Against all odds, in recent years Oslo has emerged as one of Europe’s top destinations for live music – of almost any imaginable genre.
Text: Mikael Lunde
Technically, there’s no midnight sun in Oslo. But the sun is hard pressed to set in mid-summer anyway – it lingers in the horizon till the kids are fast asleep and the air gets a slightly more crisp taste. Still, the city is very much alive.
At any given time during these long, warm summer nights, from large-scale festivals to half-secret, tiny backyard stages, there is music. Tons of music. Oslo and the surrounding area has become one of the most vibrant and diverse destinations for live music experiences in … well, pretty much anywhere, if you believe the people in the business.
“Oh, yes, Oslo is one of the most exciting places for live music in Europe at the moment,” says Tord Krogtoft. He’s the head of the city’s most popular annual music festival, Øya, and so admittedly has a slight bias. But while he has no time to enjoy music at his own festival, almost every day for the rest of the year there’s some other live event he wants to see. “People who have started new clubs and concert venues here have been skilful, interested and purposeful in creating a vibrant environment for live music. There are professionals at every stage of the process,” says Krogtoft. “People will probably disagree with me if I compare Oslo to Paris or London, but I really think we’re almost on par with them. The quality of Oslo’s music scene is not just very high in regards to our size, but compared to Europe in general.”
The question remains: Why here, and why now? “The music scene has grown in large part because artists depend, to an unprecedented extent, on the income from live performances,” says Geir Ramnefjell, the culture editor of one of Norway’s leading newspapers, Dagbladet. He believes Norwegian artists are especially affected, because the streaming economy has grown so prominent here. “Fewer medium-sized performers now earn money from their recorded music. That means they must cultivate their live performances instead, and become great live bands. In that sense, this is a very welcome development”. While Ramnefjell names the intimate rock concert hall Rockefeller as his favourite Oslo venue, he also has a surprise runner-up: “It’s actually quite amazing to see pop or rock concerts in the Opera House. There are certain – largely grey-haired – segments of the population who will attend shows there, yet there’s still a really good vibe. It goes to show how large and diverse the live music audience has become,” he says.
And so, while hotshot artists used to stop their tours further south, that is no longer the case. Norwegian audiences have the will – and, importantly, the economy – to attend live performances. It might have something to do with the climate, too. After the long northern winter, Norwegians tend to open up in pace with the spring flowers. By the time of the summer music festivals, daylight is valued like a precious resource. The mild, sunlit nights make for a special atmosphere that has to be experienced fist hand.
People trek from all over the east to festivals such as Slottsfjell in Tønsberg, a short drive from Oslo – one of the most consistently good and popular music events in the area. You may need cold winters to really appreciate the soft touch of grass – to sit down with drinks and barbeque and friends and enjoy the summer and life and music. As for the Øya boss, Tord Krogtoft remains in Oslo around that time to attend Norwegian Wood. Where Øya is young and hip, Norwegian Wood is classic and old school. “That’s the ‘stayer’, I’ve been there consistently since the early 2000s,” he says.