Norway’s annual Bylarm music festival and conference was getting underway on Thursday for the 20th time, now at its home base in Oslo. It’s evolved into a premier showcase for new talent, and attracts scouts and attention from around the world.
More than 150 different and new names are on the program this year, set to play at 16 various venues around downtown Oslo. Bylarm began in Trondheim in 1998 as a moveable feast of new Norwegian music, reappearing later in cities from Tromsø in the north to Stavanger in the south. The initial plan, according to commentator Geir Rakvaag in newspaper Dagsavisen, was to avoid Oslo, but Bylarm got so big and so popular that it literally outgrew the smaller Norwegian cities that couldn’t offer enough small, centrally located venues.
So Bylarm (which literally translates to “City noise” and is roughly pronounced “Bee-larm”) ultimately landed in Oslo a few years ago, taking advantage of the Norwegian capital’s wealth of clubs and various stages in the heart of town. Bylarm also involves lots of seminars and meetings for music industry officials with titles this year including “Key metrics – optimizing your video channel” and “What’s next in mobile payments?”
It’s the music itself, though, that keeps industry officials and fans coming back, year after year. Some of them were being treated this year to a special networking lunch at the home of Norway’s crown prince and princess (who met at a music festival) and a reception inside Oslo’s City Hall, which also hosts the annual Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. The music and musicians literally have center stage, though, even though most are still virtually unknown.
That’s the charm of Bylarm, claimed Rakvaag, as budding talent makes its debut. Many performing in earlier Bylarms are well-known internationally now, like Röyksopp who played in Bergen in 2000, and Karpe Diem, who few had heard of before they perfromed at Bylarm in Stavanger in 2005. Thomas Dybdahl and Ane Brun also got their start at Bylarm, in Kristiansand in 2002.
The musical cast of characters reflects Norwegian musical history over the past 19 years, from the young and promising Odd Nordstoga and Bertine Zetlitz, who performed in Trondheim in 1998, to Aurora Aksnes in Oslo in 2014. Kaizers Orchestra and Susanne Sundfør are also among those who have grabbed attention at Bylarm.
This year one of the promising young singers is Sigrid Solbakk Raabe from Ålesund, whose song “Don’t kill my vibe” has already been singled out by the BBC and Billboard. The 20-year-old Raabe who now lives in Bergen told newspaper Aftenposten on Thursday that she still “sleeps well at night, but if I didn’t feel the pressure, something would be strange.” She’ll have two concerts during Bylarm, one at Rockefeller music hall Thursday evening and another at Gamla Friday night.
Bylarm is first and foremost an arena for Norwegian music, and it’s received public as well as private support and promotion over the years. On Thursday, Dagsavisen could report that the Bylarm conference and festival also generates revenues for Oslo, with those attending spending an average NOK 1,300 per day during its three-day run through Saturday. Employers’ organization Virke claimed that amounts to NOK 12.9 million in increased revenues for Oslo’s cultural and tourism businesses. This year’s Bylarm has attracted more than 1,000 industry delegates and sold nearly 5,000 tickets spread over all the venues used, which also include Sentrum Scene, John Dee, Kulturkirken Jakob, Herr Nilsen, Vulkan Arena, Victoria Jazzscene, Parkteatret and Blå, among others.
“We are incredibly proud of Bylarm,” stated the conference and festival’s board leader Monica Larsson. Others call it the busiest weekend of the year in Oslo, for those interested in music.