Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Nine days after the deadly tornado that touched…
- Posted on Feb 22nd 2010 6:00PM by Stuart Berman
When Spinner catches up with Emil Nikolaisen at an Oslo bar on the closing night of the by:Larm festival, the Serena-Maneesh frontman immediately apologizes for being a little tense and agitated. He's just arrived from a nearby awards ceremony where his noise-pop outfit was one of 10 Norwegian acts in the running for a substantial 800,000 kroner (approx. US$180,000) cash prize. But Nikolaisen isn't feeling unsettled because his band lost the purse to singer Ingrid Olava. He's freaked out by the possibility that he could have won it.
Nestled among the various beer and cellphone-company sponsors in by:Larm's promotional materials is the logo for StatOil, the petrol-production arm of the Norwegian government. Ever since Norway's oil industry boomed in the early '70s, StatOil has reinvested a percentage of their considerable proceeds into domestic arts and culture development.
However, the aforementioned 800,000kr prize -- presented by StatOil to "a Norwegian group or artist on the edge of an international breakthrough" -- places the oft-overlooked relationship between Norway's oil barons and artists into plain view. And for Nikolaisen, it's something of a dishonour just to be nominated.
"It's like a scholarship," Nikolaisen explains, "where there's an element of this music needing to be legitimized somehow, according to the protocol of this big oil company... There must be a way to create a big spectacle and travel with it all around the world, and try to realize some of your musical ambitions, but without making compromises or dealing with the devil.
"In the case of accepting such [a prize], you've suddenly accepted a partnership and the implications are so many. By not winning, we can just continue to do what we do -- you kind of feel like you already washed your hands of it, in a way. But you still accepted the nomination, so you always have your own fingers stuck up their ass anyway."
For Nikolaisen, the prize represents another marker of how disconnected Serena-Maneesh feel from not just the Norwegian mainstream, but even the domestic indie-rock support network that festivals like by:Larm have helped establish. After all, the band attributes its own success to the positive reviews their 2005 debut album received in the US and UK, leading to a deal with influential British indie label 4AD, international club tours and arena dates opening for the likes of Oasis and Nine Inch Nails. Nikolaisen is grateful that by:Larm afforded Serena-Maneesh the chance to preview their upcoming sophomore release, 'No. 2: Abyss in B Minor,' before a capacity crowd at the spacious Sentrum Scene theatre last Friday. But he questions whether parading young bands "in glass display boxes" under industry and press scrutiny is the best way to nurture emerging artists.
"My story has always been to make music on our own terms and not according to what the village says," Nikolaisen quips, referring to the insular nature of Oslo's music scene. "Because this is such a small village everyone's trying to not step on each other's toes. We're trying to be nice to one another, but at what cost? It comes from being a social democracy -- it influences the general attitude toward music. I think that's what drives me a little bit nuts.
"People come here [for the festival] and spread the word, which I think is wonderful, and which I think we have also benefited from. But I'm so eager to see things that aren't generated through the music industry. I see things that I really love emerging from the Norwegian scene, artists with a Norwegian nature and a Norwegian history -- those are things that are not taken by these [festival] parameters. It's not really happening during by:Larm, it's happening on its own terms."