Atomic total – total madness

As I am writing the first paragraph of this post, it’s about one hour before the doors at Kafe Hærverk opens. And they won’t close until Friday night (or morning). Yes, that’s correct. Five nights. Five concerts. Three sets each night. All albums. Randomly. Madness. Total Madness. This is Atomic total.

Atomic is a Swedish-Norwegian quintet established in 2000! It consists of: Fredrik Ljungkvist (reeds), Hans Hulbækmo (drums), Håvard Wiik (piano), Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (bass) and Magnus Broo (trumpet). It’s an interesting mix of improvised music, love for American leading jazz musicians, European characteristics and a fresh “Scandinavian” sound. Celebrating their 20-years-anniversary, they decided to present a whole range of their works – all 15 albums! From Monday to Friday, we could hear a mix of tunes from their heritage – each night was divided into 3 sets, around 40 minutes each. Seems impossible, unbelievable, exhausting? Maybe. But they did it. And what a journey it was!

Day 1

Already after the first set was over, the manager of Hærverk, Vegard, said to me – Well, this is promising for the next 14 sets this week. They started on time and whole evening was very structured. 20 pm sharp start, three sets, 40-50 minutes each, with short breaks inbetween sets. They played among others: Wolf gang, ABC 101b, King Colex… Started quite “gentle”, first night was a warm-up. Maybe they were testing the ground, and the audience?

Which song is it now?, asked Fredrik. And Håvard replied – Now it’s time for a break!

Day 2

The grand piano at Hærverk got a lot of attention. “It feels quite extravagant”, “Yeah, it’s almost like a culture-shock!”, so I’ve overheard. Comparing with second day, the first one felt like a warm-up. Although the first set of this night felt more nostalgic and sad in a way. Some of the tunes – Crux or Feets from Above, and Accidentals at the end. Until Fredrik said – it’s enough, we’re ending this melancholy now and switching to something more.. abstract. The second and third set began. Fantastic compositions, combined with improvisations, to this point that Fredrik and Håvard were playing a sweet, fine melody, while the rest of the gang were basically playing whatever they wanted. The power of compositions and improvised, abstract parts, may be my favorite. Last tune for the night – Cry want.

Day 3

Here’s where my narrative is interrupted by a change of scenery, venue and different concert. You can read about my magical flight into the world of Jaimie Branch and her Fly or Die right here and also here. Eventually, me, Jaimie and Jason Ajemian ended up at Kafe Hærverk at the afterparty with Ingebrigt, Håvard and other friends… so there is a certain overlap 🙂


And here comes the time when all the days blend in, and after three concerts three days in a row, you just start feeling like this is actually your addiction, and the reality blends with dreams, late nights with early mornings, and you just follow where the sound of saxophone and trumpet leads you…

Since Monday, you could notice a couple of elements that where accumulating and expanding in one way or another during the performances each night. For example the audience – on Monday the venue was quite “empty”. There were a bunch of people, but still quite spacious and with more seating than standing places. On Tuesday it was comparably more people in the audience, some of them you’ve seen the night before. You could feel the pressing under a significantly higher number listeners on Thursday. Anyways there were about 40-60 people each night, and it was just perfect, not too much and not too little either. Also you could say that the performance escalated, grew, changed with every night and every set number. It exploded on the last, 5th night, making it the winner among all intensive days of that week.

Everybody was talking only about those concerts, exchanging their thoughts, feelings, and it didn’t matter if you went only on one gig, or on the first and the last, or even if you were there every night. Everyone lived through this marathon on their own way, and that is what makes it so special.

Maybe it was the exhaustion, or overwhelming, or simply call it a mistake – before the second song Correspondence, Fredrik and Håvard had a small exchange on whether Fredrik plays clarinet or saxophone on this one. Fredrik stood for clarinett, while Håvard persisted that it was saxophone. Well, you can get your money back – stated Fredrik when he chose to play clarinet. After first 3 or 4 bars, he realised that Håvard was right. With a cheerful smile he apologized audience with a mouth movement, and switched the instruments. Another tune they played was Murmansk – as Fredrik stated it is a „party killer”. Afterwards – political Poor Denmark, and Snus with incredible solo of Ingebrigt and unfinished story about the title of this song. Fredrik started an introduction – me and Magnus were on a tour and we had small amount of snus… When suddenly Hans interrupted that the audience payed to hear some music. And so they started playing. Killed it with a track Boom Boom. Before the last set of this evening, I’ve met Ingebrigt at the bar – Last set, huh? How does it feel?, I asked. And he replied: Last set?! Is this even possible?

After the last tunes echoed in the venue, the moment of silence and a huge and long applause for this 5-day journey filled out Hærverk. A special thanks from the band went to Vegard, manager of the club, for making this happen. Fredrik said in Swedish: Vegard – very good coffee!

The idea of presenting whole works of the band from the past 20 years seems crazy and impossible, but who said that it couldn’t be done? Well Atomic did it and with what power and energy! It was like a travel back in time, with a lot of sad and nostalgic moments, but also explosive parts, joy and huge appreciation. They presented their music, like it was written yesterday, and gave each tune a new perspective and tone. Wish to attend more of such marathons in the future. So who’s next to present their works of a lifetime?

Very useful links:

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