It’s a tough task going for transcendence straight from the off, but that is what Skadedyr’s new album does, almost immediately summoning up a mood of ecstatic abandon whose wailing guitar and keyboard drones, ululating voice and rattling percussion, bring to mind the cosmic spirit of Alice Coltrane and Carlos Santana, or the deep spiritual jazz of Pharoah Sanders at its most cathartic.
Does rules exist?
Perhaps less ‘free’ than bloody-minded (if, of course, it can fly by the jazz tag at all), this is music that insists on its right to be whatever it chooses; to follow its own rules, or even to refuse to believe that rules exist. The sounds that result can, therefore, test a listener’s powers of endurance to the max, but the balancing pay-off comes in the extreme pleasure and surprise one can experience when all the loose particles of sound – Skadedyr’s free radicals – suddenly cohere into a satisfying whole and strike a note of beauty, however discordant, before dissolving once again into the ether. And the more you listen, the more the apparent lack of structure seems to function perfectly well, the music expanding and contracting biomorphically, like an organism that lives and breathes, creating its own internal rhythm and sense of space and time. The blend of ancient and modern, order and chaos, the raw and the cooked, is reflective of life itself.
It’s perhaps incumbent – inevitable, even – to at this stage mention ‘Norwegian-ness’. Although Skadedyr clearly exist in an internationalist framework of music and the arts generally, and there is nothing self-consciously ‘Nordic’ or folkloric about ‘Musikk!’, nor its two predecessors, ‘Kongekrabbe’ and ‘Culturen’, you have to wonder where else other than Oslo Skadedyr could have originated from. A twelve-piece mini-orchestra whose members are also involved with a myriad of other bands and projects, the collective ethos and rough-hewn, winging it style of improvisation speak of enormous reserves of confidence and a healthy disregard for convention. This makes Skadedyr somehow emblematic of a scene where different musical cantons – experimental rock, jazz, electronica, out-there weirdness – can coalesce together quite happily without the essential presence of one single author-as-god figure whipping everyone else into shape, and enforcing dominance through submission.
In Skadedyr, there really are too many cooks, although founder-members Anja Lauvdal, Heida Mobeck, Hans Hulbekmo and Lars Ove Fossheim, take a leading role in determing the initial shape of group compositions. There also has to be at least something of Norway in the prevalence of brass band instruments, or the flippant mix and match between different musical registers, accordion and slide guitar, and clash of high and low cultures. But if we do regard Skadedyr as Norwegian, this is in any case less to do with consigning something so new and so excitingly boundary-breaking to an ancient regime of outmoded nation-state cliches about how we categorize art, and more about identifying the music’s positive virtues with its essential terroir. Wherever ‘Musikk!’ comes from, it’s an interesting place.