After stealing my heart five years ago, returning to Norway for my first Øyafestivalen felt long overdue. Flying over Norway is indescribable – like looking down over the setting for a fairytale. Glistening lakes, enchanted forests and roads that seem to stretch to nowhere.
Øyafestivalen is Norway’s renowned music festival that takes place at the beautiful Tøyenparken Park, a short tube journey from the centre of the capital. Oslo is often referred to as the “live capital” of Scandinavia since they have more than twice as many yearly shows as Stockholm and Copenhagen combined. Øyafestivalen offered the world’s best line up this summer and we defo had to experience it.
On our first night in the city we ventured down to BLÅ (Blue) – an independent club in Oslo offering live music. BLÅ sits on the banks of the Aker River, and tonight it was packed with local and international festival goers and music industry delegates. At a tenner per pint, a night out in Oslo doesn’t come cheap – but it’s worth the cash if you’ve saved for it.
Øyafestivalen properly kicks off on the Wednesday, and this year’s outrageous back-to-back billing of Arcade Fire and Arctic Monkeys created a huge buzz. Two international headline acts sharing the same stage on a thunderous Wednesday night in Norway. The stage was expertly set for the biggest day of festival season 2018.
Anyone who’s attended a major UK festival, notably Reading or Leeds, will be familiar with the discomfort endured to get a good glimpse of a big headline act – without being shoulder barged and covered in someone else’s piss. In Norway, everyone is on a chilled vibe. In comparison, Øya’s main stage feels intimate.
The best headline sets are the ones that flood you with nostalgia and evoke certain emotions. Arcade Fire’s impassioned set is impossibly hard not to get lost in. Régine delivers introspective tenderness on the disco-tinged ‘Electric Blue’, looping the words ‘Cover my eyes electric blue Every single night I dream about you’. But it’s ‘We Used To Wait’ from 2010 album ‘The Suburbs’ that gets the sober Nords moving.
Arcade Fire proved they are one of the best bands in the world. Humble, current and loyal. I came away from their magnificent set with infinite love (and Infinite_Content).
There have been two significant head shaves in my lifetime. Britney Spears in 2007, and Alex Turner in 2018. The return of Arctic Monkeys caused controversy earlier this year when ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’ lacked the festival anthems the band are known for. Arctic Monkeys took a risk with a new direction, and when you hear songs from the new album live, you realise it was a risk worth taking. Set opener ‘Four Out Of Five’ already feels like a Monkeys classic.
Turner straddles his guitar working his way through the hits ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’, ‘Teddy Picker’ and ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High’ – his God-like stage presence greater than ever. Arctic Monkeys are known for their explosive rock encores met by thousands of fans singing the words back to them for a thousand different reasons. But tonight is different.
Before ‘Snap Out of It’ and ‘R U Mine?’, Alex Turner returns to the stage where he sits at the grand piano. A black and gold disco cube rotates in the corner. We see the front-man in a new light as he croons: ‘What exactly is it you’ve been drinking these days? Jukebox in the corner Long hot summer’.
Something about the music industry gives you the ability to find energy even when you’re running on empty. Imagine your first call of duty on day two of Øyafestivalen being a MANDATORY boat trip loaded with free beer.
Stepping on Oslo’s mainland it was time for another afternoon of huge and truly unmissable acts. The sun radiates over Tøyenparken Park as Ellie Rosswell brings the crowd to their knees with her formidable cool. Wolf Alice are a band well accustomed to the early-afternoon festival slot. Their glossy grunge live show is understated and effortless, standout tracks include ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’ and ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’.
Dazed slow jams are the primary mode of Atlanta-based contemporary rap artist Ricardo Valentine, a singer-slash-MC who goes by the name 6LACK (“black”). Opening for Kendrick Lamar is no small task, but Valentine takes it in his stride. Honest lyrics and a flow like no other. ‘I don’t wanna lose myself loving you’ murmurs 6LACK over dark pristine production.
Now for the main event. Indisputably the most acclaimed rap artist of his generation, Kendrick Lamar draws the biggest crowd of the festival. The iconic red DAMN. logo illuminates the stage. Most of the crowd know every word to his tracks. In comparison to the other headline acts at Øyafestivalen, it becomes clear that hip hop has a firm place in Norway– alongside black metal and electro pop.
Kendrick Lamar is a poet. A modern day Langston Hughes. He brings infectious energy from the moment he steps on stage, charging full steam ahead through hit after hit with his quick witted lyrics and untouchable vibe. His set is quick, sweaty and gives you barely enough time to take a breath. ‘Kung Fu Kenny found the mothafuckin’ glow, hoe.’
No rest for the wicked. Øyafestivalen culminated with five bad ass headliners and future headliners. All female, incase that needs pointing out – Charlotte Gainsborough, St. Vincent, Lykke Li, Jorja Smith and Patti Smith.
St. Vincent’s Øyafestivalen performance is a marathon in itself. Equal parts thrilling and emotionally exhausting, Annie Clark sings over sleek production with her raw emotion, lodging every lyric in your heart ‘Slip my hand from your hand Leave you dancin’ with a ghost.’
Switching guitars and masterfully thrashing the life out of them, Annie is every bit a rockstar. For the emotional finale, St. Vincent altered the lyrics in ‘New York’ to honour Oslo. And as she ends on the heartbreaking ‘But for you darling, I’d do it all again’, we feel every word.
Lykke Li is an unusual headliner for the UK. In Norway, her ‘So Sad So Sexy’ sultry pop is given the recognition it deserves. The Swedish singer brings melancholy to Øya with the pouring rain only adding to all the drama: ‘I was only lyin’ when I looked in your eyes I’m cryin’ diamonds like a river inside And it’s so sad, so sexy.’ Comedown pop is thriving and Lykke Li is Queen.
Representing Norway’s homegrown talent Sassy 009, Thea And The Wild, Girl In Red and Halie all put on shows worthy of worldwide recognition at Øyafestivalen 2018.
Festival season may as well end now because nothing comes close to the music offered by Øyafestivalen this summer. The critically acclaimed line up was expertly produced. Maybe some of the major UK festivals should look to Norway for how to get it right.
Words by Hayley Thompson // @hayleyyt_