9:48 AM GMT 27/02/2013
"It's not that I came into this with some sort of outsider agenda". Holding court at Oslo's gilded Folketeateret, Todd Rundgren is in Norway for the 15th annual by:Larm festival, which also hosts the prize ceremony for the Nordic Music Prize. Over by:Larm's four nights, 157 acts play 20 venues. Right now though, Rundgren is dominating proceedings. He's funny, contrary, opinionated, enthralling. Above all, he's insightful. His hour-long talk weaves through his career, his productions and the nature of the music business. Talking about his '60s band The Nazz, he says he "had a face full of everything that's the traditional music business, all the highs and lows. I didn't want to be a famous person, I got the bug to produce and engineer."
Admitting he "was still a young guy, not particularly tactful, I got a reputation as someone who would drive the process". It gave him the licence to pursue his muse, through solo albums, surprise hits and studio work with The Band, Badfinger, The New York Dolls, Meatloaf and XTC. Of their Skylarking, he recalls telling Andy Partridge that "this is about the music, this is not about you". Partridge's response: "Why do I feel like cleaving your head in half with an axe?" While in Oslo, Rundgren's scheduled to record with Norwegian progressive dance act Lindstrøm. Hopefully, they know what they letting themselves in for.
Individualism was also a theme in the surprise choice of winner for the Nordic Music Prize. Seeming shoe-ins like Björk's Biophilia, Ane Brun's It All Starts With One, Iceage's New Brigade and Lykke Li's Wounded Rhymes made way for X/Y by Sweden's Goran Kajfeš. The jury (six-sevenths of which were non-Nordic music biz insiders) said "it's an ambitious and warm fusion of sonic elements, from jazz with both African and eastern influences, to electronica".
Out in Oslo's bars, clubs and theatres, it's as impossible to tar by:Larm with one brush. Of the acts playing, Norway's 105 dominate but Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Sweden are well represented. The Raveonettes (Denmark), Casiokids (Norway), I Break Horses (Sweden) and GusGus (Iceland), who've all scored big outside Scandinavia, give lesser-knowns heart.
At the 19th-century Kulturkirken Jakob, Norway's Ane Brun builds on the assuredness she's conjured for It All Starts With One. Emotive and with a fragile vocal, she's a powerful, commanding presence - there's no way she could return to duetting with Peter Gabriel. Power of a different kind hits the church's stage later in the evening with Denmark's Iceage, whose in-your-face punk-derived racket is stuck in top gear. It's easy to see - and hear - why these irritable chaps are affecting audiences worldwide, but some dynamics might be good. Another angry brigade are on show at the Nokia Tent in the form of Norway's Honningbarna. As young as Iceage, they're playing for the first time since the death of their drummer two weeks previously. Idiosyncratically, they fill the few gaps in their sonic wall with cello and classical keyboard trills, even though the sledgehammer they employ is that of early LA hardcore. Fabulous.
More subtle, and about the song, is Iceland's Sóley. Behind her keyboard, her compositions have old-fashioned builds, choruses and refrains. Smart and straightforward. About the experience, the fun Swedish duo Rebecca & Fiona bounce cheerleader-like while occasionally tending to their consoles. Their '90s-rooted Euro-electro dance is either the product of much thought or of being stuck in a time warp. '90s touchstones can also be found in Norway's The Avalanche (My Bloody Valentine) and countryfolk Rumble In Rodos (Sonic Youth).
During an event with so much music, the standouts are those who - well - stand out: the idiosyncratic, the phenomenally powerful. Finland's Siinai bolt motorik to a chassis built from heavy metal. Unbeatable and stoppable. But the most extraordinary show is by Hedvig Mollestad Trio, configured around a schooled jazz guitarist. Her instrumentals wed Led Zeppelin to the angularity of Bitches Brew Miles Davis. It rocks. Hard. And creates a massive impact.
From the challenging to the straightforward, by:Larm showcases all shades of Nordic music. It makes sense that Todd Rundgren, the ultimate musical maverick, is a kindred sprit.
Photograph by Arild Mehn Andersen
Posted by Ross_Bennett at 9:53 AM GMT 12/03/2012