To by:Larm or Not to by:Larm One Man’s Unexpected Trip to Oslo

To by:Larm or Not to by:Larm One Man’s Unexpected Trip to Oslo
"I can’t believe it: I’ve never been to Norway.”

That was me after learning that I was going to attend the tenth anniversary edition of the by:Larm music conference, which travels around to different cities in Norway yet had avoided the capital city of Oslo until this past February. As it turns out, I was and am not alone. Many, many people I know have never been to Norway either and some may never make it there. Having dropped in for four days and three nights to cover a festival with a jam-packed schedule, I can’t say I really had time to process what Oslo was all about. The most I could do was walk all across downtown to the different venues, interview local and visiting attendees, catch up on sleep in the downtime, and fit in some minimal sightseeing when I could. So, while I didn’t get to delve into the cultural implications of by:Larm in quite the manner I hoped to, the following recounts a lot of what happened on this odd but memorable excursion.

Day One

As the date of my departure crept up, I realised I was pretty unprepared for this trip. Meeting several work deadlines right up until my plane left on Wednesday meant I’d put off figuring out what Norway’s kroner was worth in Canadian currency or just how lost I’d be without knowing how to speak Norwegian. I feel a little better when my colleague Stuart Berman arrives at the gate and admits that he too is planning on winging it a bit, counting on his credit card and English to get him through, at least initially.

The other thing is, I’m already completely exhausted and on no sleep at Pearson International. Knowing full well that I don’t really crash-out so great while I’m mobile, I still plan to get some shut-eye on the seven-hour trip to Amsterdam. The flight is smooth and enjoyable, mostly thanks to the airline’s on-demand film service, which enables you to choose from countless films and TV shows (both "popular” or new and "classics”) that you can pause, stop, or switch from. I watch Atonement (good), The Simpsons Movie (okay), and great sitcoms (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, 30 Rock, etc.) to waste my time. What I should be doing is sleeping but I can’t and am a real zombie when we land at Amsterdam’s Schipol for a short layover before a two-hour flight to Oslo. I preview some of the new Constantines record on Berman’s laptop and skim through my Lonely Planet guide to Norway, which mentions Vikings but nothing about the country’s renowned black metal scene.

Upon landing in Oslo around noon, I am a shell of a man — a hollowed-out vessel of fatigue, barely holding myself together after being awake for 24 hours straight, fueled only by five restless hours of sleep. On the train from the airport into town, I’m alert enough to observe a snow-covered countryside that isn’t so far off from a lonely stretch of the 401 in Ontario and, soon enough, decrepit factories and industrial spaces scar my window like they would in the backstreets of say, Scarborough. Then cookie-cutter housing developments appear but I don’t mean this derisively; the home designs are certainly uniform but they also have the cutesy details of actual gingerbread houses, lined up in colourful rows.

There’s no way I’m interested in signing in for the conference upon arriving at my hotel, the swanky Royal Christiana Clarion, and instead head straight to my room to sleep. For eight hours, until 9:00 p.m. Because I either know little or nothing at all about the mostly Scandinavian artists performing during by:Larm, I really want to see them all. At the same time, this means that if I can’t make someone’s show, I really have no idea what I’m missing and can’t feel too badly about it until someone raves about them afterwards. So sleeping through a couple of hours of programming only fazes me slightly (most bands will play multiple times throughout by:Larm) and, more importantly, I am starving and need food before I do anything else.

Hoping for something fast, cheap, and vegetarian, on the advice of someone at the hotel’s front desk, I go across the street to Egon Restaurant. Part of a walkway/shopping plaza called "Byporten” Egon is nice enough but damn it if I’m not in a mall restaurant. I order a medium pizza and a Coke and it costs me 200 kroner, or roughly $40.00 Canadian. "What the fuck,” I think to myself. "I mean the pizza was good but not that good.” In the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2007 Worldwide Cost of Living survey, Oslo was the most expensive city to live in, in the entire world. It beat out previous champs like London, Tokyo, Moscow, and New York. No one told me this. Not even Lonely Planet for Christ’s sake.

Licking my wounds and digesting my pizza, I make my way over to the DogA venue on my first real walk through downtown Oslo. It‘s a pretty sleepy night with only faint hints that a giant music conference is in town. There are cobblestone walkways, cracked concrete roads, and some areas seem endlessly dark when they’re not glowing in North American neon-lit 7-11 and McDonalds signs.

As much character as downtown Oslo has, it also seems like a big city on a small-scale with old-world buildings fending off the influx of clashing, metallic architecture that’s sprouted up over the past 30 years. by:Larm’s choice of venues speaks to this conflict in some ways, as they mostly use small bars and factories converted into art-spaces and music halls. DogA stands for "Norsk Design og Arkitektursenter” and, among other things, the office building contains a huge old warehouse-sized room. It’s here that I arrive to see Iceland’s Benni Hemm Hemm who put on a pretty cool show. The Sufjan Stevens comparisons are apt but here the multi-headed band sound more like Do May Say Think fronted by Jens Lekman. Berman spots me and introduces me to Nadine Gelineau our trip’s organiser and a Canuck living in New York. Now our hoser posse seems complete and we head over to the John Dee club to catch Bergen-based dance-pop sensation Casiokids, whose electrifying energy is bolstered by an awesome, live shadow show and specially made films. We exit the packed club and opt to go back to DogA where another Bergen band, Ungdomskulen are ripping into a crazed set that reminds me of Animal Collective but there’s also a weird Primus thing happening too. Still a bit tuckered, our trip to the Garage club is an acquiescent gesture as Nadine insists we go. It turns out to be a treat, as the Lionheart Brothers are psych-rocking the joint with mighty abandon and an enigmatic presence.

Among the things I’ve learned about Norwegians so far is that they value inventive drummers, and they love their smoke machines and light shows. I’ve never been to another festival where so much effort is put into stage effects and worked so well, not to mention how great almost every band are mixed with what I presume are next-to-no sound checks. With their blend of the Flaming Lips’ musical exuberance and My Bloody Valentine’s brooding demeanour, the Lionheart Brothers are an awesome way to wrap up the first day of by:Larm and head back to the hotel.

Day Two

I don't know if it was the $40.00 pizza or staying up late to watch the Clinton-Obama debate on CNN, but I don’t get up until 2:00 in the afternoon. And I don't drink. My method of combating jet lag on this trip is to stick to my regular sleeping pattern as much as possible and it seems to be working.

Having missed the hotel breakfast by three hours, I stumble into Oslo looking for food and daylight sightseeing. I decide to wander in the direction of the Mono Café where Jello Biafra will do a spoken word performance at 5:00. I’m hoping to interview the punk icon while we’re both here and figure I might have luck catching him before his set. This seems like a good plan and, according to my program guide, the Mono is very close to my hotel. Somehow, I get hopelessly lost trying to find this place. Back home, my wife, family, and friends all suggest that I’m in denial about my poor sense of direction but I say they’re wrong. Why? Because I’m in denial, that’s why. In this case though, I’m not completely at fault. The map in my festival program is interesting because some street names are included, while other names are inexplicably missing.

So, I wander around for half an hour, staring at the map and retracing my steps countless times. Feeling like a dim-witted, helpless, baby, I run into Berman who’s also had a late start to his day but quickly directs me to Mono. I don’t know how he does this but it’s a trend that continues during the trip and leaves many North American journalists baffled at this human compass from Toronto.

Berman mentions that the hotel’s lunch buffet wasn’t so bad and at 150 kroner, relatively cheap. So, I head back and run into my by:Larm press contact, Benham, in the lobby. I ask him about the possibility of interviewing Jello or author and music writer Michael Azerrad, who’s giving a seminar talk on "The US indie underground in the ’80s and how it changed music.” Benham suggests that Jello is kind of untraceable but that Michael is working in his hotel room and why don't I just call him myself. So I do, and we make an appointment to meet in my room in 20 minutes.

I'm a great fan of Azerrad’s writing, particularly Our Band Could be Your Life, which is the basis of his aforementioned talk, and of course, Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana, whose recorded interviews with Kurt Cobain are the heart of the recent documentary Kurt Cobain About a Son. I’m curious what it was about this About a Son film project that prompted Azerrad to release these almost 16-year-old recordings into the world.

"It just seemed like it was time,” he says simply. "There’d been so many myths and misconceptions growing up around Kurt in the ensuing years after his death, it seemed like a good time to let him speak for himself and dispel a lot of that stuff. This is Kurt speaking for an hour and half and you hear him talk about things that a lot of people have speculated about with not too much basis. He talks about why he loved his wife, which is very hard to communicate but it comes across. How he felt about his band and where he thought it would go. His ideas about stardom; he actually embraced it quite a bit more than I think a lot of people believe. He gives a lot of hints about what was gonna happen to him very shortly, and he talks about his drug use, trying to rationalise it candidly. He was a very complicated, flesh and blood, three-dimensional person and that comes out in the film. It’s a pretty enlightening experience I think, even for people who think they know a lot about Nirvana and Kurt.”

Azerrad captures (and I suppose validates) exactly how I feel about this film; it really humanises someone who’s been alternately canonised as a genius and dismissed as a pathetic drug addict since his suicide 14 years ago.

"People had turned him into this cartoon — ‘Kurt Cobain: troubled rock icon’ — and you know, he was so much more than that,” Azerrad explains. "He was an extraordinary ordinary man. So many people could relate to Kurt Cobain on a personal level and he managed to alchemise that — all those feelings we had and still do — he managed to convert that into incredible rock music and that was his gift.”

The abstract film includes contemporary footage of Aberdeen, Olympia, and Seattle, the three cities in Washington State where Cobain lived; no film of the band or Cobain; and, instead of Nirvana songs, music by Cobain’s inspirations. The last two points have led to speculation that this is not an approved film but Azerrad says Nirvana and Courtney Love gave their blessing and that the soundtrack choice was deliberate.

"When you want to introduce yourself to someone, woo a girlfriend, or make friends, you make them a mix-tape,” Azerrad reasons. "The soundtrack is a Kurt Cobain mix-tape; it’s stuff that he listened to throughout his life and the story it tells is really revealing.”

Cobain in turn would develop this kind of retroactive Midas touch, giving bands like Sonic Youth, Big Black, Pixies, Meat Puppets, the Vaselines, Teenage Fanclub, Sebadoh, the Jesus Lizard, and Mudhoney more attention and credibility just by mentioning their names in interviews.

"I can’t think of someone [today] who could wear a t-shirt with an obscure band on it, and that band would get signed within weeks,” Azerrad says. "Kurt would wear a Melvins or Daniel Johnston t-shirt on national television and they would get signed to a major label. These were very challenging artists; that’s kind of incredible. There’s absolutely no one like that right now, but someone like that may come along, sometimes when we least expect it.”

In terms of current projects, Azerrad excitedly tells me about an R.E.M. cover story he’s filed for Spin in March, saying that the band’s energetic new album Accelerate is going to surprise old fans and win new ones. Perhaps more surprising is Azerrad’s collaboration with R&B singer John Legend on an autobiographical photo book called Show Me.

"He’s a really genuine, smart guy and it’s been a lovely experience working with him,” Azerrad says. "That’s coming out this spring to coincide with his new record, which is going to be super fun; I think that’s going to be one of the big summer party albums.”

I’m a really open-minded guy but I would not have thought that Michael Azerrad would be writing a book about John Legend. "I’m just a music fan but, in some ways, music is secondary; I love talking about musicians and telling a good story,” Azerrad explains. "The whole indie orthodoxy has really crumbled. I don’t think any critics, especially the younger ones, really remember all those wars we had against ‘the corporate man.’ Those distinctions are eroding and I don’t think anyone recently has been shot down because they were accused of being a ‘sell-out.’ It’s funny, all of these younger critics I know who are into cool music like ’70s Afrobeat music or maybe New York New Music from the ’80s, also will enthusiastically embrace something like Mariah Carey’s new album. I have to confess, that makes me feel a little old; I’m a little mystified by that. But I do think it’s pretty cool that people are more broad-minded because the ’80s indie thing was a little bit doctrinaire and narrow-minded. There’s so much good music everywhere on this planet… and I intend to find some in Norway tonight.”

We finish the interview in enough time that I make it to watch 20 minutes of Jello Biafra take the stage like both an angry, anti-establishment punk and an embarrassing, opinionated uncle, railing against "the BillHillary” and "the Barackstar” for what he views as positions as contemptible as that of John McCain and George Bush. He scores some laughs but ultimately, I have another appointment to keep and leave the Mono without speaking with a hero of mine.

Myself and an assembly of 15 to 20 music industry types meet up for a trip to the Propeller recording studio to get a kind of journalist-exclusive concert by a great Norwegian talent named Hanne Hukkelberg. She and her band put on a gorgeously, captivating show, playing songs from her new record, including a re-imagined "Break My Body” by the Pixies. Chatting with her later, I can’t help but wonder how Hukkelberg felt, playing to a tiny room stuffed full of international music media and industry folks.

"It was really nice,” she says. "Maybe two or three years ago I’d be a bit freaked out. It’s so much more special with a few people than a large amount. I came from a huge European tour in 2007, so this was really nice, to have a very listening crowd. Everyone was so nice and I saw that they were really listening and taking it in.”

Hukkelberg is familiar with Propeller studio, having made a few records here with different musicians. One of the most striking aspects of the show was Hukkelberg’s band, which features a drummer/percussionist who plays kalimba, a clarinetist who plays flute and toy piano, and a minimalist guitarist, along with Hukkelberg singing and playing piano. It’s an unusually cool sound and Hukkelberg conceives of it all.

"I sit at home and think a lot about what I want to express and how I want it to sound. My producer also has lots of good advices and together we make a sound picture. I use a lot of different persons and musicians and this is just one of the different settings. It’s very different from time to time.”

Even with this unique orchestral folk-pop sound, Hukkelberg suggests that she and other Norwegian musicians draw from many influences. "It’s been growing and growing in the last ten years. This by:Larm has been part of it and there’s a really good Norwegian milieu of artists. I’ve been playing in metal bands as well, so we have a short history of influences but we of course get inspired by music from everywhere and can’t put our finger on one genre. There’s so much different music in Norway and, because of that, I’d say there’s so many types of inspirations.”

With the Propellor behind us, we media folk check out by:Larm proper, at a downtown tent featuring the hyperactive Katzenjammer. Imagine the Dixie Chicks as bubbly Scandinavians playing bouncy folk-pop and urging FULL crowd participation and you'll have a rough idea of what Katzenjammer are all about. Next up was the Thing, an intensely ferocious improvised jazz power trio from Norway/Sweden that just destroyed the Rockefeller room. Catching up with Berman, he and I make our way over to see Salem Al Fakir at the elaborate, converted theatre, the Sentrum. Al Fakir has been touted as the Swedish Stevie Wonder. Well, he really, really isn't. Beyond the trite musical arrangements, dude really can't sing. Denmark’s the Kissaway Trail on the other hand, can really sing and their four guitar assault of space rock and urgent, interesting rhythms is forceful. Too bad the lyrics are sophomoric (a lot of telegraphed clichés about young love and longing) because they've got a great sound.

We head back to the Rockefeller to see Norwegian metallers Soulvenom primarily because Stuart inadvertently came up with a headline for Mike Ruffino's cover story on the band for by:Larm News. (When Ruffino mentioned he was covering the band, Berman jokingly suggested that they were "Like Venom, but with soul.” Lo and behold, the next morning that quote was emblazoned across newsprint.) We show up to the shirtless, Velvet Revolver posturing of a band called Audrey Horne. Soulvenom take to the secondary stage soon after, pummelling the crowd with heavy metal. I mean, it seems like pretty fake heavy metal but the drums and guitar riffs are no joke and they’re entertaining to watch for about ten minutes. Our last show of the night is a disappointing set by Ida Maria, who was touted as a Billie Holiday-meets- Blondie wonder child. Instead, she takes the stage with some generic, Courtney Love attitude moves and proceeds to do an impression of a soft Björk fronting Katrina and the Waves.

That’s day two and I’m beat. I’m going to sleep. Or will try to any way.

Day Three

I fucked up my sleeping pattern and asked for a 10:00 a.m. wake-up call today so I could take advantage of the free breakfast. It’s probably a good plan ultimately but I feel like complete shit sitting there in a daze, stuffing Danish and unripe fruit down my throat. The other reason I get up "early” is to see Michael Azerrad's noon hour talk on underground American music in the ’80s, which might be like watching him record the audio book version of his fantastic tome, Our Band Could be Your Life. Or perhaps a sequel is in order: My Book Could Come to Life and be Your Music Seminar Topic. In any case, Michael’s great and candid and the interviewer asks good questions so it all goes well.

Again, my erratic sleeping pattern (6:45 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.) leaves me FUBAR so I head back to bed in the middle of the day so I can be refreshed for the long evening of shows ahead. I wake up with just enough time to head over to Mono to give an old Canadian friend a bit of a shock. "Holy shit!” Vancouver’s Geoff Berner (pictured above with me) exclaims when I show up just before his 6:00 p.m. set. "What are you doing here?!” Geoff is beside himself knowing that a Canadian other than Carolyn Mark will finally witness what he’s been telling so many hosers for so many years: people in Norway love Geoff Berner.

I stand in the very first row, right in front of a tipsy, excited Berner, recording his incredible set on my miniDisc player. "We have a guest here who’s a Canadian journalist,” Berner tells the crowd, "I’ve been telling them that I’ve been coming here to play and I think a lot of them think I’ve been making it up. So, I’d like to start with an old one where you’ll know, hopefully, how to sing a long with it.”

You want to know something? People in Norway really love Geoff Berner.

With little prompting, a packed club in Oslo screams "Stupid! Stupid” during "Maginot Line,” eggs on new songs like "Shut-in,” and also joins in full force for the tagline of Berner’s brand new "Official Theme Song for the 2010 Vancouver/Whistler Olympic Games (The Dead Children Were Worth It).” With all nationalism and bias (mostly) aside, it is one of my favourite shows at by:Larm and afterwards, Geoff demands that I let people in our home country know about his magical sway in Oslo.

"You heard the set; I was mostly talking to you through the whole thing,” Berner says sharply, when I display a hint of doubt that this show wasn’t fixed in some way. "You bastard,” he snarls at me good naturedly, "After what I showed you?! I can’t believe you’re still doubting me! It’s interesting that you’re here tonight Vish because tonight was officially my millionth time playing in Oslo. Excellent timing.”

With his vast experience here in Oslo, I wonder if Berner sees any parallels between Norway and our homeland. "Norwegians and Ontarians have a lot in common y’know? It’s cold; they’re from a rich country; they do a lot of United Nations peacekeeping; they’re very judgmental; mostly protestant; a lot of sarcasm; and the Norwegians and Canadians, y’know, we both spend a lot of time sitting by the window, staring out at the rain, and crying for no reason, so, we have a lot in common.”

Leaving Berner behind, I head out to see just how my fellow peacekeeping protestants are spending the last night of by:Larm. My first stop is at DogA to see Norway’s much-hyped Shining. There’s a bit of lame rock star shit happening on-stage but it’s forgivable because the band’s jazz-infused prog rock reminds me of strong aspects of Zeppelin, Battles, and maybe even a teensy bit of Fugazi. The cover of King Crimson’s "21st Century Schizoid Man” though? Not necessary dudes.

I then move over to John Dee and catch the last few songs by the unfortunately named All That and a Bag of Chips, who put on a fun, irreverent pop rock show, decked out in matching, post-modern t-shirts that say things like "Singer” and "Drummer.”

I’m pretty hip-hop deprived at by:Larm and curiosity leads me to the crowded Sentrum to check out Norwegian rap star/Where’s Waldo? wannabe Chris Lee. I remain hip-hop deprived; Lee’s decent flow is packaged in lame pop songs with cliché choruses and his uncomfortably Snow-like singing voice. It’s enough to persuade me to take a bit of a walk through the relatively mild Oslo night.

Have I mentioned the weather yet? Back home people chuckled at me for heading to frigid Norway in February but the average temperature here is something like four degrees Celsius during my trip. So, it’s actually more comfortable here than it was when I left Canada.

I wander over to Fabrikken høyre to see some blue-collar bar-rock by Oslo six-piece, Howl, and though singer Simen Lund is a bit too Ian Astbury live, he just seems excited to be playing to a packed room and his mates respond in kind, channelling the E-Street Band with earnestness. From there it’s back to John Dee, where I become smitten with the post-punk power of Oslo’s Lukestar, a rather poppy band who sound somewhat like Shudder to Think but thrash their instruments like At the Drive-In. When they finish their triumphant set, I head back to the Sentrum to catch Farmers Market. Formed in Trondheim in 1991, Farmers Market play a bizarre amalgam of Klezmer-infused jazz with great humour and rock angst. Even though I’m pretty enthralled by their folksiness and virtuosity, I’m somewhat baffled to see so many young people totally into them. I’d mull this over some more but someone just grabbed my ass. Hard. And I’m skinny so whoever this was really had to dedicate themselves to finding some flesh to clutch. I’m on my own tonight so I presume it’s someone I know, having me on.

As I wheel around, I try to visualise who will be standing there grinning at me. Will it be Berman? No, I can’t see Stuart playing a game of grab-ass with me. Azerrad? We just met, so doubtful. Geoff Berner. This seems like a Berner move. When I turn around, Geoff Berner will appear, drunk and disorderly and possibly a little randy.

I look behind me and a young Norwegian girl and a husky Norwegian dude are standing there, looking past me, and trying not to laugh. "Say, it seems as though someone pinched my ass,” I say casually. They first feign a language barrier, then laugh a lot, then deny it was them, and finally laugh uncontrollably before moving on. I wonder if I’m the victim of some odd, local joke but I think it was just a random, low-level prank. Later on, will bolster my latter theory, leading me to a forum on hardcore video games when I run a search on "Oslo grabbing ass.” The last band I see at by:Larm is the greatly hyped Superfamily, who are a stylised new wave electro rock band fronted by Steven Wilson, a sardonic singer with aspirations to create subversive pop. With their on-stage theatrics, including synchronised male back-up singers/dancers/robots parading around Wilson’s demented preacher-like character, Superfamily possess endearing elements but their slick rock sound is too much of a put-on for me. I see why they’re pretty huge here and their English songs have enough indie-minded grandeur to make a dent back in North America but, ultimately, I’m not impressed enough to stay.

When I get back to the hotel, I run into Jello Biafra. It’s 3:00 a.m. on the last day of this festival but, nevertheless, I tell him that I was hoping to interview him at some point during by:Larm. We’re both hungry and tired and decide that I should get his thoughts on the conference when we both return to North America.

"Or…are you flying out tomorrow?” Biafra asks.

I say I am.

"Well, maybe you’ll get your interview at the airport then.”

The next day (or rather, later that morning), Berman and I meet to catch our train to the airport and our flight home. Before boarding the train, I notice Jello and his female companion on the platform and decide to try and find a seat on the same car. I’ve never felt much like a parasitic journalist before but stalking Jello Biafra for an interview in Oslo makes me feel like a low-life somehow. Semi-pro that I am, I re-introduce myself and he agrees to a train shuttle chat about why he attended by:Larm.

"They wanted me to talk about digital music and file-sharing, so I told a roomful of major label executives why they deserved to be file-shared upon because they’re so hell-bent on ripping off artists any way,” he says. "It’s not like you’re ripping off artists if you’re file-sharing from a major label but people like myself and my small label Alternative Tentacles have been hurt quite badly by that and it’s harder for great young bands to make a go of it, as a result.”

During his spoken word performance, Biafra made a big deal about what by:Larm did and didn’t want him to address on-stage.

"‘We want something nice and safe like entertainment,’” Biafra says mockingly. "‘We don’t wanna hear about Bush or Iraq or any of that.’ The problem is, as soon as I got to Oslo, everyone was asking me about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, so I thought, ‘Yeah, this is relevant to the whole world.’”

For Biafra, the connection between the future of self-expression and politics is more intertwined than people realise. He cites the fact that Republican Senator John McCain and former Democratic Senator (and one-time Al Gore running mate) Joseph Lieberman have repeatedly tried to put forth the Media Marketing and Accountability Act, which would impose a much stricter ratings system on movies, music, and video games that would be overseen by the Feds instead of the entertainment industry.

"Anyone who didn’t adopt the mark of the Lieber-beast, their products would automatically become illegal,” Biafra explains. "It also said that anybody whose material wasn’t assessed strictly enough could be fined by the Federal Trade Commission in the amount of $11,000 per unit sold per day. The last time that bill came up, it had a third sponsor’s name attached: Hillary Clinton. Hillary and Barack Obama have each gone off against video games. Hillary introduced a bill in 1996 to fine, not the makers of the game, but the store managers. Obama has also said that he wants the industry to ‘clean up its act’ and if they don’t, ‘Then my administration will.’ So, I think you’re gonna see a culture war from the fake liberals and politically correct side of the fence re-launched very much in the spirit of Hillary’s good friend, Tipper Gore. No matter who becomes president, we have to gear up for that.” 

As I sit on a train beside someone I greatly admire, I almost forget that Jello Biafra altered popular music with his punk band Dead Kennedys. It feels more like I’m making small talk with a political pundit (which he officially isn’t) and Green Party booster (which he officially is), so I shift things back to by:Larm and why Jello would contribute to such an unadulterated, music industry schmoozefest.

"Well somebody has to do it,” he says. "A friend of mine, Scott Ritter, was Chief of Intelligence for the United Nations Weapons Inspections teams in Iraq from the end of the Gulf War to until Saddam Hussein kicked him out for spying in 1998. He said that they still invite him in to address the war college about his take on world affairs and, if he can get in a room with 400 high-level military officers and read them the riot act, it’s his responsibility as a citizen to offer his point of view.

Again, that last question was about a music festival. I’ll try again. So, see any good bands at by:Larm there, Jello Biafra?

"I think Scandinavia has maybe been better at rock than anyone else in the world in the last ten years,” he responds. "The metal, black metal, and stoner rock is fabulous and the recordings have been great. I just think, ‘Y’know, it’s too bad that North America or Toronto or wherever doesn’t have bands that are this good on a consistent basis.’ If I had more money, I think there were at least five of ’em that I’d have tried to interest in Alternative Tentacles.”

After thanking Biafra for his time, I too finally feel overwhelmed by all the new music I’ve just seen and not yet processed. Attending by:Larm was a great thrill and, even as I contemplate the long trip home to Ontario in my exhausted, discombobulated state, I feel nourished by everything I’ve experienced in Oslo. Particularly that delicious $40 pizza.