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When: February 07, 2017

There’s little worse than journeying all the way to Trondheim Calling, in what is essentially the back end of Norway, to find that after ten hours of door-to-door, cortisol-infused, hyper-stressed rushing, running at full pelt, map flapping in hand down the snowy streets of Trondheim without having refuelled since an early prawn supper at Oslo airport, it’s all been to no avail! SOB!

It’s 9.45pm Northern Lights time and I, like many others, am standing on a path so icy it’d stick to the soles of your shoes, outside a jammers Moskus venue, which for one night only plays host to upcoming Trondheim four-piece Pom Poko. Now who, you might rightly ask, are Pom Poko? They’re a rapidly rising band whose name has the ink dripping off every Nordic music hack’s pen and one of the jewels in the crown of this year’s Trondheim Calling festival.

Unfortunately, all the delegate badge waving, airs of hauteur and ‘do you know who we ares?’ in the world wasn’t getting anyone beyond the more than mountainous doorman! Sorry folks, shop shut. Could the booker who decided to have Pom Poko perform in one of the smallest venues of the festival please stand up?

Luckily, I’d by now acquired my very own Trondheim Calling satnav in the form of ‘Austin’. Everyone who’s anyone in the Norwegian music scene knows who Austin is… if you don’t, you’re sooo Saffy darling! ‘Austin the all-knowing’ guided me all of twenty foot around the corner and down the steps into the darkness that was Avant Garden, which isn’t a music venue in the traditional sense but rather an alternative theatre of sorts. As a result, the acoustics/PA weren’t great.

We arrived just in time for new Riot Factory signees Haunted Mansions. Given their relatively brief tenure of service, their catalogue was limited, but what they lacked in quantity they made up for in quality.

Haunted Mansions made their label debut with the sumptuous crossover thrum ‘Sunshine Crawlers’, a song that wouldn’t go amiss on a Gorillaz album. A smooth blend of trip-hop beats and haze-laced psych with just a hint of neo-country, for a first single it made quite the striking statement, laying down a clear marker of quality yet to come.

Thomas Gregussen and singer Vegard Sando, with backing musicians in tow, put in a confident and keen performance that held the attention of the ‘tin of sardines’ crowd for the duration. My first live set of Trondheim Calling proved a bloody good start. Short but sweet. I look forward to hearing more from this top-notch duo.

Due to the lateness of my arrival in Trondheim, on top of which I had to try and squish two artist interviews into an ever decreasing timeframe, my only other viewing on Night One was The Hallway, who took on Avant Garden headline duties.

This post-Team Me project of Elverum native Simen Schikulski is full of bells and whistles American rock in the mode of Green Day and Smashing Pumpkins. Schikulski has the definitive rock-god voice made for constant airplay on KROQ and with a live performance as dynamic as it was intense, this was one of the copybook gigs of the festival.

The remaining Hallwayers, Andreas Westhagen, Andreas Engeseth and Simen Skari, are the consummate musical shooting squad, firing out instrumental incendiary with the same adrenaline and adroit technique as a crack A-team. If there’s a band whose music you need to hear, The Hallway is it, and with new music en route, now is an appropriate time to get clued in.

Day 2 meant jobbing, i.e. doing what music delegates do when they go to far-flung music festivals – it’s not all rock n roll parties y’know. Conferencing, networking and yackety-yakking completed, my afternoon was spent taking a long, meandering walk followed by a very pleasant late lunch in a speciality delicatessen that I discovered whilst lost (as one person commented, you did well to get lost in Trondheim #smirk).

Lunch scoffed and quaffed, it was back to the hotel for another round of interviews followed by more frantic clothes changing before shuffling off, map welded to hand for another night on the Trondheim tiles.

Showtime! Not 15 minutes from the Clarion Congress hotel lies a café quarter that is home to some of Trondheim’s best ‘boutique’ music venues of which my first port of call, Dokkhuset, is one. First out of the traps on what was probably the best night of the three, was the youthful veteran Hanne Hukkelberg. A dab hand at live performance, Hanne took it all in her comfortable stride as she unwaveringly dropped track after track with the mastery of one who has long since honed their craft. Hukkelberg excels at fully-loaded ddg vocal delivery.

Accompanied on stage by a drummer and keyboardist, her set was simply styled yet had maximum effect. The crowd reciprocated her powerful delivery with round after round of rousing applause. Before you knew it, and all too soon, her set was over.

A quick nip over a very dinky bridge led me to Søstrene Karlsen, a cosy yet roomy venue that saw one of the rising stars of the Toothfairy take to the stage and storm it. Literally. Katrin Frøder, who goes by her surname, was like a whirlwind possessed as she blitzed her way through a rousing thirty-minute set that included hot hit, ‘Closer to Life’. Point of information (apologies to the drummer – you were great), Frøder’s wingman was none other than Magnus Kløvnes Lauritzen, who I met in Oslo when he was underpinning ’60s psychers Mats Wawa. One of the best bassists in the business, his contribution cannot go unsung!

Frøder has a voice similar to a young Madonna or Kelli Dayton (Ali) – light, bright and full of whatever emotion she is feeling in that moment. Her performance on the night was strong, spirited and vibrant. Currently working on new music, her next album should see an additional spark as a result of a reinvigorated mojo. Check out her vocal on the new Carl Louis single:

Third and final sonic splendour of the Friday was the Amish 82 monster set at the gargantuan Rockheim venue, a review of which we’ve already published (read it here). The legends of electronica, along with some very special guests, gave it their all and then some. Definitely the gig of the night and quite probably the gig of Trondheim Calling 2017.

Despite the constant ‘minus’ temperature, the festival saw sunshine-filled blue skies and the third and final day was no different. Much rapid typing was followed by more leisurely walking and a spate of flexing my intrepid interviewing skills, which meant a day that should have been spent necking free beer on a brewery tour was instead spent shoving my phone in the general direction of various protagonists and asking lots of nosy questions. I then decided to once again peruse the festival programme to get my geographical plan in sync when ‘quelle horreur’ at 7.35pm I realised that Pom Poko – yes, they of the Moskus ‘froideur’ – were due on stage at 7.30pm and not the 8.30pm I had embedded in my brain. Argh!

I believe they were even more fantastic than they were during their live performance for P3 Ruben and the tightly wedged media pack at Moskus. They play Oslo’s by:Larm next week; doubtless the queue will be halfway down Torggata!

After more frantic pulling on and off of clothes and bespattering of eyes with kohl, the 500m sprint was made to downtown Trondheim to catch Oslo-based ‘cult babies’ Ludvig Moon. They were playing Avant Garden so we need not deep dive in the sound quality, but oh wow what ENERGY. Why these musical septuplets were so highly charged they might easily have been plugged into the Norwegian national grid. The place was so packed my shoulders fell under the temporary ownership of my next door neighbour, superfan Austin, who was celebrating her 20th LM gig. If the crowd were ecstatic during hit single ‘Cult Baby’ they went over the top of wild when the band launched into anthem ‘Swim Dream’, so much so that they were still screaming after it had ended. New music due in 2017 should be a keeper.

Ludvig Moon // Swim Dream – Live Version from Solveig Bakken on Vimeo.

Meanwhile, down the road turn right, Einar Stray Orchestra were resplendent on the stage of Olavshallen, a huge classical venue situated beside the river. On the cusp of releasing a new album – Dear Bigotry – this five-piece were on incredible form as they symphonied their way through several new tracks including their most recent single, ‘Penny For Your Thoughts’.

Their orchestral heart beat its way through the very fabric of their live performance. As accomplished as it was ebullient, the stimulating ESO set upped the Trondheim Calling ante considerably.

Next unto the breach were the Spielbergs dudes, who could be found hanging in the bijou Fru Lundgreen (bijou being polite for the size of your loo!). The gaff was so jammers you couldn’t swing a mouse never mind a cat. Hot, sweaty, thumping, pulsing, the setting perfectly replicated the sound and vibe of this recently formed Oslo trio.

Crossing the tracks of punk, rock, indie and any other guitar infested genre, Spielbergs are one of the most interesting of the new acts to hit the Norwegian scene. They’re also one of the friendliest, which we like!!

Another point of information. I’m led to believe that ‘bunch of psychopaths’ Cloroform were the act of the festival and their gig was so out of this world it shot into the stratosphere. Just saying! And where was I when they were playing … um, having a quiet drink with some pals if you must know.

Last but not least, alternative-alternatives Broen took up the top slot back at Olavshallen which was now packed to the rafters with a more than merry horde of festival goers. There was some serious hand signalling from the stage to the sound desk and a few perturbed looking faces but eventually things got going as super-talented frontwoman Marianna Roe dived into some serious high-speed, big-attitude dub-rap while the rest of the band took the audience into the Broen zone.

Alas, there was something of an on-stage disconnect which I could only put down to issues with the on-stage amps, and sadly these technical difficulties marred what should have been one of the most fun and entertaining performances of Trondheim Calling; one to which I had been much looking forward. Nonetheless, Broen are a crackingly good band and I’ll savour seeing them again, hopefully with the support of a more in-sync sound system.

(Note: the topic of Broen led to a ‘lively’ late night debate over whether women should play the tuba. Let’s just say, this subject should not be debated at 2am when drink has been involved!)

So, there you have it, three days and nights of mid-Norwegian musical madness, mayhem, merrymaking and malarkeys. Is Trondheim Calling a music festival Norwegians should support? Absolutely. Is it a destination that overseas travellers should set their sites on? Hell yeah!

Downside – the acoustics/pa/disconnect between artist and sound-desk was, in some of the venues, a tragedy to behold. It upset the musicians and detracted from the quality, if not enjoyment, of the performances. Dear organisers: please step in and resolve before TC 2018.

Upside – everything else. Possibly the best festival I’ve been to bar none. It had everything a festival-goer could have wanted: informed Q&As, interactive studio sessions, a festival village serving all kinds of gluttony inducing goodies, a myriad gigs across a raft of cool venues, a sea of friendly faces and most importantly of all, a constant stream of excellent, diverse and exciting music.

Derval McCloat

Trondheim Calling runs during the first week of February. There are direct flights to Trondheim from Gatwick and other UK airports, and via Oslo from Dublin.

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