Spread across the picturesque snow-covered city of Oslo, Norway, around 100 of the most exciting names across music arrived at the by:Larm festival ready to showcase why they are the next big thing. Almost instantly, Norway’s capital became the place for new music discovery.
And thanks to all the venues (including the stunning grand church Kulturkirken Jakob, graffiti-fronted gig venue Blå and underground club The Villa) being just a 10-minute walk from one another, it was possible to pace it across town (minding the ice underfoot) to try and catch as many shows as possible.
Another commendable programming decision by the organisers was that most acts played twice across the weekend, meaning that if you were impressed by an artist or band, you had a chance to make yourself familiar with their music before seeing them and knowing every word the second time round.
Cleverly, by:Larm’s music programme didn’t properly kick off until around 7 p.m., which meant that daytimes could be spent exploring Oslo or being educated at one of the many talks (ranging from “The State Of Music Journalism” to “Life On The Road With Rammstein” and “Breaking An Artist Through Instagram”) that formed the diverse conference programme.
Then there was the late-night club programme: in the early hours the party moved to underground sweatbox The Villa, where both rooms showcased female-only lineups with sets from Beta Librae, Karolinski, D Tiffany and Norwegian duo SYNK traversing breaks, acid, house, hardcore and techno.
Focusing on the live music, below are the top 12 shows tmrw saw at the three-day event in late February.
The Warp-signed London duo’s sound was the perfect fit for low-ceilinged, underground rock club Revolver. Producer Taylor Skye manipulated singer/violinist Georgia Ellery’s impressive vocal range against a jarring backdrop of piano keys, folk instrumentation, rattling synths, trap beats and hip-hop samples to create a style of music that is, while extremely intelligent and interesting, impossible to categorise by genre. Then, from out of nowhere, Georgia started playing a violin over doom-impending beats. At points, songs started out swirling and comparable to The Sound Of Music, but then they completely transformed. Jockstrap’s constant genre-bending unpredictability marked them out as the U.K.’s answer to 100 Gecs.
The Bristolian punk-techno duo do not fuck around; commanding a table full of hardware to within an inch of its life while continually bouncing for an hour, theirs was without doubt the loudest show of by:Larm 2020. It wasn’t a performance for the faint of heart, but their unrivaled energy and unrelenting sounds became strangely hypnotic -despite it being impossible to make out any of Harry’s howling vocals over the pummelling industrial noise. Not once did they look up at the crowd; instead remaining focused on their equipment and each other – making it seem like one massive improv jam. While Harry Wright pogoed in the air whenever a track was about to reach its peak, Robin Stewart carried an unhinged look in his eyes as they ramped things up to an unfathomable tempo. There were no breaks between songs, but theirs was undoubtedly the most intense and euphoric hour this writer has experienced.
It didn’t take us long to realise that Norwegian rapper/singer Isah is a pretty big deal over in Norway, because he attracted a queue of fans and industry types that stretched across the river behind Blå. And it was easy to see why he’s being tipped as the country’s next breakout artist, thansk to his mix of Travis Scott-style auto-tuned rap and The Weeknd-esque R&B vocals. The stage design looked seriously expensive, too, with tall illuminated LED mirrors, helping to create a vibe to match the trap beats that filled the room. He’ll be playing venues much bigger than this in the very near future, mark our words.
Ela Minus, also known as New York-based Bogotá-born Gabriela Jimeno, describes the music she makes as a “rebellion against the overly produced laptop-driven electronic scene.” And that’s a pretty accurate description, having experienced her live show. She wasted no time in turning Kafe Haeverk into an intimate club—layering her whisper-like yet powerful vocal over the top of New Order-style ’80s synths and techno production while moving around the small stage. Staring directly into the eyes from the front row, it didn’t take long for a dozen phones to be raised into the air recording the rising star’s intricate set as she fused thought-provoking, politically motivated lyrics with club-ready sounds.
Disturbing the peace at the normally chilled Kafe Haeverk, the Stockholm-based electronic experimentalist gradually layered synths, punchy drums and eerie bleeps to create a challenging hypnotic hardcore-techno hybrid. With her eyes constantly focused on her hardware and laptop, Sissel’s performance, which reminded me of when I first saw Marie Davidson, was focused but fun. The set was helped by the neon green strobes that spotlighted over the crowd, who stood nodding under a glittering disco ball. Known for her full-throttle sets, it didn’t take long before her intricate live show kicked up a gear, unleashing screams from the beer-swilling Nordic music fans in the crowd. Although it was a heavy, arguably sonically challenging set, especially for only 8 p.m., those in the quickly growing audience were more than up for it.
“There’s a lot of other concerts you could have attended, but you’ve chosen to spend your time wisely,” joked Athletic Progression’s bassist Justo Gambula while showing off his fancy footwork. As one-third of the Danish trio (alongside drummer Jonathan Jull Ludvigsen and keyboardist Jonas Cook), his onstage patter was a welcomed accompaniment to the band’s tempo-switching performance. Together, they create experimental guitar, drum-led jazz and hip-hop instrumentals. They were a group that really came to life in a live setting. Even more impressive was that they made it look so effortless. At one point, Jonas wasn’t even looking at his keys. We left thinking that they would be the perfect fit for U.K. festivals like We Out Here and Maiden Voyage because, to put it simply, Athletic Progression are one of the tightest bands around.
Bringing her sublime, soulful voice to the 1880-built Kulturkirken Jakob church, Baby Rose and her faultless band had the audience transfixed as she encouraged to “love in spite of all the shit that’s going on in the world.” Her unmistakable tone makes her a modern day Nina Simone. Despite really giving it her all, she made it look so effortless. “I didn’t mean to discombobulate my life, but hearing this bounce off the walls of a church and echo is fucking unreal,” she said before gospel-tinged break-up track “All To Myself.”
Norway’s electronic success story, who has worked with Ariana Grande, Major Lazer and Selena Gomez, causally walked onto the Sentrum Scene stage (one of Oslo’s biggest venues). He carried himself as if he was just your average person—not an artist who has worked with some of the biggest names in music. Cashmere Cat performed tracks from his new album across a short but extremely sweet 30-minute set. “Watergirl” sent a small group upfront wild before the playful producer and DJ went totally rogue with an energetic edit of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” which caught everyone off-guard and got everyone dancing together.
He might have less than 1,000 likes on his Facebook page, but Safario is a hero at home in Norway. After stagediving into the crowd, he had everyone properly moshing to infectious underground anthems such as “GO CRAZY, GO STOOPID.” It made for the rowdiest show of the entire festival.
CHARLOTTE DOS SANTOS
Wearing a ruffled white dress, Brazilian-Norwegian jazz singer and composer Charlotte Dos Santos brought the packed Kulturkirken Jakob church to a pin-drop silence with her dreamlike vocal on “Helios.” The audience seemed truly spellbound.
With the lights turned out at graffiti-fronted riverside club Blå, Norwegian ambient and experimental electronic producer PAN-AL bounced around behind his kit. He built ambient electronics to create a hypnotic yet danceable soundscape that Aphex Twin would be proud of, all while colour-changing visuals provided an equally transfixing backdrop. A hypnotising trip—both sonically and visually.
With Blå’s stage floor covered in smoke, the London-based noise artist’s show became the most challenging performance of the entire weekend. Playing bass guitar with her back to the audience while a whirring bass made the room feel like it was about to take off, as chopped up samples featuring comments on Love Island echoed around the room, the bookers were right to say in the programme that her show would be unlike anything you’ve seen before.