By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Trondheim, Norway, fancies itself the sister city to Detroit — just substitute a technical college for fading auto plants, and promising young grads for Ted Nugent. It’s also host to the region’s largest rock festival, By: Larm — sort of a South by Southwest for well-bred Scandinavians. 2007 marked the festival’s 10th anniversary, and I was invited as an international delegate, an authority from the American music scene. (Yes, the whys and hows elude me.) What follows are some highlights.
It’s impossible not to notice how different these people are from the typical American music crowd. In the States, most ladies of rock think smoking equals sit-ups, and by the age of 30, most rock dudes look as grizzled as longshoremen, and have equally bad career prospects. By contrast, in Trondheim I feel that at any moment some well-built lad might challenge me to wrestle wild stag in a local fjord, or that a golden-haired lass might offer succor with a dollop of honey hanging from a spoon, then sing the theme song to a Ricola cough-drop commercial in a voice as bold as a Valkyrie’s.
Welcome to Trondheim Rock City. It’s no Motown.
Early in the morning at the breakfast buffet, while puzzling over the brown cheese (gjetost!) and a gelatinous, gumbolike substance (still unidentified), I run into two journalists, from The Village Voice and Pitchfork. Somehow, we are enlisted by a reporter of local provenance for an impromptu roundtable on American perceptions of the Norwegian music scene.
When my turn comes, I express admiration for singer-songwriter Sondre Lerche (which is apparently the Norwegian equivalent of saying you like John Mayer) and El Perro del Mar (who, it turns out, is from Gothenburg, Sweden). I recover slightly by saying I also enjoy the faux gay-power hard-rock band Turbonegro (of Ass Cobra fame). Next, I pontificate on two of the more obscure musical subcultures indigenous to the region — the jazz/noise/improv/composition documented by the Rune Grammofon label, and the church-burning, black-metal scene of the early ’90s.
The reporter shoots me a disbelieving look. It seems even the locals barely talk about this stuff.
“Of course, we’re familiar with this music!” I boast. I feel like John Lennon preaching to Americans about R&B. Of course, I don’t mention that my familiarity amounts to an hour or two poking around the Internet, listening to free MP3s.
I sense the reporter is on to me: He isn’t using a tape recorder, nor is he actually writing anything down. Later, I ask if there is a local equivalent to the American notion of “hype.” He mulls it over for a second before writing on a piece of paper the word “snakkis.”
“Interesting,” I say. “What does that mean?”
“A thing you just talk about,” he replies, smirking in that knowing yet ambiguous way all Scandinavians have mastered.
Postscript: I am cited a few days later in Dagbladet, Norway’s third-largest daily newspaper. The article reads: “Ooh, jeg liker denne akkvevittaen, smatter Alec Bemis fra LA Weekly. Han strekker ut armen, skjenker seg et nytt glass, men passer på å ikke klirre for mye.”
Apologies that I can’t help with the translation, but I assure you, it’s a dollop of wisdom cased in an amusing bon mot.
This is why we Americans are so well respected abroad.
I’m marching in the dark toward a former Nazi submarine bunker, DORA 1, and I’m shaking. Bold red banners emblazoned with screeching eagles hang from the bunker’s 100-foot edifice. Harsh spotlights illuminate the falling snow. I shudder again, and though I’d like to say it’s because I’m sympathizing with my Jewish ancestors, more likely it’s because I’m freezing my ass off.
Try as I might, I just can’t get myself to enjoy concerts at DORA 1, where most of the shows take place. Built by slave labor in 1941, it is a complex of daunting structural integrity — concrete walls 9 to 12 feet thick, an armored roof tough enough to repel bomber attacks. It’s said that attempts to dynamite it after the war threatened to bring down surrounding buildings. More to the point, it is still unheated, and it sucks to hang out there.
In America, we would have transformed such a place into a memorial, complete with interactive kiosks and throngs of confused schoolchildren. The Norwegian sense of humility and efficiency, however, set them on a far bolder course: Today, DORA houses a bowling alley.
As we exit the venue, my friend — goggle-eyed and emphatic — whips his head around, spying an adorable hipster girl with thick blond hair, nice bangs, good fashion sense and impressive cheekbones.
“Whoa,” he says, pointing her out. “She’s totally cute, right?”
I signal my agreement with a growling sound, trailing her with my eyes until I wipe out on a patch of ice and fall into a snowbank. Damn that Aryan menace.
Eventually, my crew befriends Per Borten, the charismatic lead singer of a buzzed-about local band called the New Violators, and grandson and namesake of the country’s colorful 1960s prime minister. Tall, blond and bespectacled, Per looks like Morrissey via David Bowie via Vanilla Ice, and his manner is similar to that of the journalist I met from Dagbladet — observant but inscrutable. Add to that a quiet confidence that belies his 29 years, and he embodies everything that differentiates Norway’s best and brightest from our own.