Woke up in a Norwegian hotel for the first time in my life, barely covered by the apparently compulsory dual single blanket on a double mattress, still totally surrounded in darkness. I had a sneaking suspicion that I was not going to get much fuel until very late at night, so Voicehandler, my fine colleagues for the evening, joined me in having a double continental breakfast. It was somewhere between a bonding experience and high-end carb loading for a gain session that we all knew was never going to happen.
We then waddled to the sauna, where half of today’s activity was about to roll out. First up, a discussion largely between the festival organisers and the week’s musicians about the reality of sustainable creative practices. Each group of national representatives was asked about how they go about operating as promoters and creators in their community/ies. This quickly escalated to a heated discussion about the whether it’s better to strive to exist outside the institutional system, or demand that government and other wealthy institutions become active participants in the funding and furthering of art. I made sure to represent Perth well by using only a moderate amount of swearing, instead going for the whole “talk about what you know” approach. As someone who is largely outside creative institutions, but who was in attendance largely thanks to government support, I was in a complex superposition between the “we’ll build it ourselves” DIY anarchists and the “institutional rebel” contingency. I think governments should have a supportive custodianship of diverse contemporary artistic practices, but I too am wary of the not-so-hidden checks and balances required of those of us who do receive this kind of money.
Following the heated discussion, we were up for a different kind of heat (god I am SO sorry for this segueway but it was right there). It was time for the sauna performance. I was having some difficulties deciding on whether I wanted to participate or not; as a fat, mixed, heavily tattooed trans person, my body is not generally accepted in public spaces, least of all ones where partial nudity is par the course. Some of the opinions around gender in the morning’s discussion had also set my teeth on edge and reminded me that for some people there are still only (cis) men and women in the equation, and the only focus is on the continued oppression and underrepresentation of those women at the hands of men. While I agree with the sentiment, I’m also aware of the complicity all of us have in perpetuating structures of exclusion, and the fact that the men/women debate is hugely reductive and unupdated.
Nonetheless, with Christian’s loving support, I pushed on and took part in the performance. It was heavy and surreal: Skævv produced a severe wall of noise of electronics and live drums, with an acrylic drum kit specifically purchased for the event (as wooden drum kits would not survive the heat). Everyone was down to their bathers, if not less, including the performers. Meanwhile, as we are being subjected to this intense noise, we also had the opportunity to look through the giant windows that form the entire back wall of the sauna out into the snow and towards the Oslo Opera House. Here I am, sweating into my bikini and watching two dudes hammer out some harsh material, while passers-by in all-out snow gear (including skis!) stared into the sauna in confusion and bemusement. Alongside recording for the BBC earlier in the week, I now have two things that I need to write into my bucket list and immediately scratch off.
After towelling off and heading to the hotel for a rest, it was time for the second performance at National Jazzscene Victoria, with my act as the opener. I played as part of a quarter with Andreas and Voicehandler. I won’t comment on it, but it felt very good and like people were really listening to each other.
Next was a live set by Wave Behaviour, who put my attempts at their workshop the previous day to shame. The live light cinema was accompanied by the sound of electronics almost mimicking the loud clicks of the film cameras. It was incredible to watch how the two light sources interrupted and coalesced, and what happened when one would flicker or disappear altogether. Like fireworks under a microscope.
Wave Behaviour’s set bled into Oyamao’s set, which started with all the members scattered throughout the audience and eventually moving towards each other. It was a bit too disparate for my liking, but I’m sure that’s a sinful statement to make about experimental music in some circles.
MacDonald/Davidson/Duch/Welch started the wind-down of the evening, with lots of long notes and guitar scrapes. Finally, IOIOI came on stage. Her set was a particularly intense one, as the person she was scheduled to play with, Z’EV, passed away suddenly a few weeks before the show. This transformed the closing set of the night from a musical performance to a slow, harmonic eulogy. The last minutes of the set were simply of Z’EV’s music, the last that he sent IOIOI in preparation for the festival, played over the PA, while people walked out of the venue and towards the sauna where they released candles onto the water in commemoration.
The final day of the festival started with a panic attack for me. I think I’ve been having it so good here that my brain decided it was time to spice things up a bit. Why not season this incredible experience with a bit of social mortification? Great idea... Luckily my partner Melissa was there in spirit/iPhone to take me down a few gears and remind me that I’m very prone to this particular brand of self-sabotage.
Double breakfast was on the menu again today, as I continued to be unsure of where I’d end up sleeping or if lunch was going to match up with my hoity-toity food cravings. Danishta, Jacob (Heule, other half of Voicehandler) and I made quick work of the buffet, including a brave move by Danishta in having a portion of the individually-packaged Omega 3 tablets which sat next to the cereal and single-use toothpicks. God bless Norway.
The morning session was spent in the SALT sauna, although this time the heat wasn’t turned on. After some loitering around and asking about the sleeping concert (which I missed due to being too chronically ill to sleep on wooden floorboards), the events kicked off properly. First up, a conversation about community development and knowledge-sharing. Some strong opinions again, which was absolutely fantastic. I’m really privileged to have been involved in such intensive conversations with such a diverse group of people. Unfortunately there were no spicy arguments about anarchy vs. playing the system, but there was definitely a small cell of people (including myself) who defended the idea that audiences are not homogenous, and some people need far more encouragement and support to breach the audience/performer division line.
We ran out of time to spit everything out, but Danishta leaned over and whispered “don’t worry, I’ll have the last word”. And so she did, starting Voicehandler’s set by stating that there are communities of colour and other points of diversity who are pushing to break those boundaries and are creating amazing work, they just need to be listened to. This statement was followed with an incredible set. Jacob produced synthesizer-like tones and Hitchcockian soundtrack noises from his minimal kit, while Danishta pushed out three or more simultaneous voices and thumped her chest into a bruise while distorting found sounds through her complex modular rig. I felt like this show should have had the heat on; it hit me somewhere really deep, and I would have loved to match the body’s state to what my mind and spirit were going through. I think this effect was equally the result of the amazing music as it was the conversations that we’d been having all week about the ways in which marginalised people create creative space through rituals, volume, political action, experimentation...
The remaining concert of the festival took place in the main library. Luckily, I was on the verge of exploding with the need to go to the toilet, which led me through this giant old building as I struggled to understand what the various signs meant. It looked like a library taken right out of that movie The Pagemaster, horrifyingly large bookshelf ladder included. No one was turned into a cartoon, at the very least.
Will Guthrie’s set was completely trance-inducing, with super controlled tones driven out of bowls and gongs making a hyper complex melody. At one point there was a rhythm in 5s that made me completely lose track of time, I just nodded my head and disappeared. This is my second time seeing him perform and it was even better than the last, I feel totally fortunate.
Ayumi Tanaka brought the festival to a close, with an incredibly sparse piano set. I couldn’t tell if it was the reverberance from the space or whether there were microphones hidden somewhere, but the notes moved around the room and seemed to make little mini concerts in the corners, under the chairs... A super beautiful, serene way to end what has been a very intense and involved 4-day musical endeavour.
The festival closing party took place in a small sports bar 100 metres down the road from Guro’s house. Our merry gang was quickly joined by a gaggle of soccer fans who spent the next 95 minutes screaming every time Man U scored, and remaining in mournful silence when the opposition did the same. Being my oppositional self I decided to try and weep every time they yelled, but was quickly discouraged. Full of pizza from Dr Pizza’s pizzeria which was conveniently placed next door, the remaining partiers dragged ourselves up to Guro’s apartment. There, Will Guthrie and I spent half an hour being good cultural ambassadors by educating the Nords, Americans and French about the complex Aussie linguistics around cannabis consumption, as well as generally putting on our best ocker accents for maximum effect. In return, we were taught that it was racist against French people to refuse to dance, and had an in-depth discussion about the reason why Norwegians only use single blankets (although I still don’t really understand...) This was truly a cultural exchange, and I am deeply sorry.
I eventually caved into my deep jetlagged, and made Christian help me crawl back to his place, where I was going to crash for my final night. My suitcase now full of gifted records, I settled in for my final sleep in Norway.