By:Larm is Norway's main music conference, showcasing a host of Nordic acts covering a variety of genres during a week in February in Oslo. This past year's event was Smalltown Supersound's Joakim Haugland third as the main booker, and accordingly you could see a shift both towards making electronic music a prominent fixture of the fest, as well a big step towards their goal of becoming the leading conference for Nordic music.
With this ambition in mind, the representation from Norway's neighbouring countries was larger and stronger than ever with acts like WhoMadeWho, Gus Gus, Siinaii and The Field, presenting his new ambient setup, all billed for the festival. The program got underway with The Field's performance, which took place in a church in the midst of the city center. The large room with its grand murals proved a suitable backdrop for Axel Willner's ethereal ambient soundscapes. The concert never grabbed you nor pulled you out of the trance-like state he set out to achieve. Instead the sounds resonated around the church walls, slowly building to a short climax.
Later at Oslo's new club, Jaeger, Renaissance Man presented a live set, which showcased their new sound. The Finns have left behind the fidget-y house of their early days, and adopted cinematic big sounding 4/4 beats incorporating both elements of kosmische and Eastern percussion. At times, they came off like a less swing-y version of Shackleton. It was one of the most refreshing shows I've encountered in a long time, and by far the best live set at the festival.
On the Norwegian side, former indie rockers Bloksberg showed great promise playing their own breed of analog techno on an all hardware setup. In Oslo young labels like Stroboscopic Artefacts and Fachwerk and Detroit heroes like Juan Atkins and Derrick May are brought into the city on a regular basis, and they've clearly inspired a whole new generation of synth heads. While Bloksberg still has a way to go, their 135 BPM techno is a fresh take on the genre, and is the first example of the ever-growing local scene that will be worth looking out for in the years to come.
The highpoint for electronic music fans at By:Larm came, as it did last year, with the semi-official electronic music showcase hosted by the Sunkissed crew. Their RA-Exchanged booker Olanskii had put together a line-up of Norwegian acts with great international relevance alongside some local talents worth looking out for. The latter was showcased in the form of Punani SS, a seven-person 808-funk band led by Spanish-Norwegian rapper Salvador and beatmaker Hele Fitta. The heavyweights came in the shape of 120 Days and Lindstrom, the latter of which led the cramped venue through the incredible and dynamic prog of his latest effort. The Drop, a local crew, rounded up the best of Oslo's beats scene, with skweee hero Beatbully, the Latino twanged hip-hop beats of Inko, Snasen and Torkelsen all providing highlight sets.
The lack of some of these artists in the official program made Norwegian electronic music's part in the festival a bit incomplete. Many of the artists were more than ready to be showcased: the talented beatmaker Snasen has already played all over Norway, the album-ready Torkelsen had made waves far outside Norway by the time of the conference and the twisted UK-styled beats of RBMA alumni Boska has become a fixture in sets of DJs like Axel Boman and Nguzunguzu. All of these artists took their first steps out of the country this year and we're more than ready to be showcased.
The growing lecture part of By:Larm proved more relevant than ever, pulling in key characters from indie music present and past. A panel saw label managers like Robin Carolan of Tri Angle and True Panther's Dean Bein sit alongside reps from PIAS and Domino, discussing what it means to run a record label and the role of the A&R in 2012. Tony Allen was interviewed at length about his career. In the new RBMA-curated program Four Tet was interviewed as well as DFA's Jonathan Galkin, who traced the history of the New York label. Todd Rundgren, meanwhile, was interviewed in a big theatre with flocks of local musicians in attendance. The prog God also found time to do a studio session with Lindstrom and Serena Maneesh's Emil Nikolaisen.
The international focus for By:Larm is clearly paying off. The increasingly strong seminar leg can rival pretty much any conference. And while there is a job to be done when it comes to presenting the very edge of the Nordic electronic music scene, this year By:Larm became the most relevant Nordic music conference. Here's hoping it will become a blueprint for the standard conference format in years to come.