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theartsdesk in Oslo: by:Larm Festival 2011 and the Nordic Music Prize | New music reviews, news & interviews

theartsdesk in Oslo: by:Larm Festival 2011 and the Nordic Music Prize

Oslo's annual celebration of Nordic music more than comes up with the goods

Iceland’s Jõnsi takes the Nordic Music Prize. HRH the Crown Prince Haakon Magnus of Norway looks onHelge Brekke

Oslo’s annual by:Larm festival celebrates Nordic music. Over the three days, just under 180 acts play Norway's capital: 142 are Norwegian, 15 are Swedish, with single figures each for Iceland, Denmark, Finland and even Greenland. Time presses, and hard choices have to be made about what to see. This year, by:Larm also hosted the inaugural Nordic Music Prize, awarded to Iceland’s Jõnsi, for his recent album Go. Overjoyed, but overwhelmed, in reaction he said little more than, “Thank you so much, I’m really bad at this.”

HRH the Crown Prince Haakon Magnus of Norway presented the award. Quoting the jury he said, “The music of the winner could only have been made here, in the North. It sounds and almost smells like Iceland, it’s brave and life-affirming pop music that grabs you by the heart in flamboyant Technicolor.” (Imagine one of the British royal family making such a speech.) Jõnsi kissed him, a marked contrast to less spontaneous galas where moods feel forced, the participants interest feigned.

The route to victory was labyrinthine. Panels (mainly of writers) in each Nordic country chose a long list of albums from across the region; then this was narrowed down by voting. Further honing resulted in a final list of 12 candidates. At this point the process went international and a panel of non-Nords – including British writer/editor Rob Young and Rough Trade’s Jeannette Lee – picked the winner. It was as if the individual and egalitarian Nordic countries couldn’t bear to make the choice themselves in case it meant one country was favoured over another. For my part – and I love Jõnsi – I’d hoped the winner would be an artist less well known to the outside world.

Susanne_Sundfor_Atle_Schie_webJust how wonderful the other candidates were was demonstrated by the acts playing the awards show. Each played close to a full set – something impossible at the Mercury Music Prize. Each took the chance to shine. Iceland's Ólöf Arnalds was magical. She sings in Icelandic, but her mysterious songs soon had the audience singing along. Norway’s own Susanne Sundfør was hypnotic (pictured right, photo by Atle Schie). A performer of such magnetism, emotion and enigma, it’s impossible not to be moved by her. Her set mainly drew from last year’s album, The Brothel, but one of her two new songs declared, “I go to funerals every day, I carry the coffin”. Hymn-like, there is unmediated beauty, pain and loss in her music. She was followed by Sweden’s Dungen, the most psychedelic live band on the planet. But not psychedelic in a British or American way: their jazzy approach draws on Swedish progg (sic - not prog, as in prog rock), the music which developed in the late Sixties to marry rock sensibilities to folk. These devotional performances were in perfect balance with each other, the spell cast by Susanne Sundfør lingering.

Dungen are the most psychedelic live band on the planet. Their jazzy approach draws on Swedish progg (sic - not prog, as in prog rock)

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