Norway 2024: Gåte
Photo: Ole Ekker

Gåte from Norway: "Music can be politicized but experiencing art is pure"

INTERVIEW The Norwegian language is back in Eurovision thanks to Gåte, a folk band from the early 2000s who are ready to share their tradition with the rest of Europe with their song "Ulveham." It's been a bumpy ride to the contest, but they wouldn't want it any other way

Norwegian band Gåte will represent Norway at Eurovision 2024 with the song "Ulveham" after winning Melodi Grand Prix 2024.

The beginning of the band Gåte takes us back to 1999 when they first entered the music industry. Their unique mix of folk music with metal and electronica caught the attention of the Norwegians (and not only Norwegians) and made them a massive name within a few months.

By 2002, the band had released two EPs, a full album, had sold thousands of records, and were a main reference within Norway's music scene. The success was so abrupt and massive that in 2004 they announced a hiatus to focus on other matters.

In 2017, Gåte came back with more music and with a renewed band.

We're speaking with three of the five members of Gåte: Gunnhild Sundli, Magnus Børmark, and Jon Even Schärer. Mats Paulsen and John Stenersen weren't able to join us. From the original lineup only Gunnhild and Magnus remain.

A lot has happened since the band was founded 25 years ago, as Magnus Børmark explains:

– When we first broke through in the early 2000s, Gunnhild was only 15 and I was only 17. Today, we have families and we are able to enjoy every aspect of the experience, says Magnus Børmark, and continues:

– I feel like you were so young, Gunnhild, that you didn't even had the time to dream of being a rockstar before you already were.

– Definitely, I didn't. It just happened and I think I would've become a teacher instead, Gunnhild Sundli replies.

– That's also the reason why we took this huge break of 12 years.

Why do Eurovision now?

– We have matured and the timing was just right, Magnus says. He continues:

– We were invited by the Norwegian broadcaster to join the competition probably given the fact that we've always used historic and original folk elements from our culture in our music. In Eurovision, it's a good thing to represent your country with something unique, original and with a historical touch.

Would you have submitted a song if there was no invitation?

They all laugh:

– That's a good question... I don't know actually, Jon Even Schärer says.

– I don't think so, Magnus adds.

– Not because there's anything wrong with it, especially because we do watch Eurovision every year, but I don't think it'd have occurred to us. I have to say that looking at it now, we wouldn't want it any other way, it's been a ride.

Norway 2024: Gåte – "Ulveham" (Melodi Grand Prix 2024)

Rewriting the song

After the band competed in the second heat of Norway's Melodi Grand Prix, they were asked to rewrite the lyrics to their song, "Ulveham," as those were based on a 1,000-year-old medieval ballad. They made headlines all across the country and followed through with the request. In the end, EBU approved the original version, but as Jon said "better to be safe than sorry":

– It wasn't hard for us. Of course, we had very limited time to do it but we took the challenge and we think it became even better than what it was before, he adds.

Magnus agrees and goes so far as to say that the controversy was what made them win the competition:

– We got a lot of publicity due to that, but it was quite obvious we weren't doing any sort of plagiarism. Not only we were one of the most original acts in the competition, but those lyrics have been written down in so many different dialects and forms over time.

– We showed a sincere effort and decided to do it. Also, to calm down the storm here in the country because we truly received so much attention from the Norwegian press. I am convinced that we also won because of the controversy.

You don't think you'd have won without the controversy?

– We didn't take it for granted, but taking part in MGP was a risk because we're an established band. The higher you climb, the longer to the ground, Jon says.

I am convinced that we also won because of the controversy.Magnus Børmark

– It was clear that if we were going to do it, we had to do it properly and with all of our hearts. We're very humbled that the Norwegian people chose us to represent them in Eurovision, Magnus adds.

The song wasn't written with the contest in mind. "Ulveham" was stored away somewhere in its original version of six minutes. It was its power, uniqueness and impact that made the band think it would be a good song:

– We had it for a long time but we didn't release it. And because of the COVID-19 pandemic it was just laying there, but I remember thinking it'd be nice for Eurovision back then. I just didn't tell anyone, Gunnhild shares, and continues:

– I could strongly see myself singing that chorus in Eurovision. It doesn't have a strong hook that everyone can just sing along with, but it's special and it's strong so when the invitation came up I was determined that "Ulveham" was the right song. Since I'd be the one singing it, we had to go with something I could feel was right.

The rest of the band was on track with Gunnhild and understood that the song would fairly represent Gåte and would allow them to be "the standout."

While Gunnhild is singing live, the rest of band won't be playing the music live in Eurovision:

– In the beginning, I was a bit skeptical because we had never done that before, Jon says.

– It's a new world for us to act as if we are playing. As a drummer, it was not easy because I had to learn every stroke, I can't improvise as I'd normally do, but I guess I found the way.

I could strongly see myself singing that chorus in Eurovision.Gunnhild Sundli

Magnus continues:

– You have to be precise, but we've always been a very visual band and very physical in our performances. We had to focus on the dancing and movements we usually do on stage while playing and concentrate mostly on that, but I mean we have also done music videos where we mime so I take it as recording a live music video.

– In a set where we are not allowed to play live, we will focus on evolving our dancing and choreography and expressing ourselves even more with our bodies as a prop. We want to convey the energy without playing.


We go back to the band's bumpy ride to Eurovision. After the situation with the lyrics and after their close race with former Eurovision contestants KEiiNO (Norway 2019), Gåte were crowned the winners of Norway's Melodi Grand Prix 2024. But a dilemma came up given their position toward the Israeli participation. Going to Malmö wasn't a given:

– The situation is very volatile and it's always changing so we truly had to discuss it further. We decided that we do music and that we want to create a three-minute space with emotions, something you can only have with music, Magnus explains.

– We believe that it's better to do it than not to because, in fact, music can be politicized, but experiencing art is pure and that's what we believe in.

Let's then speak about their artistic performance that will mostly be kept for Eurovision:

– There won't be massive changes because we're proud of it as it is, but we will always reach for stuff that could make it better. It will be rooted in the same concept, Gunnhild explains.

Music can be politicized, but experiencing art is pure.Magnus Børmark

What is the concept?

– We are really founded in nature. That's why we have wind, fog, and all of those nature elements, Magnus says.

– We also have the rotating stage because we wanted a physical project where we had to act on and be responsive to. And Gunnhild is incredible at it. There's no LEDs, no lighting or flashes, because it would take away the emotion of the performance.

I can't believe you don't get dizzy after performing it.

Gunnhild laughs:

– And you know what? I've been performing the song without the platform lately and I miss it because it puts on a real fight in a way, it's something to work with and against. Of course, I could probably sing it technically better without it because it's hard to control my breathing.

Magnus goes on to share that the performance also tells the story of the song. In it, Gunnhild liberates herself from the storm she is in on her own terms:

– The verses, as you know, are part of this old medieval ballad about this jealous stepmother who is jealous of her stepdaughter and tries to cast a spell on her in order to make her turn into a wolf. So, she gives her a wolf hide (ulveham) and casts this spell where the wolf is doomed to roam the woods for eternity.

– The only way to break the curse and for the stepdaughter to be free, would be for her to drink her own brother's blood, which is quite a grotesque premise for someone to be free. So, one day the stepmother meets the wolf who tears her heart out and eats it. It turns out that the stepmother was pregnant with her half brother so she was able to break the curse, he concludes.

With this, the cursed stepdaughter was liberated from her curse. The intention of the story is precisely that: you cannot be free if you just follow the terms set by the one who is oppressing you.

Gåte – "Ulveham" (Live at Barcelona Eurovision Party 2024)

Magnus continues the explanation of the song:

– The choruses are just a calling, an animal calling to get cows back from the pasture and get them back to the farm. Women in rural Norway developed this singing technique to catch the animals' attention and it turned into a vocal tradition poorly documented, but we found an old recording where you an actually hear it.

Bringing Norwegian back to Eurovision

Gåte's interest in ancient and traditional culture and poems comes from Gunnhild who, when the topic was addressed, had already left the interview due to personal matters:

– Part of it comes from her because she started it with kveing, a traditional vocal technique she uses, she grew up with that. She would sing that, as a child, for tourists, Magnus says.

– So, she brought that into the band. I wasn't yet part of the band back then but the cool thing is that members like Mangus blended that style with rock and electronica, Jon adds.

Magnus concludes:

– It turns out that in the 2000s there was a big wave in Sweden of this kind of mix between folk music and modern electrorock elements. Even though many people didn't believe in it, we brought it to Norway and found really great success.

Besides bringing a new sound to Eurovision, they're also bringing the Norwegian language to the contest, something that hasn't happened since 2006:

– It's a great honor for us, it feels like the real deal, Jon says.

– It's also really natural for us, but the reality is that many Norwegians don't understand what we say either, they have to read it because we sing it in an ancient and archaic way. Well, and also without words such as in the chorus, Magnus adds.

– An idiosyncratic about this song is that, in the chorus for example, there are no words but there's tons of communication in it, that's what music can do.

At last, we speak about their fans. Being an established band with a strong following could've been a risk to a few who don't support the contest:

– I don't think we've seen many complaints, Jon says.

– It's a different time now. Maybe 10 years ago it would've been really strange for us to do Eurovision, but the way I see it is that Eurovision represents much more than just regular music industry, so it resonates with us, Magnus concludes.

Before we conclude our talk, we compare their journey to the Danish representative, Saba, who unlike them is just starting:

– She's lovely, we met in Stockholm, Magnus says.

– It's really interesting to see things that way, but I also think it's inspiring because now we're on the same level. But if I had to give advice to a newcomer, it'd be to value the moment, enjoy the success, and stay grounded. Enjoy every second.

Gåte will perform their song "Ulveham" in the second Semi-final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2024.

About the author: Pedro Santos (Portugal)

authorPedro comes from Lisbon, Portugal. He's 30 years old and graduated in journalism. He has attended Eurovision Song Contest three times live - 2018, 2019 and 2022 - and covered the show twice more (2021, 2023) but his first Eurovision memory takes him back to 2007 when Sarbel delivered his catchy "Yassou Maria" performance. Pedro's favorite Eurovision song is Albania's 2015 "I'm Alive" by Elhaida Dani which is also his favorite Eurovision edition.

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