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22nd Jun 2018

5 best performances at Norway’s incredible music festival Bergenfest

Will Lavin

What an incredible week of music

Last week I travelled out to Bergen, Norway for the city’s much lauded Bergenfest music festival. Now in its 25th year (if you include when it first started under the name OleBlues) I wan’t sure what to expect having never been there before.

Was it going to be big? What sort of access would I have? Was the food going to be basic or would it actually cater to those who desire something more than just a portion of cheesy chips caked in mayo? These were all questions I asked myself before boarding the plane and soon enough I got my answers and they were all positive.

With that said, by the time the festival closed its doors on Sunday I was truly, madly, deeply in love with not only Bergenfest but the city of Bergen as a whole.

With so many acts on the bill spread across the various stages, which included the likes of James Bay, Sigrid, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, J Hus, Queens of the Stone Age, George Ezra, Father John Misty, as well as Norwegian artists Astrid S, Anna of the North, Real Ones and more, I was spoilt for choice across the festival’s five days.

Picking my top five performances from Bergenfest was hard to do but I managed it just about… I think.

5. Pale Waves

Signed to Dirty Hit, the same independent record label as The 1975, there’s no question that the Pale Waves are on the fast track to major success. We featured them in our 2018 Ones To Watch list back in January but this was actually my first opportunity seeing them live – who’d have thought that I’d have to travel to Norway to see a Manchester band perform, silly right? Playing the Magic Mirrors stage (a circus tent full of mirrors complete with stage and drinking booths spread out in a carousel formation) they did everything I hoped they would.

Full of energy from the word go, their dimly lit performance looked like something straight out of Iceland’s Blue Lagoon. They played hits from their minimal but ever growing back catalogue of music and with the Norwegians not quite knowing how to react I think I might have been the only person jumping up and down like a lunatic, especially when “New Year’s Eve” came blaring through the speakers.

4. Sløtface

Punk music will remain alive and well just as long as Sløtface (pronounced Slutface) continue to make music and perform live shows. Fronted by the charismatic and feisty Haley Shea, who when performing live channels early Gwen Stefani mixed with Iggy Pop, I was undeniably captivated from start to finish watching the Norwegian band do their thing.

Whether it was the raw delivery of their music, the anarchic showmanship – at one point Haley spat beer into the crowd and they loved it – or the catchiness of the band’s records, their performance was the surprise of the festival for me, especially as I went in with no expectations which proved the best thing for my first Sløtface gig. Song of the night? “Shave My Head”, by a country mile, at least.

3. Little Simz

So who did Bergenfest choose to close out the entire festival? James Bay? Nope. Queens of the Stone Age? Nope. Sigrid? Nope. London stand up! It was actually Little Simz who was given the honour and boy did she live up to the responsibility.

If you’re not familiar with Simz I’d say she’s London’s answer to Chance the Rapper or J. Cole. With co-signs from some of the biggest acts in music, including Damon Albarn, Anderson .Paak and Kano, the way in which she fuses together rap, R&B, soul and jazz is a thing of beauty both musically and visually.

Playing to a packed house in the Magic Mirrors tent, it was one of those “you just had to be there to witness it” moments. Leaving it all out on the stage, she and her band worked the crowd like a unit of seasoned pros. At one point gifting fans with an unreleased song that felt like something Pharrell might have inspired, Simz closed out the night with fan favourite “Bars Simpzon”.

By the end of the performance it wasn’t just Simz that needed a towel, I needed three of them. My hype levels were on 100!!!

2. Jessie Reyez

There’s a reason we featured Jessie Reyez on our 2018 Ones To Watch list – in fact there’s several reasons – but none of them were to do with her live performances. Not because they weren’t good but because I hadn’t seen her live before. I can now confirm that after seeing her perform at Bergenfest it is indeed yet another reason to add to the long list as to why she’s an artist you should be checking out this year.

Owning the stage like she paid for it with pocket money she’d been saving for years, I can honestly say I’ve not seen someone look as comfortable on stage as Jessie Reyez in a very long time. It felt like I was visiting her at her home and I forgot to take my shoes off.

An impassioned performance that included much of her growing back catalogue, Jessie pulled out all the stops with “Figures” ringing off, as well as covers of Drake’s “Headlines” and Chance the Rapper’s “Cocoa Butter Kisses” garnering quite the response from those in the audience. But it was “Gatekeeper”, the unofficial anthem of the #MeToo movement, that solidified her status as one of the festival’s best performers in my eyes. It was passionate, inspiring, aggressive, fearless, and so much more. She’s a whirlwind that’s going to continue to tear shit up and she deserves every accolade that’s sure to come her way in the not too distant future.

1. Phoenix

I had an inkling that Phoenix’s performance might be one of my favourite moments of Bergenfest but I didn’t know it was going to be THE performance of the entire festival.

For a long time Phoenix have been one of those bands that people absolutely love but they’ve never quite achieved superstar status on the type of level you might expect from a band whose music is of both a high quality and is super catchy. But I think they like it that way.

Another band I’ve never seen live – this has everything to do with the fact that they rarely ever venture over to the UK to do live shows – the French foursome dominated the main stage on Friday at Bergenfest with what one can only describe as a colourful workout to music led by energetic men in pastel shirts set to a backdrop of interchanging electric moods and a kaleidoscope of rainbow arcade lights. Sounds fun, right?

Phoenix ran through all the big hits: “Lisztomania”, “1901” and “Lasso” (all from their seminal album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix), and when lead singer Thomas Mars popped his microphone into his back pocket and decided to get into the crowd (one of the only people to do so on the main stage the entire week) and share a beer with them it was undoubtedly the icing on the cake of their perfect set.

Special mention: MachoMayne

Ever seen a 13-year-old kid own a stage rapping about fidget spinners? Me neither until I saw Norwegian rapper MachoMayne take to the Hjertebank stage last Friday.

A fan of Tyler the Creator and A$AP Ferg, for MachoMayne the come up is real. Whether he’s rapping about skiing or just bouncing around like a penguin on its way home from a day of fishing he’s one to watch for sure. Performing twice on the Friday to an excited crowd (which included his father), his most memorable moment came on the Monday before the festival officially opened its gates when he took to the main stage to perform in front of 8000 kids, including some from his own class.

Next year’s Bergenfest takes place June 12th-June 15th 2019 and you can get early bird tickets here.