The Giant Dutch festival and music industry convention Eurosonic/ Noorderslag Weekend kicks off today. As has become the rule at such fairs of new and independent music, Norway is again strongly represented.
The Norwegian artists and bands this year are:
Erlend Ropstad: Thursday (10/01) 21.30, De Spieghel Up
Erlend Ropstad is one of the newest and most promising names in the field of forthright, guild quality singer-song writing. His first full album “Bright late nights” was released last year, following his praised official debut “The Magnetic Tapes” from 2006.
Ropstad, aged 32, only took up music as a full time occupation four years ago, and in his own words, his songs and his take on music are conditioned by his relative maturity. -A fine instrumentalist and singer, he wields with ease and conviction the tools of expression that belong to the American tradition of folk-inspired singer songwriters. This landscape is precipitous of course, since it has spawned some of the greatest songs of popular culture, but Ropstad, has found a voice of his own, and his songs are arresting and complex in that special way this format permits. This is evidenced by their heavy radio rotation, both in Norway and in Europe. Ropstad has also become something of a live favourite after playing extensively both home and abroad.
Grand Island: Friday 00.15, Huis De ‘Beurs’
These boys are inbred Appalachians, or so they seem to suggest, for their music and message is clearly verging on madness. Amiss are norms, order and respect for expectations. Loath of narrative logic, temperance and a structure of recognition Grand Island’s dual pair of brothers -with an unrelated fifth member constituting the genetic freak- pour into the cauldron of their music frantic banjos, jungle beats and primal veils, blood-line precision, crystal-meth energy and general hysteria. The blend is a mutated and boosted meta-version of the innermost musical madness of America’s eastern mountains. This is how they like to present themselves anyhow.
They also confess a hint of influence from such entities as Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa, and this might be a better indicator of the state of mind we are here talking about. -For even if the sound is that of the convoluted mountain, the state of mind is very far from inbred stupidity. Zappa’s superfluity of ideas and arrogance of musical complexity is a lot closer.
The debut album “Say no to Sin” (2006) took the scene in Norway by surprise; blew most off their feet frankly, and extensive touring since has established this band as a one-in-a-million live experience.
The Grand: Thursday 01.15, Vera
As the name indicates The Grand is not a band out to spin gentle aural webs or reach us in hushed voices from some introvert place of sorrow and despair. Nay, this is a playing band, if there ever was one, and words of a supergroup are not too grand at all.
The Grand play a highly energised, at times frantic, kind of bluesy psychedelic rock which is dirty and murky and incredibly catchy. –A combination that requires instrumental mastery of the highest degree; not least since songs like these are born out of jamming and improvisation. The Grand make no secret of their inspirations or ambitions: Cream, early Deep Purple and Black Sabbath – in the form of Hammond organ and tarnished, sooty guitar tones – but also the twinkling, luminous aural phrases of Led Zeppelin and the unexpected tonal shifts of more contemporary stoner rock.
Their eponymous debut from last year was hailed as the return of the true musician (in the form of band leader and guitar hero Amund Maarud) to the scene of popular music.
Superfamily: Thursday 22.50, Muziekschool
Grand extravaganza is this band’s insignia; their live shows tend to manifest as Les Miserables: smoke-ridden banner-waving events with lots of noise and screaming and more than ample pathos. The thing is, they do this convincingly, for they have the music to match it. Their songs are layer cakes of synthesiser sheets, throbbing rhythm and screeching vocals, which broadcast the pointy melodies the way a storm would play on a comb.
Their album of 2007, Warsaw, made it to many of the Norwegian music critics’ list of albums of the year, and the ether has been positively throbbing with their enthused songs.
So if you’re one for the high tones, and enjoy being engulfed in some very persistent music –for this is no inner-worldly or sylvan expression- Superfamily might be just your next favourite band.
Ida Maria: Thursday 22.50, Huis De ‘Beurs’
If you haven’t already, it’s time you took notice of the name Ida Maria; the juggernautical new arrival on the scene of blender-fresh extrovert rock.
The Norwegian 23-year-old has got intimidating amounts of spunk, too much for her own good one might assume, for her own health at least; for she has a tendency towards on-stage injuries. But in music there can never be too much spunk of course, and Ida Maria’s undomesticated spirit infuses her songs with a youthful top-fuel kind of energy that sets it apart from even the most malcontent punk. However, all the energy is held in place, one could say, by exquisite musical mastery, and it is this that makes Ida Maria so unique: Autodidact and with a unredeemable sense of adventure she still knows perfectly well what she is doing; her instrumental mastery and vocal control is rare, and thus her performance oscillates between raw burst and eerie subtleties. She has equal amounts of Iggy pop and Ricky Lee Jones in her, and a lot more which is just her own. Most of all her songs are incredibly catchy: like a Bolli Stoli she mixes perfect sparkle with hard liquor, and nothing puts a smile on people’s faces like such a cocktail.
The BBC recently gave Ida Maria eleventh place on the list of artists they expect most of in 2008. Quite a feat for a young Norwegian (she was the only one among the top twenty not hailing from either the UK or America) who has yet to release her first record. (I like you so much better naked will hit the streets on April 21st.)
Hanne Hukkelberg: Thursday 21.25, Stadsschouwburg
No musical category can pin down the strange essence of Hanne Hukkelberg’s debut Little Things from 2004. Because more than just a (another) display of musical whimsicality and genre-merger it is about the “little things” the title bespeaks. More than anything the record astounds for its unbelievable “nearness;” the sounds laid down seem almost tactile, as living little things, the hearts of which you can sense throbbing though they make no sound.
A product of her relocation in Berlin, her second album, last year’s Rykestrasse 68, was grander and more continental -urban rather than sylvan- and with affinity to the liquid light of the cinema. Little things had been replaced by bigger ones, such as Berlin itself, cabaret stages and orchestras. But her trademark use of objects as instruments was repeated, this time including also a cat, and judging by the international reviews of R 68 her “presencing” musicality achieved magic also with those bigger things.
Hanne Hukkelberg is among the new Norwegian artists to have reached a truly global audience. She has fans around the world, among both influential critics and plain music lovers. Extensive touring and ever new brilliant reviews continue to spread the word of this remarkable artist.
Shining: Friday 01.15, Shadrak Up
Shining, a young, vital, hard hitting and original quartet, was formed by two members of celebrated jazz act Jaga Jazzist. On their four albums they've moved between complex riffing, filmic soundscapes, jazz, classical and modern composition. People dropped many names when trying to place Shining on the musical map, hearing elements from The Mars Volta and Slayer via King Crimson and Mahavishnu Orchestra to Henry Cow, This Heat, Ornette Coleman, Ligeti and Messiaen. One thing they all agreed on was the striking originality of this young group, which has gone through a radical transition from starting out as a post-bop jazz quartet.
Shining’s latest record Grindstone (2007) received fantastic international reviews, and at the end of the year it regularly featured on the critics’ lists of 2007’s best records.