As I return home from my first-ever edition of Punk Rock Holiday in beautiful Tolmin, Slovenia, my biggest takeaway was how great it was to see bands I usually wouldn’t get to see in North America. While the PRH main stage is adorned with the names of frequent festival headliners and punk icons, the festival also features a stage on the beach played by some of the most exciting up-and-coming punk bands from around the world. One of my favorite sets of the week was turned in by a hardcore punk band from Norway: Exploding Head Syndrome. Exploding Head Syndrome has been around since 2010 and plays a heavy hardcore sound while mixing some influence of American punk music with a heavy dose of influence from California. The band was named when the group searched the internet for things that sounded like a good band name, when they then stumbled across the sleeping disorder known as exploding head syndrome. While the name certainly sticks out, it is also one the group’s designer sometimes laments due to its difficulty being incorporated on logos, shirts, etc.
Not only was I fortunate enough to discover the band, but also to talk to them about their latest project in the form of the album Victims and their experience at Punk Rock Holiday.
Our interview begins with a polite email letting me know the band will be a few moments late due to the festival food truck taking longer than anticipated. Even at a festival as well run as Punk Rock Holiday, there were sure to be some hiccups. When the band arrives, they come with a present…a vinyl copy of their album that was just released in February, Victims!
Between the thoughtful alert and gift, Exploding Head Syndrome appear to be a sharp contrast to the savage, cutting performance of their hardcore punk material they unleashed just a day prior.
Their new album is a natural place to begin the conversation, and the band dives in on the process of making the record, a project that has been in the works since 2020. The singer of the band, Eirik Ekholot, speaks about the project’s title and how it ties into the themes present throughout the album.
“The title, Victims, is kind of an interesting word. It can mean so many things. You can be a victim without really being one, you can be a victim and be accepting of that part. It’s a fun word to play around with, because it means so many things.” Ekholot says. “The lyrical content is a bit more outwards than facing inwards on this record. There’s a bit of hope, but it’s usually pretty dark. It’s about the world, and systems, and things that just aren’t working.”
As a quick aside, the project is excellent and I recommend any listeners of hardcore to check it out.
The Punk Rock Holiday Experience
While the band took the stage yesterday to play a mix of their new and old material, they are staying for most of the festival’s duration as fans. This practice is not uncommon at Punk Rock Holiday. Many bands stick around to enjoy the beautiful scenery and tight-knit community that feels like one big happy family. While summer represents the festival season in Europe with many great options, PRH stands out as a unique one for artists and attendees. Guitarist Morten Rørvig speaks about the experience of playing and attending the festival.
“It’s pretty scenic, right? We played right by the river, and it’s beautiful. Playing early in the day, sometimes it’s hard to know what kind of crowd you’re going to get. We were here in 2019, and I think this year the crowd was even better. We definitely felt great about the show. But beyond that, we’re excited to see as many bands as possible. Especially on the beach stage, there are bands you have never heard that are great. I’m trying to make a point to see as much as we can.”
Eirik Ekholot then discussed the topic of the crowd and the community at the festival.
“People are here for music, but they are also here for the community. As we’ve talked about, it’s quite different to other festivals.” Ekholot says. “It may be cliché but we really do this for the people we meet. The experiences we have. The audience is just as important as the band and that’s why I got into punk. Everyone is equal. Everyone is important. We play on the stage, but you have your stage too, in the crowd. We’re all equal.”
This sentiment is something that’s readily apparent in Exploding Head Syndrome’s performance. One of the highlights of the set was when Ekholot and Rørvig took to the crowd to perform a song surrounded by the mosh pit. A move the vocalist believes is natural given the connection between band and fan at punk gigs.
“It feels very natural. We want to be a part of it. It steps the audience up as well, which also steps up our performance. I feel like when you’re playing a show, you’re there to create something. Sometimes erasing the lines between the crowd and us makes that creation easier. It is a conscious decision for us to play a song in the audience, but it also feels very natural.”
Exploding Head Syndrome’s Future
As we wrap up our pleasant talk, I ask what comes next for the Oslo-based band who is nearing the end of a European tour. They play in Budapest the following day, but say that new music is always a bit of a long process.
“It takes forever for us. This is our hobby. We have families and day jobs. But we’re hoping to put out an EP in between now and our next album.”
With the performance they gave at the stage, the band is sure to have more ears listening to their next project and a slew of new fans, myself included. Follow the band and keep an eye out for more music whenever it comes. Check out their old stuff if you’re interested! You can keep up with the band at their Bandcamp or their Facebook as well as a multitude of other social medias.
Thank you to Exploding Head Syndrome and stay tuned over the following days for more coverage of Punk Rock Holiday 2023.