We've just returned from the idyllic Trondheim Calling festival, sampling some of the best sounds that Norway has to offer. Here's what we found.
Trondheim Calling is a multi-venue showcase festival and conference that looks to show off the best that Norway has to offer, based in clubs, pubs, and pop-up venues in the city of Trondheim in the centre of the country. Since being founded in 2011, Trondheim Calling has grown into a centrepiece on the Norwegian musical calendar, and it prides itself on having the country's “largest national music conference”. The festival sprouted out of the need for central Norway to have its own showcase event following by:Larm's understandable decision to stay rooted to Oslo rather than roam about, and in the few years it's been rolling it's seen enormous growth.
As always, Trondheim Calling has the local music industry at the centre (it's been described as the Norwegian version of The Great Escape, a festival which itself has been called the British SXSW), with a slick and determined focus on the more pragmatic uses of a showcase event.
The organisers say their “primary objective is to raise the region's national and international reputation” and that's evident all weekend long: this isn't just a celebration of talented compatriots, but also the chance to show off the sights and sounds to people in positions to carry that torch overseas.
At the core of the 2018 edition are five artists selected for their export readiness: synthpop star Hanne Mjøen, genre-blurring foursome 9 Grader Nord, electro/dance crew Whales & This Lake, folk-infused metallers Ondt Blod, and psychedelic outfit Haunted Mansions. Each selected names has the chance to give a presentation and sell themselves, and afterwards international delegates offer advice from respective fields as part of a mini 'mentorship' program.
Trondheim Calling is fun, but it's also functional.
By flying. We went from Gatwick to Trondheim direct via Norwegian Air which was fairly quick, but there's a flight through Oslo too. Both only take a couple of hours.
We stayed at the Clarion Hotel & Congress, close to the water and near to the main venues at the festival. A pool complex (with sauna) is nearby for visitors' use, and there's a small cornershop nearby for emergency snacks (if you don't wanna go through the hassle of taking out a loan to use the minibar or room service...) - although loading your belly at the A+ breakfast buffet is recommended. Like any major city, you'll also find Airbnbs and various other hotels wherever you look.
Trondheim is a small and fairly compact city with beautiful sights in almost every direction (shout out to the fjords). Don't expect much heat, and lots of stuff closes early on a Saturday (and may not even open at all on Sundays), but you won't be short of things to do. Catch the stunning Nidaros Cathedral (which has stood in some form for nearly 1000 years) and the picturesque Old Town Bridge for the proper tourist vibes.
Walking! It's chilly but a good chance to take in the city. Besides, taxis are basically daylight robbery.
Trondheim is full of great grub spots. If you're looking to tantalise those tastebuds outside of the breakfast buffet or 7/11s you can grab a bite at Super Hero Burger (quite reasonably priced with generous portions) or one of the many pizzerias or restaurants in the city centre. As with most Nordic nations the coffee is excellent and cakes/pastries are plentiful.
If you're hunting for something a bit stronger you'll pay a premium (duty free is your friend) at the only place to buy wines/spirits - the state-run Vinmonopolet. We saw a bottle of normal-sized Hendrick's Gin for about 550kr... just under £55. Seven quid a pint is on the cheaper end of the scale in Norway.
The Bergen-based duo of Linn Frøkedal and Richard Myklebust (also of The Megaphonic Thrift) combine West Coast rock vibes with dreamy, otherworldly shoegaze while holed up in local metal watering hole Fru Lundgreen. Ripples of woozy, sun-snogged sound drift lazily across the crowd (wrapped tightly in winter coats), but every now and again classic rock shards stab out of the haze for some pleasantly unexpected vintageness.
Farao's already pretty well known on these shores - she's one of a handful of bigger, headlinery names on the bill alongside Årabrot and Sløtface - and despite lacking a real drummer (the usual drummer was too ill to perform) everything goes swimmingly. The synth and zither-led melee Farao whips up is miles from her folktronica beginnings and it's full of enchanting tangents into the world of electronic music.
Electro bandits Ponette deploy one of the weekend's standout sets in the smallest room at the Studentersamfundet i Trondhjem (basically a three-tiered students' union). There's a palpable energy from the foursome, who tie pop, R&B, nu-metal, and electronica into a feral package before the gathered crowd, detonating numbers like "Freak", "I'm Alone", and "Relief" with staggering results. As well as some truly excellent music, Ponette are taut and comfortable when they perform, with a presence built for much bigger stages - they weren't on the festival's own export-ready shortlist, but they're surely ready to make the leap on their own soon.
The Oslo-based producer/singer/songwriter has Sigrid's crown in her sights. It's a vibrant brew of white-hot pop and wide-eyed Scandi magic, with "Future" and upcoming single "Vanilla" particular highlights. Although it's just Mjøen, a drummer and a laptopper, she owns the stage - there's plenty of charisma and with tunes to boot there's a spark you can't ignore.
The R&B-er behind Gundelach dazzles on one of the biggest stages at the festival in the Studentersamfundet i Trondhjem. He weaves delicate, retro-flecked pop sounds that strike a somnambulent chord - fortunately we're woken abruptly by the next band in the venue across the hall...
Wildly off-kilter crew SASSY 009 cast out (seemingly) semi-improvised songs peppered with techno production, spoken word poetry, and flute lines. It's a bizarre combination that gels on stage, especially in the closing tracks which take the atmosphere from beard-stroking avant-gardery into dank, sweaty Berlin clubs. Fascinating and thought-provoking stuff that we're still trying to figure out.
The esteemed jazz artist takes to the stunning Vår Frue Kirke (Our Lady Church), simultaneously being used as a homeless shelter, to unfurl rousing and experimental odes before the pew-seated congregation. As she and her band reel off some meaty sounds before the ornate altar (her voice sounds superb, heightened perhaps by the building's acoustics), a poignant image presents itself. Sandtorv's set is striking in almost every way.
Bring lots of warm clothing and shoes with some good grip. January/February in Trondheim is cold - perhaps unsurprising given that it shares a similar latitude to big chunks of northern Canada, Greenland, and the southern tip of Iceland. It had snowed recently when we went, and the temps didn't rise about minus four so expect lots of ice and snow.