Ostfrost at Karlsen 2

I had the pleasure of seeing alt-indie band, Østfrost, play live for the first time during their recent gig at the Søstrene Karlsen venue as part of Trondheim Calling festival line up.

Made up of four diverse yet perfectly synced musicians, Østfrost played what can probably be described as the most wonderfully understated gig of the three day music-fest.

With their quirky mix of harmonium, viola, bass and drums, this quartet produce melodious, infectious indie-pop, sometimes teetering on folk, other times bordering on rock, but always evoking their inherent Norwegian sensibilities.

Front-woman Ane Bjerkan graces Østfrost’s warmly inviting songs with her golden toned vocals, whilst also playing surely one of the most unusual instruments to ever feature in an indie-oriented performance: the Indian harmonium.  She is joined in the band line up by Håkon Brunborg Kjenstad (Panda Panda, Ludwig Moon) on viola, guitar and backing vocals, Ken Erik Klaseie, on bass and Ola Even Hogstad Hagen on drums/percussion.

Notwithstanding the fact that the crowd were a little on the noisy side, Søstrene Karlsen provided the perfect backdrop for Østfrost’s set with its large space, Nordic decor and lush furnishings providing warm comfort from the harsh weather outdoors.  Its substantial size and high ceiling enhanced the acoustics and ensured that the large crowd weren’t pinned shoulder to shoulder throughout.

It came as no surprise that the seven song set list comprised the four tracks from their debut EP – a sparkling musical gem released digitally last October – although it kicked off with non EP tracks ‘Storms’ and ‘True’ which I hadn’t heard before, and, which set the stage perfectly for a slow build towards the climactic finale of single  ‘Wooden Floors’.

Photo D Mc Cloat
Photo D Mc Cloat

The first of the EP tracks came three in with the heartfelt performance of ‘When They Leave’ – a sublime affair that showcases the combined talents and superb musicianship of Brunborg Kjenstad on viola (the way he picks the strings like he would a guitar is pretty awesome) and Klaseie on bass.  In fact, this was probably the latters most subtle and effective performance of the night.  An absolutely stunning song, Ane Bjerkan’s intense, emotionally expressive vocal was effortless.

The power of a good percussionist cannot be underestimated and Ola Even Hogstad Hagen is perhaps one of the most uniquely gifted and creative percussionists I came across during the festival period. So much more than a drummer, Ola Even is a very talented instrumentalist whose subtle ingenuity is a key contributor to Østfrost’s distinctly pared back sound.

Highlight of the set came at the mid point, with the hauntingly beautiful ‘I Don’t Want To Stop’ which sees Bjerkan and Brunborg Kjenstad shine with the most awesome of instrumental accompaniments, to the former’s spine tingling vocal.  The performance of this song exemplified Østfrost’s mastery of the understated – this is not a band that need loud and dramatic to convey deep felt emotion or make a cavernous impact.

Bjerkan has a rich, warm, strong voice that she uses to great affect – nuanced, evocative, inviting, Ane’s vocal is capable of both great power and eggshell fragility.  She has a wonderful instrument in her voice, the power of which she seems very aware, thereby enabling her to use it to maximum effect.

As a whole, this is a group of extremely uniquely talented musicians, whose vision of melding what is best of traditional classical with modern day techniques, very in the mode of fellow Nordic musician and classically driven composer Olafur Arnalds, stretches far beyond the everyday standard plastic pop that could bring them such easy success in today’s Scandi-pop dominated charts.

Østfrost is a band unwilling to sacrifice the joy they get from the type of music they play by allowing themselves to slip into the anonymous mainstream.

The closest they have come to anything verging on mainstream, is the very radio friendly, indie track, ‘Wooden Floors’, which was a no-brainer to close their all too short set.  How this song didn’t crack the Norwegian charts is head-scratchingly anyone’s guess.  It is the perfect indie tune full of rhythmic beats, golden guitar sequences and a rich and powerful vocal.  It works well on “play” and it worked well on the night, giving the crowd the finale they were no doubt expecting and to which the band had been slowly gearing up.

The 30+ minutes of Østfrost’s set at Søstrene Karlsen went all too quickly, and it was with a heavy heart and an even colder shiver that I headed back out into the cold, icy night, and off to the next venue on my hit list.

Seeing Østfrost play live at Trondheim Calling was a must for me and the memory of their personal gentleness, exquisite musicianship and heart-warming sounds will stay with me for a long, long time.

Østfrost EP Out Now
Østfrost EP Out Now

 Østfrost, who you can follow on Facebook and Soundcloud, are signed to indie Trondheim Label, NO FOREVERS, and the vinyl ed of their EP is available to buy here, the digital ed can be streamed or downloaded via Spotify.

Østfrost SetList :

Storms, True, When They Leave, I Don´t Want To Stop, Meeting the Sun,

Bunk Beds, Wooden Floors

If you have a spare three mins – would really appreciate if you could answer this quick poll which is for research purposes vis a vis the Norwegian music industry and it’s impact on the music scenes outside of its domestic market.  Cheers.

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