A Letter From... Scandinavia #1

Behind Oslo's club scene...
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Norwegian summer.

I'm sitting at Møllergata 32, sipping frozen white russians and taking swigs of ecological fernet* as recovery from last night's event.

Tony F. Wilson, aka. DJ Spykidelic churned out enough obscure and sensational vinyl to quiet the huddles of self-proclaimed musical elite– it's a sign when you only see a stream of dorks coming up to the DJ box politely asking, "What was that you just played?" and known musicians whispering, "Yes, he's quite good. I have only recognised one or two bands so far." We hear everything from Zola Jesus to Cluster to Francoise Hardy; skillful remixes (Rex the Dog on Fever Ray, Richard X on Saint Etienne)-- throbbing kickers like "Version 3 - Olsen" by Boards of Canada.

A coupla days later, I swing by the same venue, Psych Ward Club is on- free entrance boasting "Mod-sounds, freakbeat, YéYé, Surf, Northern Soul". A late night concert unravels, the birth of Oslo's newest garage outfit Yoon blasts raunchy thuds, distorted screeches and unmissable Rocket From The Tombs comparisons. A surefire rising star to watch, though I doubt a myspace page exists yet.

This is Revolver, a club located just in the centre of town. Every style is so codified these days that Revolver's eclecticism and emphasis on new, envelope-pushing music isolates them from a city by-and-large regimented by the 50's rockabilly løkka's**, rockers trickled down from the days of So What!***, Gamlebyen Casuals****, metal meatheads, etc.– easily a scene from The Warriors.

In Norway's tiny capital of just over half a million, at least 134,036 of 'em are in bands; 13,043 work with those bands; and 1,304 are groupies trying to fuck them. It's incestuous, I tell ya. But if music is the secret force pulsating through this town, alcohol is it's catalyst. Ole Øvstedal, bar chief at Revolver gave a brief history...

“About ten years ago, classic cocktails were nearly impossible to get. Then in 1998 Bar Boca [opened by Oslo's notorious bar/restaurant entrepreneur Jan Verdøen], and other bars like Bushwick featured classic recipes. Now these bars boast their own syrups, mixtures, etc.– but I think the problem is they take a lot of time and work. Sometimes you wait up to 20 minutes and it doesn't even taste that good.”

“The nice thing at Revolver is that we're reviving quick cocktails with a fun Eighties-ness to it, we make frozen drinks, piña coladas, snowballs, etc., AND we're into beer...--- I've been a rock musician for over thirteen years, played over five hundred concerts. Most of our regulars and people who work here are musicians. But we don't take ourselves so seriously. We still have the self-confidence to laugh at ourselves and do the unexpected. Every other bar in Oslo is like, a definite rock place, jazz place, 50's cocktail place...”

Revolver is Oslo's true vestige of moronic fun. In the sweltering humidity accumulating within it's crumbling walls (because air conditioning = indulgence) and for being located on a mildly dangerous street, it's no secret how they survive.

On weekends they monopolize on the ram-packs of college kids, silver-spooned West-siders with cash to burn, Party Swedes, and the loyal gait of musicians. Revolver also sells over six thousand organic tex-mex nachos at summer festivals, and has it's own kitchen to boot. Yet it's trustworthiness lies in congruously maintaining an overarching sense of cultural elitism whilst encouraging headbanging to “Party in the USA.” I once remember they played Jesus Lizard's greatest hits everyday for a week straight until David Yow himself ended up there, getting drunk and sprawling across the bar. No surprise when he entered, the jukebox immediately switched to something like free jazz.

If there's anything they'll be remembered for, it's dousing expectations. Just as they seem on the verge of bankruptcy, they reignite with their booking prowess. Martin Rev (Suicide), Kid Congo Powers, Laetita Sadier (Stereolab) will come through in the upcoming months. Quite an achievement for a basement that fits less then two hundred, has a weird-angled stage, and monitors which at any moment enter the realm of the non-existent.

But Revolver has always survived these intricacies, counted losses and regrouped when major Oslo bar/clubs have taken hard falls. That's reification of punk for ya– if punk is hating to wax lyrical about your condition. Or if punk is hazy aspirations of grandeur and sweet glory when one can barely muster the energy to swat a fly.

Concerts are more or less dead in the July period aka “fellesferie”, when the entire country literally goes on vacation. DJ-clubs on the other hand, do not. My favourite of these clubs is by far, Club Knulldröm, which reflects the whirling chaosmos and musical-pedagogy of the Revolver scene as a whole. Recently they've had Fenriz of Norway's esteemed black metal band Darkthrone as guest DJ– a highly rare appearance.

On its first run, I witnessed a handful of expectant metal kids and die-hard Darkthrone fans from Brazil stream into this club and hours later, back out. Someone should've warned: Fenriz will not play your favourite Saxon diddy or a Pentagram 12”! If these DJ series continues like the first, one can expect the Prince of Darkness blazing technobeats and the cohort hosts, DJ Herr R, DJ Knullé and DJ Al Dajani (Pirate Love) taking turns:
1) bewildering metal kids with highly sophisticated dance;
2) bewildering the weekend crowd AND Fenriz with scratchy mix-ups of Lou Reed and the Christian Swedish folk song, “Glede,glede,glede strømmer innenifra”...;
3) bewildering the weekend crowd AND Fenriz with an actual Darkthrone song;
4) bewildering the Revolver security guards, when the lights go up, with the number of shirtless folk. Enter at your own risk.

Visit the Revolver website HERE.

* Possibly the most popular shot in Oslo bars, period. Nobody knows exactly when this mysterious, bitter Italian aperitiff made it to our shores, or why it became quandtruply glorified over Jagermeister- but it's potency is unquestionable.

** Referring to a rather clean, hip, gentrified part of Oslo, Grünerløkka.

*** A legendary CBGB-like equivalent of Oslo, shut down about 10 years ago and turned into another famous rock headquarter, Garage. Then that shut down last year. The space currently has been turned into a strobe-light, cocaine-infused, trance hangout.

**** Large gang of Oslo skinhead punks predominately based on the East Side. Known to gather at the Oslo Sportsbar for football matches, perform collective acts of violence against hipsters, Nazis, and whomever else they fancy when the testosterone's runnin' high.

Words by Ann Sung-an Lee

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