Kristiansand, in Norway’s deep south: from the name you might assume that this is a pious, God-fearing city – and perhaps it is, in places - but right now Clash is watching a topless hip-hopper being blatantly boob-grabbed by a raucous crowd.
It’s a dude, thankfully, although as he’s being hoisted up for a hectic crowdsurf it becomes apparent that this venue has a very low wooden ceiling and there’s a very real chance that said rapper will get his bare nipples snagged in it. Ouch. But hey, back in the day, every big rapper had a wound and a story.
In truth, it isn’t exactly what Clash expected when we pitched up for Sørveiv, an increasingly important hotspot on the Nordic festival circuit. Here the next generation of impossibly tall, blonde, attractive Scandinavians (there are worse stereotypes) get stage-honed before being thrust onto the world’s less forgiving stages.
Mind you, the aforementioned hip-hopper, Kjartan Lauritzen, presumably couldn’t give a rats arse about international success as he raps in Norwegian and has a seriously enthusiastic fanbase already. It’s quite a party, and threatens to break the floor of this glorious little wooden venue, Vaktbua.
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This coastal city is a sociable place to hang, for a few days. Sørveiv’s six varied venues are so close together that the festival almost feels like a house party: lose somebody and you’ll definitely stumble across them again - whether you like it or not. It’s certainly handy for one of the better-known names, Einar Stray, who does winsome pop with his own band then rushes over to play a bigger gig with Siv Jakobsen, a popular singer-songwriter who knocks out a decent version of Britney’s ‘Toxic.’ Stray manages to locate a much smarter suit along the way, too.
That bands-wading-into-the-audience theme continues, sometimes pragmatically, on the smaller stages. When a charismatic singer called Shikoswe switches from keyboards to guitar - also at the intimate Vaktbua - her guitarist decides that the stage is suddenly not big enough for the both of them so he heads off and plays in the audience.
More intriguing is the drummer from the cacophonous Swedish retro-rockers Bottlecap: towards the end of their thoroughly enjoyable set he disassembles his drums, walks into the audience, and reassembles them there. Ok, it takes a while, but did Karen Carpenter do that? No she didn’t, and look how that turned out.
Bottlecap’s show takes place at a welcoming two-stages venue called Teateret, which will be completely refurbished and relaunched in 2017. That’s part of Kristiansand’s new cultural quarter project, which is set to completely change the image of this currently pretty low-key city, over the next few years.
On Saturday afternoon Clash gets an exclusive tour of the new modern art museum - or the big old grain storage building that should become it, anyway. It’s a hugely impressive project, and building; stand on the top floor and drop a stone into those old grain siloes and it takes a full three seconds to hit bottom, with the sort of satisfyingly reverberating thud that Matthew Herbert would make a whole album out of.
Kristiansand is on the up, then, and the festival’s performers are clearly that way inclined too: Sørveiv’s sub-heading is ‘The Tunes of Tomorrow.’ At the Teateret, Clash wanders into the wrong room and comes across Sweden’s Albert af Ekenstam, which is a result, as he’s the best thing all weekend. Accompanied by a bloke wearing what can only be described as an Amazing Technicolour Dreamshirt, he makes wonderfully textured guitar soundscapes and has a truly excellent riff face, the eyes-closed, studious look of a man enjoying the relief of a rest room after a long road trip.
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The best story on the bill are Hudna, a Danish/Israeli/Turkish trio who mix Arabic percussion and Asian strings with American rock, which works rather well. Hudna actually means “ceasefire.” Unfortunately this show endures several lengthy ceasefires too, due to technical issues. But then that’s international diplomacy for you.
Some promising local talents go enterprisingly off-piste. Tomin have a winning mix of emotion-soaked vocals and wall-shaking beats, while Simen (don’t ask how that’s pronounced) Lyngroth makes impressively polished yacht-rock: those two acts stage a secret gig at their house, attracting punters by attaching a trail of balloons all the way there. Sweet. And speaking of sweet, also doing an off-menu performance are Oakland Rain, tuneful redhead twins who play their epic-sounding upcoming album to a bunch of industry types they’ve enticed out to the woods late at night with home-made cake: think First Aid Kit vs Blair Witch vs The Great Norwegian Bake-Off.
So, who else catches the ear? Danish newcomers The Entrepreneurs are well worth checking: atmospheric riff-heavy chorus-whores with a nice line in sonic FX and a distinctively yelpy frontman. If he was a woman, he’d be Julie Yelpy.
Popular girl rockers Razika, meanwhile, also sing in Norwegian, and are not everyone’s cup of tea. “I hate them!” says the Nordic industry chap we’re hanging with, which is odd, as they’re ace. They do a song that apparently disses Oslo and eventually invite half the audience to dance onstage with them (but did they share their rider, too?)
And also worth a look, partly for their elaborate ear-jewellery, are Kristiansand’s own Rise Above, who make an enjoyable racket at the packed pub Charlies, which has photographs above the stage of several half-naked men holding a dog. Half-naked men are clearly quite well-received in these parts.
A quirkily memorable few days, then. So much so that we end the weekend by prising one of the rather nice Sørveiv posters – designed by the artist Trond Nicholas Perry – off a door after the after-afterparty. Presumably if the promoter helps, that makes it alright, right? Right. I will Sørveiv!
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Words: Si Hawkins