Ah, the joys of a supportive government. There is a reason that music from France, Canada and the Scandinavian countries are disproportionately represented in countries like China: that their governments believe in the soft power of exporting their cultures, and actually put funds behind initiatives to actually make it happen.
Oya Festival is the granddaddy of the Norwegian contemporary festival scene. Founded 14 years ago, it is held in a Medieval Park in the Bjorvika district of downtown Oslo. The area is a monster mash of construction and redesign. A sparkling new opera house made of white marble is the main feature of the regeneration of the East end of the Oslo fjord. The old container port will soon be 145,000 sq.m of new houses, offices and retail space that make up the controversial “Barcode buildings”.
The Medieval Park sits slightly at odds with the new road systems and flyovers that reminded us more of Shanghai than Oslo. 4 stages are crammed onto the thin strip of grass among the 11th Century ruins that bank the fjjord. The size of the park dictates that the festival capacity remains at 15,000 per day, which ensures an intimate feeling inside. Programming for the most part is restricted to 2 stages running concurrently (the main and the third stage alternates with the second and the Klubben), meaning that you can enjoy 90%+ of the artists that are performing. This assumes you don’t mind leaving things half way through and rushing between stages, the activity that characterised the majority of our 4 days. The other thing that makes Oya different is that the festival runs Wednesday – Saturday with many of the bigger artists on the Wednesday, Thursday, Friday (a boon when bidding for artists against the other European weekend festivals).
The site is incredibly beautiful – flanked by the fjord on one side and a wooded mountain on the other, lakes wend their way in and out of grassy knolls. Production is first class with the sound crisp and loud across the site, and no sound bleed to speak of (except when Bjork threatened to walk if the second stage wasn’t turned down – adjoining stages only ever run at the same time during the headline act). Our only slight complaint was the length and slope of the Klubben tent that meant it was hard to get a good experience unless you burrowed right in. The Northern latitude of sunny Oslo meant that light shows were restricted to the last acts of the day, which was a shame, but definitely meant the closing acts were especially rad.
The crowd was a somewhat older one (average age probably late 20′s early 30′s) and there were plenty of ear-protected kids running around. The audience was extremely “nice” (there hasn’t been a single arrest in 14 years of Oya) which was both a blessing (the site remained clean and respected throughout with no threatening behavior at all over the 4 days) and a curse (the energy across the site was quite flat – not a circle pit or crowd surf in sight). It was hard to really get into any of the artists when there was little to no feedback from the audience, save for some polite clapping in the right places. That said, it is a minor gripe – if you enjoy getting down and dirty in the mosh pit, then stick to Reading and Leeds.
And so it was that a group of around 200 of us delegates, both international and Norwegian floated around the edges of this great festival. In the mornings before doors opened, we were kept busy with trips to islands and swims in the sea, and one of the evenings after the festival ended, we were piled into a bus and taken to an open decked restaurant that jutted into the fjord for drinks and an intimate acoustic session with Susanna (of the Magic Orchestra). Quite magical.
The greatest thing? We got to see Norwegian bands in an environment that we (and they) were comfortable with, and honestly, there is lots that we want to do with Norwegian music as a result.
Others have reviewed the music much better than I would or could: check Paste for example.
Takk to all the crew that made it all possible. Until the next time…