Text by Emma Pressley
The place where Sandra Kolstad has suggested we meet is a characterless high-street bar, so when she cruises in wearing a flamboyant red cape she turns more than a few heads. The impact is hardly lessened when she takes off her cape to reveal the turquoise silk bomber jacket underneath.
Kolstad, Norway’s latest electropop export, is both cool and smart in a way that would be otherworldly if she weren’t so lovely. On the one hand, she’s the girl who mucks around during our photo shoot, deadpanning, “Being a queen isn’t my cup of tea.” Yet she’s also a classically trained pianist who describes Simone de Beauvoir as her style icon “because I love wearing turbans”. From early in our interview, I’m firmly in girl-crush territory.
Kolstad lives in Berlin, so it’s tempting to parrot the line that she’s “Norway’s answer to Robyn,” Sweden’s tomboy starlet who also resides in the German capital. But Kolstad’s music has more in common with Kate Bush, all brooding soundscapes and elements of sinister fairytale – just don’t try telling her she sounds like other Scandinavian musicians.
“If you are a woman making electronica in Norway you’re guaranteed to be compared to Robyn or Fever Ray,” she protests, pointing out it’s mainly foreign journalists who like to lump Scandinavian female singers together. “I think my music has more in common with David Bowie than Robyn.”
Certainly, life experience is to the fore in the 28 year old’s musical output, which so far consists of a debut EP in 2009 and two very eclectic albums. She moved out of her Oslo home at 16 and has since lived everywhere from Svalbard to India. She settled in Berlin three years ago, partly for her boyfriend and partly to be in a city that seems tailor-made for an arty electro singer. But she returned to her homeland last year to write her most-recent album, (Nothing Lasts) Forever, living alone for three months in her family’s old house facing the fjord in the coastal town of Haugesund.
“It was a challenge because I’ve always been afraid of the dark,” she says. “I was excited to see whether I could handle it or not. I would wake up early every morning and go for a swim in the freezing sea – and after about three weeks I decided I wouldn’t be able to return to normal urban life again.” The album, she says, was inspired by the way that water can be both calm and turbulent. She wanted to produce something that wasn’t quite pop and wasn’t quite dark electro – “that made people want to dance and cry at the same time.”
The album, produced by Swedish jazz composer Petter Eldh, feels like a journey through different styles, and includes duets with Norwegian hip-hop legend Son of Light, techno duo Boksberg and Anglo-Norwegian singer Lucy Swann. While Kolstad experiments on each track, the album doesn’t feel overwrought and the edgier songs hook you just as much as the more radio-friendly ones.
Her burgeoning reputation is built just as much on her hypnotic live shows, which have graced much of Europe, from Berlin Music Week to the Roskilde Festival. Tonight she’s playing a preview for Oslo’s Øya Festival and soon she’ll be off, but first she admires the grainy, souvenir Polaroid I’ve taken of the two of us – she says we should grab a beer in Berlin one of these days. It’s a little embarrassing how cool I think that would be.