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The Quietus At By:Larm 2011
Luke Turner , February 18th, 2011 07:10

A report from the Oslo Festival

Luke and John are bringing you this dispatch from the snow-covered capital of Norway, Oslo, where the breakfasts are enormous and pickled, and the pavements, after a winter of snow, are like negotiating a mogul ski run. We're here for the annual By:Larm music conference, where the good people of the Scandinavian nations unite to present nigh-on a week's worth of gigs, seminars, panels and talks. We first came to By:Larm in 2009, and were deeply impressed that, unlike some of its equivalents in the UK, this festival features excellent venues, brilliant sound, and a truly diverse line-up. It was here, for instance, that we've had encounters with the rune-majick of the mighty Wardruna, whose Gap Var Ginnunga was a highlight of last year, the Norwegian skwee Easy & Toshybot (at a fringe event) and the strange Icelandic sounds of Kira Kira, plus the complex industrial death jazz of The Shining, or the powerful meandering brass of Jaga Jazzist.. This time around, we're involved in some of the panel discussions, with Luke having a chat with Electric Eden author Rob Young, and John hosting a Q&A with OMD's Andy McCluskey, later on this evening. We're then looking forward to seeing Deathcrush (who are playing at our similarly Scandotastic JaJaJa night in London next Thursday), Ulver, Murder, Kvelertak, Telephones, Svarte Greiner, Phaedra, Museum Of Bellas Artes, Alexander Von Mehren, and many more. Last night, though, we hosted a special Quietus showcase in the Culture Kirke Jacob, a glorious 19th Century building with iron pillars, wooden walls and ceiling, and a balcony that made an ideal vantage point from which to DJ. Over now to Mr Doran (and thanks to Wyndham Wallace for the photos).

John says: Of course Luke and I are so selflessly devoted to the task of promoting marginalized, new and exciting music that we don’t usually bat an eyelid at the decrepit nature of some of the venues we ply our trade in. When we get the call from The Docker’s Fist in Haggerston to DJ in between a man with a plaited beard wearing an I DRINK CUM T-shirt playing wasp-like drones on a MicroKorg and some janglesome indie band made up of identikit lads called Brad and Charlie, we step up to the oche without complaint, despite having to rub shoulders with swivel-eyed drunks who smell of mephedrone and vomitus.

But by the same token we also enjoy taking musical refuge in somewhere more architecturally upmarket, like the Lord’s house for example. And by this we don’t mean Jeffrey Archer’s modernist condo in Vauxhall Cross. Kulturkireken Jakob is, to borrow another capital city comparison, Oslo’s Union Chapel, although this kirke is no longer functional in its original sense. We’d like to thank the church's wardens for allowing us to hold ‘An Evening Presented By The Quietus’ under its towering arches and therefore offering us the chance to play Glenn Branca, Electric Wizard, Godspeed and Biggie in this house of cultural worship. Luke and I are rewarded by being placed up in the Gods, in what our friend and occasional Quietus writer, Alex Macpherson calls, “the greatest DJ booth ever”. We get an impressive view of the altar, which somehow doesn’t look too incongruous for having a drunk kit and amplifiers set up on it.

Tendrils of dry ice snake up towards the rafters as AcACcM go about their work. This is a new jazz-informed project by composer, arranger and producer Jan Martin Smørdal. The pieces they unveil are riff heavy works that nod to such diverse sources as fellow countrymen Jaga Jazzist and Lalo Schifrin while being a lot freer than either of those things suggest.

“Hello, I’m Anana and this is my band”, says Anniken Jess Iversen nodding at her keyboard and her laptop. Given such a relatively modern set up, she manages to make it sound as if she is playing a piano which has been recorded onto wax cylinder, transferred onto 78 and is currently being played on a hand cranked gramophone in a ballroom at the end of a very long corridor. This is further amplified by the church acting as a giant stone resonator and she sounds amazing. The wooziness of the music mixed with icy processed beats inevitably invites some comparison to Fever Ray but it is on the ‘unadorned’ songs that she really comes into her own, her voice taking on a bruised and grazed grain.

Denmark’s Agnes Obel plays a grand piano and is joined by Anne Ostsee on cello and guitar. It’s the former’s first time at By:Larm and the latter’s first time in Norway full stop but if they’re nervous it doesn’t show. Obel’s music is reminiscent of Michael Nyman at his most widescreen, mixing melancholy folk and lilting chamber pop. In fact everything they play is evocative of classic cinema from the OST of Rebecca to the score of Vertigo. The set includes a moving cover of John Cale’s 'Close Watch' and the pair end on a dramatic version of 'Riverside' which builds and builds until it fills the venue then ends abruptly.

I’m used to seeing the singularly talented Jenny Hval in the context of her more electronic based project Rockettothesky, and two years ago saw her play an astounding gig in a wooden stave church at Traena. Even though she has a ‘regular band’ - Håvard Volden and Kyrre Laastad playing bowed guitar and drums - she actually feels more exposed free from all the electronics. “I carefully rearranged my senses so they could have a conversation”, she sings on 'Blood Flight' while the band produce synaesthetic bursts of noise you can feel vibrating the wooden pews and see disturbing the dry ice.

They end on 'Golden Locks' from her new Viscera album, with glorious banks of electronics, sculptured feedback and ululation that Yoko Ono would be proud of... the high point of the evening.

Frisk Frugt (Fresh Fruit) is the solo project of adventurous Dane Anders Lauge Meldgaard. On seeing that the church has a giant organ, he chooses to neglect his standard material, which is a dazzling meld of synthesizer noise, afrobeat and free improv using electronics, for an improvised piece on the church’s keyboard. At first we are lowered directly into the flightpath of some meditative drones with keyboard riffs picked out using different modes. However, while someone like Rob Lowe of Lichens can tease a never ending flux of tone out of his modular synth, Mr Fruit is slightly restricted by his choice of instrument and it’s hard not to feel cheated after not getting to hear the kind of music that has seen him nominated for the Nordic Music Prize.

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