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Spirits Won't Be Dampened: Oya Festival Day Two

John Maus, doing what John Maus does. Pic: Sevana Ohandjanian
Aug 10th 2012 | Oya Festival
Frank Ocean shows up late and leaves early, but Billy Bragg, The Afghan Whigs and Björk all save the day.

What better way to start another day at Oya than with some Scandinavian pop, courtesy of Norwegians Philco Fiction. Think Robyn getting into party mode with Metronomy or channeling chill vibes The XX-style and you're not far off the mark. Singer Turid Solberg's enthusiasm was bolstered by unexpected back up dancers and a crowd ready to get their dancing shoes on.

Another new act getting praise is Savages. Stepping up to the plate after Here We Go Magic pulled out of the festival recently, the all-female four-piece were brash and aggressive from opening. There was an air of post-punk hero worship as they stoically played songs without pause, singer Jehnny Beth's vocals somewhere between Debbie Harry and Karen O.

Taking post-modern to its illogical conclusion in the Club Tent was none other than John Maus, a whirlwind of shouting ferocity. His minimalist stage set up consisted of himself, a microphone and a backing track. The man is intimidating, stalking the stage with directionless anger – whether punching himself in the head or reaching out to his audience imploringly, the feeling is that Maus is searching for some kind of connection, a kinetic energy between himself and the people nodding reassuringly from the barrier. That's the beauty of his work, as quickly as The Crucifix and Streetlight bring typical pop sensibilities to the forefront; Maus decides to shout incoherently into his microphone 'til it all but drowns melody out.

For those looking for the more sing-along side of music, Frank Ocean was next on the bill on the main stage. The stampede of people that crowded the entire field was impressive, given his set was early on in the day. Yet they should've saved themselves from rushing, as Ocean proceeded to be 15 minutes late. A chair was brought out and set behind the mic, shortly after which Ocean finally arrived on stage, oozing cool and perhaps irony with a Trash Talk tee. He breezily sang a Sade cover (By Your Side) and old tune Summer Remains whilst seated, his charisma captivating the cooing audience, the front row of which alone consisted of 16 year old girls who were screaming as if One Direction had just appeared shirtless on stage, and making those Taylor Swift heart symbols with their hands. As Ocean launched into Thinkin Bout You followed by Novacane, the set was just hitting its stride when, suddenly, he disappeared off stage. Moments later something was announced in Norwegian. Turns out the disembodied voice was saying that Ocean had lost his voice and would not be returning to the stage. A subsequent sea of boos washed across the audience, the 16 year olds looking to be on the verge of tears. A disappointing outcome considering all seemed to be shaping up excellently at the time. It seems Norwegians will have to hold out for Channel Orange era Ocean material to be aired live at a later date.

Meanwhile St Vincent aka Annie Clark began her performance on one of the smaller stages, a tight set winding through her back catalogue of emotive and intricately crafted pop songs. The live rendition is bettered by Clark's incomparable guitar shredding, delivered effortlessly whilst singing in those crazy high pitches demanded of her on tunes like Cruel and Actor Out Of Work.

With Haim also having cancelled a few weeks ago, none other than Billy Bragg took to the tiny stage placed on the edge of a river, and proceeded to blow the audience out of the water (pun absolutely intended). Hilarious, warm and gregarious, when he wasn't delivering taut tunes with naught but his guitar on hand, he spoke of everything from Woody Guthrie's love of Ingrid Bergman (the words “tumescent manhood” got thrown about in reference to Guthrie's song's secret meaning before playing the tune named after the actress) to the current UK political climate, berating Cameron and Clegg on a fiery Waiting For The Great Leap. It wasn't all politics though, as he amiably chatted between tunes and pulled his self-titled “Morrissey face” – hand on chin to create dimple, head dipped slightly – drinking Throat Coat tea (recommended by Morrissey he jokingly said) before apologising for talking about Morrissey so much. Just as the set drew to a euphoric end with There Is Power In A Union after a passionate speech about the subject in question, Bragg was given another three minutes on stage, during which a rousing rendition of A New England evoked a crowd sing-along, the perfect end to a charged performance.

Now for something completely different: A$AP Rocky had a DJ warming up the crowd before bounding onstage with his hype man, all swagger and ready to thrill his willing audience. The predominantly male crowd, all clad in some kind of ridiculous cap/beanie headwear (it's summer guys, even in Norway), didn't need much encouragement when it came to slam dancing along to the throbbing bass on Goldie and Hands On The Wheel, the latter inspiring thousands of hands to be raised into the air when Rocky asked the inevitable question, 'who be smoking that purple weed right now?' The theme of purple was spread across the whole set, though Purple Swag definitely had the packed crowd dancing with extra vigour.

From rhymes to post-punk poetry, The Afghan Whigs were playing to a thin crowd in the far corner of the festival grounds. As the clouds began to overtake the sky and splatterings of rain began to hit the ground, their literate post-punk was almost too perfectly fitting, even though most of the festival's attendees seemed to have chosen to camp out for a good spot at Björk's headline set instead. By this stage the rain was lashing faces, and as a sea of yellow ponchos became visible (thanks random Norwegian company who sponsored said ponchos and whose logo is now ingrained in my memory for eternity), so did Björk, along with ten colourfully clad female singers, and her band.

Seeing Björk live is a moment of culmination, wherein her vision of how her music should marry visuals is properly realised. As she strolled about stage dressed in a black glittering dress, the front of which resembled black intestinal tubing, and a colourful wig the closest reference to which can be ascertained is that of Elizabeth Banks' character in The Hunger Games, images flashed across the screens. Vibrant aquatic imagery, moons going through their cycle, it was all a mesmerising addition to an equally enthralling performance. The setlist leaned heavily on last year's Biophilia but it was undoubtedly the sound of All Is Full Of Love's intro that had the audience in a flurry of excitement, openly trying to sing alongside Björk's vocal twitches, the rain long forgotten as it soaked heads and toes alike. And so we departed into the Oslo dark, mud under our feet but hearts buoyed by Icelandic pop joy.

Sevana Ohandjanian


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