Øya 2014: Mac and Mayhem in Oslo

oyaScandinavians speak perfect English, they’re blessed with Viking genetics and if their wide-ranging musical output is any kind of yardstick they’re into everything from Abba to black metal. This should make them the world’s best festival hosts. Sadly they live in a place where it’s reasonable to charge £8 for a beer. It’s a steep price to pay, but if you’re willing then Norway’s Øya is ready to welcome you with open arms and a four-day line-up to rival anywhere on the planet.

Wednesday afternoon is kicked off by Philadelphia teens The Districts, who recently lost guitarist Mark Larson to a crippling education addiction. New guy Pat Cassidy slots right into a band that still sounds as ferocious as a hurricane on a cattle ranch.

Next was sleepy LA-based stoner Jonathan Wilson, who was just missing a fug of weed smoke to engulf his languorous jams. Norwegian crowds are just so well behaved. Fortunately nobody told Queens of the Stone Age, because no sooner had Josh Homme turned up than he started chanting: “Nicotine, Valium, Vicodin, Marijuana, Ecstasy and Alcohol… C-C-C-Cocaine.” If you open a festival headline set with ‘Feel Good Hit Of The Summer’ then you’ve basically already won. When Homme hollers: “We came from a long way to get shitfaced and have a party with y’all”, we’re happy to oblige.

On Thursday night the festival is invaded by future funk from Atlanta, Georgia. Janelle Monáe’s flawless live show is furiously energetic and expertly choreographed but still flashes with human moments – like when she introduces ‘Cold War’ by asking: “Do you believe women should  be paid the same as men? Are you tired of what’s going on in Israel?” or when she closes her set flagrantly contravening the numerous ‘No Crowd Surfing’ signs.

There’s only one band in the world that can really follow her, and fortunately they’re here in Oslo. Monáe’s mentors Outkast play a dream set: opening with ‘B.O.B’, punctuated by ‘Rosa Parks’ and ‘Ms Jackson’, featuring solo spots for ‘GhettoMusick’ and the still peerless ‘Hey Ya!’, then closing with a run of ‘Roses’, ‘So Fresh, So Clean’ and a version of ‘International Players Anthem’ which features André 3000 stood on a turntable getting a full-blown case of the giggles. It’s moments like which banish any thought that this is a cynical milking of the anniversary cash cow: they’re clearly having a ball.

Friday sees Neutral Milk Hotel play an exuberant, ragged set which while light on introspective moments clearly thrills their substantial Norwegian fanbase. Speaking of local heroes, Röyksopp play a ravey headline set. They’re clad in neon yellow like kids on their cycling proficiency test but sound like Scandinavia’s answer to the Pet Shop Boys. They tag-team out for Robyn, who could teach the likes of Miley a thing or two about graphic stage-show foreplay, before Röyksopp reappear and the trio blast through their collaborative ‘Do It Again’ EP.

While the pop half of the Norwegian musical dichotomy is on the main stage, over in a venue that looks uncannily like an abbatoir another huge crowd is getting their fill of Black Metal. Mayhem deliver on every count: they’re fast and heavy; their frontman is grasping a human skull; and a hapless roadie struggles manfully to set alight a pig’s head in true Spinal Tap style.

Saturday saw Norway’s usually coy dancers finally lose their shit – and it was Syrian Wedding singer/techno wizard Omar Souleyman who brought out the most uninhibited dancing of the weekend.

After finally cutting lose, the Norwegian crowd were more than ready to get Oslo, down and dirty with Mac DeMarco. Mac and his band rock up direct from Gothenburg having not slept for two days and with new guitarist Andy White, once of Tonstartssbandht, in tow in place of Peter Sagar who’s left the band to work on his Homeshake solo project. Andy gets his most prominent moment early on when he’s left to play an epic guitar solo while Mac and bassist Pierce shotgun beer cans. “Now it’s a rock n roll show…” Mac belches. “Or at least it’s a redneck white trash show.” The band brings out the Norwegian eccentric streak: a girl thrusts a whole cabbage into the air when he opens with ‘Salad Days’ and the crowd are more than happy to surf him almost back to the sound stage, where he has to join Janelle Monáe on the naughty step. Even more than the reformed Slowdive or local headliner Todd Terje, who both play later, this is Mac’s day. He celebrates by spending the afternoon doing flips off a backstage diving board. Salad days indeed.

Originally published in NME, 23 August 2014.

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