An affinity with outdoor pursuits has helped festivals become Norway's most popular live entertainment destination. Adam Woods reports on a business enjoying rude health
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Consistently voted as one of the happiest countries on the planet, Norway is also one of the most active in terms of live music. Coincidence? IQ investigates…
By Adam Woods on 31 Oct 2019
Norway doesn’t have the world’s biggest population – about 5.4 million – but don’t let anyone tell you it’s small.
If you were to drive from the site of the country’s southernmost major music festival to its northernmost – from Bystranda beach in Kristiansand, home of Palmesus, to Midnattsrocken in Lakselv, well into the Arctic Circle – you’d be looking at a 25-hour, 2,120km road trip through Norway and Sweden. Ergo, you might want to think about flying.
Between those two points on the Norwegian side, in addition to 450,000 lakes, there’s a lot of music. Some agents suggest there are more shows in the capital of Oslo than in Stockholm and Copenhagen combined. Others claim Norway has more festivals than any other country per head.
“Concerts are still the most popular cultural activity among Norwegians, besides the cinema,” says Tone Østerdal, CEO of the Norwegian Live Music Association (NKA). “And there are so many festivals now. We are not that many people but there are very many festivals around.”
The Norwegian concert business was worth NOK2.6billion (€270million) in 2017 – more than half of the NOK4.9bn (€510m) total value of the Norwegian music business. Norway is, of course, a major producer of music – not quite at Sweden’s level, but with plenty of recognisable names, from A-ha and Röyksopp to Sigrid, Susanne Sundfør, Nico & Vinz and Marcus & Martinus. And given its strong exchange rate and sound consumer base it is known, internationally, as a pretty lucrative spot that earns its place on a tour schedule.
“We are out on the outer edge,” says promoter Peer Osmundsvaag of All Things Live Norway. “You go to Norway for a reason, whether that be a financial one or because you have a strong fanbase here. It is not somewhere you just roll through.”
“It’s a strong and well-run live industry all over the country, and there’s a good bond”
There’s certainly money here, as everyone knows, but as well as the standard high-octane live business that fills arenas in the largest cities, Norway has a large, often volunteer-driven network of grass roots venues and small promoters, with regional music hubs tasked with supporting talent and initiative outside Oslo, and strong communication between regions.
Oslo is clearly the key Norwegian market, but other major cities – Bergen, Stavanger and Ålesund, scattered up the west coast; Trondheim in the centre; and Tromsø in the north – maintain their own highly independent scenes. No two of them are any less than five hours from each other by road, and most are much more. The geographical isolation of each city has effectively meant that each one has developed its own live identity, fuelled by hearty festivals and small venues.
“Norway is really about five countries in one, centring around the major cities,” says Osmundsvaag. “Therefore, the local festivals are very strong, because they are all so important for the local communities.”
Norway’s oil wealth also has ways of trickling down into the market. The Norwegian Cultural Fund had €98m to spend in 2018, having granted support to 2,546 out of 6,668 applications from the worlds of music, literature and other arts, the year before.
Festivals tend to attract more support than the broader live business, Østerdal suggests, but money also goes to regional talent development and new venues, and the NKA is active in knitting the industry together at all levels.
“For all of Norway, the reason we have a good live music scene is because of the NKA,” says Are Bergerud, head of Trondheim’s Tempo hub. “Everyone meets up and we all talk to each other all over the place. It’s a strong and well-run live industry all over the country, and there’s a good bond. Tone [Østerdal] is doing important work.”
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