Gaahl: The most evil man alive?

By Liam Carroll

Once dubbed ‘the most evil man alive’ by Terrorizer magazine,  the ex-lead singer and founding member of black metal giant Gorgoroth – Gaahl – sat down for a chat not long after completing a grueling, yet exhilarating, performance with his new band, Gaahls Wyrd.

Dressed in his usual black overcoat, with an upside down cross hanging from his neck, Gaahl sported left-over black marker around his eyes following his set at Tons of Rock, a three-day metal concert in Halden, Norway.

Bass player for Gaahls Wyrd, Frode “Eld” Kilvik stands high playing at Tons of Rock.

“Lets start the interview once I’ve emptied my bladder,” chuckled Gaahl, whose real name is Kristian Eivind Espeda.  Upon his return he quickly reviewed Gaahls Wyrd’s  performance on the opening day of Tons of Rock. “It went better than I felt prior. We were a bit amputated before the gig, due to a death, so our main session guitarist couldn’t join us.” Swirling his beer in a wine glass, he continued: “Only last week we had someone step in for us, so we had to learn a couple songs in very short notice.”

Gaahl has caused controversy in the past and spoke about church burnings  in Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey (2005):  “Church burnings are, of course, a thing that I support 100 percent. It should have been done much more, and will be done much more in the future. We have to remove every trace of what Christianity, and the semitic roots, have to offer this world.”

He has also served time in prison for aggravated assault. More recently, however, the singer’s public image has been more positive. On Day Two of Tons of Rock he could be seen walking casually through the festival grounds, chatting with fans and letting people take pictures with him. Gaahl, who was born in the western Norwegian district of Sunnfjord, now spends a lot of his time in Bergen, where he opened an art gallery in May.  He is often seen around in Bergen and stops for pictures with people as well as speaking with people in his gallery.

Two huge parts of Gaahl’s life are his music and his artwork. His style could be described as hauntingly striking, and his paintings generally feature people in dark moments. Asked if he could choose between music and painting he gave it a quick thought and said, “no.” Opening an art gallery has been a different experience for him. “Yeah, at the moment, by all means the gallery is very new to me but the gallery is, at least, representing one of my passions.”

Active in the music scene since 1993, Gaahl has been in numerous bands, starting off with black metal band Trelldom and moving on to Gorgoroth, God Seed and Wardruna. Balancing his gallery and his music can be challenging, he said. “At the moment it’s a bit stressful, but I have a tendency to get into a proper focus when something tries to distract you ,so it might actually help me in the sense of becoming lazy,” and added, “I’m originally extremely lazy, so its good to have something that you can push yourself with.”

man in scary-looking make-up sings on stage
Gaahl used costumes and makeup in previous bands Gorgoroth and God Seed. He’s stuck with the aesthetic in his new band, Gaahls Wyrd. Photo by Liam Carroll

When performing, the members of Gorgoroth wore dark-inspired costumes and makeup. Gaahl favored a look featuring spikes coming from his arms and blood makeup covering parts of his body and face. Gaahl continues to use costumes and makeup when performing live with Gaahls Wyrd. He compared his love for creating artwork and costumes, “Performing live is sending out energy and that’s what you’re trying to do in music and as an artist. I’d say describing performance as a type of artwork qualifies.”

Gaahls Wyrd is currently recording new material and tells fans to expect “something unexpected.”  His enthusiasm waned and his answers grew shorter as two full plates of food were placed next to him. When asked if black metal is a big part of his life was, his response was, “It turned into it.”

The dark side of Gaahl’s life and career is well documented. Watching the singer once dubbed “the most evil man in the world” stopping to talk or take pictures with people he meets in the street is something new. Perhaps his public image is changing. Speaking about the possibility of a transformation Gaahl said: “A lot’s happened, so certain things have shaped me in some sort. But, then again, I have only walked the path I want to walk. So, (one) shapes ones own destiny, in that sense, but that’s what it has become.”

Video: Interview highlights

 

The long road to my Norwegian family

By Jessie Shiflett

The journey to Sveio, Norway, to find Jessie Shiflett's family began with a drive through the mountains and fjords south of Bergen and through a tunnel under the sea. Photo by Jessie Shiflett
The journey to Sveio, Norway, to find Jessie Shiflett’s family began with a drive through the mountains and fjords south of Bergen and through a tunnel under the sea. Photo by Jessie Shiflett

It was noon as the car pulled into a gravel drive in Sveio, Norway. The GPS had led us to a house atop a small hill overlooking a sheep farm in the Norwegian countryside. Not one of us in the rental car knew what the people we sought look like, nor did we know if we’d even found the right house. The car came to a stop and we got out. Armed only with an email from great-great aunt Helen, we walked up to the large wooden door and knocked. This is it, I thought to myself, there is no turning back now.

After a few moments, the door opened and a woman wearing a confused expression appeared in the doorway, speaking Norwegian. We quickly explained we were Americans who only speak English and were looking for my relatives. I had no idea if this woman was a family member, nor did I know how to pronounce the names listed in the email. I handed my phone to her and pointed to the e-mail. It probably only took a few seconds for her to respond, but it felt like many minutes. As soon as she saw the names of my Norwegian relatives, Hans-Einar Grimstvedt and Solveig Grimstvedt, she immediately exclaimed, “Oh, I know these people! Is this who you are looking for?”

The journey to Sveio eventually connected the dots between the Grimstvedt family in Norway, and Jessie Shiflett's relatives in Centerville, SD, shown in this picture postcard sent to the Grimstvedt family in Norway in March, 1916. Photo courtesy of the Grimstvedt family
The journey to Sveio eventually connected the dots between the Grimstvedt family in Norway, and Jessie Shiflett’s relatives in Centerville, SD, shown in this picture postcard sent to the Grimstvedt family in Norway in March, 1916. Photo courtesy of the Grimstvedt family

I said yes and another woman appeared behind the woman still in the doorway. While one gave us directions to my family’s house, the second woman gestured with her hands and arms. “Head back down the drive, turn left onto the main road, keep going until you get to the cross in the road, then to turn left and keep going until you see yellow flowers, and the house and drive will be on the right.”

We thanked the women and made our way to the car. Suddenly remembering that I don’t know how to pronounce my relatives’ names, I paused long enough to ask the first woman how to say their names. Looking amused, she sounded them out for me. I thanked her again and ran to the car saying the names over and over in my head.

We turned the car around and made a left at the bottom of the drive. Soon we came to a four-way intersection with a roundabout. In an attempt to follow the woman’s directions, we circled the roundabout and headed left, but in less than a minute we were pretty sure we had made a wrong turn and were lost again.

We looked out the windows at ditches and fields full of yellow wildflowers, but there was no drive or house to be seen. Had we gone the wrong way at the roundabout, or somehow misunderstood the directions? Just then we spotted an elderly couple weeding their fence-line and walked over to ask for directions.

The man glared at us as we approached and didn’t say anything when we explained we were lost and looking for my family. Unsure if the man didn’t trust us or didn’t understand us, I again handed over my phone with the e-mail and asked if he recognized the names. After looking at the e-mail he said in a deep, gravelly voice, “Hans-Einar lives up there” and pointed to a large house behind us, three-quarters of the way up a massive hill. Again we said our thanks, climbed to the car and and headed in the direction he indicated.

A flowerpot and sheltered mailboxes mark the turnoff to the Grimstvedt farm. Photo by Jessie Shiflett
A flowerpot and sheltered mailboxes mark the turnoff to the Grimstvedt farm. Photo by Jessie Shiflett

When we got to the bottom of the hill, we all laughed when we saw two small planters with bright yellow flowers on either side of the the drive and a sign with my relatives’ name and address on it.

As the car went up the drive I told myself, “This is it, for real this time. I’m about to meet my cousins, the descendants of my great-great grandfather’s sister who stayed behind in Norway.”

In 1911, my great-great grandfather, Hans Bjordal, left his family and home in Norway at the age of 19. He and his brothers, Helge and Ole, were three of the roughly one million Norwegians who came to America between 1820 and 1920 in search of a better life.

While Hans Bjordal was supposed to inherit the family farm, he and his father are rumored to have had an argument that prompted him to follow his brothers to America, leaving one of his three sisters to inherit the family farm. While no one in my family seems to remember what the argument was about, it wasn’t severe enough for the Norwegian branch to lose contact with those who emigrated to America and settled in South Dakota. Because the family stayed in contact for the next one hundred years – via post cards in the early 1900s and email in the 2000s – my great-grandparents were able to visit the family in Norway in 1991. However, no one in my parents’ or grandparents’ generations has made the trip since, and I was the first of my generation to visit Norway. All I could think as the car went up the drive was, “How lucky am I?”

As the car rolled to a stop, my companion looked at me and said, “This is it.” As I opened the car door and walk up to the front door it hit me: there was still a chance this wasn’t the right house, or they may not have gotten my e-mail saying I would visit. Again I pulled out my phone with great-great aunt Helen’s email, but before I could open the email, the front door opened and a woman emerged and walked toward me.

Jessie Shiflett hugs his cousin Solveig Grimstvedt before leaving the Grimstvedt farm in Sveio, Norway. Photo by Tom Grant
Jessie Shiflett hugs his cousin Solveig Grimstvedt before leaving the Grimstvedt farm in Sveio, Norway. Photo by Tom Grant

I started to say “Hi, my name is Jessie…” but before I could get the words out she exclaimed, “Oh, you’re Jessie from America!” In that moment a wave of relief and shock washed over me all at once. I really had found them, but now what?

The woman who recognized me is my cousin Solveig Grimstvedt and she wasted no time inviting me in, and telling me her husband Hans-Einar Grimstvedt was in town but she would call him to come home as soon as we got inside.

Upon entering the house, Solveig directed us up the stairs to the living room and stepped off to call Hans-Einar. When she returned, I explained that Marjie (88) and Leonard (90) Lindsay are my great-grandparents. She immediately began to tell me all about their visit in ’91, asking how they were doing and if Leonard still fishes every chance he gets. I explained Papa, Leonard, doesn’t get to fish as much as he’d like to these days. As we settled into the living room, Solveig pointed out a ceramic plaque that my Mema, Marjie, made to commemorate the birth of their son Hans-Christian. I told her that Mema sold the ceramics shop a several years ago, but would be happy to know her work is still appreciated.

Before long Hans-Einar arrived and immediately greeted me. He said he doesn’t speak much English and disappeared into another room, only to return a minute later with a stack of photo albums, pictures and old post cards, some of which had been sent from our family in South Dakota. As we went through the family photos, Hans-Einar and Solveig asked about my visit to Norway.

Ceramic plaque commemorating the birth of Hans Christian Grimstvedt to Hans-Einar and Solveig Grimstvedt in 1989. It is displaye don the wall of the Grimstvedt home in Sveio, Norway. Photo by Jessie Shiflett
Ceramic plaque commemorating the birth of Hans Christian Grimstvedt to Hans-Einar and Solveig Grimstvedt in 1989. It is displaye don the wall of the Grimstvedt home in Sveio, Norway. Photo by Jessie Shiflett

Explaining that I was part of a journalism study abroad program for the entire month of June, and that sadly I would not be able to see them again as I had to cover a music festival in Bergen the next day before I returned to Oslo the the following day. It had been lucky that Bergen, Norway’s second largest city, was just a few hours’ drive from Sveio.

Shocked that we’d only have the afternoon together, they offered to take me on a tour of the area. I responded with an immediate “yes” and, before I knew it, we were on the road to my ancestors’ home. In the space of an afternoon Hans-Einar took me to meet their son, Hans-Christian, to see the old family farm, a nearby city, and a monument at an old battleground.

We stopped once on the way to the old farm to meet Hans-Christian, who is fluent in English and could act as translator for us. It was quiet until we got to the farm. Then Hans-Einar showed us a map of the area, and told us that the old farm is five kilometers (about three miles) from where we had parked.

During the five-kilometer walk, Hans-Einar explained that, back when the family lived on this farm, the closest store was seven kilometers (4.35 miles) away, and that most of the goods they bought were sold in bulk, with the heaviest bags weighing as much as 100 kilos (220.46 lbs.). The family didn’t own any draft animals and carried their supplies up the mountain on their backs.

Hans-Einar Grimstvedt , Hans Christian Grimstvedt and Jessie Shiflett walk to the old family farm near Sveio, Norway. Photo by Tom Grant
Hans-Einar Grimstvedt , Hans Christian Grimstvedt and Jessie Shiflett walk to the old family farm near Sveio, Norway. Photo by Tom Grant

When we finally reached the site of the old farm I was surprised to see all but one of the structures were standing and in immaculate shape, despite being vacant. In answer to my questions, my cousins told me that the people who now own the property had fixed up the buildings that were still standing and rent them to the hikers who traverse the trails that cut through the mountains.

As we made our way to the back of the property, Hans-Einar pointed out the root cellar, where they stored all the vegetables they grew – most of which were potatoes. After walking through the cellar, we made our way around to the front of the house which overlooks the valley we had just hiked through. The view was, by far, one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. I immediately, and without thinking, asked, “How could anyone leave behind a house with a view as incredible as this?” Hans-Christian agreed it was beautiful, but told me, “You can’t feed your family and live off a view.”

Now that I have had time to reflect, it seems ironic that the farm and view which could not sustain my family more than 100 years ago had been transformed into a property that now makes money for its owners by sharing that view.

A view from the family homestead near Sevio, Norway. Photo by Jessie Shiflett
A view from the family homestead near Sevio, Norway. Photo by Jessie Shiflett

Photo gallery: More pictures from the quest to find family

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Photo gallery: The journey of Jessie Shiflett’s ancestors

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Radio pros at Bergenfest

By Billy Ray Malone

NRK P1 music reporter Hilde Zahl scanned the crowd at Bergenfest – the annual music festival in Bergen, Norway – and spotted a woman wearing a Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds tee shirt. Zahl walked right up to the woman, crossed her ankles, dipped into a curtsy and, without skipping a beat, extended her phone to record the interview and began to ask questions

young man stands in front of a tent filled with radio equipment and reporters
Billy Ray Malone poses in front of the press tent NRK P1 set up at Bergenfest in Bergen, Norway. The radio station produced a two-and-a-half-hour show at the five-day festival. Photo by Tom Grant.

Watching this, I whispered my thanks to the universe for leading me to the NRK P1 press tent and talking my way into shadowing Zahl for the day. NRK is Norway’s government run public broadcasting company. P1 is one of several radio stations, each with its own focus. The U.S. has nothing comparable: our National Public Radio (NPR) is funded through listener donations and commercial radio is funded by advertising. When you flip through the channels of Norwegian digital radio, you’ll find that there aren’t any commercials because it is funded through a special tax on televisions.

During the first week of a journalism study abroad program in Norway, I took a Norwegian language class. The instructor cautioned the American students in the class that walking up to Norwegians and talking to them can be awkward. The American tendency to smile at strangers on the streets makes Norwegians uncomfortable. I recalled my instructor’s words when Zahl asked that I stand away from the interviews so I wouldn’t scare people away.

Zahl’s trademark pre-interview curtsy and bubbly personality helped break the ice and disarm her interview subjects. She said using a phone bothers people less than a microphone in their face.

NRK P1 covers Bergenfest and similar festivals to expose listeners to acts such as Sparks and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Zahl said 40% of the country tunes in for their 6:30 to 9 p.m. show every night.

Nick Cave refused doing any interviews with press, as he has been known to do in the past. “If the musician won’t talk to me, I will build my story by talking to the fans,” Zahl said. After a dozen interviews with Nick Cave fans,  Zahl had everything she needed to prepare her four-minute package. She went back to the press tent and quickly prepared the package.

Before heading out for more interviews, Zahl prepared for an upcoming interview with the band Sparks, whose frontmen Ron and Russel Mael are happy to talk with reporters.

Sparks manager Sue Harris had warned Zahl that reporters in the past have frustrated the Mael brothers by having little to no knowledge about their band. With extra zeal, she plunged into her research, listening to Sparks albums and becoming something of an expert about the band in less than two hours.

Due to my lack of a backstage press pass I couldn’t sit in on Zahl’s interview. But I watched when she returned to the tent and efficiently pieced together the package in time to air on the show.

NRK P1 team takes a group photo underneath the sign at Bergenfest in Bergen, Norway. Photo by Tom Grant
As the reporter photographed the NRK P1 team with their camera, another Oslo Rocks! staffer got a shot of the group gathered under the Bergenfest entrance in Bergen, Norway. Photo by Tom Grant

At the end of the two-hour show, the P1 team smiled as they packed up their gear.  They huddled together under the Bergenfest sign for a group photo. One of the producers handed me a Canon 35mm camera, a camera with which I am not familiar and asked me to take their picture. The pressure was intense as I aimed the lens at six professional journalists/photographers who, I was convinced, were silently judging my skills. Perhaps because I am still a journalism student and rookie photographer, they politely suggested I take more than one shot. I didn’t capture the full sign in my second picture, so I was sent back to try again.  After successfully taking their picture with the full sign in the background, one of the reporters said, “the third time is the charm!”

Sibiir: metal band seeks work/life balance

By Leila Baxter

Sibiir opened the second day of the Tons of Rock festival in Halden, Norway with a dynamic performance. Half-way through their second song, a screaming Jimmy Nymoen, the band’s vocalist, leapt into the pit of photographers below the stage. Concerned for his  safety, security stuck close by Nymoen when he jumped onto the barrier and sang into the crowd. The energy was infectious. The crowd grew louder and more rambunctious as the performance went on.

Sibiir is a Norwegian band of five 30-somethings who juggle their musical careers with their families and 9 to 5 jobs, so they will only commit to 30 shows per year.

heavy metal vocalist holds microphone
Sibiir vocalist Jimmy Nymoen pauses before belting out another line during the metal band’s performance at Tons of Rock in Halden, Norway. Photo by Leila Baxter.

The band members had all previously been in other groups and had met while playing the same gigs in Oslo’s tightly-knit metal scene in Oslo. When they formed Sibiir in 2013 they didn’t have a vocalist. Bassist Kent Nordji had a friend –Nymoen – who had just moved to Oslo and was begging for an audition, said Nordij.  When they offered him the job, however, he was unable to start right away since he had already booked gigs for the next three months. But within a year Sibiir was complete.

The band members enjoy playing all kinds of festivals because they are exposed to audiences they might not have reached on their own. “Tons of Rock gives us a chance to play in front of people that maybe don’t check us out because we’re not metal enough or, like, we’re not in their specific genre. And then we get to play like mainstream festivals, like, maybe bigger festivals and then we get to play for a mainstream audience who might not have listened because we are rock or metal,” said guitarist Tobias Gausemel Backe. “It’s like you get the best of both worlds, kind of, because we’ve played so many different kinds of festivals.”

They’ve been able to play so many different venues and for many different people. The small population allows musicians and venue owners to create lasting partnerships. It’s an even tighter relationship among the metal groups in Oslo, “if you start a band and you’re kind of good it doesn’t take so much time before people know who you are or who you are or know your band.”

One of their first tours was with a metal group called Kvelertak. Kvelertak attended one of Sibiir’s shows as a part of the audience. A few weeks they called to ask Sibiir to open for for them during a European tour.

Disappearing for two-and-a-half weeks would mean calling off at work and leaving their families behind, but they decided to go anyway. Joining Kvelertak on tour would be their first international exposure, so they agreed it was worth the sacrifice.

Steffen Grønneberg and his girlfriend had a month-old newborn at home, but even she  supported the decision to go. He said she couldn’t live with him if he weren’t an active member of Sibiir. He agreed, “I think, for me, I need to be able to go play.” The guys use the band as a sort of escape. While the goal is to make it their only job – and they believe that’s their next step – they know they are not there yet.

Sibiir is recording songs for their next album. and are hoping for a 209 release date.

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.”

Datarock: Grumpy, middle-aged men making happy music

By Liam Carroll

A little girl wearing a Datarock outfit is perched on the shoulders of a Datarock band member as he stands in the crowd. Photo by Liam Carroll

The band Datarock took the stage at Miniøya in matching sweatsuits and large sunglasses, playing upbeat music that brings kids and parents right to the edge of the stage. After seeing this outburst of joy, you might be shocked if you heard lead singer Fredrik Saroea describe the band members as a “bunch of grumpy middle aged men.”

Maybe successful, charismatic, grumpy old men might be more accurate.

The Bergen-based band closed out the 2018 Miniøya children’s music festival in front of one of the largest crowds this year. In honor of the venue, the band members brought their kids and dressed them in dark red jumpsuits. At the end of their set, they danced with their kids in the audience and brought them up on stage.

During an interview after their set, lead singer Fredrik Saroea provided some context to the performance. “We’re a bunch of grumpy, middle-aged men making music in Norway,” he said. Even he’s not sure what makes the band so popular. “We just fit into a certain category.”

He said they’ve played huge shows, like Coachella and Reading and Leeds, and tiny club venues. But the biggest audience for their music has been in the world of video games and television advertising.

Datarock formed in 2000. The band has released four albums; the latest, “Face the Brutality,” was released in March this year. It is the band’s first album in nine years.

small boy in the crowd sits on his dad's shoulder
A young fan soars above the Minioya crowd as Bergen-based band Datarock performs. Photo by Liam Carroll

Datarock’s music has been featured on a number of video games, including Electronic Arts FIFA (soccer) video games. Their songs have also been the soundtrack for international advertisements for giants like Google and Apple.

“I don’t know why our music is used so widely,” Saroea said. “I want to know why so I can make more music to help the world.” He paused, smiled and said, “And then finally buy myself a Tesla.”

The Miniøya performance highlighted some of the traits that make Datarock such a consistent success. One trait is attention to detail. The Miniøya festival provides a sign language translator so hearing-impaired children can follow along. Datarock provided the translator with a pair of Datarock sweats, to make her part of their show.

One of the key elements in music is enjoyment, for both the listener and the artist, while Datarock brings another level of fun to the live concert experience through their upbeat songs, non-stop energy and active crowd participation whether that’s getting the fans to sing their songs or going out to perform alongside them, it’s interesting to see how playing their type of music affects them.

Video: Datarock interview highlights

Oslo Mayor Marianne Borgen talks about car-free Oslo

By Ethan Reddish

With dozens of metro tunnels running underground, tram lines criss-crossing most of the roads, and articulated buses around every turn, it seems as though there is little need for personal transport in the city of Oslo. While there is still car traffic, it is far less than in large cities such as Atlanta or New York City. And if Mayor Marianne Borgen has her way, the city will be mostly car-free in a few years’ time.

There certainly are political motivations for this push. “As you know, Oslo has been elected by the European Commission to be the European Green Capital for 2019,” she said in an interview.  According to the Commission’s website, the European Green Capital Award (EGCA) recognizes and rewards local efforts to improve the environment, the economy and the quality of life in cities. It is given annually to a city which is leading the way in environmentally-friendly urban living and is a role-model to inspire other cities. The goal is to share concrete examples of what a European Green Capital can look like.

In Oslo, the proposed initiative includes the tram, metro, and bus systems, as well as giving incentives to people who choose to drive electric cars or use the public bike lanes. Mayor Borgen said she is advocating a car-free Oslo for more than just political reasons, “Since I am a grandmother, I would like my grandchildren to grow up in a healthy city.”

The recent move to eliminate on-street parking in Oslo’s Frogner neighborhood to create bike lanes has been contentious. Residents don’t want to lose their parking and business owners who fear a lack of parking will drive away customers. An article in The Guardian details the reaction to the Mayor’s move.

Mayor Borgen doesn’t expect a complete elimination of personal vehicles. “We will not remove the private car totally in a city like Oslo,” she said. “That is not possible. That is not our intention,” but she hopes it will encourage people to use their cars in more efficient ways. “So I think people can be part of a car-sharing system,” she said. “That is also very important. I have three grown-up kids myself, and two of them are members of a car-sharing system.”  Opponents believe that, if her plans continue, there will be very little space to park either shared cars or the electric cars for which incentives are given .

Borgen understands her push is controversial, but she sees it as a good thing for the people. “People are saying that you are taking away freedom to drive wherever they will, whenever they will. I would say it’s the opposite, what we are doing,” said Borgen. “What we are doing is giving the city back to the people.”

She hopes continue with her plans if her administration is re-elected in 2019. It seems voters will decide if her plans will be allowed to continue.

Cups for Kroner

By Jenna Herrick

There are lots of sights to been seen at Piknik i Parken, otherwise known as PiPfest, in Oslo. Looking around, you’ll spot musical performances, an abundance of food trucks, and children carrying large stacks of empty cups. Wait. What? Yes, dozens of four-foot-tall children walking around with stacks of cups almost as tall as them.

a teen retrieves cups from a trash can at PiPfest.
Elma raced around all evening collecting cups from trash cans at PiPfest and said she earned “a lot of money.” Photo by Jenna herrick

It’s seems a little peculiar to spot young kids searching through trashcans or offering to take empty cups from adults listening to the music. However, they aren’t collecting cups just for fun – they’re in it for the profit. Each cup is worth one kroner, equivalent to $0.12 USD, when turned in for recycling.

Elma, a middle-schooler, is an avid cup collector. “I don’t even watch the performances,” she said. “I was the only one doing it last night and got a lot of money.”

A seven-year cup-collecting veteran, Emma – now a teenager – gathers the cups at PiPFest for her organization, “Nature and Youth”  “We sort the plastic and the cups and then pay the kids when they drop them off,” said Emma. Emma sits in a cup drop-off booth and pays cup collectors when they drop off their haul. At the end of the evening, Emma and other volunteers sort the large pile of plastic, take it to a recycling center and exchange it for cash that funds their group.

an older girl gives money to a young girl
Emma gives money to a young girl in exchange for her cups. Photo by Jenna Herrick

Collecting empty cups is not uncommon in Norway. According to Life in Norway‘s website, anyone can take any empty bottles, cups or cans to redemption machines found in grocery stores to exchange for cash. The website said that, in 2005, an impressive 93% of all recyclable bottles in Norway were returned.

Norway’s admirable recycling process was the topic of a HuffPost article. “The incentivized deposit system for recyclable plastic uses ‘reverse vending machines’ as collection points for used plastic containers, which are then taken to specialized recycling areas,” according to the article. “These machines have been in place since 1972.”

Not only is this a great way to earn some easy cash, but it impacts the environment in  a positive way!

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