Vocalist Sivert Höyem of Madrugada
Slagsmålsklubben performed really well
The Faint was at their peak
Bernard Sumner of New Order
It was burning hot in Arvika as festivalgoers one by one arrived and set up camp for what to many looked like a lukewarm music experience. Band after band - a reprise of previous years, headliners predominantly being Swedish and a slight impression of disorder as many bands and the run times were announced only days before opening day. Still, the sun was shining, spirits were high and the camping pre-show, one of this year’s novelties, all seemed like good tidings.
While surprisingly popular, though by many approached with a tongue-in-cheek attitude, and many of course hoping that there would be a cancellation Thursday afternoon and Rammstein would be called upon to fill in, restoring order from 1998’s big disappointment, DiLeva kicked off the centre stage with a celebration of all thing flowery, loving and related hippie-spaced out.
New Order came on with screaming guitars and little else, proving a crowd of low expectations right. The word “tired” comes to mind and clearly a disappointment from the headliner of the festival. Things did pick up during classics but no more than could be expected, if even that. Luckily, other co-headliners did a better job working the Vintergatan crowds. Earlier on Thursday, re-united Elegant Machinery showed that they still could spark the hearts of their fans and then of course there was DAF.
DAF, their reunion and the confirmation for this year’s festival, just didn’t carry the same novelty, nor sparked as much interest as it did back in 2003. There’s been no new material since the Fünfzehn Neue DAF Leider and there have been ample opportunities to see them at other festivals across Europe, including in Sweden. Nevertheless, DAF proved to be one of the bands of Arvika 2005 that knew to do a few things right rather than many things so-so. Acoustic drums, a synth and Gabi entirely on his own filling the grand scene with energy was a welcome treat in this day and age where video projection is a must and bands that cannot seem to run out of things and instruments to bring on stage.
Thursday was inevitably the day of headliners. All in way day, besides above mentioned acts, Bright Eyes played a good but somewhat flat set, more than compensated for by The Faint’s kicking performance hours later.
It had been a sneaking suspicion inspecting the camping and became more than apparent watching many of the festival’s hottest acts – attendance was low this year, perhaps worse than last year, which was an economical disaster. And with many of the big names having played by Thursday night – what kind of festival would this turn out to be? Over just shortly after it had started?
Visitors sleeping in from Thursday’s strenuous program were not gently awoken. It was raining cats and dogs by noon and a weak afternoon program motivated few to crawl out from under their party tents or what temporary shelter they could find. It was evening by the time that the rain eased to a tolerable level and the turnout for Lars Winnerbäck & Hovet wasn’t half bad. As much could not be said for Electrocute, the German elektro-rock-attitude girl duo who, despite playing right after Swedish The Kristet Utseende who filled the second biggest stage Apollo, at most had a few hundred in the audience. Their loss.
Fans of electronic music showed better attendance as VNV Nation took the centre stage Friday night, not deterred by the light rain. Spirits were as always high, but the show was yet another in streak of so-so performances at Vintergatan. The VNV Nation live show is largely unchanged since 2001, there are two extra live keyboard players for some songs but that changes little. Why not follow DAF’s example and go with acoustic drums? Matter + Form certainly has some songs that would do great with them. Speaking of Matter + Form, only three songs from the album were performed during the hour long set; Chrome, Perpetual and Homeward. Closing the show, Ronan Harris encouraged everyone to go see SITD, starting up at Andromeda as VNV closed – one of the best examples of poor planning from the organizers.
I had heard some bad things about SITD’s live shows, mostly that they were kind of dull. To some degree I’d have to concur but there was nothing wrong with the set list consisting of a good mixture between hits from Stronghold and the new album Coded Message: 12. Towards the end of the show, Ronan Harris and Mark Jackson joined them on stage to perform a few songs. And this is why some things should not be brought on stage as their main contribution was staggering around the stage half drunk – most probably more amusing to themselves than to the audience. (This stage – Andromeda - struggled with a dissonance when SITD and Welle Erdball played, a bass frequency that made it unbearable to stay for a longer period and unfortunately I had to leave. Strange that it seemed to be only on the electronic acts. I have also a strong criticism to the sound engineer at the Lyran stage who sat behind the mixing console with big hearing protectors (!) when Necro Facility and 8 khz Mono played /Editors note)
More rain on Saturday deterred a lot of people from going to see first act of the day, Banco de Gaia, a performance that was broadcast throughout the festival area, another of Arvika’s new features. Running into Jonas Hallberg, this year’s head organiser, we asked what the essence of Arvika is – what sets it aside from all the other Swedish festivals? He’s been working since November last year putting it all together and seems to still have a lot on his hands. “I think it’s quite clear that the core of Arvikafestivalen is, and almost always has been, electronic and synth. The festival has grown throughout the years through collaborations with the municipality and EU-projects to also include some of the really big Swedish names and some really huge international acts – artists that those with a real interest in music enjoy; Björk, Kraftwerk and so on. There are so many bands that we still want to book; Radiohead would be fantastic, Depeche Mode. White Strips would have been really cool to have had this year”. Wish lists aside; what does Jonas look forward to the most? “The Faint has been the best so far, Bright Eyes and New Order were also really good. And I’m really looking forward to seeing how Infected (Mushroom) does at the big stage. A lot of people I’ve talked to have said that’s the main reason they’re here. Then there’s the new collaboration with DreamHack. This year we’re just trying it out to see how it works; hopefully some really cool things will come out of it in the future. But what I really like, every year, is the mood and the feeling of the festival. We don’t have as clear a niche as Sweden Rock for example but spirits are always high and there are very few incidents. But we’re also very proud of what we accomplish in terms of promoting electronic alternative music and how it goes from “underground” to being covered in national media during the festival”.
Jonas then runs off to attend some pressing matter and I’m left with conflicting impressions. Clearly, the organizers are as keen as visitors are to keep this an alternative festival but why then is such a big portion of the headlining acts Swedish pop artists? Perhaps Håkan Hellström’s performance could answer these questions as he entered Vintergatan Saturday evening. Håkan certainly broadens the audience but the masses that have gathered are rewarded with anything much to talk about, save perhaps for the few minutes of sunlight that managed to pierce the clouds. Håkan Hellström tries to be “just another guy” talking to the audience but it feels much too rehearsed to be convincing.
Then finally, at 10 PM Saturday, after walking out on a much louder than heartfelt gig by Strip Music, Deine Lakaien – in an acoustic set, delivers that one great moment that very festival needs, consisting of classical interpretations of their regular material as well as a preview of coming songs. The hour-long set, of which I missed half, was without a doubt in my mind the best musical as well as most artistic performance of the festival. Much later in the evening it was finally time for Infected Mushroom to enter Vintergatan. Almost instantly as the beat started the audience in front and about the stage went mad dancing, not showing any sign of fatigue from three days of dancing, drinking beer nor rain or sun. Or of Infected Mushrooms trance styleings either. With a mere hour or so left of the festival, Lyran, Arvika’s “up and coming” stage, was well over due for a visit as I had only dropped by shortly twice during the festival; once to see 8kHz Mono and once to seek shelter from pouring rain. On stage was Swedish future/synthpopers Code 64 playing some really strong material from their debut Storm as well as trying out new material. Not at all a bad way to close the festival, though I would have liked to have seen that strobe directed directly at the audience dimmed just a notch.
Thus, another Arvikafestivalen has come to a close. Hardly a year that will go down in history to any great extent, more likely to be though of one of the years during which Arvikafestivalen struggled with its identity. Every year now, the festival seems to have broadened just a little and during the past two years, the number of paying visitors has sharply decreased. There is probably no magical remedy for this, and perhaps only part of natural fluctuation. Still, there seems to be a divide between they way Arvikafestivalen is perceived and with what intention it is put together. It is with keen interest I look forward to seeing next years program take shape over the coming twelve months.