Oya Nights: Live Report From Oslo Part Two
, August 10th, 2013 09:46
John Doran watches Cat Power, James Blake, Austra, Jagwa Music and Kraftwerk in Oslo
If there is a better sight to greet you on leaving your Norwegian hotel room in the morning than unlimited scrambled egg and all of Electric Wizard in full amphetamine stormtrooper uniform marching off into the rain carrying guitars (and comically large cymbals) then I'm momentarily unaware of what it is. It inspires me to go for a quick bracing swim in the fjord.
Talking of bracing, Quietus noise rock favourites from the US, Metz, are on. Noise rock, like most things musical is moving out of an age of innovation into an age of refinement and their blend of atonal, angular, masterfully deployed but brutal rhythm guitar, clangorous bass and punishing stick snapping drumming is... well, perhaps refined isn't the most appropriate word... But if you ever found yourself thinking I'd really like to listen to a band that combined Wire, Killdozer, Shellac and Jesus Lizard then these grooves are the sickness you need. They play their instruments until they break and walk offstage triumphant.
Not playing anything until it breaks are Local Natives all of whom look and sound like Top Man mannequins squeezing out particularly intransigent turds such is their 'serious' and 'emotional' demeanour. Who thinks to themselves, "I know what I want my band to sound like, a heady mix of all the really simpering bits from Coldplay, Vampire Weekend and Fleet Foxes?" A bunch of divots, that's who.
It's become a fashionable complaint among the sort of people who insist on mentioning that it's sparkling wine not champagne at wedding receptions, to draw attention to the fact that not everyone thought that the American counter cultural psych folk singer Rodriguez was missing presumed dead. The recent biopic Searching For Sugar Man, perhaps over embellished certain aspects of Detroit singer's myth in order to tell a better story. Enough people (mainly in South Africa where he became fleetingly famous in the early 1970s) did believe that he had committed suicide (some even suggesting that this had happened during a gig) to give it some kind of curiosity value at the very least. And to all the people who knew the truth: well done for owning a David Holmes mix CD in the late 90s, you fearless cultural explorers.
As always it's the music that counts. Rodriguez can handle being tired and emotional and his free wheeling tunes have a resonance now that will withstand a nerve steeling brandy or three before show time. Given that his career has just sky-rocketed out of control recently, it's perhaps understandable that he needs a sherbert or two before going on stage. What he can't support however is the lame journeyman band he's picked up. They're a bunch of tedious student union plodders who act as anvils chained to his legs. And obviously Rodriguez isn't the kind of terrifying presence (like Mark E Smith) who will lick them into shape.
Next up Cat Power is as sharp as a die. Imperiously assured and backed by a superb band who bring out the absolute best in her post Jukebox material, mainly culled from Sun. Her voice gets better as she gets older, clearly - and I have a gut feeling her best years as an artist are still in front of her. Let's not beat around the bush here; Chan Marshall has had problems to deal with over the years - including recently - something that used to make going to watch her play live too difficult a prospect sometimes. While an audience doesn't owe an artist the same care of duty as concert venues, management, promoters and labels but the audience is still a collective of willing participants in what can feel like Roman entertainment sometimes. (To what extent all of us are uneasy participants in musicians' private lives is a question worth asking ourselves every time we listen to a song like '3,6,9', or 'Rehab' by Amy Winehouse for that matter.) So it's pleasing for a lot of different reasons to see her well again. Man, she really does bestride the narrow stage like a damn colossus when she's firing on all cylinders. Pay respect to the never more aptly named POWER - the best performer of the festival.
Grimes makes me feel old - no doubt her paper thin music, Top Shop fashion shoot clothes, reedy voice and irritating gap year prannarck dancers are just something I'm too old to "get". Thank fuck. Iceage make me feel slightly younger but their natural habitat is a basement show at midnight not a tent during the mid-afternoon. Although anyone who feels like chucking together The Damned, Warsaw, Black Flag, Wire and Mission Of Burma is fine by me; any time, any place.
Across town off the festival site, Austra is playing at Parkteatret. Resplendent in gold lame, I'm really desperate to like the newer material because on paper I feel like Katie Stelmanis' synth pop/new age operatic pop/Chicago house persona should be my sort of music. And to be fair, it is a very admirable sound but the richness of her voice, the fussiness of the instrumentation make it a far too rich confection for me with electronic dance music always relying on space for its impact. Throw in an irritating, punchy, pissed up crowd who look like they got lost on the way to Blur and ended up here instead, and you're on to a losing formula.
The next day, back on site, knowing exactly when less is more and when more is also more are Deathcrush, who open with recent single 'Lesson #13 For Nanker Phelge/Fire'. It's a shame that Vidar has parted ways with Arabrot of course (but the decision doesn't seem to have hampered Kjetl if his new, self-titled album is anything to go by). However it's undeniable that the whippet thin drummer was always the missing part of the Deathcrush equation. His armour piercing snare slams and blast beats (played on the same kit that Rod Stewart's drummer used on 'Do You Think I'm Sexy?' no less) not to mention his black metal influenced backing vocals, are the extra distance they needed from the indie sphere and the extra push they needed towards punk and noise rock. Also add to this a widening of the song writing palette by Åse Røyset and Linn Nystadnes, not to mention their first tentative steps into the use of electronics and their already solid grounding in bands like Sister-era Sonic Youth Babes In Toyland and Killdozer and you can surmise that they're finally on their way. Their every move live is choreographed. Good. There are too many bands slouching round stage like glass collectors and litter pickers. There needs to be a cull of bands who can't be arsed putting the effort in.
It's also good to see that cool young people outnumber slightly weird old men by a number of 20-1 this time. (And yes dear commentator, this is what's generally called an open goal.)
Parquet Courts are like the garage rock Presidents Of The United States Of America or the hipster Ugly Kid Joe but credit where credit's due, their song about the munchies, 'Stoned And Starving' is ace, existing, lyrical concerns notwithstanding, on the righteous nexus as VU's 'What Goes On', Television's 'Evil' and The Modern Lovers' 'Roadrunner'.
I'm not going to say anything daft like everything Disclosure do is great but they understand how house music works much better than syrupy dramatists Austra and the cool, vanilla fun vacuum Mt. Kimbie. And when the little one with the baseball cap straps on a bass and the little one with the side parting starts triggering apocalyptic preacher samples, god damn! it's simply brilliant. They fire up loose bottom heavy, sun kissed grooves and let them run, confident that they're producing material worth dancing to. Unlike Mt. Kimbie and Cashmere Cat, who you feel like overseeing, standing next to the mixer with a metal ruler and rapping them over the knuckles every time they attack the treble and the mid range like an angry gardener trying to start a knackered two stroke engine lawn mower. Which is, let's face it, all the time.
Jagwa Music are great, despite playing to a relatively thin crowd. The Tanzanian roots party band feature a hype man, someone making the most of a £40 keyboard run through an old Tannoy speaker, a bongo player, a percussionist, a dude with home made congas made from bits of drainpipe and someone playing drums on a miked up wooden stool. It's a shame that Konono No. 1 couldn't make it but this was an amazing chance discovery.
Interestingly Jagwa Music don't always travel well. Recently they toured Germany where some disgruntled, self-proclaimed world music aficionados demanded their money back because they were outraged at the lack of authenticity to be found in Jagwa Music's live show. These clowns had the audacity to tell these fine musicians that their music wasn't 'proper'. The band have been going since 1992 and have long since stopped containing any original members. When one member has had enough, they simply hire someone else and get on with it. Does this make any difference to the enjoyment of the scores of people dancing at Oya? Not one jot.
It is a shame then that serious music fans can't summon up the same respect for Kraftwerk - a musical project that can stake a claim to being the world's greatest group. It is odd that even the most open minded of critics tend to be oddly blinkered and rockist when it comes to the Dusseldorf power station. Claiming that this current line up isn't the real line-up, misses the fact that this logic implies that Krafterk have been a terrible sham since 1970, way before they recorded Autobahn even. It shouldn't happen for many years but when it's time I hope that Ralf gets replaced by some bright eyed and bushy tailed robot and then finally people will appreciate what they are doing. But in the meantime I'm going to persist with the assumption that sometimes there is no bigger enemy to music than the serious music fan and conversely that sometimes no one gets serious music better than casual concert, festival, rave and club goers with their defiantly unoblique strategy of first impulse best when it comes to appreciation, no matter how gauche this seems to the self-proclaimed experts mired in status anxiety and the tar pit of the authenticity debate.
But before I enjoy the fuck out of Kraftwerk, unfortunately I have to endure the fuck out of James Blake. At first I find it hard to place what the button pushing, overly sincere, hand-wringing, lip wobbling, simp's music reminds me of until I realise: it's like a Richard Curtis film but without the Welsh guy in his underwear as comic relief. Or is it like Simon Bates' Our Tune with a really good pro drummer? The last track - you know, the famous one - is particularly rancid. Strip away the thin veneer of electronica and what you're left with is extremely polite dinner jazz. He's only a gnat's chuff away from breaking out scatting. The whole thing sounds like an audition for a residency at a Soho branch of Pizza Express.
No weeping takes place during Kraftwerk just ecstatic communion. As much as I really enjoyed the Tate gigs and it was great seeing them in that context, it is extremely gratifying to hear them at a volume that borders on punishing. They speed the bass line to 'We Are The Robots' up until it is galloping along. Every, bleep, blat and pulse rattles the ribs and sends ripples of delight through the audience. Despite the unavoidable layer of melancholy or darkness a lot of these songs have accrued over the years from the apocalyptic overtones of 'Radioactivity' to the future postponed in nearly all the other utopian hymns - from 'Spacelab' to 'Metropolis' - it's still obviously lots more fun to compute.