I Went To Rave In The Arctic CircleBy Aleks Eror; Photos by Carl Christian Lein Størmer
I’ve done my fair share of raving in warehouses and dingy basements, but I've always found their Fritzl-esque undertones and asphyxiating blackdamp a bit of a mood kill. So, when Norwegian alt-pop duo, Frost, invited me to a performance of their forthcoming album, Radio Magnetic, at a long-abandoned Soviet coal mining settlement in the Arctic circle, I obviously agreed. Desolate ex coal mines in icy Svalbard—an archipelago in the north Atlantic, half way between Norway and the North Pole—sounded a lot more appealing than a crumbling sweatbox in south London.
Well-known in their homeland, Frost were formed in Tromsø in ’97 by Aggie Pietersen and DJ Rune Lindbæk to make “melodic songs about the changing of the world, backed by tasteful electronic sounds” with the help of numerous collaborators, including Röyksopp’s Torbjørn Brundtland. Rune eventually left and was replaced by Aggie’s (now) baby daddy, Per Martinsen, around the turn of the millennium.
So why the hell were they throwing a gig in an obscenely inaccessible location that quickly redefined my understanding of the term “blue balls”? Well, because in terms of their new album, location is everything. I know what you’re thinking: “an ode to estate agents?”
Soon after moving back to their hometown in 2008, they received a package in the post covered in Russian stamps. It contained a C60 cassette tape with recordings of old, obscure pop songs shrouded in a thick haze of static, interspersed with a Russian radio presenter’s low baritone. Sent by a fan and amateur radio enthusiast, the ghostly recordings that appeared on shortwave AM radio-bands throughout the Arctic were described as “faint echoes from a recently lost civilisation”. The fan allegedly traced the recordings back to a Svalbard mining settlement called Pyramiden. So far, so good, but Pyramiden was abruptly abandoned 14 years ago, so where were they coming from?
With no one to transmit them from Pyramiden, it appears that they’re a time echo from when the town was still thriving, rebounding back to earth from the depths of space. This isn’t a phenomenon confined to Pyramiden, however, and apparently scientists have been able to recover lost Dr. Who episodes transmitted 50 years ago. Per describes them as a “file transfer through space and time”, which unfortunately means that future generations will likely be subjected to cosmic reruns of Two and a Half Men, long after the writers and producers have been been executed for their crimes against funny.
Discussing how ghost radio informed Radio Magnetic, Per told us:
“Culturally, there's been such a great focus on nostalgia and backwards-looking references in art and music over the last decade. It's as if our collective cultural history is compressed and passing before our eyes—like a dying man's life. This is the inspiration for the album—time and culture confusion”.
To better understand these signals, Frost travelled to their source. Originally founded by Sweden in 1910, Pyramiden was sold to the Soviets in 1927 and takes its name from the ‘pyramid’ mountain that towers above it. At its height, it had a population of a thousand people who were attracted to this remote, Walrus-infested tundra by a standard of living much higher than the rest of the USSR.
Created as a model communist society, it was self-reliant, with most food supplies reared in the town. Waste mineral ash from mined coal was processed into bricks, the economy was non-monetary and food was free. Residents had access to a communal cinema, indoor swimming pool, basketball courts, music studios and a library containing over 50,000 books, among other luxuries that make it sound like the most amazing, communal living area in the history of the world.
The town was notoriously difficult to maintain, however, because it had been designed by Soviet architectural principles rather than the practical demands of its location, essentially representing a massive "fuck you" to the environment around it. When the USSR went bust in ’91 and Pyramiden no longer served any purpose as a showroom for the Marxist ideal, its days were numbered.
The town’s population dwindled below 500 by the mid-90s, then, on January 10, 1998, the mining company that managed it, Arktikugol, decided that the dream was dead and ordered everyone to shut up and ship out. The mass exodus was so sudden that trays still litter cafeteria counters and school tabletops are strewn with children’s books, forgotten about as they moved on to greener pastures, or places where jobs existed, at least. Real cheery stuff. Bedrooms full of busted-ass furniture and long-rotted houseplants create a distinctly apocalyptic feel, leaving a stark warning for anyone thinking about voting Republican this November. The current population now sits between three and 15, with a mayor who doubles up as bus driver.
Following a flight to Longyearbien from London via Oslo, an excruciating four-hour boat trip awaited me the next day. I was forced to sit on the floor because all the seats were occupied by around a hundred blubber-gorged Norwegians in their fifties, evidently excited about what’s probably the highest profile gig in Svalbard’s history. For entertainment, I fought off the advances of some dude who kept trying to groom me with promises of reindeer soup.
Frost took to the stage in the dampness of Pyramiden’s theatre, a thick concrete structure that entombed a decade and a half’s worth of dust and cold, with the audience clapping like the seals they ate for breakfast. The performance was great and Radio Magnetic sounds a lot like industrial techno blended with the sort of alt-pop purveyed by 4AD, Purity Ring and High Places. It drops September 17th and I’ll probably buy it even though I got it as a freebie, just because Frost are so damn nice. They paid my room's booze bill and fed me cake and everything!
So, it was an educational sonic experience and a welcome change. Pyramiden’s hope is to reopen the local Tulip Hotel in a couple of summers time, in case you fancy paying them a visit. But be warned, local MDMA looks, and tastes, like gravel.
Frost will be playing the Queen of Hoxton the 24th October
Ace of Base's Secret Nazi Past
Before he founded Ace of Base, Ulf Ekberg was a member of Commit Suiside, a Nazi punk band.
Parquet Courts - "Light Up Gold Road Trip" (Full Documentary)
In this new documentary, Noisey follows rising indie rockers Parquet Courts from Mexico to Texas and London as they tour to support their debut LP, 'Light Up Gold.'
Yung Lean Doer Is the Weirdest 16-Year-Old White Swedish Rapper You'll Hear This Week
Yung Lean raps over pillow-fluffy beats and raps about glory holes and Arizona Iced Tea. Who the fuck is this kid? And why is he like this?
Adam Ant - The British Masters, Chapter 6
Noisey's John Doran talks with the great post-punk pop star Adam Ant about tribal body mods and layering tape.
Photos: Taking Acid at Coachella
When Paley sent these photos in, she included a nice little caveat over email that we've decided to reprint here in full, not only because it's too good to edit, but because her photographs of her and her weird buddies riding the snake are some of the best
R.I.P. Storm Thorgerson (1944-2013)
On Thursday, the hyper-talented graphic designer, artist, and famed album cover creator Storm Thorgerson passed away after a battle with cancer. He was 69 years old.
The Internet Is Scary
As of six months ago, my Facebook fanpage is like a dojo where hormonal teenagers hone their technique. Here is a heartfelt poem from some kid who wants to rape, kill, and marry me.
I Accidentally Touched Little Richard's Butt One Time
It was in the Detroit airport. After it happened Little Richard said, "He graze my derriere."
Listen to St. Lucia's Remix of The Colourist's "Little Games"
Last month, Cali quartet the Colourist released "Little Games," and St. Lucia just pulled a warm Balearic blanket over the whole thing, sanding away its rough edges with bright synths and lightly gated percussion.
Aaron Montaigne, Godfather of Screamo, is More Interesting Than You Can Ever Hope to Be - Part Two
On surviving combat in Iraq and Afghanistan with the help of magic, 'Bladerunner,' and everything in between.