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Festival: The Øya Festival, UNCUT

UNCUT, 1 Oct 2004

03/11/2004 :: The OYA Festival, Oslo

In the beautiful setting of the Oslo Mediaeval Park, Uncut is politely told off by a security person for standing on a lump of rock to achieve a better sightline. The lump of rock turns out to be one thousand years old and the hallowed spot on which the city was founded. While the sky turns astounding multiple shades of scarlet, Mike Skinner of The Streets poetically catches the moment. “Man,” he sniffs, “that shit is fucking redder than red. Shepherd‘s delight, innit?”

You’d have to be very curmudgeonly not to enjoy yourself at Oya, this year extended to three days (and compulsory late nights) and attracting around nine thousand near-naked perfect physical specimens in Norway’s hottest week of 2004. As Bobby Conn of The Glass Gypsies declares amid his exhilarating, Prince-like set, “Ah, the countless compliant six-foot-tall young blue-eyed blonde people…uh, wait, this is kinda scary.” He then launches into “Concentration Camp Beauty Queen”. If Conn is the surprise hit of Saturday, Velvet Revolver are the biggest draw.

Slash and his cohorts are revered here, and even Scott Weiland’s Mary Is My Home Girl T-shirt can’t turn the irony-free headbanging hordes away from projecting their Guns N’Roses Still Exist fantasies. But Velvet Revolver aren’t Guns N’Roses, and won’t be till they muster up a song with half a hook. They’ve got the crunchingly loud part down, though.

As well as mustering an eclectic international line-up, the festival showcases Norway’s diverse homegrown, often ranging from the derivative (Silver are Hanoi Rocks, Jim Stark, pleasingly, is Josh Rouse, Frode Fivel are “Harvest”-era Neil Young if you close your eyes) to the genre-reliant (Tungtvann are dull reggae, Ralph Myerz is Fatboy Slim with two drummers). But they do a nice line in timeless rock: Gluecifer are AC/DC meeting The Stooges, We are camp stoner-psychedelic. The National Bank are tipped to break globally: they’re Keane with Jeff Buckley on vocals. The majestic Madrugada’s singer Sivert Hoyem plays a gripping solo set, while guitarist Robert Buras leads his own band, My Midnight Creeps, into the burned heart of garage. The last noise of the last night is his guitar smashing against the rigging, a ceremonial act he performs with ruddy relish.

The mighty Mark Lanegan rather disappoints: the new album merits miracles. Due to a passport cock-up he’s 90 minutes late, is switched from the main stage to the second stage, and only growls at us for 25 minutes. Still, “Hit The City” and “Wedding Dress” are dark and lovely, his voice a force of grim nature. First night scheduling means you can catch either The Streets or Air, urban bus-stop rhymes or wafty Gallic grace. We take bets on who’d win in a fight. The Streets’ louche, laddish comedy is briefly amusing (if marred by Skinner‘s constant retarded shouts of “rock‘n‘roll!”), but the consensus soon drifts across to hear Air ease out their cinematic canoodlings. “La Femme D’Argent” makes the perfect soundtrack as night descends over the mountains and lake.

A third, petite stage sees quirky art-rock from Canada’s The Unicorns and Iceland’s Minus. Other random delights include Pleasure, The Bees, Buck 65 and Euroboys (Turbonegro’s soft-rock spin-off). Sondre Lerche is melodic, Deerhoof take angular anti-rock to the extreme. Soundtrack Of Our Lives are fiddlier than ever, TV On The Radio mix soul and sonics. For many, a highlight is The Lemonheads, performing for the first time in Europe this year and keeping it calmly together, Evan Dando in affable form. Even Spiritualized seem enchanted by the surroundings, ditching the debilitating pomp to let rip with the most full-on riff-heavy set they’ve found the energy for in aeons.

Despite a huge jazz festival and a big hip-hop shebang being in town at the same time (our hotel is decorated by 50 Cent’s army of minders), the broad church that is Oya remains an unqualified success. The freak sunshine (and dry lightning) did no harm at all. If this celebration just hones the blend of local heroes and flown-in stars with a tad more logic, it can only grow. If only British festivals were this…nice. The Norwegians do it clean.

Chris Roberts / UNCUT

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