Traena Festival, Norway

This festival will make you think.
Traena Festival July 2011
Every festival is plagued by the ubiquity of the main stage these days. It's just not new to any of us anymore. We have come to expect the festival patina to reveal to us a burger stall, a bar, a smattering of flags, perhaps an art installation. Typically, indifference ensues.

While Træna, a tiny festival on a tiny island of the same name in Northern Norway cannot fail to contend with this ineludible challenge, it has another side, a spirit that is wildly unique. From sets in stone-age caves to acoustic gigs in the tiny local chapel, Træna encourages something very different from the artists and attendees it attracts. And, in truth there rather needs to be an arsenal of reasons to make you travel almost 2000 miles to one of the most expensive countries in the world. Year after year like a giddy toddler determinedly trying to reach its nose with its tongue, the festival outlines a convincing argument.

This year, Jenny Hval's setting is Kirkehellaren; a cave dating from the stone age formerly used as a church, a dining room and a place of burial. The ground, uneven and riddled with nettles, is uninviting. It is the perfect accompaniment to her voice that variously coaxes and beguiles and screeches her way into our consciousness. She masters spoken word and abruptly crafted sound with equal ease, guiding us through her acute observations that are at once familiar tales of embodiment and, equally, wildly lurid tales of synaesthetic senses and erections. At a normal festival Jenny Hval wouldn’t be performing in a cave. At a normal festival Jenny Hval might not even be performing at all.

Ólöf Arnalds stands majestically amid the abundance of the church altar. The audience neatly arranged in tight-knit wooden pews are deathly silent because she has no accompaniment, no amplification. We can hear every creak of the floorboards, every camera shutter offering a bewildering, anachronistic echo to her voice, unadulterated and, as many of the tiny dwellings on this island and countless others throughout the Norwegian Arctic Circle testify to, unaffected by the totems of modern life. The faint spattering of rain on the tin roof offers the polite beginnings of percussion. She smiles shyly between tunes with a newly gifted sense of belonging; a local fisherman has just told her that her songs are like 70s Norwegian folk music. Evidently reluctant to accept this label, she instantly transforms into a street-savvy, wild-eyed kook to cover Bob Dylan's "She Belongs to Me" which she will release as part of a covers album in early Autumn. Her identity as a musician, like the crisp winds that do not cease to threaten the island, is in a constant state of flux that leaves us gasping.

These moments are inextricably tied to this picturesque and isolated arctic hinterland. You will not find this bizarrely alluring concoction of bouncy moss covered slopes and unkempt beaches and nuclear blast proof pitch-black tunnels and sea-eagle ornithologists anywhere else. Moreover, the incessant queue for the sole island shop and the three hour ferry crossing force a flâneurial attitude on festival goers that few holidays will succeed in conjuring. Is an old lady wading waist deep into the freezing ocean wearing an antique wedding dress a distraught fisherman’s widow or the sole actor in an immersive piece of abstract theatre? This festival, unlike many others, will make you think.

Words and Photo by Anne Hollowday

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