Festival Diary: Slottsfjell 2012

- Photo by Christian Roth Christensen

Sunsets, stunning scenery and a pretty eclectic line up. That’s the name of the game here at Slottsfjell Festival, an event which revels in mixing the soft with the heavy, the new with the classic and the sublime with the absurd (and by absurd, we’re referring specifically to the set of Norway’s gold jump-suited Bare Egil Band). Three days of music, merriment and late night entertainment have been lined up for the festival, held in the oldest town in Norway, the port of Tønsberg, and we’re very excited to get started.

Thursday

Arriving on the sun-drenched site, we make our way to the Baglerscenen to catch a bit of Gabrielle. It’s not Gabrielle of ‘Dreams’ fame, but what we are greeted by is one of Norway’s hottest pop stars. An enormous crowd has made its way to this, the second stage to check out Gabrielle’s feisty brand of power pop, which provides an extremely bright opening to the day.

Feeling pretty pepped up after such an energetic performance, we mount the steps which climb to the top of the hill at the back of the festival site, leading us to Kastellscenen, a stage with possibly the most beautiful outlook of any festival stage ever. Placed on top of a hill, looking out over a Fjord, a castle and a setting sun, there’s a special feel to the shows on this stage and it’s here that Friendly Fires will be entertaining the crowd for the next 45 minutes. Staring out into the sunshine while the crowd dances and sways in front of them to tracks such as ‘Jump in the Pool’, ‘Blue Cassette’ and ‘On Board’, Friendly Fires appear to be enjoying themselves just as much as the crowd are. Vocalist Ed Macfarlane relishes the moments where he’s able to bound into the crowd, and swagger amongst his listeners, inciting a true party atmosphere in this outstanding setting. The only downside to the set is that it clashes with that of  Charli XCX, so after rushing down the cliffside staircase, we land back at Baglerscenen.

Having made her way over to Tønsberg from London, Charli XCX is already underway when we arrive, performing tracks which have helped her make her name in the UK, such as ‘Nuclear Seasons’ and ‘End of the World’. Although the crowd’s reaction is fairly tepid, Charli XCX and her accompanying musicians throw every ounce of themselves into the performance, with a cover of Echo and the Bunnymen’s ‘Killing Moon’ providing the opportunity to best observe Charli’s sultry, dynamic vocal style.

Back over on the main stage, there’s something akin to a West End production starting up. A plethora of musicians adorn the set, shuffling to dramatic intro music as three hooded figures make their way to the centre of the stage. A few more minutes of this anticipatory movement pass by, before one of the hooded figures throws off her robe, unveiling herself to be Janelle Monae, complete with unmistakeable locks and howling vocal. What arrives next could have been lifted from a Hollywood musical, as Monae and co. launch into dance routines, complex vocal journeys and mesmerising theatrics. Boundless energy is unleashed upon an audience that Janelle Monae has wrapped around her little finger, so that when she tells them to sit, they sit. When she tells them to jump, they jump. And when she ends the set by launching herself into the crowd, she’s caught with open, adoring arms, her soulful power jams having well and truly won the audience over.

After catching Suicidal Tendencies and Sandra Kolstad, the time is nigh to head to the after parties. The venue of choice for this evening is Kastellnatt where the likes of Autolaser and Canada’s A-Trak are helping to turn the vast industrial venue into a hive of excitable activity. The venue is outstanding, a large disused factory which has been lit, dressed and adorned to host revellers and close each night of Slottsfjell festival, so it’s here that we decide to dance the night away before heading home for some rest, and to prepare for what Friday will bring.

Friday

Day two of Slottsfjell is certainly not blessed with good weather. As the music begins, the heavens open, the ponchos are unwrapped and the wellies are given their first airing of the event. Things brighten up a bit for She Keeps Bees, who take to the Tårnlunden stage and enchant with songs from 2011′s Dig On with new track ‘Counter Charm’ going down particularly well. The sound is sumptuous and the audience appreciative, getting day two of Slottsfjell off to a very promising start.

After heading over to Bagelscenen, we await the arrival of Wild Beasts and reflect upon the advantages of seeing the performances of home grown talent in different countries. The crowd pulled by the band in Norway is nowhere near the size they’d attract in the UK, allowing us long standing fans the opportunity to see the band in a much more intimate setting that we’d be able to find in the UK. As the sun breaks the clouds again, Wild Beasts work their way through the like of ‘Albatross’ and ‘Hooting and Howling’, winning over the Norwegian crowd with every note and utterance. It’s a sublime performance from the four piece, undoubtedly one of the UK’s most accomplished bands at the moment.

Next is a trip up the hill to witness the rousing metal efforts of Cancer Bats, the only band of the festival who will incite a circle pit, before catching the quiet and gentle folk musings of Benjamin Francis Leftwich and a couple of the ‘hits’ from Australia’s Wolfmother.

An unfortunate clash arrives when we have to pick between ex-Gallows man Frank Carter’s new project, Pure Love and a performance from Oslo’s 120 Days. We choose to see the latter however, relishing the opportunity to catch one of Norway’s finest electronic acts perform one of their final shows to a home crowd. Playing our favourite stage atop the hill, the band pull the biggest crowd we’ve seen up here so far at this event, powering through carefully selected tracks from their back catalogue, with ‘Dahle Disco’ and ‘Osaka’ proving to be particular highlights. It’s a fond farewell from us when they depart the stage, off to pursue new ventures, but leaving a truly outstanding legacy behind.

Saturday

Changeable weather has become a running theme at this festival, the day starts out bathed in blinding sunshine but as Best Fit favourites Team Me take to the stage, the sky once again darkens, and it’s not too long before the main stage’s audience is soaked through. Luckily, we have one of the most uplifting bands of the Norwegian scene on stage in front of us, so songs such as ‘Dear Sister’ and ‘Show Me’ successfully distract from the rain and exhibit Team Me as a highly accomplished main stage proposition. As the band’s colourful balloon stage decorations make their way into the crowd, listeners forget about the atmospherics and indulge in the soaring harmonies and twinkling melodies of this Oslo collective.

Sticking with the main stage, it’s Stockholm’s Ane Brun who’s next, adorned in a white gown and unleashing her powerful vocal compositions and gorgeous orchestrations upon an enormous and expectant crowd. No one’s left disappointed, as ‘Do You Remember’ melts even the hardest of hearts into submission, a rousing and welcoming appearance from a very special performer.

Mounting the stairs up the hill for the final time this weekend, the suited and booted Noah and the Whale await our arrival, as they chime into ‘L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N’. The waving of a Norwegian flag throughout the show well and truly appeases the crowd, as we remark on how many teenage girls seem to have suddenly appeared at the event, and funnily enough, this stage. As the sun sets, we depart to make sure that we get a good spot for the final and most anticipated act of the festival, who are about to begin on the main stage.

Making our way back to a sun drenched Kongescenen, it’s time for the last act of the festival. And what an act is is. New Order have been selected to close 2012′s Slottsfjell festival, a legendary band in many respects who start as they mean to go on by powering through ‘Crystal’ on a stage dressed with an immense screen showing the iconic video to the track (and incidentally, the video from with The Killers took their name – fun fact for you). New Order classics such as ‘Blue Monday’ and ‘Ceremony’ are mingled with anecdotes from Bernard Sumner (“Apparently we haven’t played in Norway since 1980… but we only formed in 1981, so i’m not sure what happened there…”), before unleashing an encore which brings the Hus down.

Ending the set with a rendition of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’, each member of the crowd stares transfixed at the stage, enjoying hearing such an iconic track be performed live on such a beautiful evening. Special moments like this don’t arrive too frequently as festivals, but Slottsfjell seems to manage to produce them consistently. A special location, a unique line up and a friendly atmosphere on a beautiful site, Slottsfjell has proven itself to be one of the warmest, most promising and most inspired festivals that Norway has to offer.