Celebrating its twentieth year this year, Norbergfestival has quietly established itself as a cornerstone in Scandinavia’s festival circuit. This longevity is impressive alone, yet the fact that a grassroots approach remains integral to the event’s philosophy is even more striking. Run on a non-profit basis and staffed mainly by volunteers, Norbergfestival sits on the opposite end of the spectrum to Europe’s swathes of hyper-commercialised festivals. Instead it is a wonderfully intimate and DIY affair, a festival in name but in essence so much more: a reunion of friends, a gathering of minds and perhaps most crucially, a party of blowout proportions.
Arriving in the sleepy town of Norberg, about an hour and a half’s train journey outside of Stockholm, I joined the pilgrimage to the towering concrete block looming in the distance. For Norberg regulars it is an iconic image, the shape of the festival’s logo and a stamp of its identity. This is Mimerlaven, Norberg’s abandoned iron mine and the festival’s main stage. Stretching 64 metres above ground, with a drop to the void below, it is a truly spectacular if not slightly terrifying space to enjoy the most experimental live sounds Norberg has to offer. Whether it be the blissed out trance of dj lostboi, abrasive voice manipulations of Iron Sight, or twisted machine electronics of Vanligt Folk, it was in the mine where true moments of sonic magic could be experienced.
Just outside, an expertly curated line-up of local and international artists featured across two further stages, the aptly named 303 tent and Kraftwerk, the mine site’s old power plant. Industrial in structure and kitted out with a colossal soundsystem, Kraftwerk played host to the weekend’s fastest frequencies, and was where the party got started on Thursday night. Opening up proceedings, LOFT – now known as Aya – unleashed a characteristically colourful collage of breaks and bleeps, with razor-sharp commentary on the mic throughout that swerved through observational wit, a disdain for ‘deconstructed club’ and a love for Club Mate.
Giant Swan’s punishing live ‘techno-not-techno’ show followed soon after. Channeling a punk rock spirit, the Bristolian duo demonstrated their inimitable flair for injecting a raw anarchic energy into their turbo-charged improvisations. It was a hard act to follow, yet Tzusing was more than up to the challenge, perhaps even delivering the highlight of the night. Marrying gothic techno with unadulterated trap, the Malaysian-born producer displayed dizzying skill and style in equal measure. Delighting his crowd with an outing of Basshunter’s DotA to close, in Swedish of course, it was a daringly playful set executed with a swaggering confidence.
Across Friday and Saturday, the remaining programme continued to showcase sounds pushing dance music to its outer limits. At the 303 tent, an array of Swedish talent was at the helm, with the likes of Linn Elisabet, Hannah Prescott and HABIB1 treating revellers to a diverse palette of breakbeat, garage, footwork, jungle, and more. Harder-edged beats came in the form of Meow Meow’s uncompromising live gabber show and local favourite SPFDJ, who tore up Kraftwerk with furious pace. Also deserving of a mention is Nyege Nyege affiliate Slikback, whose fusion of pulsating techno and east African hip-hop and trap played out in a cinematic and utterly hypnotising display.
Ending on a high, Saturday night saw the hotly anticipated performance of Swedish rave supergroup The Empire Line. The trio, comprised of Posh Isolation’s Christian Stadsgaard, Jonas Rönnberg (Varg) and Isak Hansen (Iron Sight), were on blistering form, letting loose a floor-shaking onslaught of techno and trance. It was the perfect preface to DJ Bus Replacement Service’s closing set, whose seamless blend of full-throttle rhythms and mischievous pop samples was a crowd pleasing masterclass. Never has hammering techno infused with Spice Girls’ Wannabe sounded so right.
Presenting three days of mind-bending music, alongside a stimulating auxiliary programme of art installations and workshops, Norbergfestival offers something distinctly unique to Europe’s festival landscape. At its heart, Norberg is a source of artistic community, promoting creative innovation and freedom, and without a hint of pretension. It is a singular festival experience and one which will hopefully continue to flourish for another twenty years to come.
Words: Georgia Tobin