The first thing I notice as I sort out my camera kit by the stage in a busy Oslo Hackney is that not only does Johnossi’s guitarist have two very well stocked pedal boards, but that every cable and every pedal is labelled. Eric the roadie (his walkie-talkie had a name badge!) places the pedal boards almost reverently by the mic-stand centre stage and adjusts their position to attain the perfect positioning before carefully applying a single long strip of tape along the front and back of each board to secure it. Everything Eric does on the stage preparing for the Johnossi show tonight is done with a fastidious precision.
As I watch this most professional of roadies ply their trade I began to wonder more about the press release I’d read before the show for the launch of Swedish duo Johnossi’s new album “Blood Jungle” through Polydor records. It talked of ayahuasca rituals in the jungles of Peru inspiring Johnossi’s exploration of ever more expansive soundscapes by helping them recognise the connectedness and flow of all things and driving them to master “…more shades, moods, emotions, colours and flavours than ever before.” Now for the record, I wont lie and tell you that this didn’t raise an eyebrow. After reading this I really wasn’t sure Johnossi were going to be my thing, but seeing Eric at work, clocking that the band had brought their own lighting engineer who had set up at the back of the crowd (better to experience the light show from the crowds perspective than survey it from the raised front of house at the back of the room), and seeing the final stage set up with the heavily mic’ed up drum kit to the right of the stage facing the centre where the lead singer and guitarist was to stand I began to see that this was a band that liked things just so and were very much in control of how their show was going to look and feel. This caught my interest, I began to think there might be a healthy dose of humour lurking beneath that press release…
My suspicion was confirmed the moment the show proper started. As a couple of notes of the brass band intro to Air is Free, blue lights blazed out from behind the stage dazzling the crowd only to fade back in to darkness as the notes faded. A few seconds later the blast of sound and light was repeated (you could almost hear the giggles of the lighting engineer!) and this continued episodically until John Englebert (guitar and vocals) and Oskar Bonde (AKA: Ossi on drums) accompanied by a keyboardist took to the stage and set about blasting out “Air is Free”. There’s still a small part of my mind telling me this anthemic, melodic pop rock is not for me, but half way through the first song it is already too late. The blend of seductive easy-on-the-ear melody and mildly rebellious yet enlivening lyrics has already insidiously subverted all motor control and the head has begun to bob and the foot tap. This is pure escapism and I can already feel the worries of the day being left behind and a large grin spreading across my face.
If I knew the words I’d be singing along. The rest of the crowd actually does know all the words and they are all singing along! Looking around as the band play a mixture of new and old songs, including the soon to be released single “Hands”, this crowd contains a lot of devoted fans and you can see that for them, this small venue makes this performance incredibly personal and intimate and they’re loving it. Johnossi aren’t pushing musical boundaries, there’s nothing particularly edgy about the songs or performance, but if there was a mathematical theorem for an uplifting and totally engaging set then Johnossi were very close to solving it on Wednesday night. Johnossi do what they do very well and often with the cheeky grin that implies that they’re really comfortable and enjoying themselves too. I couldn’t help but feel swept along by it all.
Not, I’ll freely admit, my standard musical fare, I tend to like my beats heavier and my edges sharper, but this performance is something that’s turned my head and was tremendous fun to watch and listen to. As I sit here writing this on the day Blood Jungle is set to be released I know I’ll be acquiring a copy of the album. I’m fairly certain I’ll enjoy it very much even if its pop rock leanings means it migrates to the hidden “Guilty Little Secrets” corner of the music collection. Perhaps that might be the most important accolade for Blood Jungle, perhaps it will become one of those albums that you really shouldn’t like, but actually, deep down you love and could not bear to part with. One of those albums you reach for when you need to escape the cares of the world for a little while and bring your smile back…
Oslo Hackney, 15/02/2017.
You can also find this article here on Rock At Night! (my first article I’ve done for this magazine!)
- Air is Free
- Gone Forever
- Dead End
- Weak Spots
- Alone Now, C2
- Summer Breeze
- Man Must Dance
- Hands (next single to be released!)
- What’s the Point
- Roscoe (encore)