Norbergfestival 2017: A Labour of Love for Audiovisual Miners

August 7, 2017

”– Oh, are you going to a festival? Which festival?”
”– Norberg.”
”– Where is that?”
”– In Norberg?!”
”– And where is that?”

We often end up having this conversation, so let this be the starting point of this non-conventional, in-depth review of this non-conventional festival: the 18th edition of Norbergfestival, which was held between 27-30 July. Norberg is indeed somehow totally out of time and space, a world of its own. A tiny forgotten Swedish town with a rich industrial heritage dating back as far as the 6th century, where iron ore mining once used to be the main activity and provided jobs for most of the inhabitants up until 1981, when it was no longer deemed profitable. After the depression kicked in and life slowly disappeared, Norbergfestival has put the town back on the map, starting in 1999. The festival is located at the defunct ore mine extraction site Mimerlaven, and all the stages are set up with minimal intervention in the mining facility and the adjoining power station. All in all, Norberg was industrial way before industrial was cool (hello Berlin!).

Norbergfestival 2017 (Photo: Carl Öst Wilkens)

 

The festival is probably one of the least commercial ones you can find, with less than a thousand visitors, organized and nurtured by an incredible number (170!!!) of volunteers who work their asses off so we can have fun. RESPECT! This year, Jonas Gunnarsson (mechanical engineer by day, improvisational musician by night) was coordinating the volunteers and made sure everything was running smoothly.

–“It’s not a few people working for the crowd, it’s everyone working together. Together we have an extreme knowledge about everything and it feels like we can make anything happen. There are people cooking food, taking pictures, driving the artists from the airport, building the bar, cleaning the toilets, designing the outdoor lights… Almost everything you see at the festival is made by volunteers”, explains Jonas.

For him, the most challenging part was making all the volunteers feel that the management listens to what they want to do. Even though they were all extremely skilled and many of them arranged clubs and festivals themselves, sometimes it was difficult to tell them they were most needed in the kitchen. Jonas’ favourite things at the festival were sitting in the grass with friends and enjoying a soda in front of a wonderfully strange rap show, passing by the 303 stage in the daytime while emptying trash cans, to see two of his friends do an improvised techno set together on stage, and to go swimming in lake Noren with some of the Danish volunteers. He loves the music and the concerts he has been to have been great, but he says he has come to realize that it’s the things around it that he enjoys the most. We couldn’t agree more, since once you organize your summer holidays around a festival, you know they must be doing something really well.

 

Chilling in Mimerlaven (Photo: Vlad Brăteanu)

 

The festival’s history is rich of exclusive events of contemporary, experimental and electronic music and open encounters between artists, volunteers and visitors. You could easily find yourself having a pizza with Scanner, risking Your Planet Is Next’s life by opening a bag of peanuts or just meeting people you might never meet otherwise. When it comes to bringing together a wide palette of art forms, this year’s edition was probably the most successful to date. Sara Fors, the Production Manager of the festival told us that the main aim regarding the artistic direction was to go towards things that are more intersectional. This could be anything but not pure techno or pure drum and bass but rather something that is actually mixing things in a new and experimental way. This year has had more actual performances, art, dance and talks, so they are heading steadily towards a kind of mixed genre thing.

–“The 303 stage always felt like it’s the d’n’b stage, Kraftwerk is the techno stage and Mimer is the drone/noise stage. We are trying to mix that up a bit.” Sara says, “We always wanted to be innovative and it’s not very innovative with eg. d’n’b that has been sounding the same since 1993. There needs to be something else, something that wants to develop in a different way. That’s the main artistic aim for us now.”

On the topic of the festival not revolving as much around headliners and big names anymore (guests from previous years include Biosphere, Monolake, Pan Sonic, Murcof, Vladislav Delay), Sara told us that they probably lost a few visitors but  also gained new audiences. –“We wanted the festival to feel like a place where you don’t have to know anything about anything in the program. Where you trust the curating process and the general vibe enough so you would go anyway. Because you are curious and you want to explore new things. That’s why you should come and not for a certain artist.”

Sara herself was super excited to have Frédéric Gies and Fiedel with the marathon all-nighter ‘Dance is Ancient’ performance, since her own private mission was to get the performing arts seen in the festival more. Sara believes there is a detachment between people going to experimental dance shows and people going to experimental music shows and she really thinks there is an exchange to be made, so she wanted to incorporate that into the festival. Further highlights for Sara were the Material Fatigue – Frida Sandström and Aleksei Borisionok’s art program – the talk between Emile Frankel and Benjamin Noys, which was a philosophical conversation about music, acceleration, potentiality and speculation.

–“Something very theoretical and analytical, which I’ve been missing at the festival, some sort of a contextual discussion about what we are presenting and what place it has in the general society. So I’m very happy about all of this, because it leads the festival into a new direction. And I’m really happy about the Pomperipossa Records showcase as well.”

 

Frédéric Gies with Fiedel and Anton Stoianov: Dance is Ancient (Photo: Vlad Brăteanu)

 

Material Fatigue was an autonomous branch of the festival, a set of actions and exhibited works focusing on interdisciplinary performance practices, curated by Frida Sandström and Aleksei Borisionok. Aleksei (curator and writer, based in Stockholm and Minsk) shared with us the most challenging and rewarding parts of curating the art program within the festival.

–“Personally, I felt it was difficult to curate the art program for the festival without stepping into cute but senseless installations and art-for-fun. The most rewarding part was to compile the program, which will be relevant for the site and for the context. As a conceptual horizon, our research project at Mejan (Royal Institute of Art) was selected. It is devoted to the investigation of the notion of event. We started to work on it, defining what is relevant there for us and later on inviting artists who work with similar issues. We tried to balance between people who we know well as well as inviting less familiar artists”, explains Aleksei.

–”We received feedback both from the crew and the audience. I feel that a lot of people were interested in the art program, although most of it happened early afternoon, a less visited time in the structure of the festival. The most inspiring thing was that a lot of people admitted that the ‘performative turn’ in the art program was very healthy for the festival in general. As well as Material Fatigue contained meta-commentary on the cyclic time of festive intensification (for example in Olia Sosnovskaya’s and Cara Tolmie’s performances). A lot of people admitted that they hope the festival will drive the same direction in the following years”, concludes Aleksei.

 

Cara Tolmie’s looped identity of the diva (Photo: Vlad Brăteanu)

 

(Click on the photos to enlarge)

 

When performances, exhibitions and artist talks are happening all around the clock, it’s always a pressing matter where to go and what to see. You don’t want to miss out on anything but after a long night’s shenanigans you also appreciate some sleep. We tried to make the most of our stay, so here are some impressions from the festival.

The Mimerlaven with its uncompromising reverb always offers a special home for drone performances, and it’s full of surprises. Sarah Davachi’s ambient set apparently cures even the worst migraines, while Pharmakon’s first-ever show in Sweden made us use earplugs for the first time ever. We had a chat with Sarah Davachi who told us that aside from the hospitality of the festival organizers and meeting other performers, she really enjoyed being in a secluded area within such beautiful natural surroundings. Having the opportunity to perform in the Mimerlaven venue was really a special treat.

–“I don’t often get to perform in such vast spaces, and it was nice to actually be able to play to the acoustics of the room in a sense. To be honest, I was expecting that because of the size and materials of the room I was not going to be able to hear many of the details in my performance that I often rely on to create my sound. I was pleasantly surprised during my soundcheck to discover that in addition to its cathedral-like ambience, the room also possesses a clarity that is unlike many other spaces of its character.”

Unfortunately she wasn’t at the festival long enough to really get a full impression of what makes Norberg unique as an event, but interacting with the venue and discovering that her preconceptions about what a particular physical space is going to do or not to do for her sound could be mistaken was quite useful as a performer.

–“Feedback from the audience was great! In Europe there is more of a general sense that people go to live music shows with the intention of listening, rather than social engagement, so it was nice to get a lot of commentary about how the sound was perceived in that space from the audience perspective.”

Sarah is currently working on a few records, one for Students of Decay that is finished and will hopefully come out in the fall and another for Ba Da Bing! that she just finished recording in the studio. She is also starting a record exclusively for pipe organ at the end of August, recording in a few churches in Vancouver and Montreal. She’s also moving to Los Angeles in September to start her PhD in Musicology, and there is more touring planned for the fall, mostly in Europe but also a few shows in Japan and maybe also Mexico. Exciting!

 

Sarah Davachi (Photo: Vlad Brăteanu)

 

The previously mentioned Pomperipossa Records showcase presented Clora, Anna von Hausswolff’s new project BAD and the legendary Robin Rimbaud aka Scanner who is a returning performer to the festival.

–“I especially enjoyed the discovery of artists I wasn’t familiar with at all, as the festival didn’t celebrate creative people only because of success and fame, so ideas seemed to be more important. Though I never saw and heard as much as I wanted to, those that I did were consistently surprising and engaging.”, Robin concludes.

Mimerlaven proved to be an extraordinary venue for him as well, and it was extremely valuable to learn beforehand of the extended reverb in the space so he could think about what would work best in the situation. It was also a challenge in a positive way, though a little trying to maintain a relationship with the audience who were at quite some distance away. Robin says that his performance reassured him that risk is important in work, so for himself playing a set that was open and exploratory was a personal success. As for what’s next on his agenda, Scanner told us that he’s about to begin composing GRIMM, a ballet/musical based on the Brothers Grimm stories for the Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam, as well as working with  artist Kasia Molga and scientists researching the PH qualities of soil, developing sonic light sculptures that reveal the challenges of our planet. He’s also launching a new exhibition in France in October with French film director and celebrated cinematographer Bruno Nuytten, then releasing a new album, his first studio album since 2009 on Anna von Hausswolff’s label, Pomperipossa Records, and writing a work for the BBC Concert Orchestra to celebrate the 80th birthday of British composer David Bedford.

Getting deeper into the nights, sometimes we had to give in to our need of fervent rhythms, so we ventured away from Mimerlaven to explore the powerful sounds in Kraftwerk and the spacious grass dance floor at the 303 stage. Every night, the Kraftwerk stage opened itself up with its welcoming hazy mouth and lit up windows that looked like a pair of tripped out, screaming eyes. We finally got to see Ash Koosha, Jesse Osborne-Lanthier and Beatrice Dillon at their best.

 

Ash Koosha (Photo: Carl Öst Wilkens)

 

Jesse Osborne-Lanthier stayed through the whole festival, which is the best way to experience Norberg both as a guest and performer.

– “Line-up was really great, I love the festival grounds surrounded by the woods and obviously Mimer is quite grandiose. I felt the all-around vibe just really welcoming. Coucou Chloé was 🔥. Met a lot of new faces, some I’d engaged with on the internet before some not. Those moments are worth cherishing and will definitely shape the foreseeable future”, Jesse sums up his experiences.

People seemed to really enjoy his new material, which resulted in nice conversations and Jesse says he was really glad to hear that some of the audience were challenged by what was diffused. Jesse is currently doing some work for Entr’acte and Halcyon Veil, helping with a lot of curating and design for HV and also releasing another collection of pieces soon. He’s concentrating a lot on his design practice and working on a bunch of side projects.

– “Also trying to stay healthy. LOL.”, adds the Canadian nightlife maestro.

 

Jesse Osborne-Lanthier (Photo: Carl Öst Wilkens)

 

Masskultur, one of Stockholm’s most forward-thinking DIY noiseganizations have been involved with the festival for many years. Luckily they have arranged a showcase this year as well, bringing three fresh talents from the experimental scene: Nev Lilit (SE), who recently debuted on new Stockholm-based label Moloton; Milos Olympus (SE), who combine crushing harsh noise and concrete music with moody synths and stoned vocal chants; Mathieu Serruys, Belgian tape and synth experimentalist.

The biggest surprise and probably the most amazing discovery of this year was Nick Klein (Ascetic House, L.I.E.S. Records) who threw a ridiculously energetic party with his bare modular setup. Even watching his facial expressions during his bouncy show was highly entertaining. ZULI from Egypt was another highlight and he just happened to release his latest EP a few days ago on Lee Gamble’s UIQ label – check it out! Spanish industrial energy bomb JASSS is also someone you should definitely look into if you haven’t already.

During the daytime, the Really Open Stage was everyone’s playground who wanted to fiddle around with various synthesisers or even plug in their own gear to jam together with other fellow festivalgoers. The 303 tent was the only official outdoorsy stage where you could catch some fresh air and find some proper space to dance – but of course let’s not forget about the legendary guerilla stage Camp 727, located deep in the camp grounds, where you could rave in the odd hours with Daniel Araya and Lady Gabber.

 

Kuf & Dold (Photo: Vlad Brăteanu)

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The organizers did a fantastic job bringing together a super eclectic selection of DJs. 303 was the place to let yourself be surprised and discover tons of new music that 1.) you didn’t think existed, 2.) you didn’t think you liked. The Finnish THRDEYEVSN collective, the British Siren DJs, Swedish duo Kuf & Dold and Your Planet is Next are just a few names to keep in mind.

As a really kind and yearly recurring gesture, the last day the festival opened up for free to the locals by inviting them to participate, trying to bring the two worlds a little bit closer together. It was quite a special treat to witness an old couple (probably in their 80s) listening to und-0-und’s Doom Acid performance in Mimer and to catch Pharmakon at the bar being offered no less than two free beers by a quite inebriated local who had no idea who she was or that she did not understand Swedish.

However, we did miss out on a few things that make the festival even more special – like sleeping in a tent, swimming in lake Noren (help, can’t swim!) or doing electronically soundtracked yoga in the park. Maybe next year?

Last but not least, we put together a Post-Norberg Mixtape featuring some of our favourite acts from this year. For those who are already sorely missing the festival and for those who need a little convincing to join us next year. 

 

 

TRACKLIST

 

Nev Lilit – Abyss [Moloton]
Pharmakon – Crawling on Bruised Knees [Sacred Bones]
JASSS – Minotauro [Mannequin]
Sky H1 – Hybrid [Codes]
Your Planet Is Next – Kontroll [Opal Tapes]
Erosion Flow – The Hustle [ManMakeMusic]
ZULI – What You Do [UIQ]
111X – Inner Peace [TAR]
Kuf – Ahmet [Float Records]
Ash Koosha – Other [Olde English Spelling Bee]
Coucou Chloé – Skin Like Sin [Creamcake]
Jesse Osborne-Lanthier – The Zika Slam [raster-noton]
Nick Klein – Collector [Unknown Precept]
Nick Klein – Do You Want To Crash? [Alter]
Dold – Dom [Intimate Silence]

 

See you all at Norbergfestival 2018! (Photo: Vlad Brăteanu)

 

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