Ane Brun, St. Vincent, Björk, John Maus, Philco Fiction, Baroness, Øya Festival 2012, Øya Festival 2012: Day 2
Øya Day 2: Philco Fiction, Baroness, John Maus, Frank Ocean, St. Vincent, Ane Brun, Björk, August 9th, 2012
I had a thought while eating dinner last night: it’s nice to cover a festival with food options that involve something other than eating a pile of grease. Granted as far as deep revelations go, this is somewhat akin to “it’s nice that festivals are usually held during the spring and summer,” or “it’s nice that festivals have lots of different music for lots of different people.” But after four hours of sleep it was a profound moment, brought one by one of the best potatoes I had ever eaten. Granted with the exchange rates it was also one of the most expensive spuds I had ever purchased—but certain concessions must be made.
Oh yeah, music. Lots of it, including Philco Fiction, Baroness, John Maus, Frank Ocean, St. Vincent, Ane Brun, and Björk.
I fell hard for former “Pleased to Meet You” band Philco Fiction. The Oslo-based trio makes light, sweet, but oh-so-twisted electronic pop. Frontwoman Turid Alida Solberg sounded a bit like an unmodulated Karin Dreijer Andersson (Fever Ray) and danced like a 1980s pop princess—flanked by three dancers who are clearly well studied in the works of Michael Jackson. Between the smoke machines and strobe lights, by the end of the set the stage looked like a music video from the era.
Now I’m sure whatever Baroness was doing was well-executed. But truth be told, just because something is well done doesn’t mean you have to appreciate it. Just as my being a vegetarian doesn’t mean I’m going to be tempted by a well-cooked piece of meat, the most stylish combination of post-rock/punk/metal isn’t going to make my heart go a pitty-patter. After a few songs I bolted for a more interesting scene.
…And found it in John Maus, who the word “interesting” doesn’t even begin to describe. Quirky perhaps? Nah, that implies that the solo artist has something to do with Zooey Deschanel (who practically owns the word these days). So let’s just call it what it is: weird. And wonderful. Alone on the stage with only a backing track, Maus danced (more like flailed) and sang (more like screamed) his way through a handful of cuts from his last proper album, We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves. One of the greatest joys in any festival is stumbling on new acts. I amused myself thinking of the uninitiated and the event-without-context they were currently witnessing.
Confession time: Up until now, I haven’t really been a fan of Frank Ocean. I know, I know, clearly I’m lacking some important element of basic humanity. Blame my parents. Or the California school system. But I’m also a full-time music journalist—meaning I’ve yet to get away from the Channel Orange hype. Which of course means that I was required—if not by law than by societal pressure—to check out his set. And goodness golly me, what do you know, one song in and I made an important discovery (two if you count that every person in the front row was both a) female and b) on the verge of passing out due to sheer adoration): I don’t dislike Frank Ocean. Performing backed by a solo guitar rather than generic (to my ears) beats, his phenomenal voice was just that—phenomenal. Even with a chorus of shrieking women, I was final able to understand (albeit briefly) what all this “Thinking About You” fuss is about. Which is why it was shocking that after four songs Ocean left the stage and didn’t return. A few minutes later a worker took the stage to announce Ocean was ill, but at best this seemed like dubious excuse. Why hadn’t Ocean apologized himself? Why had he sounded so good to begin with? Why had he broken my heart when I had only just discovered I was capable of love?
We here at Under the Radar are huge St. Vincent fans. With good reason—the lady can rock. Once again, Ms. Annie Clark didn’t disappoint. Tearing through her set like a possessed classic rocker in a pretty pair of shoes, the New York-based artist aired cuts from last year's Strange Mercy, mixed with a healthy dose of tunes from sophmore album, Actor. While the songs from Strange Mercy (including “Cheerleader,” “Surgeon,” and “Cruel”) already include Clark’s signature guitar shredding, some of her older, “Disney Princess does rock” cuts were reworked to include a harsher, more agro sound. “This is for all the kids who grew up in small, Norwegian towns before moving to Oslo!” she said before launching into to “Dilettante.”
Ane Brun continued the day’s loose through line of women making twisted, artful music. The Norway-born, Stockholm-residing musician took the stage looking a bit like an avant-garde nun. Her operatic bellow isn’t really something that would qualify as easy listening, but paired with an offbeat musicality, it made for an engaging ride, particularly during last year’s bumpy pop single, “Do You Remember?”
Björk didn’t allow photography during her set, which was disappointing—but it also relieved me of half of my evening’s duties. So, reduced to the level of fan rather than worker bee, I scaled a (tiny) hill to the side of the stage and made myself comfortable for the Icelandic pop queen’s set. Shortly before the set it began to rain, but being that I’m Los Angeleno to the core, rain felt like the ultimate novelty. (If you asked me how I’d want to see Björk for the first time, in a light rain, under pink clouds, in Norway probably would be high on the list.)
Everything you’ve ever heard about Björk is true. Everything. A sprite who doesn’t age (her Wiki page places her at 47. Dirty lies…), Björk took the stage looking as timeless—and weird—as ever in a blue wig and black dress that looked like a sparkly version of the lower intestine. She was flanked by a percussionist, laptop artist, and a twelve-piece female choir—who didn’t just sing, but provided a fair amount of impressive interpretative dancing as well.
And if that weren’t theatrical enough (Is there such thing?), the set also included video projections, and during one of the many set highlights, “Thunderbolt,” an oversized Tesla coil. I certainly won’t argue that the song is her strongest. (It’s still the most disappointing song in an underwhelming album.) But, an oversized Tesla coil! My inner fourteen-year-old just about hit the ceiling with delight. Other antics-heavy songs included “Crystalline,” where Björk shot off flares, and set closer “Declare Independence,” which featured a curtain of pyrotechnics. Thrilling! Weird! Wonderful! Björk! Although for all the splashy superlatives, the musical highlights of the evening all came from her older material, particularly goosebump-inducing renditions of “All is Full of Love” and “Pagan Poetry.”
And thus, night two ended on a dazzling high note, so much in fact I couldn’t quite find it in me to attend the Øyanatt afterparties. Sorry Oslo, it appears that your offerings are simply too rich for this sleepy American.