Going into the second day of by:Larm made the impressions from the first evening feel like a completely different experience. In many ways it could be summed up in 90s action-movie terms as “Now it’s on!” or “Shit’s getting real!” or even “They’re bringing out the big guns now!” But it truly did feel like the festival was really kicking into gear with the heavy hitters entering the stage, and perhaps more than ever before by:Larm felt like an arena mostly for already established artist more than a vehicle for finding fresh and upcoming talent. Also, I had developed an imaginary rash, acting up every time I heard anybody utter the word “music”. Approaching this musical event with an ascetic stance I had only eaten three pieces of Wasa Knekkebrød (Mineral Plus) to purge my body of unhealthy poisons picked up in the days before, negative thoughts in general and to ensure utmost clarity and focus – on the “music”. It was not going well.
Due to reasons beyond reasonable human comprehension I had managed to arrive too late to catch my planned observance of Norwegian goddess, Hilma Nikolaisen’s set, this evening. But I am sure it was both great and interesting for all the right reasons.
Instead I had perfectly timed my arrival to the Revolver basement way early before the brand spanking, new Norwegian sextet of promised power-pop goodness – Beachheads. Featuring an already prominently established cast of musicians this group came with the right amount of buzz, and we are treated to a very charming and energetic set of well-crafted guitar-based pop songs of the caliber set by the likes of The Replacements, Big Star and Teenage Fanclub. Other Norwegian bands have done well with this genre before. Both Beezewax and Hiwatha are both great bands that come to mind. But still Beachheads, based on this performance alone, have a presence and a “je ne sais quoi” about them, making them stand out and above other recent bands I have come across doing this thing. Much of the reason lay on the bobbing and weaving shoulders of frontman Børild Haughom, keeping the band going forward, explaining the songs (“This next song is about a friend who fell on hard times – it’s called Shadow of a Man) etc. The vibe is light, the songs are catchy. Pretty sure this band is only a good recording away from making a much beloved debut album.
Overheard in the audience:
“What’s that guy from I Was a King doing on stage? Is he a friend of the band or something?”
“This music need to be played on 60s equipment, not modern crap!”
Making my way to the cryptic new place known only as Hoffmann Kulturstube (Kulturhuset basement) I manage to catch the last song of the band I’m told is Broen and I am utterly confused. The band is onstage wearing matching costumes modeled after what I can only describe being Danskebåt-orchestra outfits with sparkly sequins and theatrical make up. It’s not meant to be subtle that’s for sure. The vocals are rapped and the music is synth based with a tuba honking on top. The entire room reeks of raw sewage, vomit and broken dreams. And no, the first part of that sentence is not a metaphor. It really smells like pungent manure in the whole basement. There is clearly a dead rat clogging a pipe causing an explosive diarrhea overflow in the immediate vicinity.
Being nothing but persistent, bordering on masochistic, I decide to stick around for 30 minutes to watch the band I came here for: Møster. Kjetil Møster has been doing his thing (playing saxophone like a possessed man) for many years now. Most notably for Ultralyd (thumbs up) and Datarock (yikes). Live and on stage this night he is joined by Hans Magnus Ryan and Kenneth Kappstad from Motorpsycho and Nikolai Eilertsen from Elephant9/Big Bang-fame and they launch into three monstrous, thundering songs to span their half an hour playing time. It’s well executed and a pretty much flawless set of impressive and playful proportions. Yet in many ways, it feels like there are no surprises in the way it’s being presented and in the way it is handled; and I was left asking myself why so many bands out of Norway have all chosen to interpret jazz through the same warm sounds of the 70s with orange amps and Led Zeppelin/Deep Purple-ish riffs. It just feels like being well within the comfort zone of these musicians, and I find myself zoning out and thinking about parking tickets, laundry and dust settling on neglected windowsill cacti every time Kjetil Møster isn’t going all balls out crazy on his sax (which thankfully happens a few times – and it’s utterly awesome!). In the end though I have to succumb to the overwhelming stench of excrement and I’m trying my best not to think of it as being symbolic. In the end I must admit being a victim of my own wants and expectations. Møster is an impeccable band playing remarkable music. I just wanted it to be something else and I am solely to blame for not enjoying myself.
Overheard in the audience:
“Look out! Here comes the dangerous jazz!” – uttered while some lonely, overweight security guard puts up a tiny polyester strip to separate the stage and the people waiting to see the show.
Back at the Revolver stage I arrive early to avoid having to stand outside in the line while Execration are playing, only to find that there is no line and most by:Larm attendees have wandered elsewhere, possibly to see Marit Larsen perform some groundbreaking material or something. Technical death metal is clearly not a priority to anybody who’s anybody this evening. It being many years since the last time I had seen this Oslo quartet, I came expecting to hear material from their box-fresh, skull-bashing album, Morbid Dimensions. Execration just stands out like a bubonic thumb in this year’s by:Larm program with their late 80’s esthetics, dirt-staches, howling twin vocals and off-beat time changes. There is a clever element to their songs, making them the very unlikely and perhaps, quite uniquely, deserved Grammy winner in ages. It’s quite frankly brilliant! It is also a huge paradox with metal turning into one of Norway’s finest and most respected exports (and lord knows this country really doesn’t have too many of those) it just can’t get no TLC or R.E.S.P.E.C.T. back here. It’s pretty much relegated to being this festival’s DUFF. So going to see Execration, an award winning Norwegian metal band, on the top of their game, in their prime, with everything in the world going for them, are playing to 30-40 people who look like they just don’t give a crap. In South-America every kid on the block would know their names and wear their t-shirts and worship them as gods because metal is vibrant and important counter culture. In Norway kids are most likely too busy counting their parents money and worrying about getting into law school or something to be bothered. Luckily Execration doesn’t care because Execration play like they will singlehandedly usher in the new era of prosperous killer tunes, supreme riffage and the platonic extermination of dullards, dolts and dimwits everywhere.
Overheard in the audience:
“Are you guys going to stagedive? It’s going to look great when I take pictures.”
“Suspiria! That’s a great movie!”
Photos and words by Michael Lomax
Stay tuned for more from by:larm!
Read our report from day 1 here.