Oya festival is not only the largest music festival in Norway’s Oslo, but it’s also "Europe’s greenest festival". Amongst the stellar line-up of hip hop royalty like Kanye West and Wiz Khalifa and rock legends like Pulp and Sebadoh, this badge of honour is something that annually attracts over 15,000 people from Norway and abroad. Set in the beautiful landscape of Oslo’s picturesque port, Oya is the highlight of the Norwegian event calendar boasting impressive line-ups year on year. 2011 saw Kanye West headline the first day, followed by Aphex Twin and Pulp on the weekend, whilst James Blake, Lykke Li, Deathcrush and WU LYF completed the bill as stand-out acts.
Highlight of the first day certainly were Norway’s (more hardcore, more sultry) answer to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the explosive Deathcrush. Consisting of the two sonic sirens Åse Bredeli Røyset on bass and vocals, Linn Nystadnes on guitar and vocals along with Andreas Larssen on drums, they reinvigorate the visceral power of the guitar playing what can only be described as a mixture of Megadeth, Sonic Youth and Sleigh Bells, but way more sexy. Their reverbed, unyielding energy and fuzzed-out psych rock has the audience seduced within seconds. And I’m NOT only talking men here. Deathcrush are definitely my new crush. If you get the chance go see them, do it, you won’t know what’s hit you – in a good way!
Moving on the exact opposite of Deathcrush’s noise-beat-fest, the gentle introvert melody master James Blake plays an emotively beautiful set to the setting sun on one of the main stages. Shyly shuffling onstage hiding behind his hood, this boy-man doesn’t look capable of producing the scenic, immense melodies which he commences to play just seconds later. His awkward presence forbids any real rapport with the crowd, but his moving tunes are appreciated with near-reverential silence and awe. The dubbed out, sampled syncopation of ‘Unluck’ is raw and emotionally brittle, but also breath-takingly stunning. Blake’s unexpected sound journeys come to life through his off-beat, delay-laden vast musicality that showcases why he’s music’s golden boy. Overwhelming set.
Hip Hop royalty and self-proclaimed superstar Kanye West is headlining the main stage with what can only be described as a perfectly executed set. More humble and less mouthy than expected Mr. West plays a highlight set consisting of themed ‘acts’. Starting with ‘Act One – The Revelation’ which Kanye performs elevated above the audience on a 10 meters high crane. Only taking a short break to slay the press and how he feels demonised by them, Kanye West moves on to ‘Act Two – The Autotune’ performing his most chart-friendly material like ‘Love Lockdown’ and the Rihanna and Jay Z collaboration ‘Run This Town’. Most recent single ‘Moster’ is a bass-a-licious affair that sees the audience party like there’s no tomorrow and ‘All of the Lights’ is the surefire highlight of the set despite the well-publicised tumble Kanye took on stage. Like Mr. West would say: “Imma let you finish James Blake, but I made the best autotuned album of all time.”
Day two grants the audience another hip-hop winner with Wiz Khalifa opening the main stage in a brightly sunny Oslo. Despite the usual clichéd hip hop ‘money & bitches’ talk, Wiz puts on a sound performance full of energy and substance showcasing songs from his album ‘Rolling Papers’ as well as songs from earlier mixtapes. Wiz Khalfia’s sample of Empire of the Sun’s ‘Walking on a Dream’ is warmly received by hip-hop heads and indie fans alike and constitutes the highlight of his 40 minutes set.
Norway’s dark electro pop diva Sandra Kolstad delivers the standout performance of day two. The sultry-voiced performer showcases songs from her debut ‘Crux’ winning the audience over with an ecstatic mix of sinister broody keyboards, Berlin warehouse rave style electro samples and emotive lyrics. Current single ‘Fire Burn, Blood Flow’ is an imaginatively dynamic dark-dance piece reminiscient of a more cheerful, upbeat Salem or a less German Kraftwerk.
Friday starts off with a pleasant, but fairly non-descript Noah & The Whale, who play a set that seems to consist of all their most radio friendly songs. Unfortunately, all their most radio-friendly songs are all their most bland ones, too. Moving on to Leeds hardcore screamos Bring Me The Horizon who are a whole other kettle of fish. None of their songs can be described as radio-friendly, but at least they incite some sort of reaction and judging from the excitement of dedicated front rows of adoring fans, this reaction is extremely positive.
Friday night’s battle of the headliners takes place between Britpop veterans Pulp and Swedish pop sensation Lykke Li and it’s a tough call. Pulp power up the crowd with a charming set of all their best songs and Jarvis does what he does best - play the charming, slightly nuts quirky popster. Sprinting over to the other stage to catch Lykke Li proves worth the effort as her magnetic personality and crystal clear intonation send shivers down the audience’s collective spines. ‘I Follow Rivers’ sees the biggest crowd singalong and old gems such as ‘Dance, Dance, Dance’ and ‘Little Bit’ receive frenetic applause. Shifting between sparsely instrumented moody ballads and full-on techno-tastic pop numbers, Lykke lights up the stage throughout – a fantastic, captivating set from the Swedish siren.
The final day, Saturday, sees quirk noise rockers dominate. Experimental popsters WU LYF showcase a dramatic set marrying singer Ellery Robert’s tormented howl and nearly indecipherable lyrics with a reverb heavy shroud of tantalising melody. The opposing forces of jangling start-stop guitar riffs and the tightly precise rhythm section and Robert’s high drama doom-pop makes WU LYF a compelling, epic and yet baffling act to watch best described as beautiful insular idiosyncrasy. Next on quirk-noise heroes Sebadoh who might be lo-fi legends but there’s nothing nostalgic or sentimental about their energetic set. Full of verve and low on distraction they deliver goods from their numerous endearingly scruffy albums. Easily flitting between aggressive, punk songs and Barlow’s more tender, folk-flecked tracks, Sebadoh manifest why they have been an inspiration to countless bands since the 90s. Bring on Oya 2012.
*All amazing photos by Tracy Miles