Live Report: Tallinn Music Week 2021

Live Report: Tallinn Music Week 2021

A re-energizing culture clash for the industry...

After five hours of sleep and two international flights, Clash finds itself stood in an old Soviet bomb shelter drinking sweet tea and enjoying a marmalade sweet on the edge of Tallinn. Our tour guide Indrek is going through some behind-the-scenes photographs of Andrei Tarkovsky's sci-fi masterpiece Stalker, a film he shot - three times no less - in the industrial wasteland outside of the city. It's an odd start to our Tallinn Music Week 2021, but this is a festival for big ideas and the desire to embrace creativity in all its forms.

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With over 150 acts performing, a host of lively debates, record fairs, exhibitions, and networking conferences, the Estonian capital is turned into the hive of international activity for four heady days. With the pandemic complicating things for an industry that often fights to be recognized for its cultural and financial worth, the atmosphere is one of giddy excitement and warm discussion. Despite the many hurdles, TMW's organisers have pulled off the near-impossible, talent, fans, and industry reps from all corners gathered to celebrate what puts a little swing in our steps. It’s good to be back, and the cobbled streets and tramlines are holding many secrets for those who seek them.

Trading our Doc Martens for some comfy slippers, Estonia's own Etnosfäär set the tone for an invigorating first eve over at the ETK Folk Night stage. Marrying traditional music and instrumentation with modern elements, the captivating trio answered the question, 'What if J.R.R Tolkien went rave?.' Baffling, beautiful, and innovative, the band's playful energy made a great start to the proceedings. Over at the cavernous Station Narva stage held inside Kultuurikatel, the city's former central power station, things rev up several gears. Russian electronic duo AIGEL are a perfect fit for the space, producer Ilya Baramiya's hypnotic and menacing beats laying the groundwork for poet Aigel Gaisina's vocal stylings.

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Upping the theatrical level by 5000 were Icelandic techno rockers Hatari, whose political actions during Eurovision 2019 got them both trouble and praise. One of the most anticipated performances at TMW 2021, the crowd lapped up their brand of catchy abrasiveness. While a little too Hellraiser meets Scorpions for Clash's taste, there's no doubt they made the most of their prime slot. New York’s A Place To Bury Strangers follow, unleashing the trademark wall of sound to a full capacity. Their psych-infused shoegaze is performed with demented fury and lapped up hungrily. Heads rattled, the British press took an eventful tram trip to the D3 Showcase for some happy house courtesy of Gerd Janson.

Worse for wear atop the city’s top-notch Maritime Museum, Clash takes in the sights of the old town on a brisk and sunlit morning before heading off to beloved theatre/venue Von Krahl. Since leaving the Soviet union in 91, the location has proudly reflected the countries artistic prowess, being a hub for experimental theatre and shows. It's at the bottom venus out back that we catch one of our highlights, Holy Motors. A shimmering combo of tripped out Americana and Lynchian darkness, the band weaves a heady spell, occasionally breaking it for some power chord release. Latest album ‘Horse’ is highly recommended for the uninitiated. Heaven's Trumpet, the fantastically labeled experimental showcase, is attended for some post-dinner entertainment. Local artist Jasperino mixing ambient wrongness with speed run footage of Valve's 1998 game-changer 'Half-Life,' an inspired combination.

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In the medieval surroundings of the Winkel cultural hub, Mart Avi delivers his one-person avant-pop set to an inquisitive crowd ready for something removed from huge drops and gnarly guitar tones. His striking stage moves and elegant delivery fit the location and the festival's whole energy perfectly. A brisk stomp back towards the fantastic Telliskivi Creative City - an industrial area now reborn as an artistic hub - Clash manages to enjoy some 90s dance remixes and a little more Budvar Dark before sadly having to fly at dawn back to English shores.

Our time in Tallinn may have been brief, but it was also magical. With showcases and fests so often pushed out a view as some kind of nuisance, Estonia embraces its talent and its guests with genuine warmth and wonder. During TMW, Tallinn becomes a playground for the curious, a place for those to debate, discuss, and embrace the next wave. Politics and pandemics may come and go, but the unifying power of music remains to inspire.

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Words: Sam Walker-Smart

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