Verket Festival in Mo i Rana – a small town just a few miles south of the Arctic Circle – took place for the sixth time this year. In 2009, I attended the first ever Verket Festival, which was a great experience. Since then, the festival grew from year to year, both in attendance and in the quality of the line up. Time for me to check it out again and find out what has changed!
My first impression was that not much has changed – the festival grounds were still pretty much the same, except that the second stage has become much bigger, and the artists that play there as well! Also, the festival was sold out this year, which means that the area was more crowded, and access to the bars, toilets, and especially food stands required some queuing. But as long as you didn’t want to get a bite to eat just after the co-head on the main stage was finished, the waiting time was fully acceptable. And all in all, I didn’t feel like it was too crowded; most people were staying on the hill in the back, enjoying the view from there, so that there was lots of space in the area in front of the stages.
As I noted in 2009 already, the arrangement of the festival grounds is pretty much perfect: the area is sloping down toward the two stages, so that you can sit or stand up on the hill and see everything. You might not even have to move between the two stages; just turn around a bit! The concession stands are located up on the hill, close to the entry and a bit away from the stages (except for one bar to the side, right between the two stages). The only disadvantage this might cause is that lots of people just remain up by the stands throughout the whole evening, while there’s just a few spectators down by the stages. But then, if people aren’t interested in the music, they might as well just stand in the very back. 😉
Still, in my opinion, the most important part of a festival is the music! And the line-up this year was just perfect; lots of well-known Norwegian artists, all in one place. The “big names” for me were Morten Harket and Seigmen on Friday and Bernhoft and Skambankt on Saturday, but also Silya, Veronica Maggio, Satyricon, and Åge & Sambandet were clearly drawing people to the festival. Verket really managed to book a wide variety of artists – and as the festival was sold out, they obviously got something for everybody!
Friday, August 29
The first festival day held quite a few surprises for me. I had heard most of the names on the line up before, but I hadn’t seen any of them live yet. And it turned out that I was positively surprised by almost all of them!
Morten Harket as first artist of the night was probably the one that held the least surprises for me. He delivered a very professional and captivating concert – just as I had expected. The sound was terrific, and both music and singing were perfect. Plus, he knows how to play to an audience! I was surprised that he was booked as the first artist of the festival; but in hindsight, that was a pretty smart move to get people to come out to the festival early. It worked; the festival grounds were already filled when Morten Harket came out. However, what surprised me was that most people were hanging out in the back and didn’t really care about the concert. When asked to clap along, only very few people in the front joined in, everybody else just ignored it … Still, a really nice opening concert.
Next up were Hjerteslag on the smaller stage. I hadn’t heard of them, but the host Asbjørn Slettemark introduced them as the “new big thing”, who played a fantastic gig at by:Larm (for the few who were lucky enough to get in). And: true! That was pretty awesome. Melodic punk (or punky pop?) with Norwegian lyrics, songs that were easy to pick up, and quite some energy on stage. I had the feeling that they still need to work a bit on their live show though; it got better and better throughout the concert, but it didn’t feel quite natural yet, and they didn’t seem too comfortable on stage. This of course is a big drawback. But the music and the songs were great, so Hjerteslag is definitely a band to remember!
The next big surprise awaited me on the main stage right afterwards. I’ve been living in Norway for only a month, so I had no idea who Silya is … “Stjernekamp” sounds a lot like Star Search or Idol to me, so I expected some nice and pretty pop star. Silya, however, came out to a huge production with full band including a brass section, all in costume, and delivered a full show, not just a concert. Her songs were cover songs presented in her own style and fashion, and of course, she managed to capture the audience right away. For me personally, it all seemed like a big show and not so much like a whole-hearted performance, but it was definitely entertaining, and much more fun than what I had expected. And the audience seemed to really wake up for the first time that night; which of course is understandable when everybody knows all the songs.
Deathcrush were the next band on the second stage, and they didn’t really get the attention they would have deserved. Two girls on guitar and bass, one drummer, all singing – or rather screaming? Lots of energy on stage, and definitely the “punkiest” band of the night. But people were more busy drinking and talking, and hardly anybody gathered in front of the small stage, which was quite a pity.
I had expected it to get much more crowded in front of the stage for the Seigmen concert, but actually it didn’t fill up much more than for the other concerts; except for the first few rows of course. Still, Seigmen delivered a fantastic show! I’ve known them for quite a while, but never managed to see them live, so they managed to surprise me completely. Judging by their music, I had expected them to be really distant, hardly talk to the audience, and play their songs without much interaction, captivating the audience by their presence alone. However, they were quite talkative on stage, not offish at all, but really nice guys. They kept pointing out how nice the festival was, and how sorry they are they haven’t been up in Mo i Rana for so long. Of course the old hits were the ones that the audience was waiting for, and the atmosphere was awesome, but Seigmen also played some new stuff. And while – again – there were less people actually interested in the concert than I had expected, those that were following along with what was happening on stage were really entertained, and for me, the concert was definitely the best one of the night!
I’m not quite sure why Seigmen were not the headliner of the evening – for me, they definitely were! So the two remaining bands, Team Me on the small stage and Veronica Maggio had a rather hard time really capturing my attention. Both surprised me – Team Me played a really energetic rock show and Veronica Maggio’s concert was so much more varied than I had expected. And I think that I would have loved both their concerts if they had taken place earlier in the night; but by that time, it had turned quite cold and 99% of the audience were completely drunk, so that made it hard to really get into the concerts. A pity, but still a big thumbs up for great shows!
For me, the only drawback of the first festival day was the crowd. I had the feeling that hardly anybody was there for the music – which is common at Norwegian festivals. But if the line up is so amazing as at Verket, you should at least try to check out some of the concerts?! But no, either people were keeping all to the back without cheering, clapping, or even listening to what was going on at all, or they were completely drunk already at 5:30 pm and couldn’t manage to stand upright, let alone walk without bumping into someone. I’ve seen quite a few Norwegian festivals, but this seemed worse than usual. They don’t even know what great concerts they missed …
Saturday, August 30: Underverket
The Saturday started with a special concert for those under 18: Underverket. In bright sunshine, families picnicked out on the hill, while their teenage daughters gathered in front of the stage to see Isac Elliot, a teeny star from Finland. Verket festival had announced beforehand that no queuing would be allowed before 8 a.m. (!) – that gives an impression of how crazy the kids were for that concert!
And yes, crazy is probably the right word for it; but in a positive way! I almost gave up on the idea to get to the front to take some photos – it was just impossible to get through, so many kids were crowded in in front of the stage. And everyone was really excited, singing along every single word. The securities were busy throughout the whole concert, but they knew their job and kept everyone safe. The only crying was obviously caused by the guy on stage. 😉
So, adults – I don’t expect the same maniac behavior, but maybe a bit of excitement and enthusiasm for the artists wouldn’t hurt. The kids really made this concert special, and I’m sure they won’t forget it any time soon!
Saturday, August 30
The main festival day started a few hours later, still in bright sunshine. The festival weather really couldn’t have been much better! While it was still a bit cloudy the first day, we got blue skies and sun until it got dark on Saturday. Both days it got quite chilly at night, but that was to be expected so far north. And no rain, yay!
I missed the opener AWAY and arrived during Ane Brun‘s concert. She delivered a nice and calm opening concert – nice and relaxing, but maybe a bit too slow to really capture the audience. Again, the festival filled up nicely already, even though it was still early in the evening, but people were gathering in the back and enjoying the sun on the hill.
All in all, it looked like the audience was a bit older than on Friday. Just like the day before, the line up offered a lot of variation, but Åge & Sambandet obviously attracted people of all ages, which gave a nice mixture. And unlike on Friday, the audience seemed a bit more interested in the music. Still far from enthusiastic (except for the headliner 😉 ), but at least listening and applauding.
Next up was Kaveh, a rapper from Oslo, on the smaller stage. His target audience was clearly the younger generation, which had gathered in front of the stage. Unlike usually, Kaveh had to perform all alone, because his DJ had missed his flight. That’s the problem with festivals so far out; there’s no “next flight” that would still get you there in time. 😉 Still, he managed just fine, and after a few songs and what looked like quite hard work to get the audience excited, he managed to get them to go along. Only the first couple of rows, but those were really into the concert then, and it was fun to see how they loved the show. And when in the end, Kaveh asked some people to get up on the stage with him, he had obviously won. Hard work, but a great show!
I’ve seen Jarle Bernhoft quite a few times, mostly as “one man band” as support for Kaizers Orchestra, but also with his festival show with a full band. I enjoyed the single shows much more, so I was really pleased when I saw that this festival show would be only Bernhoft, alone with all his machines. His songs are really captivating, and seeing him piece them together by recording sounds and loops, one after the other, until he “simulates” a full band is just awesome. And it seemed like the audience was really appreciating this! It got quite crowded in the front, and people were dancing and singing along. It was a bit of a pity though that he didn’t use his full time slot but stopped 20 minutes early.
Montée had a really hard time following that on the small stage – especially since they were still in the middle of their soundcheck when Bernhoft was done and thus couldn’t continue right away. Still, when they started, there were quite a few people in front of the stage. My first impression was that their music, danceable rock, and the songs were really nice and catchy, but that nothing was happening on stage – which is always a bit of a problem, especially for bands that are not widely known and don’t have huge hits. And just as feared: People stayed for the first two, three songs and then started wandering off in search for food, drinks, and toilets. Where there were huge queues at that time … and Montée played for hardly anyone.
That’s a problem that Skambankt did not have; people were back in place in front of the main stage when Skambankt came on. They delivered a really good rock show – read my full report about their concert on skambankt.konzertjunkie.com – but it was obvious that everyone except for the first couple of rows in the front was waiting for Åge. They did clap a bit, but that was about it. They didn’t seem to understand what a Wall of Death was supposed to be, they didn’t sing along (not even “ohohoh” parts), and they didn’t really get excited. However, full props to Skambankt for delivering a really energetic show anyway!
Skambankt were followed by another great live band on the small stage: Satyricon. However, like Skambankt, their target audience did not necessarily comply with Åge’s target audience … They did gather quite a crowd and everyone in front of the stage was really enthusiastic and into the show. They were held back a bit by the securities whenever the moshing got too wild; something that did not sit well with the band. So they allowed the audience to do whatever they wanted and ignore the guys with the flashlights. 😉 And when the singer mentioned that his dad had actually worked at “Verket” – the factory above the festival area – and that he’s here now to work at Verket as well (just in a slightly different manner), he had finally won over the audience! At least the small faction of the audience that was into the concert at the small stage and not just waiting for Åge … Everyone else got more and more annoyed as Satyricon continued their concert. And continued their concert. And continued, and continued, way past their allowed time slot. The stage managers were very clear in their messages to the band – but they did not cut the electricity. So Satyricon continued 17 minutes past Åge’s start time, and while they were still on stage waving their good-byes, the announcer already called the audience to the big stage.
The atmosphere during the concert of Åge & Sambandet was then really really special. A HUGE crowd in the front (it did actually look a bit like Underverket! 😮 ), a very mixed audience of all ages, and everyone excited and singing along every word. Add to that a well attuned band on stage that does not only stare at their shoes but delivers a show as well, and songs that everyone in the audience knows. That’s the kind of atmosphere that I was waiting for the whole festival!
But then, the part that “everyone in the audience” knew the songs was not quite true, because there was one girl from Germany that did not know any of the songs, was cold, and had a train to catch at seven in the morning, so she decided to skip the second hour of Åge’s show and get on her way back to the hotel … and thus she missed it when Åge & Sambandet turned into Åge & Skambandet and Skambankt came up on stage to play in one of the songs. *argh* Sounds like an awesome mixture, and a great way to end the festival – and since Verket is one of the last Norwegian festivals, also the festival season for most bands!
All in all, Verket was a really great festival with an amazing line up of bands and some really good and entertaining concerts. I noticed a few good bands that I will check out further and keep track of what they are doing – mostly Hjerteslag, but also Deathcrush, Kaveh, and Montée. The festival itself is organized very well; you’ll always have some queues, and if you got your food, drink, or toilet break at the right time, you hardly had to wait at all. At other times, it was really bad though, but that’s impossible to prevent. The area is perfect for a festival of this size, and it’s just a fifteen minute walk away from the center of the town.
The festival is clearly aimed at locals, as Mo i Rana is quite difficult to get to. That makes it really impressive to see that the festival was actually sold out! That means that the locals are coming and supporting the festival! While this itself is a really good thing, I got the impression of “bygdefest” quite often – and that was a pity considering the awesome line up and the quality of the bands playing there. If everyone is there to see just one band and get drunk otherwise, it would maybe be sufficient to hire just that one band and not frustrate any other bands that hardly anybody cares about … But who knows. Maybe I’m mistaken and some people in the audience did actually discover new, interesting music. Because in my opinion, THIS is the main purpose of a festival, and getting wasted is just a fun side effect. 😉