Punktfest 06 - Kristiansand, Norway - Day Two, August 25, 2006
When British drummer Bill Bruford stepped up to the mic for the first time during his engaging and highly playful duet with Dutch pianist Michiel Borstlap, he made the comment that "as a true road warrior, by all accounts this is an incredibly well-run festival, setting a new high bar for overall competence." And those are truthful words from someone with enough years on the road to know. While organizing any festival, especially where numerous acts will appear on the same stage, is a challenge, Punktfest has to be one of the greatest nightmares from a logistical perspective.
- Hanne Hukkelberg
- Karl Seglem
- Bill Bruford and Michiel Borstlap
- Frode Gjerstad and Jan Bang
- Bugge Wesseltoft
- The Wagner Reloaded Project (WARP)
Almost every act incorporates electronics to some extent, so just organizing soundchecks so that acts can set up, make sure everything works, and then come back later for the show with the assumption that everything still works is a big enough task. Add to that the festival premiere of the Wagner Reloaded Project (WARP)featuring an orchestra, four sampler/live remixers and moreand it's a wonder that artistic directors Jan Bang and Erik Honoré have had any sleep in the couple of months leading up to Punktfest.
Punktfest may be small in size with respect to attendance (the theater only holds a maximum of five hundred people), but it's big-time in terms of organizationfrom the people handling the surprisingly large press contingent that has come from around Norway as well as England, China, Japan and, of course, North America, to the folks who make sure that audiences transition between the main theater and the Alpha Room quickly between shows. And all this without the formality and heavy-handed rules that define most festivals with a similar number of artists performing.
Access to artists is simply not an issueif you don't see them attending the shows, you're sure to run into them at the festival hotel, the Clarion Hotel Ernst. Informality is the defining factor here, and that's another reason why Punktfest is so uniqueand so completely enjoyable. Sleep may be a rare commodity here, but nobody seems to mind because everyone is having too much of a good time.
And so, following a diverse and outstanding first day, day two of Punktfest kicked off with Norwegian singer/songwriter Hanne Hukkelberg and her group. When you enter a theater and, along with the usual assortment of guitars, keyboards and drums, you find an upside-down bicycle and a large tin garbage pail center-stage, you know you're in for something different.
Hukkelberg's debut record, Little Things, was released in Norway in 2004, and abroad the following year. Critical praise portraying her as a "most eerie, quirky, beautiful and unusual" artist goes a long way to describing Hukkelberg and her group. In addition to the bicycle and garbage can, her group also includes a variety of more conventional but less commonly used instruments in this kind of context, including banjo, glockenspiel, flute, accordion, an instrument that sounds like a sax but sure doesn't look like oneand, of course, a sampler.
Idiosyncratic like early Bj?rk but not cloying or cute, Hukkelberg's music, like much of what appears at Punktfest, is difficult to categorize. It's a strange combination of beauty and eccentricity. There are all kinds of textures, which are surely considered and well thought out, but never feel contrived. A typical Hukkelberg song might start with a variety of electronic blurps and bleeps, using that tin garbage pail to define a rhythm or a guitar pattern that is taken out of the ordinary by just the slightest stagger. But it may well then transform into a lyrical space where drummer Peter Baden keeps time on a drum kit (which includes a variety of odd things like a metal pail along with the usual gear), and keyboardist Kare Chr. Vestrheim creates a dense string wash that sounds like Crowded House-era Mitchell Froom.
Hukkelberg's voice can range from soft and whispery to surprisingly strong, but it never loses the richness that makes it a treat to hear. Woodwind/glockenspiel player Lena Nymark, like Anne Marie Almedal's backing singer Sigrund Tara Overland, added the "X" factor. In addition to more conventional harmonies, Nymark at times sounded like a singing pigeon being held underwaterbut in context it was not only an impressive feat, it was exactly what was needed. One of the emerging patterns with the singers at Punktfest is that English is the language of song, Norwegian the language of speech. As with Garbarek, Endresen and Almedal from day one, Hukkelberg's lyrics are all in English and, while that may be with a clear view to an international audience, none of these artists suffer in the lyric department.
Hukkelberg's music can be complex and episodic or simple and direct. Given the irregular meters in more than one song, there's even a temptation to consider what she does as progressive, but not in the sense of conventional progressive rock bands. Hukkelberg and her band manage to bring together a diversity of influences, however, everything from a Latin vibe to sounds from the deep American South. But it's all filtered through a strangely colored lens that gives even the most lyrical of melodies a skewed feel. "Eclectic" is a term that's bantered about all too oftenand unfortunately can sometimes suggest a lack of clear direction. But Hukkelberg's music, despite its diversity, ultimately sounds like nobody's but her own.
While there seems to be a larger market for groups like Hukkelberg's in Europe, there is an alternative scene in North America (including bands like The National and Arcade Fire) which would, no doubt, welcome Hukkelberg's eclecticism.