Øyafestivalen review, Norway: From homegrown pop acts to British post-punk and Jamaican reggae, this festival offers everything and more

Norwegian event offers an escape from a somewhat dry lineup for festival season in the UK

Roisin O'Connor
Music Correspondent
Monday 21 August 2017 12:44
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Torrential rain will alter anyone’s mood - particularly at a festival, so there’s a collective groan of exasperation that rings out around Oslo as the heavens open just as Oya festival begins.

It’s almost impressive, once it begins raining, it just does not stop. Resolute festival-goers huddle together shielding their pints with one hand, protected from the downpour (at least a bit) by the plastic raincoats handed out at the site entrance.

It’s like a predictable miracle when the skies clear moments before Lana Del Rey is due to headline at the main stage. Suddenly the site is rammed, screams ring out as she saunters on to the stage. Del Rey’s festival set is beautifully curated; backed by two dancers she sways on “Cherry” like a witch cast under someone else’s spell, on “Ride” the visuals projected behind her show her with bikers on the open road, singing in an underground club, looking lonely at a gas station.

It’s likely few will have understood one particular moment unless they attended her Brixton Academy show a few weeks before, where, when her pianist seemed to struggle with a note sequence for “Love”, she opted for a stunning acappella version instead. Here he gets it right, and the camera captures the moment he and Del Rey can’t help but break into grins.

While Ryan Adams is disappointing everyone at the main stage, Chronixx and his band at Hagen - fusing reggae, rock and hip hop - are phenomenal. The sun is shining as the 24-year-old and his drummer bust out some moves on an instrumental that follows “Who Knows”, his Protoje collaboration; “Big Bad Sound”, which saw him team up with his father Chronicle; and the infectious “Ghetto Paradise” with its slightly sinister “Hotel California” vibes.

Rising pop artist Sigrid, who hasn't put a foot wrong since releasing her debut single "Don't Kill My Vibe", is a joy to watch as she tells the audience she has dreamed of performing at Øyafestivalen since she was a child.

Gabrielle, one of Norway’s biggest pop stars and whose song “5 Fine Frøkner” went double Platinum in Sweden after featuring in Scandi teen drama Skam, is without doubt the most energetic performer of the week - she has everyone in the Sirkus tent jumping within a few moments of appearing onstage. She doesn’t sing in English, and there’s something wonderful about witnessing thousands of fans who do understand what she’s saying enjoy it - and every song is a banger regardless of whether you understand the words.

In the evening, The xx perform a set that somehow feels deeply intimate despite that fact that half of Norway seems to be here - the band’s confidence has improved so much, and the gratitude and love that they send out to their fans is utterly moving.

By Friday the rain is just a distant memory - the sun is out in full force and the stall selling Wellington boots and fancy raincoats has packed up and gone.

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Jessie Reyez, who comes onto the stage on Thursday afternoon with her face hidden by a cap and a wild mane of curly black hair, is a force to be reckoned with. Her new album Kiddo doesn’t do justice to the sheer amount of energy she brings to a live performance, and quite how strong her voice is, backed only by her man on the beats and an acoustic guitar she brings out for “Figures”.

Jessie Reyez

Nils Bech offers up one of the most outstanding performances of the festival - and it is just as much performance art as the music itself. Ballerina Silas Henriksen, joins him onstage for several songs, leaping across the stage in quick, graceful movements and intertwining his body with Bech’s.

Nils Bech and ballerina Silas Henriksen perform on the Sirkus stage

The Norwegian artist’s music might cover serious matters of love, heartbreak and loneliness but there’s still plenty of room for humour - a strange contraption turns out to be a blow-up art installation that is a replica of a former boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend: Bech sings to it during “one of two songs” about their relationship.

Childhood and Shame (there’s something poetic about that) follow each other on the Hagen stage - Childhood with their soul-infused indie, and Shame - one of the most in-demand bands for festivals this summer - with a bristling, unapologetic set that channels Fat White Family, Libertines and Patti Smith.

Shame frontman Charlie Steen

Oumou Sangaré on the Hagen stage

By the time Malian artist Oumou Sangaré and her splendid band arrive, the sun is beginning to dip but no one wants to go home. She brings the party; irresistible rhythms get the crowd moving and not stopping until she strides off at the end of their set. This year’s set of UK festival headliners may have been a disappointment, but Øyafestivalen offers everything and more.

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