'A free and fluid place where anything goes'
Andrew Trendell
15:36 18th August 2016

The Scandinavian dream of freedom and equality hangs thick in the air throughout Oslo, and permeates the attitude of the capital's renowned Oya Festival.

As civilised and pleasant as the atmosphere may be, it can only be said that anything goes. While UK festivals tend too often to follow one thread, Oya sits pop among metal, dance, rock, grime, jazz and everything in between. The site is so perfectly laid out to eliminate all of that usual festival stress and tedium, the weather is sweet, the welcome is warm, the city that surrounds you is so rich in culture old and new, the natural world of mountains, fjords and forest are utterly breathtaking. All of the pieces are in place. Just add the right balance of music and you've got the ingredients for the greatest weekend that the summer's festival calendar can offer.

Thankfully, they deliver in spades - and they've got it all. Whether you want the experimental art of Arca, the freelove jazz of Thundercat, the blissed out dance of Jamie xx, or the mad-scientist metal Kverletak, there's something for you. If you variety, look no further than the headliners that include the mind-bending trip-hop of Massive Attack, the batshit crazy disco carnival of Grace Jones, our rock laureate PJ Harvey and a dazzling display from local heroes Highasakite.

There was almost too much to choose from, but here are the 10 very greatest things about Oya Festival 2016.


Photo: Steffen Rikenberg

Christine & The Queens represent the fluid freedom that music needs

"There is only one rule here," beams Christine & The Queens as she glides across the stage in the packed-out Sirkus tent to early arrivals on the opening day. "This is a free space for you to experiment - to be who you want to. You can be a bicycle if you want to."

With a fluid approach to gender and sexuality, that same freedom flows through her every movement.

Through the aching pain of 'Paradis Perdu', through the playful pop manifesto of 'Tilted' and a riotous cover of 'Pump Up The Jam', the boundaries between music, art and theatre are erased as Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Madonna and Paris Is Burning all collide for a performance that's choreographed and considered to a meticulous extent, but still naturally exudes a balance between tenderness and unbridled joy.

Led by her warm and open manner, the entire room is united in the ecstasy of the spectacle. Man or woman, the reaction is the same; we're in love with one of the most human experiences you'll ever witness on stage. Without a doubt, this is the must-see live act of 2016. God only knows what she'll do next, but we know she can be whatever she wants.


Photo: Ihne Pedersen

Aurora dazzles on her home turf

Humbled as she is by the homecountry crowd that stretches up the hill and into the horizon, there's a fiery spirit and wildchild imagination that drives Aurora and that can't be tamed. But then nothing about her could ever be considered tame.

The purity of her voice is matched by how free from influence her performance is. There's no point of reference as the only origin of what you're witnessing is her wide-eyed sense of wonder. You almost get the sense that she sprouted out of the ancient Nordic ground or fell from the starry night sky.

Norwegian music is so healthy right now

And Aurora is in such good company. Beyond the accomplished headline set from Highasakite, the Norwegian music scene is in the rudest of health. While many other country's scenes may follow, one can't help but feel that their Viking spirit makes this lot hell bent on taking the lead. They're all so singular and individual. At no point do we come across another cut-copy star, as every blast of local talent that we're met with is a heady dose of pure originality. Even every new act has a character already so fully-formed.

The variety of what they produce so well surely inspires the eclecticism of the Oya bill as a whole. Before the festival has even begun as part of the Club Tuesday run of Nordic acts dotted around the city, we're already blown away by the ever-evolving pop-punk ferocity of next year's guitar tour de force of Slotface, while later Strange Hellos steal our attention with their dreamy and stargazing pscyh-pop. With the horizon-charging anthemics of Fleetwood Mac viewed through the hazy shoegaze prism of Beach House, Strange Hellos have the songcraftsmanship to win hearts, matched with a distinctive edge that sets apart.

On the pop-front, the slick, chic and sensual pop-noir R&B of bewitching electro star Ary bears a soul and inspires a fandom that should one day see her as a global phenomenon, while the arena-ready and flawless pop of Dagny has all of the hallmarks of an artist on the brink of a breakthrough.

The insanely talented Farao played pretty much every instrument on her immaculate debut album, Till It's All Forgotten - and her undeniable musicality carries her glitchy electro-folk performance into a league of its own as she sends all present at the Hagen stage into a deep, deep swoon. The same can be said for Gundelach who blend layers of bubbling synth-driven psych with some seriously fierce guitar-shredding.


Photo: Anna Lerheim Ask

An unexpected highlight came when one evening, we were led up to the misty mountain-top of Tryvann for some Stranger Things-esque menage and spookiness, accompanied by a fittingly ethereal from the breathtaking Nils Bech. Heartfelt sentiment drips from every syllable of his avant-garde baroque pop, while his piercing presence feels as if he's wormed his way into the core of your soul. Get him in your life at once.

And finally, let's talk about the brilliantly-named gang of messed-up oddballs, Death By Unga Bunga. It's a name you won't forget, and the memory of losing ourselves on the closing day to their runaway garage punk party antics is one that shall certainly endure. They pull a bigger crowd than Foals, and's purely on the basis of their hedonistic reputation and the raucous racket that they produce. They've got that infectious love-ability that makes even infants love The Beatles, played with the breakneck energy of The Hives and the punchdrunk abandon of NOFX. Every moment inspires a "skol" - and we'll drink to that.

The rest of the world needs to stand up and take notice of this nation that is currently spoiling us.


Photo: Erik Moholdt

Kamasi Washington opens up jazz

There's no greater partnership than sunshine, beer, friends and some sweet, sweet jazz - but the exquisite company of the utter genius of Kamasi Washington and his flawless band stands tall as a highlight of Oya, and probably the peak of our summer.

At one point he invites "the man who taught me everything I know" as he welcomes his father to the stage; a testament to his ability to share the spotlight with the incredible talent that flanks him. This band is far more than the sum of its parts, and their sound is one of sheer celebration. How can anyone call jazz self-indulgent when Kamasi Washington makes it feel so damn good?


Photo: Johannes Granseth

New Order really are enjoying one hell of a renaissance

Hooky was naturally a quintessential part of New Order's DNA - both on stage and on record. Take him out of the equation and you'd fear for a pale imitation of one of the most important bands of the last 50 years. What stands before us in 2016 is far from a tribute, but instead a band reborn and still somehow evolving after decades in the game. From the off with the propulsive rush of opener 'Singularity' from 2015's effervescent Music Complete, it couldn't be clearer that New Order not only still matter, but still have so much to prove.

In the highest of spirits and on the finest of form, new cuts 'Tutti Frutti' and 'Plastic' are played with the prerequisite conviction and are received warmly enough for them to stand shoulder to shoulder with the monolithic likes of 'Bizarre Love Triangle', 'The Perfect Kiss', 'Blue Monday' and Temptation'. With the classics given a new sheen and compulsive edge, the set is sealed with the bittersweet kiss of 'Love Will Tear Us Apart', the relentless dance comes to an end. We mop the sweat from our brows and walk away confident that while so much has changed, that intrinsic class that has always made New Order so great remains firmly at their core.


Photo: Ihne Pedersen

Foals are going to totally destroy Reading & Leeds

Seeing Foals in daylight never feels right, not having witnessed them headline festivals and destroy Wembley. Regardless of time, their essence never changes. It may be a short-sharp set dogged by a few technical issues, but they still play each show like it's their last - as if they're desperate to escape from their own skin. When the towering and elegiac grace of 'Spanish Sahara', the twisted madness of 'Olympic Airwaves' and the feral menace of 'What Went Down' land at Reading & Leeds, expect something special. It will be a show for all time, it will be the true making of them.


Photo: Markus Thorsen 

There is no greater high, sexual or chemical, than the drop in 'Clearest Blue' by Chvrches

It's science.


Photo: Ihne Pedersen

Grime travels

They may in a pristine green field in a rural haven of Oslo, but Skepta and Stormzy still play with the same conviction and attitude as they would in Tottenham, Hackney or any dingey London club. As we approached for both sets, we struggled to imagine grime's tales translating among a Scandinavian crowd. As soon as these artists in their prime press their lips to mic and lead the proceedings into the sheer carnage of flailing limbs, bouncing bodies and spinning moshpits, we realise how foolish we were. Good music is good music. Grime matters, and now the whole planet knows it.

 
Photo: Johannes Granseth

Whitney are the sound of summer

"This is the nicest festival I've been to," smiles Whitney frontman Julien Ehrlich, wincing through the dusty sunlight across Oslo's lush green fields, paying tribute to the friendly vibes around the site. He's not wrong, and so now all we need is some sweet music to strut and chill to. Cue Whitney. Where slacker rocks meets Beach Boys, Bon Iver and a dash of Afrobeat, "just plenty of reggae songs about love" are the perfect soundtrack to remembering our Norwegian summer escape.


Photo: Tor Orset 

Savages are a signpost to the future

"We're lucky and you're lucky," beams Savages singer Jehnny Beth - with a look of both glee and madness, "because this - no one can take this from us."

Part of what makes Savages such a force to be reckoned with, beyond the fact that there's an energy, imagination and manifesto that sets them lightyears ahead of their peers, is the fact that they exist very much in the now. While so many punks blindly fall through nihilism, Savages smash the prism of any preconceptions of what the world is, of what a rock band should be, before holding the jagged shards up to the light, questioning everything while celebrating unity and fraternity among every shape of human. They remain defiant, but they adore life.

To see Savages live is to feel their embrace, and that crystallises the spirit of the entire week. From metal to pop via funk, punk, dance, grime, jazz and everything in between, artists and fans from every nation are welcome - everything came together to feel so complete. Oya belongs to us all. No one can take that away.


Photo: Anna Lerheim Ask