As Øya Festival celebrates its 20th anniversary it seems to go be going back to its roots. The Oslo-based event took extra care this year to front the best and brightest Norway’s music scene has to offer, while staying true to its long-standing green vision.
In the wake of the climate change school strikes triggered by young Scandi activist Greta Thunberg, the festival really stepped up its eco game. The festival’s progressiveness should not only be applauded, but stand as an example that it really is possible to party without causing astronomical carbon emissions. According to its organisers, Øya prioritises sustainability as possible - including being run entirely on renewable energy for the past 10 years - and this year turned its attention to carbon capturing, as well as planning to use more wind power and electric transport.
Music still takes centre stage though, and Øya kicked off as usual with its ‘klubbdagen’ (club day), transforming venues across Oslo into showcase spaces for the city’s most exciting new talent. Classic shoegazed dreaminess was served up at John Dee, and Selmer brought further hazy vibes with their beach bops to Oslo’s brutalist main quarters, Røverstaden. The idyllic atmosphere came to a crashing halt as neo-disco art collective Tacobitch unleashed their powers. With surging beats, bizarre samples and a fair share of highly suggestive dance moves, the masked bunch seemed ready to bring down humankind in favour of their own alien dystopia.
Then Tøyenparken finally opened its gates, and what better act to kick off the festival than Sweden’s self-proclaimed “superdyke” rap-queen Silvana Imam. Unapologetically she belted out her feminist gospels over a throbbing beats, spitting bars in her native Swedish. Her swagger surpassing any linguistic barriers, Imam seemed every inch the unlikely hip-hop champion many have needed.
Some doom and gloom is expected of The Cure, yet the cold aloofness displayed by Robert Smith for the first few songs of their set put even the coolest of the Norwegian crowd to shame. Luckily, the frontman thawed out quickly, and the gothic masters painted out their back catalogue in all its glory.
“You do know The Cure is playing right now?” Dev Hynes asked in surprise. Yet, despite the wonder, Blood Orange was the unexpected highlight of the day. Having released two albums over the past year, Hynes had plenty of fresh cuts to pic from. The searing sentiment of the lyrics darted through the dark, leaving the audience in limbo between wanting to cry and wanting to dace. Every soft-spoken phrase and humming guitar told a whole story, keeping the crowd transfixed throughout the stunning performance.
The weather gods continued to shine up us and the only real heartache is the price of pints (and everything else) at the Oslo festival.
Penelope Isles offered an emotive start to the second day, taking us on a luminous journey that you hoped would continue all through to that day’s headliners, Tame Impala. Luckily, Pond lived marvellously up to their reputation, Nick Allbrook peering out of his introverted shell with eclectic dance moves punctuating every turn of the glittering psych prowess.
The psychedelic dream day was completed by non-other than Tame Impala. The kings of Aussie psych-rock took the stage with a confidence that only a few years ago would’ve been unheard of. Gracefully lead by Kevin Parker, the group set off the chaos with ultra-banger ‘Let It Happen’. With strobing synths and acid-trip lighting, we’re all at Tame impala’s mercy (and yes, ‘Elephant’ still gets everyone freaking out). Parker might have gotten his days mixed up, and yet, the man who uttered “solitude is bliss” now seems comfortable taking centre stage, even addressing his crowd between the bombastic cuts. The show really captured how far Tame Impala have come.
As the drop of ‘New Person, Same Old Mistakes’ kicked off for the last time we were left asking: “Kevin, when’s the new album coming?”
Though we hadn’t quite recovered from the psychedelic haze of the previous 24 hours, Kokoroko was the perfect act to ease into another day. The jazz outfit’s colourful music brought together a varied crowd, as well as healing hangovers.
Safario’s gig in the Sirkus tent can only be describes as pure fun. In the spriit of youthful disobedience, Kacper B. Tratkowski encouraged his willing audience to, “Go crazy, go stoopid”. The innocent recklessness of the artist is infectious, and you can’t help but sing along to: “I don’t know much, I don’t know shit”.
Later, Christine and The Queens’ set is everything we could have dream of, from sparkly pyro to intensively emotional dance routines. The sentiment of the performance hit a nerve that’s pretty raw in this day and age – an honest search for love and acceptance that goes beyond external approval. Chris holds out a beacon of hope for anyone that has ever felt alienated or alone. The importance of her message should not be ignored, and it is not without reason this performance stood out as one of the festival’s strongest statements. It is with a renewed feeling of emotional acceptance and empowerment that the festivities continued.
And the pop parade was far from over. We might have taken a little break to get yelled at by Norwegian metal outfit Deathcrush, but Swedish pop powerhouse Robyn was still top of the agenda. The experience was like arriving at the pearly gates of pop heaven to find Robyn waiting for you in a pink mini dress. She guided us graciously through dizzying disco heights and moments of real heartache, swooping across the stage with her partner in crime – a fantastic male dancer – twirling and shaking to the rhythms of her own tunes. A true expression of pop freedom
Just as we thought the show couldn’t reach higher, the singalong to ‘Dancing On My Own’ was so overpowering it left even Robyn in tears – a real rush of emotions.
Every good thing has to come to an end, and so we entered Øya’s final day with a mixture of bittersweet feelings. And what better act to capture this than Parcels. Their ‘70s bops slowly bloomed into a full-on funk fest, letting us forget our separation anxiety for a little while.
slowthai, on the other hand, isn’t an artist to allow people to be lulled into any sense of false security. Grabbing his crowd by the balls, the Northampton lad has no time for nonsense. The usually sheltered park space was suddenly forced to confront the true scope of Brexit as well as class divides in the UK. Once again proving he’s a true showman, Slowthai handled his tunes and crowd with charming authority. If there’s one thing to take from the gig it’s that moshpitting is “like making love, you’ve gotta work up to the climax“.
You’ve never really felt the foces of extrovert and introvert clash until you go straight from slowthai to Black Midi. These boys have never quite seemed to grasp the concept of likability, and thank god for that - Black Midi flourish in their (unapologetic) weirdness. Their refusal to fit into any kind of format seemed to capture the audience with an odd but winning mixture of discomfort and intrigue.
If Black Midi didn’t manage to give festival-goers the creeps, Pom Poko surely did. Their art pop and playful musical patterns might be all fun and games, but the huge, terrifying papier mâché figures are enough to trigger nightmares for quite some time.
It was finally time for the traditional Norwegian headliner slot to round off this year’s festival. We might’ve been sad to go, however the rain definitely made the goodbye a little less painful.
As Norwegian rap duo Karpe entered the stage on a replica flight staircase, imagery evoking their lyrics exploring the immigrant experience and racism. As one of Norway’s most beloved acts they’ve set out on a mission to unite people and keep those in power accountable. No small feat, but for a group founded on this very principle, also a deeply personal undertaking.
The show was every bit as spectacular one might imagine for such big task, from the flight stairs to the blasting pyro and the billion soap-bubbles that emerge to the “bubblicious” intro of ‘Skittles’. Karpe brings the whole package, and yet it was in those spaces in between songs, where the boys humbly spoke to their crowd, that a true tenderness set in. It was in the moments of solidarity, of love, of setting difference aside in a time where everything can seem hostile and polarised, that the true power of Karpe sank in.
Øya is over this time around, and again we’ve learned that this is a festival unafraid to take risks. Filling their line up with locals isn’t the most obvious promotional move, however it’s the passion behind that counts. Øya is a festival that cares, and we’re already excited to see what next year will bring.
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Words: and photography: Aurora Henni Krogh
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