Øya Festival, Tøyen Park, Oslo, Norway, 10-13 August, 2022 | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, September 27th, 2022  

Nubya Garcia

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Gorillaz, Suede, Mdou Moctar, Parquet Courts, Fontaines D.C., Perfume Genius, Bikini Kill, Bright Eyes, AURORA, Nubya Garcia

Øya Festival, Tøyen Park, Oslo, Norway, 10-13 August, 2022,

Aug 18, 2022 Photography by Øyafestivalen Web Exclusive
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Øya Festival is on a mission to prove that everything you think you know about Norway is correct. From its impeccable green sustainability credentials to its smiling, welcoming demeanor, from its clinical logistical efficiency to its open-minded embrace of artists from across the spectrum, the 2022 edition of Norway’s largest outdoor festival ticks all of the key boxes, a four-day celebration hosted by one of the world’s most perennially happy countries.

Mdou Moctar
Mdou Moctar

Wednesday, the first of four days of unbroken sunshine, sees over 20,000 people descend upon the picturesque Tøyen Park in Oslo, most of them heading straight for the Amfiet Stage, the site’s largest, for local heroes Kings Of Convenience. Gentle, breezy melodies and Paul Simon-flavoured harmonies make for the ideal transition out of real-life anxieties and into the embrace of the festival bubble, and shoulders visibly ease and minds unwind with every minute of the Bergen band’s set. The Hagen Stage, meanwhile, brews up a different energy entirely with the arrival of Mdou Moctar. The Tuareg blues guitar legend from Niger has been quietly building a cult Western following over the last decade, with his fiery protest songs about the oppression of post-colonialism choosing the medium of blistering, excoriating guitar solos to vent their anger. There are times when this corner of Nordic idyll could be mistaken for the original Woodstock as Moctar channels the 60s rock demigods for minutes on end; quite a few of us would happily have settled for four days of this alone.

A different kind of political tension is being released over on the Vindfruen Stage on Wednesday afternoon. Bikini Kill were one of the founding stones of the riot grrrl movement in the early 90s and sadly it would appear that Kathleen Hanna’s group still sense the need to sound the same sirens three decades later. Their compressed, fizzing punk tunes ring out as vitally today as ever, with “Rebel Girl” and “Double Dare Ya” getting screaming, raging reactions. The years have not dimmed Hanna’s defiance, nor smoothed her abrasive edges; if Bikini Kill still have the chance to reach the lives of young women, then we all have something to celebrate.

Back on Hagen, Perfume Genius’ art pop odyssey continues. Anyone old enough to remember the paralyzing shyness that defined Mike Hadreas’ project when it first broke through in 2010 would scarcely believe what he has blossomed into, but in 2022, he is a striding, theatrical performer, almost like a male equivalent to Christine & the Queens. Tracks like “Slip Away” and “Eye in the Wall” shimmer and swell, with Hadreas’ contorting, exaggerated movements finding spaces in the songs’ unconventional structures to wring yet more expression out of them.

Headlining day one are Gorillaz, who prove over 90 minutes what an enduring part of modern music life they have become. Many in the crowd are too young to have first-hand memories of early singles like “19-2000” or “Dirty Harry”, but these have become folk songs now and are treated like anthems. Damon Albarn, still with his irrepressibly boyish enthusiasm on stage, delivers the downturned, melancholic melodies that are his trademark, while the band veer from hip-hop to R&B to dub without batting an eyelid. By the time Bootie Brown from The Pharcyde joins for “Stylo” and Sweetie Irie for an incendiary “Clint Eastwood” in the encore, Øya is in dreamland.

Gorillaz
Gorillaz

The days slip by easily in Tøyen Park, even if the Norwegian prices are notoriously steep. The food is good, although the site is often dominated by the all-pervasive scent of the salted popcorn stands that are under constant high demand, for very good reason. Sitting on the grass in the afternoon sun, it is hard to think of the festival as anything over than a place for peace, so when bands like Parquet Courts arrive, there is a brief moment when the conflict seems jarring. The New Yorkers quickly overcome any such problem, however, and their spiky, literate, slacker rock stirs life into weary Thursday afternoon limbs with the appropriate “Wide Awake” and “Freebird II”. For such masters of hipster disaffection, getting reactions out of such an otherwise polite Scandinavian audience has to have its own kind of satisfaction.

Similarly, Fontaines D.C. could seem out of place, but their juggernaut album Skinty Fia has made them one of 2022’s must-see acts, a distinction their performance here more than justifies. Since their emergence in 2019 with Dogrel, there has been a sense with the Dublin quintet that they possess a world-weary wisdom well beyond their years and a working knowledge of the minutiae of the post-punk greats that can only be the result of years of study. Whether it is the crippling injustice of the Irish housing crisis, the mounting mental health epidemic in the country or the legacy of the church scandals, few of the dominant issues facing the band’s homeland escape singer Grian Chatten’s probing spotlight, and in person, songs that can seem austere or arch on record are actually filled with heaps of sincerely conveyed emotion.

On that front, few can compete with Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. Tragedy has seemed to follow the Australian in recent years, but at nearly 65 years old, and after a lifetime of putting substance over style, he has reached a level of maturation that is extremely rare in popular music. Only a handful of artists can claim to have remained at Cave’s current level of relevancy into their sixties, and yet it feels like with each new release he is discovering some new songwriting plane, a new facility for metaphorical expression. Recent songs like “Bright Horses” and the unbearably powerful “I Need You” are the result, vessels for grief and love that transcend personal specifics. Cave creates the conditions for shared human bonding; he may be dealing with the loss of two children, but this is never about him, it is about the audience and anyone in it who might be able to benefit. Cave weaves a recurring motif of “Just breathe, just breathe” throughout the set, setting the thematic tone, the phrase morphing enormously in meaning over the two hours.

Far from morbid, though, this is a set exploding with life. Songs from across the last forty years get an airing, including the gospel-inflected “There She Goes, My Beautiful World” and the menacing, Peaky Blinders-soundtracking “Red Right Hand”. Cave prowls the front row of the audience, reaching into the people as if with the touch of an evangelical preacher, the audience reaching back with appropriate devotion. He interacts with the same people between songs like a comedian might during a crowd work session, supremely in command, a master at work. Take your chance to see Nick Cave when you can, it is the therapy all of us need.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

Day three is the hottest of the festival, and one of the early beneficiaries are Altın Gün, the Dutch group that specialize in the traditions of Turkish psych. Playing in Sirkus, Øya’s one tent stage, they attract a huge crowd for their trippy, motorik rhythms and wah-wah histrionics. There is a drifting, dazed, sun-blasted tone to their music at the best of times, and as the momentum builds throughout their set, the cosmic timing and spot-on sense of location clicks perfectly into place for a brilliant afternoon performance.

Bright Eyes bring the 2000s indie nostalgia train to town, following their surprise 2020 reformation. Taking to the stage in an outfit that is suspiciously young-skewing, Conor Oberst doesn’t leave it long to explain that there had been a flight mishap and their luggage had not arrived in time for the show, so they were wearing what they had managed to buy last minute. Oberst is, in fact, in rare form, given his reputation as one of rock’s most gloriously obstreperous frontmen, joking and regaling his way through the set. The reactions to old favorites like “Lover I Don’t Have to Love” and “Four Winds” show that there is a groundswell of love out there for the Omaha band, and even if deciding not to play signature song “First Day of My Life” is borderline unforgivable at a festival, they do enough to get past it.

The nostalgia-meter ticks back a decade further for the Sirkus headliners Suede, who make no such setlist mistakes. A glittering run through their vastly underrated collection of 90s singles is rapturously received, with Brett Anderson’s ageless, Bryan Ferry-like cool having remained remarkably intact. The spice of their earliest singles - “Metal Mickey”, “The Drowners” - maintains the edge that Bernard Butler provided them in their early days, while the all-out glam pop of “Trash” and “Beautiful Ones” parades the us-against-them romanticism of the outsider status that they took into the charts in later years.

As the Saturday day-ticketers arrive on day four, the demographics appear to skew significantly younger, perhaps owing to the presence of headliner Aurora, the home-grown Norwegian pop star. It seems also to benefit AJ Tracey, the West London MC that takes to the Amfiet Stage in the afternoon and whose songs are greeted with love and recognition. Overcoming some brief technical hitches early on, he sprints through hits like the garage-inflected “Ladbroke Grove” and the Dave collaboration “Thiago Silva”, a love letter to a Brazilian soccer player, in a set that is charged with the zeal of a new generation that is ready to take over from the current festival headliner class.

Suede
Suede

If zeal is what you are after, then look no further than London jazz prodigy Nubya Garcia. Invoking the freedom and spirituality of legends like Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, but conversant in contemporary touchstones too, Garcia is out there on her own, creating her own ever-expanding playground. Nominally, she plays tracks from her stupendous 2020 album Source, but in reality, Garcia and band feel their way through an hour of free-roaming, Caribbean-influenced music, digging crater-deep grooves and then obliterating them at will with sudden rhythmic shifts. What Nubya Garcia exemplifies is what makes Øya Festival such a successful festival: an all-inclusive, judgment-free attitude and a sincere love for the deep, shared expression that the best live music provides like nothing else on Earth.




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