Oya Festival 2018 review: The best lineup of the summer

Two of the world’s biggest bands played on the same evening

Jacob Stolworthy
Thursday 16 August 2018 10:33 BST
St Vincent came out with a peppy and dynamic set
St Vincent came out with a peppy and dynamic set (Pal Bellis)

Spread over four days, Norway’s Oya Festival had the best lineup this year. Where else could you see Arcade Fire, Kendrick Lamar, St Vincent, Patti Smith and Arctic Monkeys play the same stage within days of each other? If these headliners lured people to the Oslo site, then it was the impressive roster of fledgling acts that kept them entertained.

None came more spell-binding than US folk-miserabilist Phoebe Bridgers, who kicked things off with a hazy mid-afternoon set on day one. Mixing honeyed vocals, gentle reverb and sardonic lyrics about mortality, Bridgers’ music is, by her own admission, downbeat. And yet the crowd were surprisingly buoyant. “I appreciate the almost mosh pit to that – no one ever gets to have any fun with my songs,” she joked after “Funeral”, a song inspired by a boy she knew who died of a heroin overdose. It was Bridgers’ first ever European festival.

Similarly awing was the towering Californian singer-songwriter Moses Sumney, whose voice glided effortlessly between heartbreaking falsetto and operatic vibrato. Mining songs from his 2017 debut album Aromanticism, a series of ambient tracks about lovelessness, his set was as plaintive as it was intimate; at one point, he greeted the swooning fans at the front.

Indeed, it was the intimacy of Oya that stood out. At any other festival, you’d have to fight your way to the front; here, weaving your way within touching distance of arena acts was actually quite easy.

On Wednesday, two of the biggest bands in the world – Montreal six-piece Arcade Fire and Sheffield’s Arctic Monkeys – played the main stage. Arriving on stage at 6.30pm, the former delivered a truncated but no less effective set. Starting with “Everything Now”, they doled out surprises at every turn, dispensing with usual latecomer “Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)” early doors and even finding time for a rare rendition of The Suburbs’ “We Used To Wait”. The heavens opened as husband and wife duo Win Butler and Regine Chassagne led their troop through “Ready To Start” and “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”, respectively.

Just a few hours later, a shaven-headed Alex Turner and his fellow Arctics reeled off favourites old and new. It was recent record Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’s title track that geed up the strangely subdued crowd, while “From the Ritz to the Rubble” – a standout from their 2006 debut – brought the rowdier audience members to the fore.

These same people showed up for Kendrick Lamar, whose headline performance was full of gravitas. As ever, the Pulitzer Prize-winning rapper looked at home on stage, leading the crowd – joyous and emotional in equal measure – through renditions of “King Kunta”, “Swimming Pools (Drank)” and “Humble”, a snarling beast of a song. “I will be back,” he declared before descending into the wings.

The festival’s final two nights belonged to the women. The breathy-voiced Charlotte Gainsbourg – the daughter of Jane Birkin and French icon Serge – juxtaposed her disco floorfillers, including “Deadly Valentine”, with a timid cover version of Kanye West’s “Runaway”, which she performed on piano.

The simple yet effective approach of St Vincent was to move everyone’s feet – something the crowd weren’t always willing to do. In contrast with her divisive gig at London’s Brixton Academy last October, the singer – real name Annie Clark – this time performed with a backing band, and the result was something more peppy and dynamic.

Impressive, too, was Swedish import Lykke Li. Now onto her fourth album in 11 years, she plundered many of the tracks from pop and R&B mashup So Sad So Sexy, released in June. The apex, however, was 2011’s “I Follow Rivers”, whose chorus sparked a mass singalong. It was a reaction befitting of this excellent festival.

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