The War on Drugs
Festivals in Norway are usually rather small, compared to festivals in Germany. Bukta festival in Tromsø, high up in the north, is actually one of the bigger festivals, drawing about 6000 people per day. And it’s got a special commodity that none of the German festivals can keep up with: midnight sun!
I’ve had Bukta festival on my list of festivals that I want to visit for a long time. I expect it to be a terrific atmosphere … Sure, everyone’s used to seeing the headliners play in the dark, so it might feel a bit strange to see them play in bright daylight. And even more so if the headliners actually leave the stage and the sun is still up! But I’m not the only one who has never seen midnight sun – for most international artists, this is a situation they haven’t experienced before, and so I expect them to be amazed by the light and I assume this will create a really special atmosphere at the festival. And from all I’ve heard, Bukta is one of the nicest Norwegian festivals anyway, so I’m really excited to finally get to see it for myself!
The festival takes place about half an hour walk outside of town, directly on the beach. “Bukta” itself means “bay”, and I remember walking along the coast line during my first visit to Tromsø. It was awesome – such pretty views, so clear air, so beautiful. And that was actually in October, so there was no midnight sun. And no summer! The weather forecast predicts 12-18 °C, some clouds but no rain – okay, usually I would despair at that forecast and pack my winter jacket, but for Northern Norway, that’s about the best you can expect. So let’s hope it turns out to be true and we get to experience an amazing festival!
The report was written throughout the festival, while it was happening. I hope it can capture the experience a bit!
Thursday, July 17: Opeth, Billie Van, Skambankt, The Dogs, Patti Smith
The first impression of the festival grounds is pretty promising – lots of space, sloping down towards the main stage, so that there’s a good view from everywhere. Not sure yet how crowded it will get, but with the bars and food stands all set in the back under the trees, I don’t expect it to get too bad, even if the festival would sell out.
The smaller second stage is set back a bit and might be harder to access, because there are only a few narrow paths leading there. But we will see. 🙂
The first band out is Opeth from Sweden, playing melodic metal. Quite a few fans have gathered in front of the stage already – quite unusual for the first band of a festival! But they deserve it – I personally don’t like bands that shout instead of singing, but the Opeth front man does both, and the quiet and melodic parts are awesome. Unlike the typical opener of a festival, they joke around on stage a lot. They complain about the cold (hey, not even I am wearing my jacket yet!) – but an undershirt helps, according to the front man 😉 – and wonder why people ask them to play their favorite songs. “Do we look like a band that takes requests?!” Guess they don’t need to, they got a good set lined up by themselves. 🙂 And in the end, they even share some rock secrets with us: whatever riff you play – if you tune it down, it will always sound good!
Next up is Billie Van as first artist on the smaller stage. My suspicions turn out to be true – it is a bit hard to get to the stage, as people block the pathways and it looks much more crowded from the back than it actually is. So not a perfect spot for the stage – but it could be worse. Nobody is pushing, and with a bit of patience you can get through easily. And Billie Van is so worth the hassle! Adorable as ever … or wait, actually I haven’t seen her live yet, but as adorable as on the record! 😉 She gets some mixed reactions when she announces a couple of slow ballads – but well, that just means a potty break for those who don’t care for ballads, right? But it doesn’t seem like it’s the right time for ballads, even if they are as nice as these. The audience isn’t really into these songs – but that changes quickly when the band starts playing some of the well-known up-tempo songs. An awesome concert, and oh … so adorable! 🙂
With hardly a break, the program continues with Skambankt on the main stage. I won’t write much about their concert here – you can read all about it on skambankt.konzertjunkie.com – but iTromsø gave it a 6 out of 6 rating. And I totally agree! We get the first (and only) wall of death of the night, a lot of screaming and singing along, and a good dose of energy from the stage. Yay!
Again, no time to catch a breath after the Skambankt concert: The Dogs from Oslo play on the second stage, while Kindred Fever – known from their support gigs for Kaizers – play on the smallest stage called “Little Henrik”. As I haven’t managed to find that stage yet, I decide to check out The Dogs first – and wow, they are awesome! They play rock ‘n’ roll, quite a bit like the Hives, and just like them they leave lots and lots of energy on stage. And after every song, they congratulate themselves and celebrate their good performance. I LOVE that. I’d love to stay and see the full show (I already noticed during the Billie Van concert that the gigs on the small stage get only very little time), but I still have to look for the tiny stage! Not too hard to find, it turns out – but it’s so small that there’s basically no place for the audience. 😉 So there are only a lucky few who found the stage early enough that can actually see BOTH members of Kindred Fever. But everyone else can at least listen.
Or just have a beer or cider, waiting for today’s headliner! Patti Smith is quite a legend in rock music, however, I have to admit that I don’t know any other songs than “Because the night”. And throughout the concert, I get the feeling that I’m not the only one … Quite a few people seem to be really enjoying the show, especially in the front, but overall I have the impression that her music is regarded as good background music to drinking, talking, and having fun. Which isn’t a bad thing, it just doesn’t necessarily do a legend justice … But then, when Patti Smith asks us to “raise your arms and let yourself be lifted to the stratosphere – the angels are with you!”, explains that “you are the future, and the future is now!”, and elaborates that music is “the ammunition of rock ‘n’ roll” – it feels like the “legend” doesn’t necessarily include only music, and Norway’s drug laws prohibit getting the full experience. 😉 Still, Patti Smith delivers an entertaining concert. I am a bit annoyed though that while lots of people, especially in the back, don’t seem to care about what is happening on stage, all mobiles go up in the air as soon as THE SONG (thus “Because the night”) starts. Obviously, that’s what you want to show your friends – “I saw Patti Smith live, you know, the one with ‘Because the night’!”. It’s only human, I guess, but it must be annoying when you’re the one on stage and everyone just wants to hear that one song …
The night (or rather the part of the night at the outdoor festival) is over around 11 p.m. – and it’s still bright daylight. Well, okay, that’s not too surprising; and not so different from Trondheim actually, so the excitement about light nights has already worn off a little for me. What I have never seen yet is actual midnight sun though. And right after the concert, the sun comes out and illuminates the hill behind the stage! Absolutely beautiful. And now that I am typing this, it’s past midnight and still light outside. So I’ll hope for less clouds and more midnight sun tomorrow – but even if that doesn’t work, the festival already proved to be worth traveling here. Nicely organized, very relaxed, just a bit … pricey. 80 NOK for a beer? 90 for a cider or wine? Whew …
Friday, July 18: Mari Boine, Spidergawd, The Bronx, Pentagram, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Biru Baby, Dropkick Murphys
It stayed dry the whole first evening, and from now on, the weather forecast predicts even better weather. There’s sun during the day, but the clouds are back when the festival area opens. But it’s still reasonably warm and dry, so no reason to complain!
As yesterday, the area is already quite crowded when Mari Boine enters the stage as first artist. Her music is very folkloristic, mostly based on sami joik, but the backing band makes it sound quite “bluesy” and modern. Mari herself is very energetic on stage, dancing, totally emerged in the music. And her band delivers the perfect background, with a great sound. It might not be the favorite style for everyone (especially considering that the next band on the main stage will be The Bronx), but it’s a great and relaxing way to start the festival day!
The first band on the second stage is then Spidergawd. The announcer advises us to take care of our ear drums, because the following band will be LOUD. And they are! But not just loud, also melodic and energetic. I mean, what would you expect of a band where the drummer is in the middle of the stage – and not in the back but part of the front line? In addition, Spidergawd have a baritone sax, another promising sign. And the band lives up to the good first impression – great, melodic rock ‘n’ roll. I just fear that the singer’s voice will not live through a lot of concerts if he continues his “pressed” singing style, but well … it definitely fits the songs!
From then on, the festival turns more international, with several bands from the US. The next band on the main stage is The Bronx. I’ve seen them before, but that was as their alter ego Mariachi El Bronx – a parody band that plays mariachi songs instead of their usual hardcore. This time, it’s the “real” band on stage, and from the first second they raise the – non-existing – roof. They get the crowd to go along, they are amazed by the whole festival and the surroundings (“Look around, this is a beautiful setting – don’t take it for granted!”), and they are “beyond words” that they actually get to play to such an awesome response at a festival in Tromsø. Even though they are a bit confused about the dried fish that is thrown on stage … is that somehow related to voodoo? Are they actually supposed to eat it? They don’t dare, though … Great fun, and a terrific concert.
Next up on the smaller stage is Pentagram. I admit, I don’t know them at all, so I’m a little unprepared for what I get. They play plain hard rock, nothing fancy, but good, old-school music. And the singer seems to be about 90 and possessed by quite a few demons. Check them out if you have a chance; a rather unusual experience. 😉
After that it’s time for a short visit to Barren Womb on the smallest stage. They sound awesome, and a bit more “modern” than Pentagram. 😉
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion is the next US band on the main stage. Three guys, drums, guitar, and bass. My first impression is that they look a little lost on the huge stage though, because they are standing close together in the center instead of spreading out. But they certainly don’t behave like they are lost! They demonstrate that three people are enough to fill the stage. The sound reminds me quite a bit of the Eagles of Death Metal, just a bit less “crazy”.
On the second stage, the next scheduled band is Brave Black Sea, but they are stranded at some airport and have therefore been moved to the aftershow program in the city. They are replaced by Biru Baby from up north – even further north than Tromsø. 😮 I’ve never heard of them before, but I will definitely remember the name! Three girls on vocals, bass, and guitar and a drummer, all going crazy at the same time. The association with Katzenjammer lies at hand; however, except for the “girl band” factor, these two bands don’t really have much in common. Katzenjammer are nice and adorable, Biru Baby are rough, tough, and dirty. Their music is punk, with melodies sung in harmonies, and with crazy energy on stage. Probably also with (political?) messages in the lyrics, but that is hard to hear when you listen to a band live for the first time. The only downer for me: parts of the music are playback; mostly the song intros (which is okay), but also parts of the vocals. Not the main parts of course, just some harmonies, but that makes it hard to hear what is “real” and what is not. But the overall impression is great, and I’m sure the girls could do without the playback parts as well.
Time for the headliner: Dropkick Murphys! I didn’t take any pictures from the press pit during the Patti Smith concert because extra accreditation was required, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t anything like THIS. Let’s put it like that: Hardly anyone in the pit is actually taking pictures of the band on stage at the beginning of the concert. Instead, everyone is facing the audience, trying to capture the atmosphere! The crowd is hot even before the band comes on, and they sing along every word right away. And that’s how it continues throughout the concert! Everyone seems to be into it, the songs are well-known (or even if not, they are easy to learn), everyone is in party mode. And the band seems just as amazed by the audience and the whole atmosphere, and comes back for a bunch of encores before finishing right before midnight. An awesome conclusion to the second day of the festival!
Still no midnight sun because of too many clouds … But well, there’s yet another chance tomorrow. And even though you get used to it quickly, it is fascinating to see a festival ending at midnight, while it feels like it’s just 4 p.m. …
Saturday, July 19: The War on Drugs, Monica Heldal, Kåre & the Cavemen, The Cheaters, Imperial State Electric, Skogen Brinner, Mastodon
In Germany, three-day festivals usually start on Friday and end on Sunday. So this last day of the festival clearly has the feel of a Sunday for me! And everything fits in nicely – the weather is awesome, no cloud in the sky, the day started with a trip up Fjellheisen to see Tromsø from above, and the festival day starts with a free afternoon concert for everyone. For that, the festival grounds fill up with families enjoying a picnic in the sun. Lots of small kids with brightly colored earmuffs dancing to the music or just running around, families watching the stage from the rocks to the side, kids cooling down and playing in the water. A really nice way to let everyone be part of the festival!
The first band of the main festival is The War on Drugs from the US. An excellent start, especially on this kind of day! Everyone seems to be enjoying the sun, the music, and the whole atmosphere. The music is calm, relaxed, and melodic and fits perfectly well. “I love playing in the sunset!” gets a few chuckles out of the audience as well … 😉
Opener of the second stage is Monica Heldal. I expected her to play alone, but she brought a full backing band. And what didn’t quite work on Thursday for Billie Van works perfectly now: calm songs, a great voice, fantastic musicians (even though Monica apologizes that she might not manage everything perfectly – without any reason!), and a surprisingly good sound. The audience is obviously having fun, and Monica seems amazed by the surroundings.
Without a break, Kåre & The Cavemen continue on the main stage. I had listened to some songs before and was a bit skeptical – no vocals? And right: except for a few lines in one of the songs, they only use the microphone to announce songs. Still, the music is captivating, and it is awesome to see how different instrumental songs can sound! Clearly influenced by the Beach Boys, but every song has a different style. And in the summer weather, we even get to see the “polka dot shirts” instead of the winter jackets – and an energetic show on stage.
The Cheaters continue with garage rock on the smaller stage, but they can’t really draw too many people. I guess a lot of folks are just taking a short break, sitting in the sun, enjoying the evening.
The next band on the main stage, Imperial State Electric from Sweden, is listed in the program as rock band inspired by bands like KISS, The Who, and The Hellacopters. Thus yet another “inspired” rock band that sounds like everyone else …? No, far from it! Even though there aren’t that many people in front of the stage when they come out, Imperial State Electric give everything from the first second – and as a result, it takes only a few songs until people are dancing and clapping. Melodic rock, the chorus sung in harmonies, lots of energy on stage, guitar solos, and audience involvement. Awesome!
Unfortunately, Skogen Brinner on the second stage aren’t quite as energetic. The idea to mix hard rock à la Black Sabbath with Swedish lyrics sounds interesting, but a shoe-gaze band just doesn’t fit that style. 😉 So – time for a short break for me!
But really just a short break, because the final headliner Mastodon starts right on time – just like all bands of the festival. Great time management! Quite a few people seem to be waiting for the metal band from the US, but it is in no way comparable to yesterday’s headliner. Still, a more than worthy conclusion of the festival! Mastodon play a tight and precise set, and you don’t need to know the songs to enjoy their show. The ending comes a bit sudden, especially since they don’t play an encore – but the drummer gets the last words: “Thank you, the Arctic Circle! I always wanted to say that.”
And I can totally agree: Thanks for an awesome festival up north! Even though I did not get to see real midnight sun (even on the last day, when the sun was clearly visible until 10:30 pm, clouds came up just in time to “ruin” the experience) – but the festival was totally worth the visit.
I had heard from several people before the festival that Bukta is one of the best and nicest Norwegian festivals. And yes, now that I’ve seen and experienced it, I can absolutely second that! 🙂 The line up was very varied, which means that you don’t have a specific kind of audience, but everybody comes by, no matter the favorite style of music, no matter the age. That gives the festival a special flair.
The festival grounds are nice and convenient: no long walks between the stages, lots of space and never too crowded, and what I expected to maybe be a bit of a problem – the narrow pathways between the two stages – turned out to really not be a bother at all. The infrastructure works; I stayed very close to the festival and did not need to take a bus to get back to the city at night, but that looked to be organized very nicely as well, and the wait for a bus didn’t seem to be very long. The food I tried was really good – quite a bit of variety. But hardly a vegetarian option, and no snacks. Maybe I’m a bit spoiled from German festivals where you can always choose to have for example just fries or some other small snack if you’re not really that hungry (and don’t want to spend the money for a full meal). This option is missing. And of course, drinks are incredibly expensive – but well, this is Norway …
And then there are a few little things that make Bukta special and distinguish it from other festivals. The midnight sun, for one thing – it’s weird if it doesn’t get dark throughout the evening, but it’s a great experience. And, honestly: it is SOOOO convenient! Not only for taking photos, but also for finding people. Or not tripping. Or not being disturbed by the guy in front of you filming the whole show. And sure, the light show isn’t as impressive. But the stages are dark enough that light can be used and isn’t totally wasted! I had expected much less and was impressed by how good everything looked.
If you checked out some of the photos, I probably don’t even need to mention the next Brownie point, but: the scenery! The surroundings are just incredibly beautiful, and that adds a lot to the atmosphere of the festival.
Also: the stockfish. There’s a rack of stockfish available for everyone to hammer (to make it eatable) – and as a result, lots of people walk around with a piece of fish in their hands, snacking on it. Or throwing it on stage, of course. 😉
And finally, I just LOVE the knitted cup holders lots of people are wearing around their necks. Really convenient, but I’ve never seen that before.
So, even though I’ve been to lots of different festivals before, Bukta really was an extraordinary experience. Great fun, great music, great location – I will be back, I hope!