The Fix, a collaboration between the organisers of the fantastic Ekko festival and Bergen’s sprawling Bergenfest returns for a third year with undoubtedly its strongest programme yet. This largely electronic evening is both reasonably priced and packed with options (to the extent that there are several annoying clashes), and the three venues that play host to the international line-up are all conveniently little more than a couple of minutes walk from one another in Bergen’s picturesque city centre – particularly practical given that the city’s infamous rain has also decided that this event is too good to be missed.
First up is Femi Kuti at Ole Bull Scene; a moderately sized but high ceilinged theatre venue that offers the option of gazing down from a seated balcony on the synchronised swaying of the Nigerian’s sizeable band who are crammed convivially onto the small stage. I think fourteen squeeze on in all. At first it seems that Femi lacks the firebrand charisma of his groundbreaking dad, but as the show goes on he gradually animates, waving his fists, accompanying his rich totemic vocals with the jerking gestures of a zealous preacher, and channelling the spirit of Fela as he powerfully sermonizes on the reasons ‘the African man and the African woman find it hard to succeed’, before breaking down in endearing giggles as he offers a final answer: ‘because we drink too much beer’. The groggy crowd can certainly relate to that. There is perhaps not a great deal of musical variation, but as his talented fluorescent green-clad brass section alternate between smooth jazz and rousing afrobeat rhythms and three beautiful dancers do biology a favour by shaking bits of themselves I don’t think have been discovered yet, Femi, radiant in a white silk suit, flits between several wind instruments and his own rich voice, building the whole affair into a frenzy of sweaty and hypnotic African funk that dares the feet to stay still. Of course they cannot.
But I can’t stay for the end, as Jaga Jazzist, fittingly influenced on their last record by late-night listens to none other than Fela Kuti himself, are set to take to the stage just across the road in Logen. Another balconied theatre venue – more cavernous this time – Logen’s painted pillars and looming chandeliers, whilst pleasant, feel just about parodic enough to suggest one of those expensively tacky Vegas casinos that Jaga are invoking with the huge representations of slot machine symbols (as per the interchangeable artwork for their most recent album) that are placed at intervals on the stage and lit with intermittent flashing red lights. It’s the first time I’ve seen the leaders of Norway’s nu-jazz movement, and in a way it proves a slight disappointment. The nine piece’s trademark sound – vibrant horns, writhing bass and jittery electronics exploiting an experimental palette to grasp at repeated pop hooks – is reliably fantastic, but, partly because of an unsympathetic sound-system, and partly because their set is almost entirely populated with songs from the patchily brilliant but overall somewhat underwhelming One Armed-Bandit, some of the show blends into a slightly indistinguishable musical morass. The high points, though, are fantastic. Just as on the album it is the titular opener and the closing ‘Touch of Evil’ that feel the most exciting here; the afrobeat guitars and slot-machine chimes of ‘One Armed-Bandit’ exploding onto a rapturous audience, and the bursts of vital guitar on ‘Touch of Evil’ building to a breathtaking post-rock finale. The musicianship throughout is peerless; with bandmembers frequently playing two or three different instruments in the space of one track alone, virtuoso trumpet solos from Mathias Eick (who increasingly resembles Paul Giamatti), and an energetic Lars Horntveth at the heart of everything at the centre of the stage painting his brother Martin’s passionate percussion with parps of jaunty saxophone. When the imposing figure of Martin Horntveth takes the microphone to shout through a giant red beard that Bergen is the band’s favourite city to play in, and that they have been away too long, the crowd give a predictable roar, but despite the group’s energy this concert still feels a little like it just misses the mark.
Bergen’s Student Union concert venue/bar Kvarteret finally reopened in February after three years of protracted renovation and expansion, and it’s here that the bulk of the smaller acts gracing this year’s Fix are to be found. First up are Ost & Kjex (‘Cheese & Biskitz’?), who stepped in at the last minute as a replacement for Glass Candy. They are already halfway through when I find my way in, and they prove to be bags of fun. With a back-catalogue that includes the album Some But Not All Cheese Comes From The Moon and singles with names like ‘How Not To Be A Biscuit’, it’s fair to say that silliness can be expected from this eccentric duo, and as the one who is presumably Kjex, in brown suit and hat, lays down an addictive line in crunchy electro funk beats, Ost, in a hideous yellow get-up, belly hanging out of an unbuttoned shirt, struts the boards providing generous helpings of cheese in the form of mock-soulful falsetto vocals. It’s tasty winning combination.
A quick glance into Kvarteret’s newest addition, Tivoli, a spacious concrete box of a room, reveals a pulsing DJ-set from Untz Untz lynchpin Pastor which might not attract too many stragglers but has those that are dragged in dancing themselves silly, before Brighton post-punk outfit Fujiya & Miyagi offer a twining take on thumping hypnotic kraut-funk rhythms to a scrolling backdrop of projected doll’s eyes. Then it’s back out to Logen to see how Serena Maneesh’s recently released album Abyss In B Minor has affected their live show. I’ve seen the band twice before, probably about four and three years ago respectively, and whilst I enjoyed the first show the second was a bit too obtuse, with none of the killer riffs that drag proceedings back from the chaos on their excellent debut discernable from amidst the howl of reverb. The gig even ended with frontman Emil Nikolaisen returning to the stage alone to deliver thirty minutes (no joke) of screaming feedback by playing the guitar with his teeth on the floor as an encore. It had a certain je ne ce quois, to be sure, but tunes? Je crois que non. This time a streamlining is evident from even before the band take to the stage, as the equipment is arranged in a steely symmetry, underlit by futuristic green LED’s. Like a scaled-down take on the trailer for that Tron remake. The only anomaly is what looks like some dying foliage draped over the microphone stand, but when the band, here as a five piece, emerge it transpires that this is of course Emil’s shoegaze shawl, which he disentangles and drapes over his neck, before crunching into a wall of sound. With the doll-like blonde hair atop unfeasibly long legs that is sultry ice-queen bassist Hilma and the art-pirate bandana-sporting intense figure of Emil himself dominating the stagefront there is no doubt that visually Serena are certainly engaging, and their sound is far tighter too. Fleeting vocal washes occasionally penetrate waves of powerful guitar, and whilst it is still not worth catching the band in the hope of hearing your favourite song played by rote, and the new material doesn’t always impose itself melodically, there is a certain thrill to suddenly recognising the strains of the familiar from within the tumult – the sweet stupor of ‘Don’t Come Down Here’ distils suddenly from a fierce howling storm. If there is another dental encore I don’t get to see it though, as it’s back to Kvarteret for Lindstrom & Christabelle.
Shrouded in shadowy darkness as the first throb of their recent Real Life Is No Cool LP echoes through a tightly-packed Tegleverket, tired/drunken revellers jostling for position near the front, Oslo’s italo-disco king and his big-lunged cohort Christabelle Sandoo prove to cut very different figures when the shifting patterned lights reveal the duo. Hunched behind a compact workstation, three layers of keyboards and synths at his disposal, Lindstrom cuts a skinny geeky figure in trademark t-shirt and headband, accompanying his singer with falsetto backing with the aid of a vocoder. If he makes little effort to engage with the audience, or even demonstrate awareness that they are actually there, Christabelle’s outfit shows that she has certainly made an effort to impress, albeit a strange one. Like some befuddling fusion of Fame! and a wolf, body-hugging lycra is padded out at strategic points with grey fur for a combo that is somewhere uncharted between sexy and ridiculous. From the off it’s clear that, despite the attire, the throwback thrills of the duo’s record have been updated for the live forum. The tunes are less reminiscent of Georgio Moroder and Michael Jackson and more in line with the italo-disco space-scapes that have made Hans-Petter Lindstrom the world leader in his field. Soaring synths, burrowing tribal percussion and pumping galactic beats accompany Christabelle’s tidal vocals that hypnotically wash in and out of focus. ‘Don’t you wanna dance?’ Christabelle pouts after nobody but a bobbing Erlend Oye, solitary near the front, really goes for it, before the Neanderthal bassline of album highlight ‘Lovesick’ kicks in deliciously. Given that the retro feel of the album is partly exchanged here for swirling space-disco vibrations it is the sudden materialization of the duo’s more radio-friendly pop efforts that provide the biggest rush – ‘High And Low’ is airy and essential, and ‘Baby Can’t Stop’ a breathless disco stomp. And then, with not so much as a goodbye, they are gone – vanished into the dewy ether – and the Fix is over.
First published on nomusicmedia.com, 2010