“Hello Tallinn. Hello Music. Hello this Week.”
So warbles the bongo player from a Latvian prog-rock band, Treeeye, who are all wearing hi-vis jackets but find themselves in the low-viz situation of an oddly deserted drum ‘n’ bass stage, on the Friday night of the aforementioned festival.
Still, Clash are present, and revelling in exactly the kind of random stick-a-pin-in-the-programme discovery that you just don’t get at other fests.
Tallinn Music Week celebrates its tenth edition this weekend – well, the whole week really, being a big old deal these days. Anyone who’s anyone in Northern Europe and beyond pitches up here, for a music festival that genuinely and realistically reckons it can change the world: they’ve got more innovative initiatives than you can squeeze into one introductory paragraph. And at least one Latvian quintet dressed like railway-track repair guys, who are actually rather good, prog-rocking with the blissful abandon that only an absence of punters allows.
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This is a good year both for the serious stuff and splendidly quirky happenings. TMW was quicker than most with gender-balancing, so is getting heavily behind the PRS campaign Keychange, which is actively encourages women to change the music business by promoting some fine speakers and singers – such as the UK’s own Suzi Wu. Less helpful is the airline that loses a whole bunch of luggage, including her guitars, but she begs, borrows and belts out an impressive late-Friday set, considering.
And unique happenings? Well, there’s the rapper Arop, who made Estonia’s biggest tune last year – a catchy bastard called ‘Kiki Miki’ - and here plays a not-secret-for-long gig on a mirrored platform at a busy intersection, complete with smoke machines and flummoxed pedestrians. Just behind that stage is a big shopping mall where Alluri – a Morrissey-loving Indian indie-rocker – attracts an appreciative crowd and one eccentric woman, who dances wildly throughout the first two songs, takes an extravagant bow, shakes Alluri’s hand, then flounces off. Just another typical day for her, one imagines.
As those punters discovered, stumbling across something unexpected is one of this city-fest’s frequent pleasures. Wandering over to the increasingly impressive Telliskivi Creative City – basically a whole new district fashioned from old railway buildings – Clash hears some promising wailing from the new-to-us Sveta bar and catches the enjoyably chunksky-funksky Russian outfit Wooden Whales, whose frontwoman is so pleasingly Byrne/Curtis jerky that she eventually jerks right out into the audience, like an untethered washing machine.
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That event is co-run by Station Narva, a forthcoming festival from the latter city, which is on the Estonian/Russian border and was thought by many to be a potential next Crimea. Rather than wait nervously, Narva is banging its drum at TMW with a mayor-led panel earlier in the day and this evening mix of Russian and Estonian acts: a positive response to geographical precariousness.
More highlights, back in central Tallinn, and emitting an even more piercing wail than Wooden Whales is the chap from Samurai Champs, which is somewhat unexpected from a male Canadian rap duo but certainly adds a distinctive element to hip-hop’s often overly macho landscape: it takes a bold guy to get so high.
Over at festival hub Von Krahl, the popular Estonian electronic trio I Wear* Experiment are worth squeezing into: edgy party electro-pop. Funky Belgian art-rockers Intergalactic Lovers create a similarly entertaining happening in there afterwards, while Perttu – from Finland – looks absolutely delighted to be playing his feelgood beats downstairs: it’s like someone gave decks to H from Steps, but in a good way.
More stage oddities? Of course! Kytami from Canada is a techno-backed violinist, which sounds quite fun for a bit but longer-term would probably work better as edgy relief at, say, The Proms: imagine Derrick May working with Vanessa Mae. Exactly.
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On Saturday night there’s a launch party for another new festival, Sweet Spot, which hosts some excellent acts - Mauno Meesit and Avoid Dave (both Estonia) and Hildur (Iceland) - but also some acquired tastes. One of them, Reket, gets the least promising build-up, ever, from our local informant. “This next guy,” she says, “is Estonia’s tallest rapper.” He strolls about like a TV presenter with beats. Then it’s Finland’s Dallas Kalevala who – for much of their set - are basically just a drummer, plus a guy prancing about in leather hotpants. Maybe the airline mislaid half of their band too.
Perhaps the festival’s most memorable performance though, is the last one Clash catches. D/Troit are Danish and from the moniker you might expect garage rock. Instead, this dapper collective kick into a dynamite soul groove, then are joined by an extraordinary character: a singer who looks late-sixties Yorkshire with his flat cap, white shirt and C&A slacks but oozes the sleazy funkuality of early-seventies James Brown, rubbing his sweat-drenched tits and polyester-clad undercarriage so feverishly it’s a wonder he doesn’t get electrocuted.
Meanwhile the girls in the front dance like religious fanatics, and come the end we’re all followers of his Danish soul-power cult. But where were this audience when Treeeye the prog-labourers from Latvia needed them? It’s a harsh world.
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Words: Si Hawkins
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