By:Larm Festival 2/26 – 3/1/14, Oslo Norway

Dates: February 26 - March 1, 2014

Location: Oslo, Norway

Welcome entrance by Agnetha Mortensen


 One of the real joys of By:Larm is, simply, looking at the names of some of the bands that are playing it. Because it’s a music festival (and conference), located in the numerous clubs and venues of Oslo and centered around Nordic bands—mainly Norwegian ones, but there are a few from Denmark, Sweden and Iceland, too—there are truly inventive monikers that it’s unlikely native English speakers would ever come up with.

 Beastmilk by Agata Klusak

This year—the 16th year it’s been running, and the fourth time that the Nordic Music Prize has been awarded as part of it—there were some true gems: Beastmilk (above). Death By Unga Bunga. Angelica’s Elegy. Genius Of Time. Panda Da Panda. Ice Cream Cathedral. Atlanter. Baby In Vain.

 Venue 3


venue 2


The other real joy is just how strong the selection of bands is. This year was no exception. And unlike South By Southwest – as fun as that is – you truly sense you can actually discover something incredible at By:Larm. You can wander from venue to venue without really knowing what you’re going to encounter, because the majority of these bands aren’t all that well-known outside Scandinavia, if not Europe.

Take, for example, Baby In Vain. A trio of three teenage girls from Denmark, they make a vicious, vibrant racket, but they do so with an absolute mastery of their instruments. Coming off as a cross between Hole and Led Zeppelin, their tight, carefully crafted grungy, bluesy, stoner rock was truly thrilling to watch, not least because it was hard to fathom that these three young, diminutive girls would even know what stoner rock was, let alone play is as if they’d been doing so for decades. There was a lot of good music in By:Larm’s four days, but theirs was certainly the most exciting and exquisite.

First Aid Kit 3 by Thomas Karlsen

First Aid Kit 2 by Thomas Karlsen

First Aid Kid 1 by Oddbjorn Steffensen

A close second moment came from another set of young girls – First Aid Kit (above). The Swedish duo collected the Nordic Music Prize last year and were present to close out this year’s ceremony, the winners of which were the knife. Their set, with a drummer on board, was actually slightly underwhelming, but when they stepped forward and played a fully acoustic version of  “Ghost Town” – no mics, no amps, just the sheer sadness of the song reaching high into the rafters of the thousand-plus capacity venue. It was truly haunting and memorable.

 Atlanter 1 by Cecilia Riis Kjeldsen

Death by Unga Bunga 1 by Agnetha Mortensen

Elsewhere, Atlanter and Death By Unga Bunga (above, respectively) were two of Norway’s finest; the former’s shimmering folk chilling and heart-warming in equal measure, the latter’s psychedelic pop-rock transcendent and resplendent. The same was true of Verdensrommet: it translates, loosely, as space, but with layers of meaning that the English language can’t quite justify – whose dark, and yes, spacey, rock was truly sublime. Deathcrush (below), too, were a powerhouse of heavy, grinding noise which served to implode heads in the best possible way.

 Deathcrush 3 by

Deathcrush 1 by Thomas Karlsen

Deathcrush 2 by Thomas Karlsen

James Murphy, incongruously, did a DJ set, though there’s nothing remotely Scandinavian about him.

James Murphy by Frekrik Klingenberg

Meanwhile one of Denmark’s biggest musical exports at the moment, When Saints Go Machine, showed just why they’ve garnered the attention they have with a set that was sublime from start to end.

lNordic Music Prize by Agnetha Mortensen

fans 3

 But really, this festival belonged to the unexpected and the unfamiliar; names, some of them pretty damn weird, that may not have that much pull outside of this part of Europe, but which were a pure joy to behold. In that respect, unlike SXSW, By:Larm truly brings it back to the music, to the joy of listening to and discovering new acts for the love of it and no other reason.

 tech talk by Agnetha Mortensen

Panel by Agnetha Mortensen

Not only is that something very worthwhile, it’s incredibly inspiring and rewarding.

 Music Norway by Thomas Karlsen

Music for the sake of music: there’s nothing better.

 Exit by Agnetha Mortensen

Photo credits: Atlanter (Cecilia Riis Kjeldsen)… Beastmilk (Agata Klusak)… Death By Unga Bunga, Nordic Music Prize, Tech Panel, entrance/exit (Agnetha Mortensen)… Deathcrush, First Aid Kit, Music Norway (Thomas Karlsen)… all photos courtesy By:Larm



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