Down Memory Lane – Highasakite, Øya Festival, Oslo, Norway, August 2016
I realised suddenly today that Highasakite should have been playing a show in London this week, one of only two outside of Norway, to promote their recent EP, ‘The Bare Romantic, Part 2’. Of course that show was cancelled, along with everything else.
I’ve reviewed Highasakite many times since I first discovered them, which was as recently as November 2015, when they opened for Of Monsters and Men at Manchester Academy 1. I was only asked at 6pm to review Highasakite, I already had a ticket for OMAM, and to be honest I didn’t feel much like bothering. I got it in my mind they were a disco-pop band from Sheffield.
So come 8pm I was lounging against a wall in the auditorium alongside around 2,000 other people, killing time. Then, off a darkened stage (I hadn’t even seen the band enter it) Ingrid Helene Håvik’s unique voice intoned the opening lyric from ‘Lover, where do you live’ and I was instantly hooked. So was the crowd; I’ve never seen so many people simply shut up and listen, before or since. In a six-song set they came pretty close to stealing the show from OMAM, which was right at the top of its game at the time.
To cut a long story short they became my favourite band for the next two years and I managed to see them twice again in that five-person format. The second time, in Stockholm was two months after this Øya show and it was evident not all was well. I chanced on them at the airport on arrival and they were moving individually through it rather than together and at the baggage carousel two of the members were involved in a heated conversation.
In 2017 they released their first single since the 2016 album ‘Camp Echo’, ‘5 Million Miles’, which was premiered on the Conan show in the U.S., one of the biggest TV gigs you can get. Conan O’Brien had been the Master of Ceremonies at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo in December 2016, in which Highasakite performed. He had clearly been impressed but the Highasakite which showed up at his studio had only three members rather than five, and the song was by the far the poppiest they had ever recorded. I noted at the time that it seemed it had been written to compete with Beyoncé, Miley, Ariana and the rest in the U.S. market rather than with top indie bands in Europe.
‘5 Million Miles’ had been produced by Stargate, the Norwegian Los Angeles-based record producers specialising in Euro dance-pop which has worked extensively with, and influenced, the likes of Mariah Carey, Britney Spears, Beyoncé, Shakira, Jennifer Lopez, Katy Perry, P!nk, Sia, Kylie Minogue, Carly Rae Jepsen, Rihanna, S Club 7, Atomic Kitten, and Javine (Britain’s Eurovision Song Contestant in 2005; she came 22nd), amongst many others.
Not long after, it became known that the band had split, three of the members departing, to leave the original rump duo, of Håvik and drummer/producer Trond Bersu, who had met at the Trondheim Conservatoire while studying jazz.
There was an ugly parting of the ways in which Ingrid claimed exclusive rights to the Highasakite brand, which after a lengthy legal battle was granted at the back end of last year.
Artistically, I have always believed it was a bad decision on Ingrid’s part. Highasakite was well placed to break other countries as they had in Norway, having become the most popular band there. While they haven’t exactly gone backwards with their three long-playing releases since the split the quality isn’t as high in my opinion and they lack the input of the missing band members. They have recruited others as well, not quite the solo ‘diva’ image, and while they are all very good musicians something of the soul of the previous band is still absent.
And so, eventually, to this festival performance. It wasn’t their last in the five-person guise, they honoured contractual arrangements for shows and festivals through to October 2017 but it was the last major festival they played on this scale. And they headlined it, on the Saturday night. That means ‘top of the bill’ for the entire event, one of Europe’s leading festivals. Two years previously they had played the same stage too, but in an afternoon slot.
The venue was Øya’s main stage, Amfiet, a natural amphitheatre holing up to 20,000 people and possibly the best external stage I’ve ever witnessed.
It’s a long performance so I’ll mention what I think are the highlights. Just four, for starters.
‘God don’t leave me’ (54.17) is one of the most beautiful and powerful songs I know, especially when played live. It refers to a time in Ingrid’s past when she hit rock bottom.
‘Golden Ticket’ (1:04:30) isn’t my favourite song but it showcases her ability to write a pop banger, but one with deep meaning.
‘Since last Wednesday’, which is about a young guy who has disappeared and no-one knows where he is. I don’t think he ever showed up, he’s probably in a concrete bridge over the E16 motorway. It is one of two songs which could be considered ‘seminal’ and the drop at the end has to be seen and heard live to believe it.
The other is ‘Lover, where do you live’ which has progressed from show opener to encore closer. There’s an interesting little visual exchange at 1:21:28 when Ingrid turns to look at Marte Eberson, who is playing the song out and gives a little smile of appreciation. How on earth did they ever break up?