“Nah, bruv. He’s got beef with the guy. I think he’ll ghost him, you know, but he may just mug him instead” is a snippet of a conversation I didn’t think I’d hear in the middle of Norway, as I carpool from Trondheim airport to a luxury hotel in the centre of the country’s third largest city, with three South Londoners talking about things that I would need to look up on Urban Dictionary to ever understand.
Cooped uncomfortably in the back of the 8-seater, I’m next to another muso with a first name exactly my own. My namesake counterpart is larger than I am, with a beard too, juxtaposing my weedy posturing and complete inability to grow any excuse of post-pubescent facial hair. We look quite ridiculous – like a farcical comedy duo – as we try to dodge the bullets of social awkwardness and maybe even the grave matter of becoming accomplices to some future gang crime.
Pstereo is a strange foreign festival excursion and an unlikely choice for my first continental writing job but Norway and I, well, we’ve always had a special bond really. By this, I mean that it’s an imagined relationship based solely on my adolescent (sometimes creeping into adulthood at times of weak-willed relapse) Football Manager addiction.
As a young ‘un, you see, I was a Manchester United supporter – which I think was the cause of my complete and utter attention-seeking and self-obsessed nature later in life. And so my favourite players included a whole host of United’s Norwegian names – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Henning Berg, Ronny Johnsen, Erik Nevland…etc Fergie must have had a mistress based in Norway, right? Or at least a scout. This fascination with our Nordic neighbours culminated in my proud managerial stint of the international team on the 2010 game, qualifying and progressing to the semi-finals of the World Cup and in the process making Norway a defiant Stoke City-like, lump-it-up-there-and-hope powerhouse. Sadly just weeks after this legendary achievement, my laptop was stolen and with it the saved game and our fond memories were all gone. My honorary citizenship was lost forever.
I still like to think that in some alternate universe there is a statue erected of me in the capital, so I prepare to be greeted by my trusty captain John Arne Riise waiting at Arrivals with a sign that reads “Sjefen”, or “The Gaffer” in Norweigan, with big John Carew by his side to take my bags. I think of my defensive midfielder Alexander Tettey teary-eyed, still haunted by that penalty miss against Portugal, with my promising centre-half Vadim Demidov there to comfort him. “There, there”, Demidov would say – but in Norwegian, “There, there”.
Instead as I step outside into the crisp Nordic breeze, there’s no Carew, nor Riise, just a runway and some conifer trees. So I cast my daydreaming aside, leave my disappointment at Departures and continue my advance to Trondheim.
Western necessities and my complete unsuitability to jet-setting means that I take a lengthy shower at the hotel and miss openers Norma Sass. But press accreditation sorted and wristband donned – which, incidentally, remained on my wrist for another nearing on two weeks afterwards, causing me to develop a nervous tick of playing with it when confronted with an awkward situation that lasted even days from when I finally took the thing off – I arrive just in time to catch the latter half of local favourites Kråkesølv’s set. They get a warm reception except from the person to my left, who goes to the local college – which is actually in sight from the festival’s grounds – and tells me that the band are quite big in Norway but that he doesn’t see why. I’m with him and deciding that I’m not going to gain much from what seems to be a bit too generic-rock-by-numbers, I abandon my cross-armed posturing and decide to get a drink.
Having been forewarned that most things in Norway are hella expensive, alcohol seems one of these “most things”. So I look at my wallet and the feeble amount of Krone I exchanged back in England and then again at the price signs, trying to work out the exchange rates in my head like I’m taking a Mental Maths test at a house party as someone holds a beer to me, encouraging me to chug. It depresses me that I can’t afford an alcohol habit. These two things should come together: the depression and unemployment brought on by recently graduating and an increasing alcohol dependence. But seemingly not. With my stay appearing beerless unless the beer becomes free, the festival’s handy bar system provides some comfort of interest as I stand there empty-handed, showing off the Scandis’ ever-efficient way of living. With tents split into those selling beer coupons and those selling the beer, the system means that there’s no queues in sight and your order is pre-empted as you walk near the tent, leading to a swift exchange of token in one hand and receiving of a pint in the other, like a drunken relay race.
Fed up of being tempted by all the beer and tokens from baiting festival workers, I wander over to the second stage to catch Honningbarna, the locally-sourced punk heroes who I’ve heard be compared to Frank Carter-era Gallows but whose name conversely translates to the much less harsh-sounding “Honey kids”. The baby-faced six-piece enter the stage, looking young enough to be refused entry to any of the festival’s late-night after-parties. Well, at least someone else is sober too. Their appearance totally juxtaposes the crowd of largely bearded metal and punk types. Then they play and their unbridled onslaught of yelping punk rock proves my initial prejudgement as ignorance. Singer Edward Valberg, dressed in a sweater-and-tie combo like he’s playing a high school concert, has the stage presence of a psychotic Scrappy Doo, who has been chained to the fence outside Tesco while Shaggy has popped inside to stock up on some Scooby snacks, snapping at passers-by. Every couple of songs, he pulls out a cello; but these interludes don’t subdue the frenzied atmosphere one bit as Valberg hacks at the strings in a way that would make his music teacher’s skin crawl.
Taking a breather at the press lounge, I monitor the Scandi spread and consider breaking the unspoken code of buffets and banquets – only take a little. Luckily Larry David isn’t around to stop me, so I fill my plate to bulging levels. Sat on the outdoors decking I hear, and vaguely see the top of the head of Therese Aune on one of the smaller stages. Sadly her wafer-thin acoustics are completely drowned out by obnoxious blasts of bass from the tent adjacent. Trying to hear Aune is a pointless cause, even after strategically working my way to the centre of the tent, so I give in and head to see where all the noise is coming from. If I am being forced to hear it, I may as well see it too.
The hoopla happens to come courtesy of London’s Newham Generals, whose UK grime is met by a boisterous response from the Nordic crowd that sits ambiguously somewhere between novelty and mockery. The song on arrival is ‘Bluku! Bluku!’, I know this because the track is largely them just repeating those words over and over. These are also words which seem to be the group’s catchphrase, meaning “bang bang” in the same way that Odd Future’s “Swag” means “cool”. The new single features none other than Dizzee Rascal and the group’s shout-out to him invites an overly-optimistic response from a few locals to my right, obviously hoping the UK star had travelled all that way and would jump on stage any second,you know, just for a few minutes. Dizzee never does come and neither does the material that must possess to have gained them an obvious cult following. Instead the Generals just come off as regurgitatory, out-of-touch and quite clearly out of place with the rest of the festival.
Following a last minute cancellation from LA’s Best Coast, another Norsk native Susanne Sundfør fills in at the 7pm slot. The Oslo songstress, whose intimate solo albums have seen her commonly compared to Joni Mitchell, is supported by a backing band and the expanded result comes off something more in the region of White Hinterland. It’s a spellbinding performance but the kind of set that transfixes you with some sort of magic in the moment but that you may forget all about afterwards.
Washed Out, the touring band of which I was actually asked to join this weekend, is up next on the secondary stage. Well, I say “asked to join” when I really mean that a case of mistaken identity with a confused member of staff at the hotel(which involved the two of us getting deeply lost in translation and then resorting to a frustrating game of multi-lingual charades) meant that he repeatedly tried to give me the keys to the band’s room. Once there, I’m pretty damn sure they’d respond to a total stranger walking into their room by asking that person to join the fold. I’m sure of this, I have seen many rock biopics in my misspent lifetime.
The show, while absent of one potentially brilliant member (the fools!), is enticing enough to make me forget all about my intention to leave halfway to catch Team Me. But Ernest Greene repays with a performance that perfectly soundtracks the mood as the sun sets behind the conifer-clad mountain tops that surround the park. The set features a mix of both the old, the new, the borrowed and despite my memory failing me, at least one of his live band must have been wearing some item of blue, right? Alas, Washed Out’s earlier material, from when the performance consisted basically of Greene and his backing band of a laptop, still appears to me more interesting than the newer tracks showcased from recent album Within and Without.
Jump to 9pm and Santigold can be seen strutting around the main stage, flanked by a set of twin female dancers. Her kooky stage presence is not something totally definable and extinguished as uniquely her own but rather assembled of borrowed bits from Gaga and Minaj both. Nonetheless it’s thoroughly entertaining and gripping enough to hold your attention for a good 45 minutes plus a seemingly-impromptu encore. Her 2008 hit ‘L.E.S Artistes’ remains the biggest crowd-pleaser, kick-starting the party for this increasingly tipsy audience. She even managed to coax an awkward two-step or two from this old sober grumpy guts, which – I feel – is the biggest compliment of all.
With the sun well and truly set and dusk turning into pitch darkness, Glasser rounds off the Basstionen billing. The singer captivates the understandably sparse crowd; the few that have risked the prospect of being left with a terrible view for the looming headline act. For me, it’s totally worth it as the artist otherwise known as Cameron Mesirow shimmies and shakes under intense red lighting . For any equally red-bloodied male, what’s not to like?
Turns out I am indeed left with the prospect of viewing the recently reformed Death From Above 1979 with the help of binoculars, as I try to find a dry patch of grass to rest my tired limbs in front of the main stage. DFA are kicking up a ruckus as ever, that’s clear as hell from here, which if you somehow worked your way into the mosh pit centre of the crowd would have a stimulating experience, but here is a bit marred by the sound of the wind and the natterings of the bored few and tired many leaving. That said, they still get some good ol’ seated headbanging from me – which looks quite ridiculous but roughly translates to a thumbs-up.
Getting back to the hotel I’m disappointed to see there’s no rockstars partyin’ it up in the bar. Where’s Santigold and her two twins? I mean, I do have a double bed and there’s only one of me. Also, where’s the Newham Generals? We could close all the windows, spark up a doobie and stain the walls a murky shade of green. Oh and where’s those pesky kids out of Honningbarna? I thought they’d be here sniffing lines of sherbet right off the counter. But no, I enter the lift and resign myself to sleeping alone tonight. Norway isn’t that different to the UK after all. Getting into bed I decide to flick on the TV and watch a whole host of weird, but when deprived of sleep wonderful, foreign films. I may even throw the TV out the window after I’ve finished – rock ‘n’ roll! But probably won’t.
Read Part Two here, including an imagined fake love affair with Susanne Sundfør and even more self-reflection in hotel rooms.
Photos by Jannica Honey.