Nordic Wonders: Rune Grammofon Bring The Noise For 20th Birthday Blast, While Moskus Make For Heart Of The Plastic Sun

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Determined individuals who ignore categories define the Norwegian scene, in which fuzzed-up prog, electronica, contemporary classical and free-jazz collide with ECM’s fjord soundscapes. Rune Grammofon’s debut release in 1998, Supersilent 1-3, helped crack the Nordic consensus with its punk-prog noise aesthetic. Twenty years on, the label’s soft-spoken founder, Rune Kristoffersen, modestly watches from the merch-stand as Motorpsycho (pictured) lead an anniversary celebration.

The venue, Nasjonal Jazzscene, is an unusually atmospheric, decade-old national jazz club, originally built as a cinema in 1913. With only an alcoved curtain screening it from Friday-night Oslo, misdirected drunks make a fist-flying exit, outraged at Maja Ratkje. A versatile composer and provocative performer, her witchy susurrations in inky dark suggest a feminist demon persona, confirmed when her mouth yawns in a cavernous growl, and she commands her Theremin’s wolf-howl oscillations with wizardly waves. The unpleasant crackle of plastic-wrap on her mic then contrasts with frail folk singing about industrial cruelty: “Can’t you feel the dust in your lungs?” Another lyric was used on Rune’s 10th anniversary: “Money ruins everything.”

The iconic Motorpsycho combine an early Floyd lightshow, Zeppelin-esque folk and incremental improv ending in rapid, roaring riffs. One boogie-blues is more Quo than Coltrane, not always a bad thing. In a rock context, the deep local devotion to their cult can mystify. The details give a clue, from the stoner grooves’ dynamic grind to Lars Horntveth’s final, fjord-side flute.

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Come Saturday, and Swedish super-trio Fire! (pictured)– featuring The Thing saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, Wildbirds & Peacedrums drummer Andreas Werliin and bassist Johan Berthling – mesmerise. Werliin’s slow-motion kit explorations haul the rhythm forward as if under gravitational duress, while Gustafsson is equally capable of primordial Brötzmann-isms and lyricism, live sampling and axe-man poses. Apparently free but grippingly structured, with the dramatic physicality of a rock power trio, it’s a spectacular performance.

Hedvig Mollestad Trio are archetypal current Rune in their taste for hard rock and jazz rigor. Mollestad, a red leather jacket-wearing rocker offstage, dons a sparkly red dress when playing head-banging guitar, wordlessly toying with her gender. Ellen Brekken’s double-bass gives jazz tone to a tune with the liquid languor of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Albatross’, before a launch into electric wilds, cushioned fuzz and cutting screams. They gratefully dedicate a blues to Kristoffersen. As stragglers linger at the small-hours bar, he packs LPs, and leaves his label’s birthday party satisfied.

The next day, Norway’s indie label riches are shown in wooded, suburban Høvikodden, where the Henie Onstad Art Centre has encouraged jazz experiment since the Norwegian scene’s 1970s flowering. The Svein Finnerud Trio’s 1970 LP Plastic Sun, a landmark launch into collective improv and rock textures, was recorded there. A gorgeous vinyl remaster by original Norwegian indie Odin is reason enough for its performance by fine young trio Moskus in the same space, with the same piano. The “collage of contrasts within the music”, noted on release by Finnerud’s drummer Espen Rud, equally describes Moskus; their label Hubro, too, with its distinct sleeves, range of strange, jaggedly ambient sounds, and warped folk strains.

Moskus pianist Anja Lauvdal grins as a little girl dances in the aisles to the inviting blues bounce of ‘Alnafet Street’. Prepared-instrument fiddling about during the album’s Annette Peacock/Paul Bley cover ‘Cartoon’, unplugged electric guitar and the application of what looks like a hairdryer are followed by dreamy classical piano, and reconfiguration as a strumming, avant-jug band. The lovely encore is their tribute cover of a Christian Wallumrød tribute to the Svein Finnerud Trio. Moskus’s own restless impulses, and growing interest in emotionally affecting solid ground, find a perfect match in Plastic Sun: two trios meeting across time, in a country of enduringly fertile experiments.

Nick Hasted
– Photos by Julia Naglestad 

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