A record store, a music label, and a punk bar

By Dalton Spangler

On the first floor of a busy street corner in downtown Oslo, only blocks away from the royal palace, lies a well-hidden cafe. It’s walls are covered with graffiti and black paint. Anarchist and Antifa imagery is stamped inside and out. A hand-painted sheet hangs over the cafe windows expressing support for French activists in La Zad being evicted from a squat by their government, which is using tanks.

All are welcome here (except neo-nazis) but all may not appreciate what’s there.

The Blitz Cafe still stands today as a beacon of Oslo’s punk rock culture despite police raids, bombings, and the erosion of time. Photo by Dalton Spangler.

Inside the Blitz Cafe, an alternative music festival commemorates the 10-year anniversary of acclaimed music label, Fysisk Format. During the festival, teens headbanged to the sound of death metal, 20-somethings moshed to hardcore bands, and those old enough to have survived a neo-Nazi bombing of the cafe in the ‘90s sat, enjoyed cheap beer and reminisced about their heyday, protesting police brutality and racism.

More than 350 people attended each day of the two-day festival. The sheer range of ages is a testament to the community built here by a trifecta of venue, record store, and record label. For more than 35 years, The Blitz has served as a legendary venue comparable to California punk’s 924 Gilman. The Norwegian Concert Organizers organization (Norske Konsertarrangører), the countries largest concert organizers union, was founded there in 1982. Oslo sub-genres like punk, ska and hardcore all call the Blitz home, as well.

Before streaming music was a thing, fans could only purchase the music they heard at The Blitz from the Tiger record store. And about ten years ago the folks at Tiger started the music label, Fysisk Format.

Tiger sells vinyl, CDs, tapes and more, and was a favorite of music-lovers because it specialized in ska, punk, and hardcore during the ’90s. It’s one of the few remaining record stores of that era despite waning popularity for hardcore genres and the dominance of chain record stores in the area.

Tiger record shop sign
Tiger record store has been a driving force behind Oslo’s hardcore scene since the ’90s, well before the formation ofthe music label Fysisk Format. Photo by Dalton Spangler.

Jørn Haagestad is one of many customers who has been loyal to Tiger for years. “I discovered this shop when I was 15 and I was looking for some punk CDs. Now I’ve been spending all my money here ever since.” In 2005 he was searching for ska-punk band Goldfinger’s latest release – “Disconnection Notice.” Every store he tried had never even heard of the band until he came to Tiger. Haagestad was shocked when the guy behind the counter not only knew the band but asked enthusiastically “When did they put out a new record?” and wanted to hear the album for himself. Now Haagestad is the guy behind the counter and has been for the past four years. He also manages Fysisk Format’s distribution and many online shops for bands such as Datarock and Bergen’s Edda.

Kristian Kallevik founded Fysisk Format in 2008. He said the label arose “more or less as a reaction to the chaos that was going on around that time.” He started his career at Tiger in 2003, what Kallevik calls “the golden age of CDs.” Kallevik said bands frequently approached him to sell their demos on CD, even as people began streaming and pirating music.

“There were lots of newspaper articles and statements from Norwegian major labels and their representatives who were probably told to say things like ‘the CD’s dead, the physical format is over,’” he said.

“Napster, illegal downloading, Spotify was starting up,” he said. ” Everybody was like, ‘Okay, who are these Spotify guys?’ I remember one of the arguments for their service was ‘We don’t pay much but at least it’s better than illegal downloading.’ So the level then was quite low.”

framed pictures and tee shirts hang on the wall above a record display in the store
Tiger sells merchandise for other bands such as Datarock and record labels such as Bergen’s Edda. Photo by Dalton Spangler.

His experience at Tiger, combined with the knowledge that the punk music he was listening to hadn’t been digitized, was enough to convince Kallevik he wasn’t ready to abandon vinyl and CDs.

“Coming from a record store and being a music enthusiast, we felt the physical format needed to be given a little extra love and extra plays,” he said.

Fysisk is the Norwegian word for physical and in 2008, Fysisk Format was born.

The label’s move to sell physical copies not only helped the record store but also helped keep local bands afloat as fans of physical formats and shows remained a viable source of income.

blond woman and a man with long dark hair smile at the camera
Ingrid and Kristian Kallevik at øya festival in 2017. Kristian convinced Ingrid to stay in Norway with him only three days they started dating. She said “He made me happy. I couldn’t leave. That was 12 years and 51 weeks ago.” Now the couple is married with two daughters. Photo courtesy of Kristian.

At the same time Kallevik was starting the label, he met a woman named Ingrid, who shared his fascination with records, CDs and live music.

Ingrid shopped at Tiger, where Kallevik worked, and they often encountered one another at gigs. Ingrid says they met while she was buying a Cult of Luna CD. Kristian knew the band and suggested she take a look at the new album from another hardcore band, ISIS.

One wedding and two daughters later, they still share the same passion for music.  Ingrid manages the label’s manufacturing, sets up deals with printing companies and designs merch for the bands.

Kristian manages the music festival at the Blitz. They both run around the café ensuring the bands are taken care of and visit with longtime friends, including two fans of Fysisk Format band Haust — Trish Brontë and Sebastian Rusten.

Because he knew the bass and guitar players from high school, Rusten had been of fan of Haust and their members before they even came up with a name for the band.

“One thing I find really lovely about Haust,”  Brontë said, “is that they have the sound, they have the music, but they also have the lyrics. Frontman Vebjørn works really hard to create meaning (in) what he says without forcing it. It’s like poetry, basically.”

man with long curly dark hair raises his fist and sings
Vebjørn Guttormsgaard Møllberg and the original line-up of Houst performed the entire debut album, “Ride the Relapse” from front-to-back for the 10-year anniversary of the album. Photo by Jessie Shiflett

Brontë is an American who earned a Master’s degree in German from the University of Washington. “I’ve been here (Norway) for eight years. I came here for the language and I stayed because I loved the country. Then I met the guy a couple years after that.”

Among the fans in the crowd was Rolf Utne, a gray-haired man who has been a fan of Oslo’s underground for decades. “I know all these bands. This is the kinda stuff I grew up listening to. Metal and punk. Why stop listening?” he said.

At the other end of the age spectrum were three metal-head fans: Johannes-Thor Sandal (16), Simen Harstad (14), and Adalsteinn Sandal (13). Despite their youth all three are musicians. Johannes-Thor and Simen have been in a metal band of their own since 2014. The band is named Golden Core and they play a mix of stoner and sludge metal with a Norwegian twist. Their major influences are Mastodon, Killing Joke, and Black Sabbath.

“We’re the only ones that do this,” said Johannes-Thor. “Every other kid listens to pop and mainstream music so we are with the underground. We mostly play at places that have 18 or 20+ age restrictions.” 

The boys have performed internationally, playing shows in Denmark and Iceland. They are an active part of Oslo’s underground – either supporting other musicians at gigs such as Fysisk Fest or playing one of the 30 shows they did in Oslo during 2017.

What brings together such a broad range of age groups and backgrounds to a crusty cafe in downtown Oslo? Fysisk Format has earned a reputation as a label that actually cares about the music, according to many of the bands who performed that night. In fact, all the proceeds from the festival went directly to The Blitz and the bands.

Attan frontman Remi Semshaug Langseth performs at Fysisk Fest. Photo by Jessie Shiftlett
Attan frontman Remi Semshaug Langseth performs at Fysisk Fest. Photo by Jessie Shiftlett.

Attan, the latest band to sign with the label, leveled the house with their brutal screaming from both the frontman Remi Semshaug Langseth and bassist Fritz-Ragnvald Rimala Pettersen. Langseth’s higher register provides a scream typical of black metal artists, while Pettersen’s deeper, gurgly register is more closely related to death metal artists. Their voices combine to give the band a truly terrifying range of demonic sounds reflecting their chaotic brand of metal.

According to Langseth, Attan would sign only with Fysisk Format, as the label offers international connections and provides their artists with creative freedom, even if their sound isn’t marketable to mainstream audiences.

“We wanted [a label] closer to home and within Norway. They’re in a league of their own for what we do,” said Pettersen,”For us, it was really a no-brainer as for what label to look for if we wanted to take things home.”

“They’ve been releasing off-the-charts music for ten years and are still going, so it kinda speaks volumes for what they do and how well they do it,” he said.

The band, Sibiir is made up of aging hardcore punks who had never played metal until they started the band. Their unique blend of hardcore and metal has earned them critical acclaim in publications across Norway, the UK, and the U.S. They’ve also done two international tours with famed Norweigan metal band, Kvelertak.

Drummer Eivind Kjølstad said, “I think every single one of us, in our ’20s, always hoped that Fysisk Format would pick up one of our bands. The only thing I can compare it to is like if you’re a band from Seattle and Sub Pop asks you. You just say ‘Ya, of course,’” he said.

Even Kvelertak asked Fysisk Format if they’d release a 7-inch vinyl for them before they blew up in 2010.

singer raises a fist as he sings onstage
The Good, the Bad, and the Zugly frontman Ivar Nicolaisen fires up the crowd at Fysisk Fest. Ivar and his sister, Hilma Nicolaisen, were part of the prominent 90s band Silver, which fused glam and punk rock. He wears a Haraball T-shirt, another hardcore punk band on Fysisk Format. Photo by Jessie Shiftlett.

Hardcore punk band, The Good The Bad and The Zugly, claim to be the bastard children of the 90s punk scene in Oslo. Their fans have almost as much fun as the band does on stage as evidenced by the constant flow of crowd surfers and mosh pits incited by their frontman, Ivar Nicolaisen.

They too are enthusiastic about their label. “It’s fire and soul. It’s do-it-yourself,” says drummer Mange Vannebo. “Almost every release is successful and they (Fysisk Format) don’t sign bands they don’t like just to sell records or get bigger.”

Kristian now aims to maintain the label and it’s reputation so he can enjoy the changes the next ten years has in store for him.  He said, “It feels like we’ve been in a period in life when you put in extra energy for kids and to start up a business but I don’t think I’ve got it in me to keep starting new things.”

The festival came to a close with the first band ever signed under the Fysisk Format label. Haust, celebrating the tenth anniversary of its debut record “Ride the Relapse,” performed the entire album from front to back to wrap up the festival. The band recently split, leaving only two of the original members, but all four original members came to the festival for a mini-reunion. It was their first performance since their last release, “Bodies,” in 2015. Lead singer Vebjørn Guttormsgaard Møllberg said, “It’s quite weird to play with that band and that record.”

He continued “It’s been a really long time and it feels like it, but that’s also nice to do a one-off show.” Haust, despite their split, was willing to set aside their conflicting ambitions and perform this one last show both for the label and the shared past of their community.

When the lights came up, all that was left from the crowds were empty beer cans and bar sludge. Kristian and Ingrid began tearing down the merch table as the band loaded out their equipment. Leaving that night felt like leaving a decade – reflective and cautiously optimistic.

Meet Attan, a genre-bending metal band poised for success

By Dalton Spangler

Attan frontman Remi Semshaug Langseth performs at Fysisk Fest. Photo by Jessie Shiftlett
Attan frontman Remi Semshaug Langseth performs at Fysisk Fest in Oslo, Norway. Photo by Jessie Shiftlett

“The first EP was a lone wolf chomping at your throat. This is like being chased by a pack of wolves and a bulldozer,” explained Attan frontman Remi Semshaug Langseth.

Langseth discussed the differences between the band’s first EP “From Nothing” and their latest, “End of,” scheduled for release on September 7 by acclaimed Oslo label Fysisk Format. It’s a perfect description, if “End of” is anything like their teaser track “The Burning Bush Will Not be Televised.” Blackish, doom-metal Attan bends genres and has no intention of easing its onslaught against established genre barriers.  

In large part, this drastic change in sound between records is thanks to producer, Christian Wibe, who has been going to Attan shows since the very beginning. Bassist and vocalist Fritz-Ragnvald Rimala Pettersen said, “He found tiny little breathers where you could catch your breath. The music is so intense and we really try to make it intense, as well, but sometimes you need to back off just a little bit to keep that intensity going, you know. You need to give people time to breathe just so they’re alive enough to be desperate.” Jokingly he said, “It’s kinda like waterboarding, the occasional air is kind of important for the overall feeling.”

Attan has a truly terrifying range of chaotic sound to work with when it comes to the vocals. Langseth’s higher register provides blackish metal screams while Pettersen’s deeper, gurgly register is more closely related to death metal artists. Attan takes full advantage of this in their songwriting. “We constantly think that we are two instruments. It’s never that I need to be on this because I am me and I want to be the main vocalist of blah, blah, blah. If it suits the song to have just Fritz as vocals, then that’s what we do,” said Langseth.

Their music is heavily influenced by the remote emptiness of the northern wilds of Norway and the darkness that encompasses the country for half of the year. Langseth said, “When you’re surrounded by nature – especially by nature in its rawest forms like the mountains, the ocean, the cold and the darkness – you sort of become a part of nature at its most vicious. A lot of the time with our songs, when I listen to it, it’s like a force of nature.”

Attan maintains an infectious comradery in the band despite the serious nature of their music. “When you’re in a band, there are so many distractions and time spent on ridiculous things and so many conflicts from various ambitions within the group,” Pettersen said.

Langseth continued saying, “On tour as well, I have friends I don’t see that often and I’ll meet them for yearly trips somewhere to drink, have fun and laugh. But this band is like that at band practice and on tour— it’s like a really fun trip, but we just have to play shows.”

Attan bass player Fritz-Ragnvald Rimala Pettersen at Fysisk Fest. Try his famous Satan God Pizza at his bar/restaurant “Vaterland” right outside Grønland T-station. Photo by Jessie Shiftlett

Although the band is hoping for success, they focus on making music they enjoy and not taking a minute of it for granted. Langseth explained, “I never thought of it, actually, but if the band ended right now I’d still think it was worth it. We had good fun and it’s not like we didn’t reach a goal so it was wasted.”

Pettersen is philosophical about the band. “There are so many people I know that have been in bands for 15 years and they feel like it’s a waste after because they were always focusing on what they couldn’t get. There’s always gonna be another level you want to reach but if that’s the only purpose of being in the band why do it? You’re going to have to be Metallica.”

PiPfest: ‘Founded on love’

By Dalton Spangler

Ann Kristien and Peer Osmundsvaag look like many of the couples who attend the Oslo music festival Piknik i Parken, or PiPfest. The event features lighter music and an air of romance, which is what music promoter Osmundsvaag envisioned when he started the event, in part to impress Kristien. Photo by Dalton Spangler

The fifth consecutive Piknik i Parken, or PiPfest, was held June 15 to 17 in Oslo, Norway, and once again attracted high-profile acts such as Jason Isbell, Phoenix, Travis, and Mew.

Music fans entering Frogner Park for PiPfest were greeted by warm lights and ribbons in shades of green, red and blue hanging from the trees. Statues of the human figure, created by Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland, were scattered along the park’s walkways and rolling lawns. Cut-out letters decorated with sunflowers spelled out “PiP,” welcoming visitors to one of Oslo’s most unique summer musical events.

Despite its commercial success, PiPfest has maintained its reputation as a hassle-free, laid-back, soft festival according to the booking agent and promoter, Peer Osmundsvaag.

Osmundsvaag has been a concert promoter for 20 years. He got into promoting because he loved the music, but over time, it began to feel too much like a business to him. He felt he had lost touch with the music and wanted to organize a festival that was less about making money and more about providing a unique experience. And — most importantly— he wanted to impress a woman.

“I was trying to win over a lady I was very in love with,” Osmundsvaag said. “She was being quite resilient and not adhering to my normal strategy of trying to win over a woman. And I’m quite a focused guy, so when I go for something, I never give up.”

One might think there is a simpler way to win a woman’s favor, but Osmundsvaag followed his gut instinct and chose her to be his muse for the new project he was working on. “I’d rather make a festival than write a book, let’s just put it that way,” he explained.

The opportunity arose when he began work on a new festival to be held at Frogner Park. “I was desperately trying to be interesting…an intellectual, romantic, soft, smart cool guy towards her,” Osmundsvaag said. “At the time I was so in love I was listening to Matt Corby and all these other artists on a playlist I’d made at the time. These artists had very soft approach, so I wanted to book a festival which was just beautiful. So this was founded on love, basically.”

That woman was Anne Kristien, nicknamed “AK.” They met at a Disclosure concert in November of 2013 and, according to AK, she let him know she was single and he responded, “Oh! Let’s have a meeting next week.”

It was an immediate attraction but Osmundsvaag felt he was losing her and needed something big like a music festival to “put him back on the radar.” They were married in January 2018 and many of their wedding guests were at PiP fest to continue the celebration. To top it all off, AK is now the daily manager of the festival she inspired.

The PiPfest crowd breaks out ponchos during a rainy afternoon at the event. Photo by Dalton Spangler
The PiPfest crowd breaks out ponchos during a rainy afternoon at the event. Photo by Dalton Spangler

Osmundsvaag compares booking acts for PiPfest to being a DJ. “It’s like making a playlist,” he explained. “Except instead of playing records you’re playing bands.”

But there’s more to creating a festival like this than booking the right artists, he explained. A festival’s vibe plays a huge role in how the audience perceives the music and Osmundsvaag books the festival to fit his target aesthetic. “Say you go into a room with no noise. After a while, you start hearing things where there wasn’t anything,” said Osmundsvaag. “So, normally in a festival, you have such an eclectic mix that you go from something quite heavy into something quite light, into something quite urban, into something electronic.

“Again it was all made for love and it was all made on the basis of showing the softer, more beautiful things because if you do that then they get noticed,” he continued. “You get into a hypnotic kind of appreciation of the music and I feel we do that here.”

Similar to the playlist he made to remind him of his love, Osmundsvaag wanted PiPfest’s sound to be soft and the experience similar to spending a day in the park – warm, relaxing and intimate. To achieve this effect, he felt the festival should be hassle-free with as many luxuries as possible.

“We overproduce the bars,” said Ovmundsvaag. “I have twice as big a bar as I need because I hate to queue in bars and toilets. We double as many as we need because I hate toilet queue. It doesn’t make much financial sense but it builds up under the quality. It’s the sum of all parts which gives you the result of how people feel.”

Osmundsvaag even goes so far as removing the sound on the cash register to maintain the atmosphere he wants.“There’s enough stress in our daily lives, all of us, for us to make an environment where you lose yourself in to a universe of beautiful serenity, he said. “I think it’s something people enjoy. It’s a good escape.”

PiPfest’s unique origin is an example of how de-commercializing a festival can create something different. Osmundsvaag observed, “It’s quite rare for things, nowadays, to be initiated based on feelings more than commercial gain. Hopefully, it inspires others to do the same. A) Never give up. B) Follow your gut instinct, your inner reaction because it’s always the right one.”

He said they plan to move the festival to a new, undisclosed location next year to maintain the festival’s unique atmosphere and accommodate the growth in ticket sales.

Newlyweds Ann Kristien and Peer Osmundsvaag stand at the entrance to PiPfest – the musical festival Osmundsvaag created to woo Kristien. Photo by Dalton Spangler

Ylva: Death Metal daughter becomes Norwegian pop-star before 17

By Dalton Spangler

Ylva performing at the Vulkan Arena during the 2018 Oslo Musikkfest. Photo by Dalton Spangler.

Musicians often differ on how to define “making it” as an artist. Ylva, a 17-year-old pop singer from Kristiansand, Norway, had her big break when she became runner-up in the Norwegian television singing competition “The Stream.”

She has signed with Universal Records, is being filmed for a reality TV show and is also lucky enough to have a loving father deeply involved with the music industry in Norway. He works as her manager while also being a touring musician himself as the guitarist for a death metal band, Blood Red Throne.

Many artists would classify her success as “making it.” After all, she is well-established with a world-class record deal and a feature in a TV show, and a manager with connections inside and outside Norway; but for the young pop star, Norwegian fame is only the first step. Her ultimate goal is to be known internationally across Europe and maybe even the U.S.

“Originally, I was just a girl going to school. I’d sing sometimes at this musical house that we had but my dad signed me up for the competition and I suddenly then came to second place and my dream kinda started,” Ylva said.

A painting by shows a young boy looking out over a foggy valley at a far-off city of gold.
“Far, Far Away Soria Moria Palace Shimmered like Gold” by famous Norwegian artist Theodor Kittelsen illustrated the tale in a painting that depicts a young boy overlooking a foggy valley that stretches between him and a city of gold breaching the hills on the horizon. From the Nasjonalmuseet, The Fine Art Collections

There is a famous Norwegian fairy tale called “Soria Moria Castle” about a poor boy named Halvor and his journey to rescue a princess and retrieve a ring that grants wishes to the ring bearer. An allegory for finding perfect happiness, the story equates reaching Soria Moria with every person’s ultimate goal. One individual’s vision of Soria Moria and the road leading there may be vastly different from others’ and finding Soria Moria is ultimately up to the individuals own desires and choices. 

At present, Ylva sees herself struggling through the valley of fog. Her personal Soria Moria – reaching an international audience – seems in reach, but her path differs from her father’s journey through death metal in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s.

“I’ve been singing since I was little and I’ve always wanted to do something different,” Ylva said.  She fell in love with R&B and now looks towards idols such as Beyonce, Adele, Frank Ocean, and SZA to guide her through the fog.

“This is a dream, of course, I’m just doing what I can to keep it up. I love to write music. I love to be on stage. I love to share my message to everyone through my music,” she said.

Ylva performs on H&M’s stage outside the Vulkan Arena during the 2018 Oslo Musikkfest. Photo by Dalton Spangler

Ylva constantly makes new music, recording in Copenhagen and Stockholm, as well as her hometown of Kristiansand.

“I just came out with a single in February, so now we’re kinda trying to find a song to reach to more people. So, I’m working really hard,” she said. “I’m in the studio every weekend because I go to school but it’s summer vacation soon, so I’ll have a lot of spare time.”

Her latest single, “Be My Valentine” is available on Spotify.

Between school and her career, there is little time for anything else.

“Sometimes it’s just alright and other times its kind of hard. Right now it’s in the middle of exams and stuff. So. that’s tough,” she said.

Despite these challenges, she remains loyal to her dream.

“I always pick music first. I think that’s the most important thing. I’m going to be finishing high school and everything, but if I had to choose I would choose music.”

Oslo: Summer Scenes

Record high temperatures have been baking Oslo. Residents dressed light as they continued their daily routines across the city.

A woman temporarily falls in step with a unit in a military parade as the soldiers march through the streets of downtown Oslo, Norway. Some soldiers rode on horseback as others marched with rifles. There were two groups of soldiers playing instruments to keep the unit in step. The unit made a loop around downtown as the crowds of tourists and shop workers looked on.
A woman temporarily falls in step with a unit in a military parade as the soldiers march through the streets of downtown Oslo, Norway. Some soldiers rode on horseback as others marched with rifles. There were two groups of soldiers playing instruments to keep the unit in step. The unit made a loop around downtown as the crowds of tourists and shop workers looked on. Photo by Billy Ray Malone

The weekend highlights included Musikkfest which hosted 400 performances of various genres across the city.

Father and son enjoy music performed by the boy's uncle at Brennerivnein V/ Blå venue during Oslo Musikkfest. The uncle is a drummer for the band Label.
Father and son enjoy music performed by the boy’s uncle at Brennerivnein V/ Blå venue during Oslo Musikkfest. The uncle is Daniel Wakim a drummer for the band Label. Photo by Shannon Kehoe

(This post was reported by Shannon Kehoe, Billy Ray Malone and Jessie Shiflett. It was produced by Dalton Spangler.)