Posted: 01. Apr, 2014
By Laurent Barnard – Gallows
Norway is the future. Every online survey informs us that Scandinavia boasts the highest standard of living in the world, and as a regular visitor to these cool Norwegian shores I assure you this is very true. The prospect of being paid a greater salary while working less hours may seem unattainable in London but for my friends in Oslo it’s the basis of employment (and with a longer holiday thrown in).
There is a school system in place that ensures most students enter higher education resulting in a highly intelligent workforce that exceeds most other countries. Health care is provided free of charge with generous investments subsidising growth in state-of-the-art hospitals. The maternal nature of Mother Norway even extends to the lengthy leave afforded to new parents.
Just open your windows and look outside! The majestic landscape inspires an all-round healthy lifestyle, be it the inviting waters of the fjords in the summer or skiing in the mountains come wintertime. I would go so far as to say being born in Norway gives you a head start in life. Yes, the country is a haven but before my first flight across the North Sea had even landed I was already attracted to the Norwegians and not for their sociopolitical benefits.
JR Ewing – epitome of cool
Towards the end of 2004 I set about starting a new musical project after obsessing over the album “Ride Paranoia” by Oslo band JR Ewing, a record that I considered to be flying under the radar. Despite only an elite few making themselves known as fans it represented the artistic values and musicianship on which I planned to base my own new and as yet, unnamed group. For me JR Ewing were the epitome of “cool” and if you understood their music then it didn’t matter how good you were as a musician, you were destined to join my band. But why did we look overseas for inspiration when Britain is so widely recognised for introducing the world to legendary bands such as the Sex Pistols and The Clash? The truth is that when it comes to punk and hardcore Scandinavia delivers with effortless swagger. JR Ewing produced this misshaped aggressive noise and fashioned it into a glorious, hammering wall of sound. In 2005, Gallows was born and we’re still fortunate to create the music we love today.
To an outside observer it’s apparent Norway shapes artists that ooze individuality, scream confidence and bleed charisma. If your desire is to stay in vogue then look north to a culture whose innate progressive attitude paves the way for artistic expression and does so with an understated modesty. The whole charm of the Norwegian music scene is its courage to run the show their way and in doing so you either jump on board and enjoy the ride or stand to the side looking perplexed. We are never force-fed the current trends outside English speaking territories so when invited to look beyond mainstream press I grab every opportunity I can.
Norway suits my musical palette. What we have here is art for art’s sake, not for fame or for money. As a result there are emerging artists who are fearless and respected, pioneers in a land where major labels no longer dictate how we choose to explore new sounds. These new acts grow organically with tastemakers latching on to the excitement generated. Just look at the international success of Stavanger’s Kvelertak, a band that play a crossover of black metal, hard rock and punk with all lyrics howled in Norwegian. Overseas they have established themselves as a successful touring act and back in their home country they have rightly been awarded various accolades for their efforts.
Counter culture celebration
This Norwegian celebration of counter culture was further personified in 2013 when Oslo rock and rollers Turbonegro were immortalised on a postage stamp. Such recognition of talent may seem completely justified considering their worldwide success but when you realise that the heavily made up faces adorning Norwegian mail belong to a band whose most popular songs are titled “I Got Erection”, “Fuck The World” and “Rock Against Ass”, it’s apparent that no other country could get away with granting such a literal stamp of approval. It really is a bold statement that reveals a country abundant with pride for their native talent no matter how questionable these decisions seem to foreigners.
This absolute acceptance of outsider art has created the perfect breeding ground for new and unique acts. Of course it can be argued that there are positives to creative censorship. Rebelling against artistic restrictions have birthed genres like jazz, punk, and hip-hop but an artist free from constraints can only be limited by themselves providing a much broader canvas on which to paint. Without inhibitions let the good times roll!
Oslo three piece Deathcrush fit the mould as an unconventional yet promising musical export. Linn Nystadnes, Åse Røyset and Andreas Larssen named their band after an album by fellow Norwegians Mayhem and within a short space of time secured worldwide representation. The video for their latest single “Fun” was recently shortlisted at this year’s SXSW and features drugged up teenagers harvesting their very own Kim Jong-Un “just for fun”. Many would shy away from a premise but it will undoubtedly gain them plenty of attention.
If Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas” was reimagined as a dance party, then it would sound like Deathcrush. Linn and Åse front the band pumping guitar and bass while Andreas keeps the beat with a mix of disco carnage and blasts. It’s almost impossible to find any faults in their riot girl meets nu-rave formula as they pull it off so effortlessly. Live, they are imposing yet sassy and I look forward to seeing the impact they make when they join industry hotbeds Sound City Festival and the Great Escape in England this May.
It seems Linn and Åse aren’t the only two girls generating quite a stir in the Norwegian underground. Dark Times share a similar line-up of two girls one boy, and play caustic hardcore. On the opposite end of the spectrum electronic rap duo KUUK present a very dark and promiscuous insight into the minds of front-girls, Ragna Solbergnes and Mira Bergrav Refsum.
I was in Oslo for International Women’s Day and made it out to Pokalen to witness KUUK premiere their new music video “HTG” and perform a number of songs. Having an act called KUUK (a name based on the slang term for “dick” in Norwegian) represent women on their own day would raise a few questions anywhere but Norway. With lyrics, mostly sung in Norwegian, there was an overbearing sexual tone that induced a degree of fear in the men and empowerment in the women. Two mean girls playing bass fuelled rap that has the power to incite riots should the mood change, live KUUK is as aggressive and confrontational as any punk band and I hope they stay that way.
Biru Baby from the extreme northeastern point of Norway, Finnmark, sound just as outlandish as you would expect but while being unusual the music is alarmingly cohesive. The best way to describe this fantastic outfit is like System Of A Down being fronted by Yolandi Visser from South Africa’s Die Antwoord. Like Deathcrush and KUUK they are visually arresting. Their music videos penetrate your soul leaving you afraid to sleep in case these visions return to haunt your dreams. Nonetheless it’s generating reactions like this that make the band so memorable and extremely watchable. Track down their video for “Slutt Slut” for a highly visceral treat!
Carnival Kids – Norwegian and UK talent unified
Returning to the boys, last year Carnival Kids supported Gallows at the legendary 100 Club venue in London. That night we were fortunate to receive a huge hospitality rider including beer, wine, vodka and whiskey (a rare gift for us) and somehow these guys just drank it all. Firstly, may I congratulate Them on still being able to load out their gear via the narrow staircase at the end of the night! But with that said I really enjoyed their off-kilter rhythms and dynamic hooks, a sound not dissimilar to the sophisticated yet raw compositions of JR Ewing. They are a crosspollination of Norwegian and English talent with half the members from Liverpool and the other half from Oslo. Hopefully the distance won’t serve as too much of an obstruction as they begin writing their new album.
Even fresher are Barren Womb, a band I saw perform on the smallest stage at last year’s Pstereo festival in Trondheim. Once again proving that less is more, this two piece combine angular hardcore with ferocious rock and roll delivering a heavy sound you can shake your hips to. Timo Silvola’s grinding guitars and Tony Gonzahl’s relentless drums sonically fill every room they play in, so much so there is absolutely no space for extra band members. Their album “The sun’s not yellow, it’s chicken” has only just been released within the last few days and is at the top of my “To buy” list.
Norway embraces offbeat talent and in so doing has produced a cast of young bands that are more radical and diverse than their established peers. It’s reassuring to know that not everyone is drowning in political correctness and censorship. Musicians should be allowed to test new waters and experiment without fear or vilification. I’m passionate about the music I play and listen to. When I see bands take risks it resonates within me. Through Gallows I feel a strong affiliation with the Norwegians. The ideas of breaking down boundaries and thinking outside the box is what has driven me to make music from day one. Every album Gallows release is a statement that divides opinion. Opinion is good. Opinion is what gets people talking and is why music has become social currency.
We want to be known for introducing the next cool band to our circle of friends and Scandinavia as a whole has consistently proven itself rich with exciting new music. Move over “Cool Britannia” because if there’s a guide to being hip rest assured it’s written in Norwegian.
– Laurent Barnard (Gallows)
Laurent Barnard is a musician based in North-West London. During the past year he’s been a regular visitor to Norway spending most of his time in the country’s capital Oslo and a few weeks in Trondheim. Laurent is best known as founding member of punk band Gallows and also plays guitar in progessive metal group Krokodil and indie pop act Moones. Gallows are currently working on new material to be released later in 2014.