Oya Festival Oslo, Norway - August 10 to 12, 2006

Euro-fests may conjure thoughts of mammoth, mud-caked crowds but this northern stop couldn’t have been more civilised — white carpets blanketed the dirt like new-fallen snow as pretty boys and prettier girls lounged about on Ikea furniture, sipping overpriced beer against medieval ruins, politely applauding the performers and abiding by the no crowd-surfing signs. Though smaller than some, it was proudly eclectic, if lacking in non-white performers. A fact made notable as multi-culti Baltimore booty rappers Spank Rock instructed the rain-soaked "white girls to shake it ’til my dick turns racist.” Earlier, American alt-acts !!! and Liars shared stages with internationally obscure locals Loch Ness Mouse but the day belonged to electro-Swedes the Knife, a brother-sister duo whose "dark as a Scandinavian December day” music makes one worry about their childhood. Dance rock kicked off day two with a breakout performance from hotly-tipped Vice Records signees 120 Days, who combined live and programmed beats with shoegazer guitars and shout out loud lyrics, while Britain’s much-loved soul-electro quartet Hot Chip kept their buzz going. Canada’s lone entry, Vancouver’s Black Mountain, also impressed with their rough-edged, riff-infused indie rock boasting boy-girl vocals, psychedelic swirls, snaking synths and arty classic rock guitar solos. But the day belonged to the old-timers, with a craggy Mark E. Smith singing into two mics while leading a new U.S.-based band through his Fall catalogue. Similarly aged were DumDum Boys, who headlined the main stage and were the rare Norwegian rock group to sing in their own language. Huge in the hair metal days, tens of thousands sang out every word and raised lighters aloft during the power ballads. Oya’s finale fell all over the map, featuring locals like adorable electronic act Susanna and the Magical Orchestra and children’s music vets Knutsen & Ludvigsen (backed by Sondre Lerche) to hilarious indie rockers Les Savvy Favs and Hurrah Tornado. The latter are a bizzaro group of Norse Vikings in matching blue track suits with their asses hanging out and big Hillbilly Jim beards who played percussion on appliances while covering Britney’s "Toxic.” King of Convenience’s Erlend Oye’s latest project, the Whitest Boy Alive, mellowed everyone out with folk-pop vocals over soft beatscapes but the fest went back to weird with an awful performance by Yoko Ono. Luckily, Beck took the stage and unexpectedly opened with "Loser.” Though having some difficulty keeping the audience energy up during some of the not-yet-released numbers, the set was saved by an ingenious live puppet show that saw a miniature version of Beck and his band broadcast on the Jumbotron. Then, without even demanding an encore, the still-civilised Norwegians shuffled off calmly into the not-quite-dark night.