by:Larm Festival,Various venues, Bergen, Norway

Electronic angels of the north
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The Independent Culture

The By:Larm festival changes venueevery year, but it hasn't so far been held in Oslo. Its name refers to "the cacophony of the street", and the Norwegian capital's avenues have so far been deemed too obvious a location. The old west-coast port of Bergen, this year's host, lies in the heart of the fjords, its seafront lined with quaintly rickety wooden houses. Tiered hills rise up around it, reached by a funicular railway.

The By:Larm festival changes venueevery year, but it hasn't so far been held in Oslo. Its name refers to "the cacophony of the street", and the Norwegian capital's avenues have so far been deemed too obvious a location. The old west-coast port of Bergen, this year's host, lies in the heart of the fjords, its seafront lined with quaintly rickety wooden houses. Tiered hills rise up around it, reached by a funicular railway.

The festival is a showcase for the current state of Norway's pop, rock, rap and electronica scenes. It doesn't bother itself overmuch with jazz, which accounts for a large chunk of what we know over here of their musical scene. The supposed climax of the festival is the Alarm Awards, and the fearsomely uncompromising Supersilent did manage to carry away the jazz trophy. Much of the remainder, however, represented the derivative mainstream, and the ceremony became so unbearable that I was forced out onto the streets.

But the streets were the best place to be. It was back out in Bergen's rich array of venues that the really vibrant talent was ready to be discovered. One of the best haunts was Hulen, carved into a mountain's innards, dripping walls growing air-conditioning ventricles, raw stone providing the best acoustics for the head-banging Bonk. This quartet looked like ageing bikermen, but their granite riffing had a curiously unfathomable individuality, hinting at a range of other listening habits.

It must be the grey weather, but I hadn't realised that such a lively (deathly?) thrashcore scene existed in Norway. There were ample opportunities to catch the more mainline glam-pomp, corpse-core, necro-bombast (or whatever it's called this month), but the band that seared my brain was Clown, a coalition of spiky punks and maned rockers, driven by the extremely intricate beats of a black drummer (this is worth commenting on, as ethnic diversity is not that common on the Norwegian scene). They climaxed in multiple fashion, marvellously deranged, yet partly cartoon pastiche.

Down at the rammed Agora club, Ark Manifest were proving that Jamaican dancehall patois could be convincingly re-created by a white crew. A curious experience, when mixed in with the local banter.

Many Norwegian bands are tempted to take their blueprints from Anglo-American progenitors, but the best combos have something skewed of their own to offer. The Landmark venue hosted a strong electronica flow, with Rundfunk a man in control, setting up a halting procession of well-dropped bass detonations, and Electro Ompaniet featuring a singer with characterfully Leonard Cohen-esque deep tones.

Upstairs at Kvarteret became another favourite hang-out of mine. The Sellick Maneuver come out of Tortoise and Godspeed, with saxes and flute joining a democratic wave of sonic oneness, massing textures in layers. I'm not sure whether Kobert is a band or a singer, or both, but this abstract jazz trio was fronted by a very unusual scatting stylist, flitting around in front of a pared-down backing band of just a Hammond organ and an array of drums. She's surely set for stardom.

And in a crammed Ole Bull Teater, our own Four Tet made a token English appearance. His set is becoming progressively more fragmented, as its twin-laptop contents are dragged out of shape, contorted beyond once-recognisable beats and tunes. Then, Jaga Jazzist's Lars Horntveth followed straight afterwards, debuting his solo work for electronics and string septet, shaking his head and dancing around in front of the immobile violins and cellos, blurting his reeds and strumming hard acoustic guitar. It was an electro-acoustic wonder.

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