The Scandinavian nation of Norway is rich in culture. From the unexpected success of low-budget teen drama Skam to the massive popularity of Nordic roasteries, the impact of Norwegian culture on the rest of the world has been undeniable over the past few years.
Norway’s music has been particularly influential. Heavily centralized in the capital city of Oslo, the Norwegian music scene is small but dynamic. Musicians frequently sing in their native tongue as well as English, and a significant number have achieved success overseas due to their haunting, dream-like vocals and innovative blend of contemporary and traditional instrumentation.
Historically, Norway produced mostly jazz artists and black metal bands, and you can certainly still find thriving subcultures for both of these genres in Oslo. However, in 2019, listeners are gravitating heavily towards Norway’s ethereal dream pop and folk.
Critically acclaimed indie darling Aurora received international attention after her debut EP was released in 2015, while experimental singer-songwriter Susanne Sundfør embarked on her musical career over a decade ago while studying at the University of Bergen.
Oslo is far from a metropolis by North American standards, but it is Norway’s largest city — and Osloites are determined to keep their unique culture alive. The city thrums and shivers with the backbeat of its strong musical history, a quiet yet electric pulse that will resonate deep within the soul of any music lover.
As one may expect, there are numerous venues to hear live music in and around Oslo. If you are a music fan, this is not a destination you should pass up, as the opportunities to hear your favourite Norwegian artists — as well as get acquainted with some you might not be familiar with — are numerous.
Norway as a whole is generally quite friendly to tourism, but if you are a visitor, it is advisable to experience Oslo’s live music culture the way the locals do. In simple terms, that means narrowing down your venue choices. While the Oslo Spectrum hosts international A-listers every year, the stadium is unlikely to introduce you to anything you wouldn’t be able to hear back home. For the true Oslo experience, head to any of the following.
Known for its relaxed, intimate atmosphere, Herr Nilsen Concert Pub provides guests with the best cocktails in all of Oslo. In fact, these drinks may be Oslo’s best-kept secret. Professional bartenders are well aware that nothing goes better with live music than an expertly prepared mixed drink — and what’s more, they take the time to speak to you, get to know you, and make you feel at ease in this old-fashioned pub-style venue.
Herr Nilsen is unique in that it is traditional rather than trendy, unlike many of the other modern concert halls in Oslo. Everything from the interior decor to the lineup of artists is a throwback to the ’50s and ’60s. It is not unusual to walk into Herr Nilsen on an average night and hear pleasantly nostalgic blues or Dixieland jazz.
A turn-of-the-century cinema converted into a raucous and vibrant concert hall, historic Parkteatret is a designated urban cultural landmark known for its neoclassical facade.
The red neon sign proclaiming the famous name of the venue is hard to miss. Parkteatret is one of the hidden gems of the up-and-coming hipster district of Grünerløkka, only a few short blocks away from the Nighthawk Diner, a late-night local hangout.
According to its website, Parkteatret has been renovated slightly in order to meet European standards of sound reflection, but much of the original structure remains the same as it was when it was built in 1907. In the foyer, guests can purchase a wide variety of coffee and alcoholic drinks to enjoy while watching the concert. On a typical night, a bluegrass or rockabilly band will be playing.
A grungy basement club that serves Mexican food, Revolver is the number one spot for locals to catch local and touring indie rock bands. Closing time is 3 AM and it can get rowdy before last call, but visitors to Revolver are nevertheless generally charmed by its laidback atmosphere.
The vibe inside Revolver is typical of an alternative rock club, with the added bonus of having a full menu and a list of unique cocktails. Revolver’s lineup, food, and drinks are consistently ranked high amongst locals and tourists alike.
Norway as a whole is a fairly stoic country, especially when compared to its Scandinavian neighbours, but the quality of clubs in Oslo suggests that Norwegians still know how to have a good time. It just depends on where you choose to spend your Friday night.