Northern Disco Lights is a music documentary that takes a stylish and nostalgic look at Norway’s disco music explosion, which occurred in the late 80’s and early 90’s in the remote arctic town of TromsÃ¸. Beautifully shot, it speaks to a veritable “who’s who” of creative musicians who heavily influenced this revolution in sound and culture for Norway’s youth.
Based on the sentiments from a wide array of characters, the basis for this rapid musical evolution stemmed from the starvation of pop culture and music for the teenaged. Many of the main players state that growing up in Norway during this time was rather mundane, and was severely lacking in the availability and quantity of pop music and the alternative culture they desired. The bright-eyed and energetic youth of Norway ““ we are told ““ yearned to tap into other subcultures, particularly English dance music. Often times, their only exposure to this new and exciting craze was via a local radio station, which would only play 30 minutes of this “new music” once a week.
Such limited exposure to this electrifying new music is spoken of in pained yet nostalgic tones, however the silver lining was that such a limited availability created a “hyper-mania” for those it intrigued. Norwegian pioneers were soon creating a culture of cassette-tape recording and swapping, forging friendships and alliances that would go on to have a massive influence in the overall explosion of sounds and ideas that took place. As a result of these underground tape exchanges and weekly snippets of new music, a movement formed in a short space of time, and experimentation and innovation began.
Tales of annual trips to England and bringing home 100 vinyl records at a time, or of working through summer to save for a drum machine ““ all in ode to enabling these energised and inspired kids to expand their palettes and recreate and redefine the works of their idols ““ are a pleasure to watch, as is the genuine affection and love these artists have for the music, for their influences, and for each other. There is a natural and easy-going warmth and infectiousness from listening to these now older men and women harp back, with that fire still visibly burning behind their older yet unjaded eyes as they reminisce about their early footsteps into the unknown.
The one criticism I have for the film is that ““ whilst undeniably charismatic ““ it becomes rather repetitive in its formula and structure. We journey around the beauteous Norway interviewing “OG” pioneers, and they speak of similar themes and observations: the relative bleakness of being a kid in Norway during that time, and the excitement of rabidly consuming the morsels of new music offered to them. Whilst this largely works, more attention should have been paid to showing the audience what Norway was like before this explosion, and what has now become as a result of it. The talking heads in Northern Disco Lights are always infectious ““ mainly down to the lovely, kooky people that they are and the passion they hold ““ but I craved for more in the way of context, background and impact.
That said, Northern Disco Lights is intriguing and very charming, and as someone who knew little about such a youth and music revolution, I enjoyed the tales. It just would have been nice to have been able to see more on where they came from, what they led to and why.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10
Screening at the 2017 Melbourne Documentary Film Festival. Details, sessions and tickets HERE.