein, rocked French horn - and it worked! Kare and the Cavemen, one of the centerpieces of the festival (reunited after nearly a decade, this was Knut Schreiner from Turbonegro's former, extremely popular band), played horn-studded surf tunes whilst wearing black turtlenecks to an extremely excited crowd of mostly male towheads who listened to the Cavemen incessantly as teenagers. (I had to ask; I didn't quite get it.)
In all, a very pleasant way to spend the week. And unlike most other things in Oslo, where a beer can cost $11 and a cab ride ten times that, the $100-per-day price tag was totally worth it. (At least, I think so.)
* Note: one Norwegian band that I recall was fully dudes was Datarock, which must be the most boring dance-rock band I've ever laid ears on. Hmmm . . . connection?