After the sordid demise of the nearby Quart Festival Arendal’s Hove has inherited the challenging responsibility of being Norway’s largest rock festival. With competition from Oslo’s ace Øya and cheaper options abroad the event has not had an easy ride, however. Hove itself had financial problems from the off, and after filing for bankruptcy in 2007 founder Toffen Gunnufsen was forced to elicit the aid of experienced UK event moguls Festival Republic, the team in charge of Reading, Latitude and half of Glastonbury. Since then the going has been smoother, and Hove has reached the modest but meaningful fifth anniversary milestone this year. After bedding down in the relatively restrained camping area it swiftly becomes clear what has proved to be Hove’s niche – the crowds are overwhelmingly Norwegian and of post-high school age, a sea of late-teens still sporting soiled Russ T-shirts. That said, the line-up is a reasonably eclectic affair, and the setting – no doubt what attracted Festival Republic – is charming. Strings of lightbulbs hang like engorged fireflies from the pines as you wander along forest paths, the Main Stage looks out over traditional wooden huts and bare rocks, the Amfi second stage is a stunning auditorium cut into a forest clearing and lined with chipped bark, and the artists, lucky bastards, get their own stunning private sandy beach. It is a pricy affair, though; there is no escaping from that. At some £250 you would struggle to find a more expensive festival anywhere, and with beer at £6 and sorry food at £8+ filling your belly becomes a daunting task. And the rain, that habitual scourge of the festival goer, is the unwanted holder of a festival pass too, before the sun finally tracks it down and evicts it from the final, balmy day.
My first day at Hove starts with a glance at wistful Bergen surf-pop collective Young Dreams, who would be the perfect summer afternoon festival booking if they weren’t dwarfed by the gargantuan Main Stage and it’s requisite paltry early audience. Tracks like ‘Young Dreams’ are delicious nonetheless, but at a festival with leafy hideaways to spare it seems a shame not to stick this lot in one.
Kasabian swagger about parodically, but they have a scattering of hits that you can’t help but appreciate as part of a big festival crowd, and a rousing sign-off with last year’s disarmingly overblown ‘Fire’ hits the spot. Over at the Amfi stage Tinie Tempah, by contrast, seems initially a bit more interesting than I had had him down for, efficiently channelling the raw beats and London-centric rhymes of underground grime. This isn’t to last, alas, as any credibility is swiftly traded in for massive vapid pop-choruses and faux-heartfelt drivel, so an early exit is beaten to grab a decent spot for The Strokes. What is there to say? Their last two albums have been shoddy at best, live they veer close to self-parody – the feigned disinterest that made them languidly exciting exchanged for genuine disinterest – and today a good half of the show is phoned in. And yet, when they scroll through the early hits – which to their credit they do at length today – you are reminded of what a great band The Strokes can be. ‘Reptilia’ sizzles, but it is the highlights from Is This It that really stand out, leaving you pondering at once how good that record was, but also where it all went dull afterwards.
Soulstepper Jamie Woon is the latest articulate floppy haired UK post-dubstep act to get bloggers in a twist, and his James Blake meets Timberlake murky pop proves every bit as winning in the flesh. Armed with a stunning voice and a shameless willingness to exploit this for all its emotional and catchy potential Woon cuts a charmingly bashful figure. During the interlude of closing hit ‘Lady Luck’ he looks embarrassed at being forced to briefly dance, and one of the highlights of his set is a stonking singalong cover of ‘Would I Lie To You’. His magnum opus ‘Night Air’ is sadly swallowed by its own burping beats, but a moving take on ‘Spiral’ more than compensates.
After that there is just time to catch the tail end of Brandon Flowers’ show at the twilit Amfi, which ends with a curious euro-trance reimagining of Killers hit ‘Mr Brightside’, flooding the venue with latecomers in a manner which must be a trifle demoralising for Flowers’ solo pretensions. Now untz he’s untz having untz a untz smoke untz and untz she’s untz taking untz a untz drag. It went down well, anyway. After a glimpse of Bright Eyes late set (he’s got a massive coat on), which confirms that I’m probably not likely to get into him any time soon, it’s time to crawl into a disconsolate sleeping bag and listen to the patter of insolent rain.
The different factions of precipitation seem to have been united by a common goal and agreed to march in drilled formation on my second day, so shelter is all the rage until I venture to the mercifully roofed tent stage. These New Puritans’ Hidden won numerous plaudits last year, including the questionable honour of NME’s ‘Album of 2010’, but it’s a sparse crowd who have collected in the tent to soak up their horn-infused progstep churning. It’s not too hard to see why, either. The band have hit upon a great sound, but the tunes they have are hampered almost irreparably by Jack Barnett’s (self-acknowledged) struggles with staying in key, and the band have trouble translating the grand scale of the album live. What should be the crunching dystopian epics of ‘Attack Music’ and ‘Three Thousand’ instead end up a little woolly and half-hearted. It’s still reasonably compelling stuff, but deeply flawed.
Over at the main stage Big Boi reliably dishes out a party atmosphere. Generally considered the less exciting half of Outkast, Big Boi went some way to dispelling that assumption on his cracking 2010 record Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty, and although his show here never feels quite as theatrical or three-dimensional as you would expect a full Outkast effort to be, it does finds him trawling through the hits satisfactorily. Their luggage was lost by the airline he explains, although new clothes were provided by one of the stalls in the festival site (surely a once in a lifetime coup for that lot), and although welcome takes on Outkast hits ‘Bombs Over Bagdad’ and ‘Ms Jackson’ feel a little like karaoke renditions, proceedings really light up with effervescent takes on Left Foot highlights ‘Fo Yo Sorrows’ and the anthemic ‘Shutterbug’. Getting a gaggle of nineteen-year old Norwegian blondes on stage to grind is on the pervy side of magnanimous, but Big Boi is a hit nonetheless.
The main draw on the Thursday is resurgent Swedish pop princess Robyn, and sure enough the Main Stage is heaving. Dressed in peacock print leggings, a hideous bitty jumper and an oversized American Football shirt, sporting a terrible bowl haircut, and throwing laughably aggressive dance moves Robyn might seem to be the ultimate incarnation of our post-ironic internet-fuelled obsessions, but she proves here that no zeitgeist-citing excuses are necessary when it comes to explaining the appeal of her music. It’s just great. She focuses on the beats here, ramping ‘Cobrastyle’ into a pumping beast and twisting ‘Be Mine’ into a house banger, but whatever her incarnation she is an expansive entertainer. Perhaps Robyn is more suited to a dark dance tent than this open stage, but tunes like ‘Dancing On My Own’ and the brilliant closer ‘With Every Heartbeat’ would work anywhere.
It’s Magnetic Man’s job to continue the party, which they manage largely by dint of being seriously loud. Sans Skream – who we are told may be becoming a father ‘any minute now’ – the supergroup dish out pretty hackneyed dubstep-by-numbers. Which is fine seeing as individually they played a big part in defining what that would be anyway, and because the bass is so bone-marrow-extractingly loud that it is hard not to be generally impressed, or to resist the impulse to move around (even if only to stop yourself being blown over backwards).
I’ve never seen Rumble In Rhodos before, and late-afternoon at a largely unoccupied main stage wouldn’t seem to be the ideal place to start, but the indie-pop tinged post-hardcore act gamely do their best to combat any obstacles with a catchy and energetic show. Vocalist Thomas Bratlie slips easily between sweet pop croon and punk yelp, and his total commitment is hard to resist. The songs are increasingly in place too: Rumble are touring their well-received third album Signs Of Fervent Devotion, and, after a dedication to the watching Erlend Mokkelbost and Anders Tjore of Montée who produced the record, an increasingly rosy-cheeked and sweaty Bratlie launches into latest single ‘Soft Insulated Days’, which, like this sparkling performance, showcases Rumble In Rhodos at their buoyant best.
It seems Montée are everywhere (they’re not really, only there and here), as they are next up in the tent, and in fine fettle too. Giving a whirlwind tour through the glitzy nostalgia of their fine recent full-length Rendition of You, Montée are at their best when they embrace their poppiest impulses, and a singalong take on recent hit ‘Ghost’ has the crowd in raptures.
The Mars Volta’s ok, but not having any particular investment I opt to collect cups instead. What? I was never into At The Drive In, and what’s the point in a band that is mostly for people who used to be into another band anyway? I get money for the cups!
I want to hate Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All. With a heady combination of vitriolic lyrics detailing killing women, homophobia and general recklessness and the overall impression that these are wild kids in charge of something adults would struggle to control (the members of OFWGKTA range from 17 to 21 years old), this LA collective have swiftly become the most hyped and the most vilified act on the hip-hop landscape. I want to hate OFWGKTA. But they are just so scintillatingly thrilling. With an aggressive energy and caustic belligerence that feels truly momentous Odd Future bawl out blasts of sheer bile-filled dynamism, and this is before leader Tyler, The Creator has even taken to the stage. He is in a wheelchair. He has a broken foot. He doesn’t give a fuck, and dances like some drunken scarecrow, swaying dangerously with every furious stomp of his one good peg. Other members leap bodily into the crowd off speaker stacks, or encourage the frenzied mosh pit to even more violent extremes. The lyrics are shocking and unfortunate, sure, but they are expressed with a wry articulacy, and smack of a mixture of blog-baiting and ‘this is the world I grew up in, so fuck you’ realism. And beneath the ‘Most Wanted’ exterior you get the impression that these are a bunch of kids genuinely amazed by the opportunity they’ve been handed. Tyler has never been abroad before. This was the first time he saw a lake. He throws his camera into the crowd for a few snaps, and of course he gets it back intact (he did admittedly use a few small threats). He had expected, he tells us, to be plonked in front of a bunch of white guys who ‘didn’t know shit’, but he is pleasantly surprised (I suspect that beneath the bravado he’s a rather sweet soul). He’s not the only one. Despite the themes this stuff doesn’t compound the stereotypes of hip-hop; rather it blows away a bunch of cobwebs. Every beat may reprise that engorged cicada chirp of ‘Yonkers’, but A it’s an awesome beat, and B it’s laid down by a child of about eight years old. After a final rallying cry of ‘Kill people, burn shit, fuck school’ the crowds clear, and lying on the chipped bark a prone figure is revealed being tended to by medics – hopefully not a direct result of Odd Future’s questionable crowd-control policy (get ‘em riled). There are many reasons to hate OFWGKTA, but a lot more to think, live at least, that they are something very special indeed.
This is Hove Festival’s fifth birthday, and, fittingly, their first Norwegian headline act are celebrating their tenth. Kaizers Orchestra may have made little impression on the Anglo-American market, but in Norway they are in truth probably the only band with the live chops and the young fanbase to pull off a top-of-the-bill appearance at a bash of this scale. I’ve never particularly managed to warm to them on record, but, led by the inimitable Janove Ottesen, the group are a famed live prospect. Vast oil drums are rhythmically slammed with crowbars, the sinister organist sports his signature gas mask, and – swiftly shedding his trademark waistcoat – bare-chested Ottesen has the crowd in the palm of his hand throughout. Their shtick is an admirably comprehensive Weimar steam-punk, and from the resistance-themed Germanic lyrics to the vast velvet drapes and chandeliers that are revealed halfway through, this theatrical bent makes for a great stage show. The band may be in the midst of a staggered three album 2011, but they rummage through the greatest hits here, and by-and-large the crowd know every word, accompanying their mass chorus with Kaizers’ ubiquitous dainty clapping. ‘Resistansen’ and ‘Ompa Til Du Dør’ are wildly received, and whilst a “Kaizers rap” feels a mite ill-conceived, by the time they bid Hove farewell with explosive closer ‘Maestro’ there are few who would begrudge them their headline slot.
Deadmou5e fills the Amfi arena fit to bursting, and has packed the stage out with expensive looking huge digital cube things and tube lights and screens and stuff. And there he is at the top of the lopsided pixelated podium thing with that mouse-shaped hat on. What a joker. Take it off! He never does. Is this the same song? No? Oh. It’s loud, isn’t it? Does that make it good? I dunno…. do you think he always wears the hat so he doesn’t have to listen to his own music?
Honningbarna won the most recent edition of NRK’s Urørt, a nationwide search for the best unsigned act in the country, and despite the draw of Deadmou5e the nearby tent is full enough to suggest that the band caught some ears during that competition. If OFWGKTA showcased America’s disenfranchised youth, Honningbarna, whilst equally shouty and lively, represent rather Norway’s contentedly franchised youth. The Wolf Gang and the ‘honey children’. That said, however, this straight-outta school punk proves thoroughly entertaining with the tunes to boot. Frontman Edvard Valberg, dressed knowingly in a British-style school-uniform purple jumper, squirms and writhes with infectious enthusiastic sugar-high energy and belts out his band’s curt anthems with the voice of one beyond his slender skinny years. Signature hit ‘Borgerskapets Utakknemlige Sønner’ may be the pick of the bunch, but in the call-and-response interaction between Valberg and his fledgling bandmates Honningbarna have hit upon a stonking, albeit repetitive, live formula. This is basically exactly the sort of music you would expect teens to make if they had few pretensions and liked shouting in public. There are fret-straddling guitar solos, head-banging riffs and Neanderthal thudding drums. It may be Kvelertak Jr., but then Kvelertak are Black Metal Jr. and when was being Jr. a bad thing anyway? Martin Luther King was a Jr. The fact is that being in Honningbarna looks like sooo much fun, and watching them isn’t far behind.
First published on nomusicmedia.com, 2011