Sørveiv Festival 2019 in Kristiansand, Norway, 1-2 November 2019 | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Monday, December 9th, 2019  

Mia Berg

Sørveiv Festival 2019 in Kristiansand, Norway, November 1st, 2019

Nov 13, 2019 Web Exclusive
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Winter is wafting into Kristiansand, the first flecks of icy business whipping along Norway's south-west coast, but all is toasty here at the SKMU art museum. Downstairs they serve a damn fine cup of coffee, and a chap called August Kann is strumming autumnal Simon and Garfunkelly stuff, on the floor above.  

August Kann

(Photo: August Kann)

This is part of the Sorveiv Festival's new daytime programme, and all is going swimmingly until a troubled steward suddenly races into the room - and straight at yours truly. Turns out the mood was so becalming that I'd inadvertently leaned back, onto an actual painting. Which is pretty high on the 'don't' list, gallery-wise. Thankfully said guard smiles and withdraws, and so do I, blushing furiously.

Elsewhere, though, all is calm and bright. It's the ninth year of this agreeably co-ordinated and compact city fest, now the traditional curtain-raiser to the festive season for knowledgeable Nordic music types. There's a bit of last-day-of-school among the acts too, who'll try out some new stuff, and new looks, ready for the sterner tests of 2020.

Ella, for example, are twins from this very town who've already garnered a following as the folk-country outfit Oakland Rain; here they've temporarily transformed into an electro-pop act. Imagine if First Aid Kit finally went 'enough advert-friendly stuff!' and started working with Skrillex: that's the idea. So it's a departure, but greeted warmly at the Grenseløs bar, whose glass frontage makes this feel like a genuine shop window: the songwriting sisters bound around ebulliently to pumping BPMs and inadvertently issue a 'come and get us' plea to whoever curates Norway's Eurovision contenders. Could happen.

All of Sørveiv's venues are fairly city-central, and they add different ones each day. Probably the biggest name - at the sizeable KICK space on Saturday - is the ever-inventive Hanne Hukkelberg. She's also in uptempo mode here, following her digital-future-themed album Trust; lots of club-friendly hooks and vocoder-topped beats. Although a lacklustre light show and oddly formal trouser suit do also make you wonder if she came for a business meeting first and a case went missing.

Sørveiv's bill is kept nicely navigable - you can catch a bit of nearly everyone - but boasts a diverse bill. On Saturday evening at Vaktbua, an old gate-keeper's cottage on a bridge, I finally get the sudden-warmth steam off my specs and am surprised to encounter Folkevogn, performing a blissfully meditative mix of Indian classical and Norwegian folk. They're Oslo-based, but if there's a theme out here in the Nordic regions, it's classically-trained talent with the distinct quirks that kick in a safe distance from the mainstream.

"They say in my town that you're not a proper southern Norwegian," says Lars Jakob Rudjord, onstage at Kristiansand's main arts venue, Teateret, "unless you have a really old wooden boat."Then he launches into the song "Marna" which is "dedicated to everyone else who struggles to start their old boat engines," he tells us later. "Marna was the local boat engine manufacturer. Mine is a one-cylinder..." Rudjord, from nearby Farsund, is very much a product of these parts: sea-focussed but with vast musical horizons. Onstage he plays gloriously cinematic but electronically enhanced piano compositions, with a visual flourish. The lighting design here is impressive, but his under-keyboard pedal action really sticks in the mind: clock those busy socks. He could get them sponsored.

Juno

(Photo: Juno)

Also boasting a strong visual game are Juno, back at Grenseløs, who are from Norway's jazz heartland, Trondheim, and probably horrify the trad, er, dads ("I am on board for 50% of this," muses the guy next to us). They're a face-painted troupe of mutant jazz women who could care less about musical trends, mixing rap and rock vocals with sax and double-bass. Most accessibly, it recalls classic jazz-sampling Beastie Boys, as those heavy strings twang resonantly around the room. Elsewhere, it's a confident poke in the ear for any rock, rap or jazz fans stuck in their ways.

Also eye-catching but more widely accessible are the first band we catch, on Teateret's soft-launch Thursday. UPTO88 are all Miami Vice t-shirts, stonewashed denim and euphoric guitar pop, and they generate quite the buzz, particularly among those who recall the "Take on Me" summer of '84. Ones to watch.

Back to the festival proper, and one famous Kristiansand retreat is Charlie's, a regular bar with an old-school interior apparently sourced from a defunct Scottish church: they really put the 'alter' in 'alternative rock.' Sadly we just miss Portland, a harmonious Belgian combo who have already enjoyed covetous U.K. glances, but do see Beverley Kills - from Sweden, whose debut 7" came out in Oz, oddly - making a thoroughly satisfying guitar-and-synth racket.

The most chatted-about Charlie's band, though, are Mokri who ram the place on Friday evening: I squeeze in at the bar and catch what I can through the hatch. They're tremendous - great atmospheric, psychedelic riffs - particularly when joined by a moody front-of-stage tambourine player, who barely moves. Every band should have one.

Other highlights include varied R&B approaches: Mia Berg has already made a splash with her funky, chunky pop, and seemingly gets into the south-coast spirit by asking her band to wear brown corduroy. Groovy. Meanwhile Maud is more in-your-face, matching heavy beats with an almost Public Enemy-like onstage countenance. Impressive.

Mia Borg

(Photo: Mia Borg)

Two entertaining rock acts at Teateret. There are hints of Sonic Youth and Patti Smith about The Bowdashes, from Denmark, who incorporate an autoharp and a remarkably tall bassist; he must dream of wider success, just to use airlines with proper legroom. And Underwing, from nearby Arendal, initially do an unplugged gig on some stairs - accessibility be damned - then rock like a stadium grunge band at Teateret later. Their three-guy fanboy moshpit is particularly admirable.

The weekend's best crowd response? A whole front-row of teenagers eagerly awaiting the dashing Unge Beirut at the hefty Caledonian Hall (elsewhere, audiences often leave a respectful crescent of space upfront). The Lebanon-born M.C. struts on stage then sticks to the lip of it, right next to them, lapping up the energy while rapping charismatically. Turns out he used to play non-league football in the U.K. - bet he got a bigger crowd here.

Our festival finishes with another memorable character. NINV is a northern star, striding around Teateret in a Bush 'n' twigs fashion (Kate and FK), singing beautifully about her native north-of-Norway, and sporting a homemade dress with one arm miles longer than the other.

NINV

(Photo: NINV)

That's the Sørveiv way: gifted performers, with something extra up their sleeves.

www.sorveiv.no

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