Bodo Rising










We’re on a lonely 2km stretch of beach on an island with a population of only 350, 25 minutes south of the northern Norwegian city of Bodø. It’s 1am and I’d like to get some sleep. Tim, our photographer, however, wants to continue shooting. “The light’s best between 10pm and 3am,” he keeps telling me, as he wanders past a huge, 140m-long, 12m-high triangular structure designed to look like a traditional fiskehjelle (fish drying rack) and lit by the midnight sun. Further up the beach, still under construction, are several A-frames that will eventually become the world’s largest sauna-theatre.

This is the location of SALT, a year-long festival that will encompass avant-garde electronica, heavy metal nights, orchestral performances, a climate change convention, and epic art installations, including an opening film installation by world-renowned Chinese artist Yang Fudong. Over the next eight years, the festival will travel to various locations around the Arctic Circle, from Nuuk in Greenland to the Faroe Islands, leaving no traces in its wake. If it sounds ambitious, that’s because it is. It’s the kind of crazy project that most event organisers might casually consider before abandoning as lunacy. For the team behind SALT, though, it’s all in a day’s work.

Most visitors to SALT over the next year will make their way to the remote beach location on the island of Sandhornøya via boat or bus from Bodø, a small city of just 50,000 inhabitants and the capital of the northern Norwegian municipality of Nordland. We first head out early one morning in a RIB, accompanied by SALT’s manager, Andreas Førde. Following a brisk 25-minute journey from Bodø harbour through exhilarating scenery and over a perfectly flat sea, the huge fiskehjelle structures begin to come into view. Shrouded in mist, the primitive landscape looks like something from the set of Jurassic Park, and it strikes me just how ambitious a project SALT is.

As we disembark the boat, Stian Antonsen, a tattooed and dreadlocked chainsaw-carving champion and metal musician in charge of the construction at SALT, welcomes us to the beach. He begins by showing us around the Arctic Cathedral, a huge construction of 49 12m-tall timber A-frames designed by Finnish architect Sami Rintala, which will become the main event space during the festival.
“This kind of building work doesn’t come with instructions,” Antonsen tells us. “Even though the material is rectilinear, you put it on the beach in the wind and it comes alive and moves.” He takes us up in a 16m-high cherry picker to see just what he means. From that height, the snaking timber construction seems to breathe in the wind and shift on the sand. The architecture, it seems, is just as ambitious as the festival.

Back on solid ground, Førde and Antonsen introduce the rest of the timber constructions that will become SALT. There’s a sauna and bar that will double as a theatre (and is probably the world’s largest sauna); several accommodation “pods” designed by visiting architecture students; and a rusted steel-clad services building, which is the only permanent structure. The architecture of SALT evokes the triangular forms of the surrounding mountains, and is inspired by the fiskehjelle. These fish racks, Førde tells me, have been used by the coastal people of the north for thousands of years to dry and preserve fish – a process that is only possible in the specific climatic conditions provided by the Arctic. “Before oil, the fish rack was the heart of the Norwegian economy,” he says. “When I saw the first frames go up, I got goose bumps – Erlend and I had talked about it for so long and it was finally happening.”

Erlend Mogård-Larsen is one of the two founders of SALT – the other is Helga-Marie Nordby – both of whom are out of town (Erlend’s busy promoting SALT at the Bukta festival in Tromsø). “Lots of people have crazy ideas,” says Antonsen. “When Erlend has a crazy idea, though, it will happen.” Like the time he bought an ex-commercial whaling boat on a drunken night out and proceeded to transform it into a rock ’n’ roll boat with onboard sauna and hot tub (see p51 for more of his ideas).

This particular crazy idea, Mogård-Larsen later tells me via phone from the beach (where he’s busy setting up an office), came in 2010, when the pair were part of the Lofoten International Art Festival. They curated a conversation series that took place in a sauna, and turned a fiskehjelle into a nightclub. Seeing the success of the initiatives, they knew they had to take it to the next level – instead of a day-long festival, they envisioned a year-long festival that embraced the rhythms of the Arctic Circle and its vastly different seasons that transform the coastal landscape. “During the dark months, we can have small, intimate events, and then as the light comes back we will hold bigger performances,” he says. “It’s a very interesting thing to expand an idea that is usually achieved in a day to a whole year.”

Like everything else to do with SALT, there are big plans for the programme. “We want to do a heavy metal night on the winter solstice, we’re speaking to Sónar about putting on a festival in February, and we’re planning an environmental festival for June called State of the Arctic,” says Førde. “My dream is to see Prince play on the beach. That would be very cool.” (The Mayor of Bodø later tells me he is keen to see Eric Clapton take the stage.) As yet, however, very little has actually been confirmed for the upcoming year – which, perhaps surprisingly, doesn’t seem to be much of an issue at all. While the programme is certainly part of the attraction of SALT, it could easily be said to take second place to the surroundings and the experience of spending time in this remote corner of the world.
“I like to compare it to Copacabana in Brazil,” says Førde as he gazes over the stretch of beach. While it might be a bit more low-key – and definitely much more remote – than Rio, there’s no doubt it’s a very cool location for a festival. Overlooked by a vertiginous black-rock mountain, and surrounded by a raw and expansive landscape of ocean and snow-capped mountains, stages don’t get much more dramatic. “This beach has always been a hidden treasure,” says Førde. It’s no surprise, really, given that Bodø is a two-hour flight from Oslo and the last stop on Norway’s rail network.

Which begs the question: why is this island the best place to launch such a creatively ambitious project? “This is one of the most beautiful places in the north,” says Erlend when I ask just that. “It felt right to have the festival here. Bodø is not a big city, but it is a very educated city – it’s a university city and there is a strong culture of arts and music. It’s not the main reason we chose to start SALT here, but it certainly helps.”

It’s not just SALT that’s happening here, either. The new Stormen culture house and library  is scheduled to open 14 November and, by all accounts, is a big deal. The two modern buildings, designed by UK architects DRDH, are all clean lines, polished concrete, marble and glass, with sweeping views across the harbour.  The Crown Prince of Norway will be at the opening, which will be broadcast on the NRK station during primetime. For those unfamiliar with Bodø, it’s all too easy to see the construction of the NOK1,180 million culture complex as an attempt to instil an art scene – but during a visit to the construction site, Beate Tverbak of Visit Bodø (who has coordinated my visit to Bodø) tells me, “The new Stormen culture house is being built because there is so much culture in Bodø, not to try and create a new scene.” Spend a few days here and it’s hard not to agree.

Bodø’s mayor, Ole H Hjartøy (a keen pilot who took us for a spin in his Piper Archer II plane), tells me that the rich cultural tradition of the area dates back to 1970, when the Bodø Kulturskole (Bodø school of culture) was established – one of the oldest music schools in Norway. Then there’s Sinus, which offers a stage for emerging bands in Bodø (it will have a new home at Stormen) and Gimle, a youth culture house where young bands cut their teeth in a free rehearsal space before they graduate to Sinus. “I think it’s important for Bodø to have these things,” says Hjartøy. “It makes Bodø an attractive city to visit and the community gets a lot back.”

The result of all this? A number of successful bands come from the local area, among them ’80s punk rock band Hjertesvikt A/S, noughties hardcore punk band The Spectacle (like metal, punk has a natural home in Norway), enduring singer-songwriter Halvdan Sivertsen, and festival regulars Kråkesølv. And, for a relatively small town, Bodø has more than its fair share of music and cultural festivals – among them, Parken music festival (, which attracts over 10,000 visitors every August, and the Nordland Musikkfestuke (, a nine-day music festival that hosts a mix of » classical, jazz and pop concerts in unusual settings such as islands and forests, also in August. Given the stunning scenery of Bodø and the surrounding area, it’s no surprise that the landscape often becomes the stage at these festivals.

Like music, the visual arts are also integrated into the area’s natural landscape. At Nord Land at Oterstranda, an hour’s boat ride from Bodø, we meet Kenneth Norum, a local politician who facilitates visiting artists. He leads us up a small path, through a forested landscape dotted with cloudberries (known as the “gold of the forest”) to The Forgotten Town. The sparse artwork, which looks a little like a Roman ruin, is part of the Artscape Nordland initiative, in which 33 international artists were commissioned to create site-specific artworks for each of the municipalities in Nordland. The Forgotten Town was completed in 1996 by Swedish artist Jan Håfström, and has since become an occasional stage for musical performances (“The mountains provide the perfect acoustics,” Norum says). A short walk from The Forgotten Town is the Thai House, a small hut built by Thai »  art students in 2005 (one of whom is now Norum’s wife – “I’m married to the project now,” he jokes), and a Sami turf house. Both are free for passers-by to use, and during the summer months play host to groups of visiting artists, who cook over a campfire and bathe in the nearby lake.

In everything and everyone we encounter during our visit, the one thing that stands out is just how connected the cultural life in this part of the world is to the landscape and the traditions of the area. Take Ulf Mikalsen, a boat builder living and working in Kjerringøy. Alongside building traditional timber » fishing vessels, Mikalsen creates site-specific art installations in the landscape, like the magical Dream Bridge that issues forth birdsong as people approach. “It’s like dancing,” he says of his creative practice. “You have to find the rhythm.”

Or there’s Harald Bodøgaard, an artist and gallery owner, who has what has to be one of the most incredible and comprehensive collections of local artefacts in Norway – everything from centuries’ old farm and fishing tools to skis, coffins, clothing and technology. Although, a runner-up can probably be found in the collection held by Eva Andersen and her brother in the attic of the old trading post at nearby Støtt Brygge, which they inherited and turned into a restaurant and hotel in 2011.

During a late-night visit to Dama Di, a local bar/gallery in the centre of Bodø, we  encounter the city’s culture kids playing  ping-pong under the midnight sun, overlooked by a huge three storey-tall mural of a troll by British graffiti artist Phlegm. Tverbak seems to know everyone here, and everyone we meet is somehow connected to music or the visual arts, whether it’s through working for one of the myriad festivals or playing in a band – at times it feels as though Bodø is home to the world’s highest concentration of drummers.

Perhaps it is Sigurd Schultz, a family therapist and prison governor turned kayak instructor, who best describes the interconnectedness of life, art, the landscape and tradition in this part of the world. “There is a different kind of time zone here,” says Schultz. “The rhythms are slower. And it’s all about the long lines that connect everything – nature, culture and tradition.” Everything, it seems, that SALT is about.

Comments are closed.