The music festival at the heart of the Norwegian underground scene

todayJuly 24, 2023 3

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Norway has always been a great place for wild new music. In the 1980s, teenagers were so hypnotised by the subculture spearheaded by Norwegian Black Metal leviathans Mayhem and Burzum they started burning down churches; later, with 1997’s Substrata, electronic producer Biosphere captured a freezing pre-millennial tension that forever impacted ambient music. Into the 2000s, surrealist lounge act Royksopp soundtracked chillout rooms the world over, counterweighting Biosphere’s hypnotic rural hymns. More recently, turbo-powered pop experimentalist Swank Mami and Oslo’s Jouska have been on heavy rotation in the office.

Oya, a festival on the eastern edge of Oslo city centre, has long lifted the lid on the Norwegian underground. This year’s lineup reads like a roll call of Dazed favourites, from Wizkid, FKA twigs, Shygirl and Caroline Polachek, to stalwart festival fillers Blur and Devo. But despite the calibre, it’s the local talent that festival founder Claes Olsen is most excited to see. “We are a team of three people in our office who share the work on bookings,” he tells Dazed of his tiny but discerning team of festival curators. “We see a lot of gigs at small clubs around the year, listen to a lot of demos and in general keep close contact with the music scene.”

When the festival started in 1999, it introduced crowds to emerging jazztronica pioneers Jaga Jazzist and Big Bang, the blues rock band later dubbed ‘Norway’s best live act.’ Following its long tradition of reserving the Saturday headliner for a national talent, Sigrid leads a bill of Nordic names this year, from alt-pop experimentalist ARY to breakout rapper Marstein, whose tune “Frida Kahlo” caught fire on socials last winter. The commitment to platforming homegrown ingenuity has formed long-term relationships, Olsen explains. “Girl in Red played our demo stage in 2018, and has been moved up on stages. Meanwhile, Musti, an amazing local female rapper, played the demo stage in 2019 and headlined our second stage in 2022.”

I think we can all agree that festivals are the prangiest environments for a comedown. Oya is the wholesome Scandi cousin alternative to the gas canister-strewn nightmare we are used to in the UK, pushing a 50/50 gender lineup split and locations that allow you to hit your 10k steps in peace. Olsen chose Tøyen Park because unlike typical festival sites like Victoria Park or the Coachella Valley, it’s hilly and uneven, imbibing the weekend with a kind of sweeping visual grandiosity you (probably) won’t get anywhere else. “There’s no ferris wheel or other things that take the focus away from the music,” he says with a wink. “He he!”

Oya runs from August 8-12 at Tøyen Park, Oslo

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Written by: Soft FM Radio Staff

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