Held in Oslo, by:Larm is the biggest music conference in the Nordic region, hosting hundreds of local artists every year who perform everything from black metal to indie rock. With the hiring of Smalltown Supersound boss Joakim Haugland as head of programming, the festival has had a special focus on Scandinavian electronic music in the program, this year hosting showcases from labels like Prins Thomas' Full Pupp.
Thursday got underway with Bygdin, a duo made up by two guys from the shoegaze-y Krautrock group 120 Days. The gig, held in an intimate venue, saw the duo wade through a cosmic live session with synth player Arne Kvalvik spending a lot of time screaming into a phone, creating an ear piercing sound adding to the already noisy layers of synth. The performance ended up feeling like a noisy middle ground between Kraut and techno, neither groovy nor driving enough to be either.
The cosmic sound was also present in Of Norway. The Connoisseur-signed deep house act failed to engage the crowd for the larger part of their set and, as they finally reached some sort of climax, their performance came to a close. They were an act definitely more appropriate for a lengthy session in Germany than the 45-minute showcase format by:Larm provides.
The remaining electronic concerts on Thursday took place 12 floors up at the scenic rooftop venue Stratos where Fader magazine curated an evening featuring the festival's biggest drawcards, Smalltown Superstars, a live trio comprised of Todd Terje, Diskjokke and Lindstrøm. The group divided the stage into three parts, with Lindstrøm on the right controlling the Moog, Terje in the middle as a sort of a mad scientist controlling a 303 emulator and a number of synths while carefully programming his Arp 2600 rack, and to the left sat the classically trained Diskjokke as the narrator controlling the beat and keeping the others in time.
As you would imagine, filling an hour's slot with new material from three of the busiest men in disco was difficult—the main proportion of the gig was a jam session—but as they got into the set, the trio revealed some great melody and song ideas. As their music reached its peak they cut the beat and faded out with a 90 BPM slow burner, giving the spectators a tasteful Balearic ending to one of the most refreshing live electronic acts I've seen recently.
As music conferences most are often about hype, it was refreshing when the biggest spectacle this year was the return of 120 Days. As Friday's main act, they played at a packed Nokia Tent, with fans and industry people eagerly awaiting their melodic take on Krautrock. The group surprised, however, by going straight into uncompromisingly raw techno, coming off more like Plastikman than Neu! Vocalist Ådne, seemingly aware of what controversy his band was cooking up, spent most of his time staring at the crowd making gestures towards the mic before pulling away making more noise on his synthesizer.
Being one of the few electronic acts to represent one of the other Nordic countries, Danish group Kenton Slash Demon went hard into a set that, in addition to singles "Brunn," "Khattabi" and "Sun," showcased some new tracks, including an untitled dub techno monster and their next single "Daemon," a minimal wave sounding track with a vocoder hook that revealed a crossover potential not unlike Röyksopp.
Like the last couple of years the conference came to a conclusion with the Sunkissed crew celebrating the diverse sounds that Norway has to offer in four rooms with 16 acts. Unfortunately, the city government shut down three of the four rooms situated in the Blå area, so the DJs that were billed were cut and groups like Sommerstad and Kenton Slash Demon moved to the Sunkissed crew's own Jaeger club, ultimately making it impossible to catch all the acts.
This festival went flawlessly this year, with the only kink being the scheduling of the Full Pupp showcase at the same time as the group performance of Lindstrom, Todd Terje and Diskjokke. While by:Larm might not yet be the international music festival it seeks to be, it has nonetheless become the most important local event for showcasing ever-growing Norwegian electronic music scene.