Make Way for Norway’s Musical Newcomers
ABBA. Robyn. Lykke Li. Sigrid. MØ. The Nordics consistently produce some of the world’s most celebrated pop artists, but beyond the Scandi-pop staples we’ve come to know and love, who are the rising artists prepped to take over our playlists? And what kind of mysterious elixir is at work in those fjords?
Interview took a quick trip to Oslo for the annual Øya Festival to meet four emerging Norwegian acts—Lil Halima, girl in red, Bendik HK, and Deathcrush—who represent a variety of genres and have few apparent commonalities beyond their home country. We learned about their hobbies (fingerboarding, witchcraft) and listened to their stories (meeting Frodo at Berghain, living above a Burger King). Leave your Scandi-pop assumptions behind. These are the Norwegian newcomers you need to know.
Lil Halima, née Lillian Halima Anderssen, grew up in Northern Norway—“literally in the middle of the forest,” she says—where, depending on the season, the sun never sets or never shines. That isolation birthed a creative who’s made music, written stories, and painted for as long as she can remember. Nearly two years ago, as she prepared to attend university, Lil Halima was discovered by Universal Music on Instagram. Ever since, the multi-faceted artist, now 20, has released R&B-tinged pop music (and often drawn its accompanying artwork) that showcases her musical abilities, which span songwriting, singing, and producing.
Her music, in her own words: “It’s effortless but real.”
On the summertime midnight sun and polar nights of winter: “It is extreme. I can feel really down or really happy, and I guess some people would try to tell me that’s a problem, but I realized that it probably stems from how I grew up. Everything was built around nature back home. It went from a lot of sun, being outside all the time, being happy, and hanging out with friends to complete darkness, sleeping all the time, and having [seasonal] depression, which is super normal. I realized that it’s a balance; you’re feeling this way but then you know you’re going to feel the other way. I made two EPs, one is called for the dark days and the other is for the bright days, and they are very different. I made for the dark days during the dark days.”
On embracing her witchy side: “I’m really into witchcraft. It’s the belief in being very connected to the earth and very powerful, and seeing magic in the things that people don’t see magic in, how you can focus intention and change things that people don’t necessarily think you can change in everyday life. It’s basically the magic between intentions. One of the witch hunts in Europe was in Northern Norway. It killed off a bunch of women, and it wasn’t even that long ago. There’s something in the history of that as well that intrigues me, like the fact that some people are so scared of women’s power that they are willing to kill them. It must have had an effect on us and now I want to be empowered again.”
On her fan-fiction past: “When I was younger I read the Game of Thrones books but it was before it got super hyped. I started writing Game of Thrones fan fiction. I had a couple of readers, and then I forgot about it, I put it aside. I logged into this account four or five weeks ago—and, as you know, since then there’s been a new Game of Thrones wave—and my really bad fan fiction had like 300,000 reads. [Laughs.] People online had commented, ‘How could you never finish this story!’ I mean, that’s what George R.R. Martin does. I was so shocked. It’s so embarrassing. I do really want to write a book one day. I want to build characters. I’ve written my entire life for myself. It was a very nice way to entertain myself as a kid. Spending so much time alone, it was nice to build all these fictional characters.”
girl in red
girl in red is 20-year-old Marie Ulven, a musician who writes, records, and produces intimate songs in her bedroom. She sings about lust, depression, looming expectations, and falling for women, the latter of which has resulted in her becoming a queer role model, with fans rallying around her frank lyrics (see “girls”) and using her music to come out to their families and friends. This all began in 2017, when Ulven started posting her songs on SoundCloud. Her fans have been integral to her swift rise, and Ulven remains connected to them, regularly interacting with them online and, occasionally, even via group text. She currently lives with her older sister, who she calls her “best friend,” in Oslo, and heads out on her first North American headliner tour next month.
Her music, in her own words: “It’s just pop music, really. I’m guessing a bunch of people would say, ‘She makes bedroom pop and it’s super edgy,’ but I’m just like, ‘Whatever.’ I don’t really like to put a label on my music because labels are boring and limiting. I want to just be able to do whatever I want whenever I feel like it. I feel like if I say pop, then I can do everything.”
On fingerboarding and her YouTube beginnings: “I kind of forgot about this, but last week, I remembered that [early on] I put out a song on YouTube, a video. It’s this super depressing song. All my friends at the time said, ‘This is so beautiful. You need to put it out,’ because I used to have another YouTube channel called “zombie shit” that I posted fingerboarding videos on. I’m going to see if it’s there now. [Pulls up YouTube on her phone.] I was so good at [fingerboarding] back then. I still do it. This is my first guitar. You can hear the chords; I didn’t know how to play really. And it’s in black and white. The lyrics are, ‘I’ve said it so many times / I’m starting to believe my own lies.’ It’s some super dark shit and I was like 14. That’s where it all started.’”
On English versus Norwegian: “I went to a studio in 2015 and recorded some Norwegian songs and I put those out on Spotify. They’re still there. That’s almost five years ago, so they’re trash. [Laughs.] It takes a lot to make a good Norwegian song. Lyrically they’re really bad. It’s hard to write well in Norwegian. It’s just a very honest language. Let’s say love in Norwegian is called elsker. I feel like Americans throw ‘I love you’ at everything. Like, ‘I love Pepsi. I love you. My god, I’ve just met you, but I love you so much.’ But in Norwegian you’d say jeg elsker deg, and you barely say that to anyone. If you say that, that’s some real hardcore shit. And you don’t say jeg elsker deg to your friends unless you really, really love them.
On the universe: “I got the universe tattooed on my arm in Norwegian. My friend was just like, ‘Yo, can I try tattooing you?’ and I said ‘Okay.’ I regretted it for a long time. But now I’ve decided that, honestly, it doesn’t matter. I love space. Your mind is blown the minute you start thinking about space and the universe. Because it’s like, what is the universe? Like, what is it? I don’t know! And do we live in space? Yeah, we do. The universe, we’re part of it.”
Bendik HK, short for Bendik Hovik Kjeldsberg, is, first and foremost, a drummer. He started playing percussion at age 5 when his father bought him his first drum kit (before that, his instruments were pots and pans). He’s now 28 years old and based in Oslo, recording and touring with acts like the German producer and artist Pantha Du Prince. For his first solo project, the experimental electronic EP Depot (Mutual Intentions), he traded in his drum kit for synths and a sixxen, an atonal instrument created by Iannis Xenakis, the Greek-French composer and architect. “It’s nice to do something different,” he says, “and separate the drumming part of me from this.”
His music, in his own words: “It’s heavily influenced by the whole club genre in general. I feel like it’s more of a collage, because I see all the bits and I move them around and I cut, and I take this last sound and put it in front. It’s electronic music … but it’s always evolving. And I feel now that even though it’s been just half a year since I released my first EP, I already want to do something completely different.”
On his hotel hobby: “I like to reorganize hotel rooms when I’m on tour and really bored. I move the beds and everything. I’ve been doing it for a long time now. [Scrolls through his camera roll.] This is me laying in the sink. This is an extra bed that you can pull out from the wall. I think my favorite is this one. Instead of watching Netflix, I do all of this.”
On being a bad gamer: “If I want to relax, I play Battlefield. I have five people who are in a clan, and we have our own name; it’s Dunderboys, and “dunder” basically means when you’re really going for it. We’re on the headphones and we’re really gaming hardcore, but we also really suck. I’m the worst in the group, but I haven’t been kicked out yet.”
On finding Frodo at Berghain: “I’m a huge Lord of the Rings fan, which everybody should be. I got a present from Mutual Intentions, which is my label and my gang, in a way. They bought me these Legolas swords. He’s the elf with the two swords and a bow, and he’s really one of the better characters. I only have the swords. Whenever there’s a champagne bottle around, I pull them out to [saber it open]. I’m not good at it, but I practice.
I also met Elijah Wood, who plays Frodo, at Berghain [in Berlin]. When we played Berghain with Pantha Du Prince he was DJing its Panorama Bar. I remember doing a soundcheck and then I see this guy who looks familiar standing and watching. One of the guys who also toured with Pantha Du Prince is a friend of his, so he introduced me and I was super starstruck. It’s one thing to be in and play at Berghain—that’s really big—but to meet Frodo at Berghain is next level. I said to myself, ‘Just don’t fuck up. Be the coolest guy.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, nice to meet you.’ On the inside, it was just like bombs going off.”
The current iteration of Deathcrush formed in 2015 when vocalist/guitarist Linn Nystadnes, 35, and vocalist/drummer Vidar Evensen, 38, found themselves in need of a new bassist, and Pelle Bamle, 29, filled the role. The genre-defying group, which Linn describes as “kind of schizophrenic,” recently released its first record, Megazone (Apollon Records), which is a mash-up of the trio’s disparate influences, from post-punk and noise rock to hip-hop and black metal. In short, Deathcrush is chaotic, fun, and unpredictable. When they perform, Vidar and Pelle even swap back and forth between drums and bass. And if that’s not enough, the latest addition to the band’s setlist is a cover of The Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way.”
Their music, in their own words:
LINN: Deathcrush is whatever we are at the moment. It’s hard to take a step back and see what it is, because to me this is just the bubble that I live in, and it’s been that way since I bought my first guitar. It’s really hard to put one label on it. We’re just trying to be whatever we are.
VIDAR: It’s open-minded. The project is about making stupid ideas work.
On getting the band together:
PELLE: We were at an afterparty at your place.
LINN: That’s why I don’t remember.
PELLE: And then you saw my other band, and I got a call from Vidar who asked me if I wanted to go to Russia.
LINN: The first call he got wasn’t: “Do you want to play in our band and maybe try it out for a while?” It was: “Do you have a passport? Do you want to go to Russia?” The embassy that promised us money didn’t actually give it to us, so we never ended up going. But we kept Pelle, because he still has a passport, so it’s really convenient. [Laughs.]
On life beyond music:
VIDAR: I enjoy painting.
LINN: We do all the visuals ourselves, usually Vidar does them. I still enjoy baton twirling, but I don’t do it as much as I used to. That was the thing that I did when I was a kid, but I’ve managed to do it in at least two or three music videos. I feel like all we do is the band, and then I also do sound. I’ve always said that when I get old I’m going to be an author.
PELLE: I used to play basketball, but then my shoulder got fucked. Now it’s better so I’ve started playing a little bit. But it’s mostly band. I also just recently got a cat, so I’m into cat stuff.
On living above the King:
LINN: Vidar and I live above a Burger King. It’s been named the DC crib.
PELLE: You have some beef with the Burger King guys.
LINN: Yeah, we used to live above the oldest sushi restaurant in Oslo, and now there’s a Burger King in our house and there’s a Starbucks across the street, so we spend a lot of time being mad. Maybe the next album will be very mad because of the Burger King and Starbucks.
VIDAR: Don’t eat at Burger King.
LINN: We’ve got one of the last fun flats in Oslo because Oslo is so small and we’re not allowed to chop down the trees right outside of it, so basically people with money bought every single flat in the entire city and have redone them, so there’s no personality to anything. But our place really does have personality. We’re holding on to it, even though there’s a Burger King.
PELLE: The apartment previously, before they moved in, was on a reality TV show.
LINN: Yeah, it was called Norway’s Ugliest Room [Norges styggeste rom]. We have a purple cushioned wall.
VIDAR: With diamonds on it.
LINN: You have to vacuum the wall. And they put a bar in there because the people that lived there were “creative” and “they needed a bar.”
VIDAR: One of these days you’ll be invited to an afterparty there and you’ll feel like you’re Alice in Wonderland, I promise you.