By:Larm 2009 - Clash Highlights

The best acts of this year's Oslo-held music conference...
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Would you mosh with an £8 beer?


As far as festival conditions go By:Larm – Scandinavia’s largest music conference, held February 19-21 – is far more extreme than anything else around. Under an avalanche of snowfall, this showcase in Oslo in February reveals a whole new slant to ‘unearthing’ new talent, as minus 10 Celsius is the backdrop to a foot of snow falling each day.

You can tell the locals a mile off: they are still vertical.

(Read part two of our By:Larm coverage HERE)

Norway invests deeply in its youth music scene, and as such much of the talent on show are roughcast works in progress. There are occasional gems, some of which often fare better by contrast … and then there are bands that would never breach the blinkered UK market… and here’s where this showcase prevails: hearing bands you’d struggle to hear elsewhere.

Alongside the Norwegian hospitality, massive industry seminars and the winding streets of Oslo, these were the Clash highlights.

Retro Stetson: These Icelandic hopefuls are a haughty bunch of youngsters who, with two keyboardists, strife their varied indie oeuvre until it drips in colour. With different warming tones they are as likely to dole out a deep skank as they are to burst into well-studied live disco to a riffed-up piano belter. Their very diverse sound may be too much for purists of rock, though it’s unlikely Retro Stetson will care as they play with genres like inquisitive children do Lego.

Harry's Gym (pictured): As one of last year’s buzz bands, there was a quiet consensus that it was make or break time for this crew peddling deep electronic rock. Despite possessing the most incongruous name, Harry’s Gym have a presence and sound that could easily leap the fjords to international note. With a haunted female singer alongside three comrades layering an intricate rhythmic landscape, it’s hard to comprehend their name; yet running their entire sound through the stupidly talented drummer works well, as deep and filthy programming snugly slots into their driving percussion. The singer’s acerbic vocals are angled somewhere between Garbage and The Knife and cut through the evening’s more moderate successes like the icy wind outside the venue. Massive promise.

Hanne Hukkelberg: One of Rune Grammofon’s most impressive artists, this experimental folkstress previously played live with bicycles and type-writers. Yet in 2009 such tinkling has been swept aside by a full band whose improvised edge is very much in effect. Jarring compositions are soothed by her tender vocals, whilst the band trash their melodies and railroad their own harmonies. This wonky dynamic continues all the way through the set until the finale, where tension is wrought to breaking point and their cacophony concludes without a break. A breathtaking finale held taut by a captivating vocalist.

Low Frequency in Stereo: Not officially part of the By:Larm programme as they were playing in the Parliament building; thus, this was the equivalent of Mogwai playing in the Scottish government buildings. Weird. But LFiS were immense. Stunning in front of only a handful of people, their sonic assault was unparalleled. Walls of sound jammed up with a cosmic Moog floating in the midst. This band are about to release their fourth album, their first on Rune Grammofon, and their signature sound is deep and detailed: a supercharged post-rock landscape that oft turns and twists upon itself in thrilling mode. Fans of Mogwai who demand more crescendo pin back your ideas. Low Frequency in Stereo may well have been the best band of the weekend.

K-X-P: Rough, binary and depraved. K-X-P make accelerated krautrock which at points swerves into live three-piece techno. Disrupted soundscapes give way to layered synths given wings by urgent live drums. Yet with zero movement on stage this Finnish band are a rough prospect and have elements to hone. Occasional shouted vocals are reminiscent of DFA whilst the bass groove is all early Jimi Tenor, making it a must for a small club opposed to this echoing auditorium. Ones to watch.

Hjaltalín: Having won Iceland’s equivalent to the Mercury Prize last year, these indie darlings have a subtle touch that will burn you deep inside. Sounding like Arcade Fire after a weekend boozing with The Earlies, their twee-rock is more seductive than it sounds on paper. Often employing a call and response between vocals and instrumentation, their use of an oboe is devastatingly understated and beckons the grandeur one day of a full orchestra. When they softly open their full throttle they glide like icebergs …. and look just as cool.

The Whitest Boy Alive: Rapturously anticipated, Erland Oye’s stripped-back Berlin band were the highlight for many locals. Having had their forthcoming new album leaked onto the internet they purveyed coy sarcasm about playing ‘only new’ material to a crowd clearly peppered with illegal downloaders keen to sing along.

At times looking like an audition for Napoleon Dynamite, this band are the geekiest yet most unabashed we’ve seen for a very long time and are unashamed in their twee-core delights. Their new material, though not as instantly catchy as debut ‘Dreams’, has a gloriously simple aesthetic. Disco-inflected and warmed by deft analogue keyboards, this four-piece reduce the elements to the point where the space in their dance stompers is the sealer of the deal. Simple and unassuming, they thrive on the basis that less is more, yet returning after their regimented 30 minutes on stage they indulge the crowd with the only encore of the weekend, with debut album opener ‘Burning’ to fully deposit the crowd in their locally legendary pockets.

With so much breaking talent on show it’s easy to see the government’s support in this grass roots scene. The size of Oslo also precludes flagrant copy cat bands, making it seem on the whole vibrant and original with By:Larm spearheading the exposure beyond the nation’s borders.

And in answer to the proposed question: we did indeed mosh with £8 beers. It’s expensive mayhem, but the rough bliss feels twice as nice as the most expensive abandonment kicks in. Just before it’s your round at the bar. Skol Skol Skol…

(Read part two of our By:Larm coverage HERE)

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