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Oya Nights: Live Report From Oslo Part Three
John Doran , August 12th, 2013 02:43

Both Norway's Shining and Sweden's The Knife kick against what is standard in their given genres. That's what makes them so special, says John Doran

All photographs courtesy of Mikael Gregorsky

One One One by Shining from Norway is a great album - in fact, it's in our Quietus Albums Of The Year So Far chart. However, it is in the live arena where they really come into their own. On record they are (currently) an industrial death metal band with progressive and jazz leanings but on stage they kick at the perimeters of these areas so hard that they cease having much in the way of meaning. I've seen Shining twice this year and both gigs, for different reasons, rank as some of the most energising and nerve frazzling I've seen. The first time, in February was at a rock venue in Oslo, on the night that they won the Statoil Stipend of one million Norwegian Kroner (£110,000) to help spread their music away from home. The jury gave them the prize purely because of this show - despite it just being a run through of the One One One album and an encore of 'The Madness And The Damage Done' and the King Crimson cover '21st Century Schizoid Man'. And if I had've had one million kroner in my pocket that night I would have given it to them as well.

Shining are one of the most unique and exciting bands to come out of Norway in a long time - not content with doing just one thing very well, they insist on being flawless in several genres. Something of a child prodigy, saxophonist Jørgen Munkeby was originally a saxophonist with local legends Jaga Jazzist, before splitting off to form Shining. However, the band have mutated out of all recognition since their inception, showcasing his growing fascination for bands such as Sepultura, late-80s Ministry and Jesus Lizard as well as an ongoing love for the foundation decade of free jazz and the wilder ends of heavy prog from King Crimson to Cardiacs.

The set today, on the second stage at Oya, warming up for Slayer, is a lot more heavy on saxophone numbers and the crowd are all the more receptive to this. Munkeby strides round the stage, eyes bulging, veins popping, blasting us into submission with his horn. He's an obvious devotee of John Coltrane but metal not being the freest of genres, he slips in and out of noisy free improv when not filling the role of the shredder. He also hits ascending, almost funky, squeals like Maceo Parker getting let loose during a Killing Joke set.

The sum effect is like having an espresso drinking contest. The berserk energy summoned up is incredible with tracks extended well beyond comfort or reason. At a rough guess I'd say that the final three quarters of their set is hectic, galloping climax alone. What a blast.

On the mainstage, The Knife have a hype man of sorts urging us all to put our arms round the person next to us and to have fun. A Swedish friend explains in very deadpan terms that people from her country always hope that gigs are mediocre so then they won't have to express extreme disappointment if they're terrible or rush down the front and lose their shit if they're brilliant. "Perhaps this is a way of breaking through that Swedish reserve", she says about the hectoring man telling us to have a great time.

To say that responses to The Knife's Shaking The Habitual live show have been mixed is something of an understatement. So I abandon all plans to watch one of my favourite ever bands Slayer, to check their choreographed performance with great misgivings. They are nothing short of spectacular, however.

Despite the moans and groans that I've been hearing that their show is little more than contemporary dance, their set starts off as live performance, as if to say to rockist bores: "Look, we can do this, we're just choosing not to this time." At first, when watching becowled figures playing on home made instruments - neon coloured harps, octagonal tubes for bowing, weird xylophones, huge double bass, box kite shaped shakers and an electronic valve instrument, I wish the whole gig was done like this. It's like Jim Henson and Gaahl directing Sunn O))) as the cantina band in Star Wars. They play three tracks, drawing out the percussiveness of each one, and even though these songs are extended wig outs, they don't last long enough before the instruments are dragged to the sides of the stage.

And at first, as boiler suit wearing dancers with heads covered in glitter start taking part in earnestly funky aerobics routines, my heart does sink a little bit. This is kind of like The Blue Man Group or Stomp! covered by a thin veneer of gender politics and post modernism. However, great care and thought have been put into the routines, and you realise that time and time again, just when you think you've got a handle on what is going on, the rug is being pulled from under your feet.

Which of the performers are Karin Dreijer Andersson and her brother Olof for example? "She" sings a track like 'A Tooth For An Eye' and just when you think you have a handle on what is going on, she lowers her mic like Rebekah Del Rio in Mullholland Drive as the vocals continue. Then you notice that there is another figure on stage singing - is this other person with a totally different haircut Karin? Is she even on stage? When a huge picture frame is brought on stage, "Karin" demands of the crowd: "Are you ready to smash patriarchy?" Then a male face with a painted on beard and make up appears in the frame and starts lip-synching the lyrics to 'Got 2 Let U'. She gives up all pretence of singing and starts dancing like a grotesque parody of a priapic rock god, thrusting her crotch at us, grabbing between her legs violently, sliding her fingers into her zipper, waggling her outstretched tongue obscenely. Do we smash patriarchy tonight? I'm not sure we do, but it's a superb bit of stagecraft, and a bunch of lager guzzling dudes standing near me gulp audibly, having long since quit jeering. (And for those that want to think about it, the point being made about female voices and displacement is solid - the genius is that they have got it to work so smoothly on different levels at the same time.) Whether they have their views on gender changed by the show or not, the majority of the crowd are won over, and go mad to a raved up 'Networking' and to a percussive and rattling reboot of 'Silent Shout'.

However, the best bit of the set for me is an audacious bit of live performance that will stay with me forever. During 'Full Of Fire' - which is essentially just a playback of the album track with no alterations at all, but delivered at ear piercing volume - the dancers with cowls up gather in a huddle at the front of the stage and then... do absolutely nothing. Instead the lighting and visual people take over, using banks of strobes and huge sweeps of crimson to make the group appear as if they are spinning round against a seething background, crowned by blazing streams of light that alternate between yellow and green. Then, literally halfway through the song, the dancers, still rooted to the spot, start clawing at the air like damned souls in agony. It's breathtaking to see something so extraordinary and genuinely unsettling from a group headlining the main stage on the last night of a large, mainstream festival.

It's understandable that some people would hate this smart, forward-looking, hilarious, weird, entertaining, thought-provoking show, because they essentially have different aesthetic criteria and ideas on authenticity to me. But essentially, they should quit whining and griping immediately, as they're on the winning team. This means they should be reassured that it won't be long before they can go and watch something proper, authentic and unpretentious that isn't taking the fucking piss like The Strypes, Paramore or Beady Eye instead.

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