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LIVE REPORT: Slottsfjell
Stuart Huggett , July 24th, 2014 10:45

Stuart Huggett hikes up hills for a taste of metal at Tønsberg's Slottsfjell festival and finds that Norwegians have all the best band names.

It's high summer in Norway and we've arrived in the southern town of Tønsberg for Slottsfjell festival. It's now a modern tourist town, thronging with Norwegian holidaymakers and boat owners making the most of the heat and blazing sun, but Tønsberg can trace its history back to the year 871, giving it a claim as the oldest in the country. On a high rocky outcrop above the town lie the remains of a centuries old fortress, destroyed by the Swedes in an act of late Medieval petulance, and over these stands the nineteenth century Slottsfjell ("castle mountain") tower itself. It's like Glastonbury Tor's tougher brother and the views are breathtaking.

The festival encircles the hill, with a couple of huge outdoor stages below that welcome this summer's circuit acts (Haim, First Aid Kit, Lykke Li, The Lumineers). Of the major turns, I only stick around for Phoenix's Friday night triumph. Thomas Mars introduces 'If I Ever Feel Better' as "the first song we ever wrote", which is a good career start by any standards, then tops it by segueing into 'Funky Square Dance'. But for most of the weekend, given the choice of watching a distant act in giant sidescreen pixel-vision or the prospect of climbing an enormous scaffolding staircase to see Norwegian black metal in the shadow of the tower, the latter wins out. If you're ever going to witness the thundering might of Satyricon it might as well be on top of an actual Norwegian mountain, at sunset.

Of a handful of British acts on the bill, Band Of Skulls are the first to appear, the blues rock Americanisms of 'I Know What I Am' going down well with a Thursday afternoon crowd for whom Southampton might as well be South Texas. Brighton metalcore crew Architects will later pass muster in a similar slot, bowled over by the number of Norwegian kids who know their albums and are happy to be cajoled by frontman Sam Carter into forming a haphazard circle pit.

Back down the hill lies Slottsfjell's only tent venue, a small marquee hosted by state broadcaster NRK's youth radio station P3. The only name that registers with me is Farao, who turns in a tingling set of soft electronic folk on the Friday. Nonetheless, the P3 stage becomes the weekend's go-to point in the search of new rock thrills.

Highlights inside include Aiming For Enrike, an math-y, drums and guitar duo with an talent for extended, looping and glitching pedal breakdowns, and Frk. Fryd, a storming band with the buzzing attitude of a Norwegian L7. Best of all are the furiously exciting Slutface, a band packing the punk appeal of Paramore if they'd ever been any good. Singer Haley Shea is a whirlwind, gobbing her water into the crowd then throwing out "Fuck Zooey Deschanel" t-shirts as recompense.

Frustratingly, I miss the next most bluntly-named Norwegian act on the bill, the promisingly titled Jesus Fucking Christ, by moments. His backstage set has just finished when we arrive for a DJ slot by one of our clubbing buddies from the night before, who turns out to be electropop artist and former Eurovision hopeful Minnie-Oh. She plays a lot of 90s pop, which brightens up an already very bright day.

The rest of my fragmented clubbing memories include meeting Elijah & Skilliam at an aftershow and attempting to explain what grime is to our Norwegian friends, and getting thoroughly trodden on during the shove of Diplo's headline set in the festival's Kastellnatt warehouse. I wake up covered in footprints with no clear idea of what went down, apart from me.

Back in the daylight, I head up the castle again for the rather offensively named Death By Unga Bunga. The swingin' 60s loving, Norwegian garage rockers are a delight otherwise, with a set stuffed with beat nuggets like 'I Wanna Go Wild' and 'The Kids Are Up To No Good' and a cartoon frontman in Sebastian Ulstad Olsen. Half the young Viv Stanshall, half Shaggy from Scooby Doo, he rides out the final number by crowdsurfing away, stiff as a board, while maintaining a firm sailor's salute.

With eclectic programming, they're followed on stage first by grindcore veterans Carcass, and then by A$AP Ferg. Carcass rule the day, headbanging through tracks from comeback album Surgical Steel and other classic, gory cuts, and Jeff Walker is the funniest man on site ("We're Carcass from England. We're not famous in Norway because we haven't killed anybody or burnt any churches. The only crimes we commit... are against music."). A$AP Ferg watches from the wings with interest.

Clad fearlessly in a dazzling white suit, the disorientated Ferg ("I didn't come here to Copenhagen to look cute. I came here to murda something.") pulls a huge crowd. It's unsubtle stuff, his DJ firing off more gunshots than the climax of The Wild Bunch, but Ferg's just a showman really, giving protégé Marty Baller plenty of time in the spotlight and apologising for his geographical fuck ups. Inviting dozens of unashamed fans on stage to dance to 'Shabba' and the tiring sexism of A$AP Mob's 'Hella Hoes' proves that Norwegian kids practise twerking too.

There's lots more hip hop to take in, notably star turn Kaveh on the main stage, who raps in his native Norwegian to a disorientating mix of klaxons, explosions and rewinds. Helsinki's Noah Kin and Dublin's Rejjie Snow take successive turns on the tiny Tårnlunden stage up on the cliff. Kin's a good draw, adopting a US accent for his English lyrics and playing along on a drum unit with his band. Snow hangs back for ages, letting his DJ set the mood with a smooth mix of jazz and soul, but when his lowdown flow does start the gaggle of fans get properly overcome by his evident star quality.

On the last day I'm back at Tårnlunden, watching the sun sink slowly down as bass producer Drippin pings out glistening beats to a listless crowd, when a side gate opens and hundreds of older locals start ascending the hill. They're housing association residents with free tickets to see veteran artist Bjørn Eidsvåg close the castle stage and the festival itself. Eidsvåg comes across as a Norwegian equivalent to Van Morrison, although our unflagging host Siggi assures us that his lyrics, which she enthusiastically translates, are more in the poetic, Leonard Cohen vein. It's standing room only on the clifftop and, despite being of the only people in the crowd unable to sing along, I'd rather be there than anywhere else that summer night.

On the bus to the airport the next day, I start to well up, like a child at the end of a birthday party. I'm going to miss the beautiful scenery, the unfailingly friendly Norwegians and their enthusiastic, deranged bands. We board the plane, already pining for the fjords.