Every February there’s a music festival in Oslo called By:Larm, with a conference attached to it too. International delegates flood into Norway to meet, mingle, talk, do business, see new bands, and sit in on various panels, workshops and debates.
The first time I went was with work. I’d been hired to promote a night called Ja Ja Ja, a live music collaboration between music export agencies from the Nordic countries; that is, organisations who’s role it is to foster international recognition and support for native bands and music businesses. The export agency people were accommodating and generous, and I started getting invitations to travel out to Norway, Finland, Denmark and Iceland for similar events.
I was utterly unprepared for Norway in February, stepping onto the runway in English city-wear - Converse, thin trousers and, thankfully, a woolen coat - into deep snow that was still falling fast. I pulled my little case through the typically well-designed Scandinavian-style airport listening to ‘Norway’ by Beach House, and buzzing with anticipation.
Oslo is a great city. There’s a sense of calm efficiency that runs through everything, from the transport system to every small encounter. Things work as they should, and if they don’t, there’s a gentle frown, a stoic shrug, and then an easy solution. The heightened, frantic pace and every-man-for-himself attitude of London becomes a memory here as people quietly get on with their lives.
The festival is scattered around in the city’s many venues, from rock club basements to theatres and community halls, up to the heights of Stratos, a small room with large glass doors on every side, in the top of one of the city’s tallest towers. The snow swirled around us in the wind, lit by searching spotlights - it was one of those rare scenes that appears with such clarity and perfection that it couldn’t be staged better by the best set designers in Hollywood.
It was a good trip. I met a lot of people and got a working knowledge of indie labels operating in the city and a taste of what the scene is like, ending up working on three of the bands I came across there, and even releasing an album in the UK by a truly superb band called Sacred Harp, in cooperation with their Norwegian label, Trust Me.
On the last day of my second By:Larm, my friend Vas and I took a walk down to the opera house, nestled on the edge of the fjord. The blizzard had abated and there was suddenly a clear blue sky and bright sunshine that made the frozen, snowy city dazzlingly bright.
The opera house is a beautiful building, a graceful wedge pointing down into the water, which was frozen solid and blanketed in snow as far as the eye could see. It was a rare moment, surreal and peaceful, and Vas captured it perfectly here, using a flash to pull detail out of my silhouette.
With such clear fields of vision and natural beauty, it’s perhaps not too difficult to see where that sense of Scandinavian calm comes from.