Festival Review: Tons of Rock 2023 – Day 1

For me June means one thing – Tons of Rock festival. I have been heading to Norway for the festival since 2015, and it is always great to see all my photographer friends again, as well as experiencing some of my favourite bands and discovering new ones. Tons of Rock is a similar size to Bloodstock and is located in Ekebergsletta which is a short bus or taxi ride from the centre of Oslo. I sometimes miss when the festival used to be held in Fredriksten Fortress Halden with its gorgeous views out to the fjord, but I don’t miss the walk up to the fortress carrying heavy bags of camera gear! 

Unlike previous years, I hadn’t had a lot of time to think about which bands from the line-up I wanted to cover each day, so I ended up doing some research on the train to the airport. There were a few clashes, but generally plenty of opportunity for me to photograph the bands that I wanted to, and those that looked intriguing.

Spiritworld (c) Katie Frost

Myself and my fellow photographer friend Andrea arrived at the festival site, dumped our bags in the press tent and headed straight over to the main stage (Scream Stage) to catch the first band. There were already a good number of people gathered, and one holding aloft a sign that read “Circle Pit Starts Here”. The festival was officially opened by the Prime Minister of Norway Jonas Gahr Støre who gave a speech (that was largely lost on me as it was in Norwegian) as members of the crowd started a circle pit, as instructed by the sign. 

Following the opening speech, Norwegian political humor band Black Debbath took to the stage to rapturous applause and much excitement. The band always open the festival and even have a song titled “Tons of Rock”, which gets everyone fully in the festival spirit. Every year they have different wacky outfits along some sort of theme, and this year they work colourful jumpsuits, fake tattoo sleeves and had cuckoo clocks mounted to the mic stands. What brought me the most joy during their performance though was their pyrotechnics display – four people holding up signs with hand-painted flames on at points in the song where you might expect some flames to shoot into the sky. It was surprisingly effective and brought a big smile to my face every time it happened.

Next I headed off to the second outdoor stage (Vampire Stage) to watch hard rock band Sator from Sweden. Rain was forecast for the day and the clouds had started to gather but so far no rain, and the band had a decent-sized crowd for their set, which featured some classics from their 30+ year history.

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After the Vampire Stage I ventured to the tent stage (Moonlight Stage) to check out Spiritworld from Las Vegas. Visually these guys looked like they were out of a Western movie so I wasn’t sure what they were going to sound like, but their music was much heavier than I was expecting. They had some very heavy riffs as well as some thrash and death metal elements.

Smash Into Pieces (c) Katie Frost

As I left the tent to head back to the press room to transfer photos onto my laptop it had started to rain. I was glad that I had decided to wear my waterproof jacket or I would have been soaked, along with my cameras. In the press tent everyone was gearing up to shoot Airbourne on the main stage in the rain – raincoats, the special plastic sleeves you can get to go over your cameras, and one guy was even wearing a shower cap to keep his head dry. Despite the weather there were a load of people in good spirits gathered to watch the Aussies, who also played Tons of Rock back in 2017. The band were as energetic as ever and vocalist and guitarist Joel O’Keeffe did all his classic moves of chucking pints of beer into the crowd, and smashing a can of beer onto his head. Always a fun time with Airbourne.

To escape the rain I headed back to the tent stage for Swedish rock band Smash Into Pieces. In their picture on the Tons of Rock app one of the band members was wearing a LED mask, which looked pretty cool and made me want to see what that was all about. I had presumed that it was the singer who wore the mask, but it was actually the drummer. Some internet research has led me to discover that he is known as “The Apocalypse DJ” – very mysterious! The band’s set up was very cool with an LED screen at the back of the stage and making up sides of the drum riser, plus the guys put on a very engaging performance.

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Leaving the tent it was now absolutely shitting it down. I tucked my cameras into my waterproof and hurriedly made my way back to the press tent for some respite before heading back out to the Vampire Stage for some Swedish death metal in the form of At The Gates. Musically they were right up my street (Gothenburg melodeath is my fave), but due to the deluge I wasn’t able to stay too long as I didn’t want to damage my cameras with all that rain. The band were also (understandably) not coming too far forward on the stage so it was hard to get great shots due to the stage being quite high. I will definitely check them out properly in the future though.

Carpenter Brut (c) Katie Frost

After another short rest (and drying off of cameras) in the press area it was back to the tent stage for me for Carpenter Brut, who I saw perform at the Metalhammer Golden Gods in 2018. The French synthwave artist was accompanied by a drummer and guitarist, and had a mesmerizing light show. He was also kind enough to turn his keyboard set-up to the side to enable us to get a better angle to photograph him at – much appreciated.

The rain had stopped and the final band of the day for me was the legendary American rock band Skid Row, who I saw at Kentish Town Forum back in 2019 when ZP Theart was the vocalist. Their current vocalist Erik Grönwall was very engaging and brilliant to photograph. I thought he looked familiar, and it turns out that he was the lead singer for HEAT who were supporting Skid Row last time I saw them. The band played a great set on the Vampire Stage to a packed crowd, and I enjoyed hearing the classics including “18 & Life”.

Headlining the first day of the festival were Guns N’ Roses, but only a select few photographers got to shoot their set so I grabbed a beer and watched a bit of it with my friend from the crowd, where we observed some inflatable flamingos crowd-surfing during “Welcome To The Jungle”. The ground was fairly muddy from all the rain earlier in the day, but that didn’t stop the crowd from having a lovely time enjoying some classic rock.

All photos by Katie Frost Photography

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