Feeling refreshed and with no memory of the transgressions of the night before I was adamant to correct my wrongdoings of missing out on Hilma Nikolaisen’s set on Thursday. So I showed up at Sentrum Scene moments before she and her band walked out on stage, finding the venue and its inhabitants in a very relaxed mode with the approximately 100 people who have shown up sitting spread out on the floor waiting in a nervous silence caused by the large room and lack of music. Unless you have been living under a meth shaped rock for the last decade you know Nikolaisen as the bass player alongside her brother’s seminal shoegaze orchestra Serena Maneesh.
Overheard in the audience:
“God, she’s amazing!”
“I’m so sleepy”
The guard at the door is looking stressed out because of the long lines queuing up outside the venue as Nils Bech is set to play showcasing for Atomic Soul. The place is already pretty much packed to the brim and people outside are getting anxious about getting in. I manage to squeeze in among the last people in the door and I am pushed up against the back wall as a beer hungry crowd crash into each other like a rouge tidal wave of shoaling fish in a very small pond. The brilliant singer, dancer, all-round performer, Nils Bech, makes his entrance to a roar as he leaps up on the monitors striking a frozen pose before diving into his first number of the evening. Musicians joining him on stage are Ole Henrik Moe and Kari Lønnekleiv on strings and Jonas Barsten Johnsen (Atlanter, Hanne Kolstø) on drums, adding a dynamic feel to his already pre-programmed beats and vocals present lower in the mix. If there was any doubt in anybody’s mind before this show – then all doubts are immediately obliterated – Nils Bech is one fine showman. If not – the finest! With such ease and grace he moves about in the room using everything from lamps and curtains as stage props, making the audience go absolutely wild. His orchestrated pop-hits with his very own take on English pronunciation mixed with more audacity than you can shake a stick at makes for a truly entertaining cocktail on stage. You can tell people are having a blast, giggling, dancing and shouting with their eyes transfixed on Nils Bech, not daring to blink, afraid to miss a single moment of his antics. In a dazzling final act he is carefully prying the female band member’s shoe off her foot and prances proudly around as if he is trying to find the rightful owner to Cinderella’s glass slipper. It is a wonderful and remarkable time and very representative for your average Nils Bech-show, but perfectly sums up this joyful experience, which probably will be remembered fondly by the crowd for a long time.
Overheard in the audience:
“I’ve been camped here since 15:00 hours!!”
“He is cool and I like his beats”
Over at the Mono stage a fresh group calling themselves Soft As Snow are doing their best to win over the crowd with their electronic music and glittery outfits. It is said that some animals can smell fear and uncertainty. There would be animals going nuts from the stench in this venue tonight because the band looked truly terrified up there, like they were caught in the headlights, desperately trying to look relaxed and natural but only looking stiffer and stiffer. Finally I couldn’t take it anymore. Somebody needed to be put out of their misery and I decided it would be me, crossing the Youngstorget plaza again to find greener pastures (note to self: OK, enough with the animal metaphors).
In the under-lit basement of Revolver (I’m not exaggerating, they really turned the lights way, way down) Maribel came out looking mighty fresh for the occasion. The group have gone through some line-up changes since last time I saw them and have ditched the drums completely in favor for electronic drums and the wonderful Carmen Villain have joined up alternating on both bass and guitars. I remember Maribel being the new band on the block doing some impressive, but by the book shoegaze trickery on their debut album and getting a lot of attention before stepping sideways with a more noir-ish but a little vanilla, sophomore release and then disappearing for a while. I guess regrouping and reassessing have done them well, because when they start playing this gusty Saturday I am convinces this is my favorite version of the band so far. Sometimes Oslo can actually be a pretty cool place and if any normal, non-music-biz-randy would have wondered in off the street at this moment I am sure they would have agreed. Especially mid-way through the set when Maribel let go of the old conventions and restrictions of indie rock rules and regulations, and embrace their inner darkness with some truly booming drum beats and a harrowing, deep guitar sound engulfing everybody in the room. And that is the way Maribel found their groove back and how they should have a voice in the, let’s be fair, pretty crowded, dream-pop scene of Oslo. They will probably never be anybody’s favorite band, but they should proudly stake their claim with their new style and prove me wrong on that account. Give me another black eye, you fucker!
Overheard in the audience:
“What’s with all the bells?”
“What’s it like going through life looking like the indie rock version of Jack White?”
With my Thursday experience seeing Execration freshly in mind it was time to see if there were other contenders for the metal crown playing this year’s by:Larm. Rounding off the main stage down at Rockefeller the mysterious new group calling themselves CVLT were setting up shop. Seeing as how wearing masks and having a secret identity worked so well for other contemporary bands like Ghost and Goat (what’s with these theatrical, Swedish bands starting with G?) these guys seem to be going for the same plan. CVLT is a hooded robe wearing trio who refer to their live shows as ceremonies and claim to be members of already established and experienced, globetrotting bands. With all this racking up my brain I am trying not to be too prejudiced, but as the band come out on stage in their Sunn O))) style robes to the sound of a corny “hail Satan!”-sample and proceed to play by-the-numbers second-wave black metal crossed with some post-rock breakdowns I almost lose consciousness for rolling my eyes so hard. The music is actually played well and it’s pretty massive for being just one guitar with drums and vocals, and the Rockefeller PA provides crisp sound as always. If it had a less screwball packaging and if they stayed away from the atmospheric parts their performance would have been quite punishing stuff. Hell, even if it was a bunch of screamo-teenagers who stumbled onto your average Wolves In the Throne Room/Deafheaven records and started this band, that I could forgive. But grown-ass men (or women – it’s totally not women), should know better. But being so late to the game, CVLT’s schtick is just so embarrassing. My mind starts to wander and I remember people laughing and calling Dimmu Borgir the Spice Girls of black metal when they first started playing, with their shameless image and theatrics, and they ended up being one of the biggest bands of the genre. Never underestimate the power of lack of taste!
I stick it out for the remaining of their set amusing myself watching photographers in front of the stage battling for positions as a pack of aged, rabid, lense-wielding dogs, slobbering over the dead carcass of mediocrity, as I turn my back and slouch towards the nearest exit and sweet ear-cleansing silence. As usual critics, experts, musicians and fans all have it backwards. It’s not about genre. It’s about taste. A bad taste in my mouth. A bad thought in my mind. A bad sound in my mag.
Overheard in the audience:
“Was the name TRVE KVLT taken already?”
“Do you think this is Bjørn Hellfuck’s new band?”
Photo/text: Michael Lomax