About This Festival
Here's how it goes down at Øya: you look at the schedule and make plans for the obvious. Queens of the Stone Age, The National and Janelle Monae have all headlined, and you'll be there arm waving along with the rest of the crowd when the next big lineup of superstars hits the main stage. The festival always books a handful of big-name international performers. But the real fun is choosing among the unpronounceable Norwegian bands you've never heard of, and then having your face melted and brain blown by said bands.
Øya devotes a large part of its stage time to local music makers, and boy, do they span the gamut. "Avant-garde" is the catch-all term typically applied to the scene.
So you might hear a screaming black metal band followed by an experimental bell composition, or a spazzy indie pop group taking the stage after a fivesome playing "sweaty hard masculine rock" (per the program). Whatever it is - like it or not - the music sure as hell entertains.
The action happens in Tøyen Park, a lush urban green space within walking distance of downtown Oslo. About 20,000 fans per day come through the gate and scatter among the three stages. Compared to other festivals, you can get pretty freaking close to see major-league acts.
Øya shuts down by 11pm each night, and then everyone fans out to Oslo's hep clubs for more music. The gigs are organized as Nighttime Øya and rock on into the wee hours. Day 1 of the festival also takes place in the clubs. Days 2 through 5 take place at the park.
Clean & Green
Few fests are as polite and respectful as Øya. The well-mannered Scandinavian crowd mixes metalheads and H&M-clad hipsters, beautiful blondes and long-bearded Viking types. Parents bring their children, who get in for free and run around collecting used beer cups to recycle. Perhaps because booze prices—and prices in general—are high, most folks are sober. They adhere to the "No Crowd Surfing" signs posted all around, with occasional exceptions (looking at you, Janelle).
The festival is unusually (awesomely!) organized. Bands hit the stage at precisely the designated time. There's no queuing. Bathrooms are plentiful. Food vendors go beyond the norm, too, and dish out organic local fare such as gravlaks (dry-cured, sugar-and-spice marinated salmon), sweet brown cheese on crisp bread and dill-sprinkled shrimp.
Øya has received heaps of eco-awards for its emphasis on organic food, recycling, biodiesel travel and energy-efficient stage lighting. Early on, its green protocols became a model for event organizers throughout Europe and the United States.
Beyond the Music
The grounds at Tøyen Park hold several sights that festival-goers can incorporate into their activities. Wander the tree-shaded pathways to the Edvard Munch Museum, bursting with garish paintings and prints by Norway's revered symbolist. It's the world's largest collection of Munch's works, though his masterpiece, The Scream, hangs elsewhere. Oslo's Botanical Gardens bloom in the park, growing 7,500 plants around the pretty grounds. Tøyen also has a pool-dotted water park, a great spot to cool off if it's a hot day.
Festivalgoers immerse in greater Oslo, as well, when they seek out the city's booming clubs and cozy cafes to hear Øya-programmed bands after-hours. Along the way, revelers amble through atmospheric quarters from the cutting-edge waterfront to the medieval old town.
History & Past Headliners
Øya started in 1999. The name means "island" and comes from the festival's original location on nearby Kalvøya island. After two years the event moved downtown to Oslo's ruin-studded Medieval Park. In 2014 Øya moved again—this time to Tøyen Park—as railroad construction near Medieval Park made staying there impossible.
Iggy and The Stooges, Nancy Sinatra, Morrissey, the Flaming Lips, Yoko Ono, Beck, Lily Allen and Sonic Youth are among the eclectic roster of headliners over the years. Recent programs have featured:
- Kanye West, Fleet Foxes, Pulp, Lykke Li and Wiz Khalifa in 2011.
- Björk, Florence and the Machine, The Stone Roses, Bon Iver and Feist in 2012.
- Blur, Kendrick Lamar, Slayer, Kraftwerk and Wu-Tang Clan in 2013
- Beck, Florence + the Machine, CHIC ft. Nile Rogers, Alt-J, and The War on Drugs in 2015.
From the get-go, the majority of festivalgoers have come from Scandinavia, though fans from other European countries are increasing in number as Øya's offbeat, urban-cool reputation spreads. Tickets go on sale in late November, and they typically sell out by late February.