Bergenfest 2011

Marina & The Diamonds, Montée, Real Ones, Mount Kimbie, Young Dreams @ Bergenfest

This last proper day of Bergenfest also marked my last day as a Bergen resident. After two years of living in this beautiful rain-sodden cultural haven, cradled in the tumbling arms of its towering seven mountains, it seemed fitting indeed that my last glimpse of Bergen should find the city at full tilt. Sure enough the full cast of supporting characters were out to see me off. There is Lars Vaular clutching a McDonalds by the seafront, there Erlend Øye weaving his way through a crowd on his lonesome. Wild-bearded Homeless Swedish Man plays a fumbling goodbye refrain on his trusty recorder by the roadside, the city’s teens, clad in their red Russ get-up, drag sloppy dead fish around on strings or swig drinks on grassy verges. The sun shines, the streets teem, and, come dusk, I lope out for one last weary but excited binge on Bergen’s musical offerings.

English warbler Marina & The Diamonds is up first, at the former fish-smoking factory USF Verftet, and she is pretty much what you would expect. Somewhat tame Kate Bush-inspired faux-eccentricity, which is a bit samey but skilfully delivered. She clearly has some decent lungs on her, and the packed house goes wild for the robot song. All in all it’s just fine.

But what of the Norwegians, you impatiently cry? I’m on my way to them. Bear with. It’s a light jog, though, to Hulen, the cave-venue that bites into the rock under the city’s needle strewn central park, and I am there just in time to shuffle through the crowds to be near the front when Montée take to the stage. I had reasonably high hopes for this one, having warmed to the band’s recent second album Rendition of You, but it becomes apparent pretty quickly that Montée aren’t really going to fulfil them. Not that there is anything wrong with their performance per se. A bracing rendition of album highlight ‘Gone Today’ kicks off proceedings, and ‘Crystal Shore’ and early hit ‘Isle of Now’ follow with similar polished gusto, but for me it’s just not fun enough. There are big choruses, fancy coloured lights, and the girl has a crazy perm, sure, but this is music that gleefully chomps on the multi-coloured tropes of disco and pop, and yet here it is live being delivered with a defiantly straight faced earnest epic-ness that robs it of much of its potential power. Where is the endearing indulgent silliness I had envisioned? Maybe I’m just too used to fun local bands putting on a stonking stage show, but it turns out there is a bit of a gap between how I imagine Montée, and how they imagine themselves.

Downhill again, then, to the town centre, to lurch for the tail-end of Real Ones’ homecoming show at Ole Bull Scene. There is certainly more to see here. Huge block letters arranged at intervals on stage spell out the band’s name, and the hairy members of Real Ones clutch everything from violins to a liberally called-upon sitar. I’ve heard good things about the band in the live forum, and, for the four songs I catch at least, they don’t disappoint. It’s not forward-looking music and the more ‘adventurous’ moments can stray into pastiche, but Real Ones have a sure grasp of melody and a refreshing taste for variety that renders them ample entertainment. I squeeze into a free space on the upstairs balcony just in time for the double whammy of their 2009 album All For The Neighbourhood’s best two songs. If ‘Outlaw’ isn’t quite the gleeful pop anthem of the studio recording, ‘Every Dog Has It’s Day’ is every bit as liltingly lovely. There is no appearance from Susanne Sundfør for the duet ‘Sister To All’, which is both a shame and a good thing (as the song is a bit crap). But when Real Ones, with all their colour, verve and slight antiquatedness, sing ‘every dog has its day/ And mine’s today’, I feel compelled to agree.

Back at Verftet UK post-dubstep duo Mount Kimbie offer an immersive and exciting flow of echoes, chattering beats and disembodied vocals, but from the crowds packing the larger downstairs room it is clear what people are still here for, in the early hours of the morning. Everybody in Bergen is talking about Young Dreams these days, and the chatter is starting to spread far and wide. To be fair there are enough members in the sprawling collective (I count nine today, but it varies) for the considerable whooping crowds to just be close friends, but there is a genuine buzz in the air as Matias Tellez leads the ‘supergroup’ onto the cramped stage. Members of everyone from The Megaphonic Thrift and Put Your Hands Up For Neo-Tokyo, to The Alexandria Quartet and Casiokids have a role to play here, but it soon becomes apparent that their sound is rather different from any of those component parts. Summery harmonies and drifting warm melodies abound here. If Panda Bear made synth-infused catchy three minute pop songs, this delectable concoction might be what he’d dream up. As jostling girls shriek from the throng and everyone who’s anyone in the Bergen music scene (who isn’t on the stage, which narrows it down considerably) looks on in solidarity, it is clear that Young Dreams are pretty confident with their product and very much enjoy sharing it. The finished-article singles, including the swirling delight of ‘Flight 376’, are stronger than some of the working material, but the potential is dripping from every honeyed note. Their irrepressibly catchy mission statement ‘Young Dreams’ is delivered with a deliciously messy sheen of handclaps and surf-pop backing vocals, but there is a poignancy too to their nostalgically childish golden haze – this bunch of Bergen boys clearly haven’t quite come to terms with growing up, but they have matured musically enough to articulate that wistfulness in a very exciting way.

From a clear sky shimmering stars shine over this special city. I may be leaving now, but Bergenfest has provided yet another compelling argument for coming back sooner rather than later.

First published on nomusicmedia.com, 2011

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