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Tampere Nights: Lost in Music Festival 2012 | reviews, news & interviews

Tampere Nights: Lost in Music Festival 2012

Tampere Nights: Lost in Music Festival 2012

The annual showcase of Finland’s music, hosted by a city which recalls a benign Twin Peaks

Murmansk at the Lost in Music Festival: overwhelming, with no frillsJesse Keinonen

Nightclub Tähti is on the seventh floor of an anonymous-looking building along Tampere’s main shopping street, Hämeenkatu. Black-suited security wave you into a lift which zips straight up there. After surrendering your coat at the cloakroom – obligatory in Finland - a walk around the bar reveals the dance floor. The couples occupying it are doing the Finnish tango, a measured, understated version of the dance.

Finnish schlager is the soundtrack, a sort of native-language Eighties’ electropop with emotive crescendos. It rarely strays from the mid-paced.

Thirty minutes earlier, a couple of streets away in a club called Doris, Kiki Pau played a mostly instrumental, mesmeric, five-song set that recalled Anthem of the Sun era Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service. Like the dancers, their undemonstrativeness brings an intensity to what they do. Gestures aren’t necessary.

He falls onto the drum kit. The drummer keeps hammering. Could it have been accidently on purpose?

This is Finland, where as few words as possible suffice. The understatement means there are few explanations – at least ones that can be understood. The former manufacturing city of Tampere, which theartsdesk has visited before, is hosting Lost in Music, the annual showcase for the country’s music. Estonia is here too, but this is about Finland. As the festival continues in this counterpart to Birmingham, Finland reveals itself. Slowly, but never grudgingly.

Moving through a real-life, yet totally benign, version of Twin Peaks draws you into a world where there are certainties, even though they don’t necessarily make sense. The city is hosting local elections. Posters everywhere display numbered headshots of candidates, at least 900 of them. Asking a local why there are so many elicits the response “that’s democracy”. No doubt it is, but it’s no explanation for the bewildering volume of potential vote winners.

Lost in Music Festival Tampere electionIt’s the same for the festival. Not everything at Lost in Music could be called great. But when it is, it shares traits that soon become familiar – the formal, an understatement which is intense, an emotional punch. And often, the hard to interpret is never far.

Murmansk are a band with obvious roots. Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine and Goth rock are all in there, lurking in the murk that cloaks them on stage. Yet what comes out is fresh and extraordinarily powerful. Their Keith Moon drums are striking enough, but being driven by a bass guitar brings them closer to New Order than the rock they’d probably be lumped in with. Singer Laura yowls and bounces as if bitten. Guitar is a squall employed for colour rather than melody. The effect is overwhelming, especially as it’s presented as is, with no frills.

The folk-derived music booked at Lost in Music is similarly direct. Eva Alkulan & Jenny Vartiainen (the latter of whom is better known for her work in pop) are a duo that pluck the kantele, the Finnish zither. Sat rigidly behind their 38 and 39-stringed instruments, they produce a hypnotic sound like harpsichords conversing with Philip Glass. This spooky music should find a home in soundtracks. Later that evening in the wooden-beamed Telakka, the four-piece Kardemimmit are all armed with kantele, with varying amounts of strings. Their massed vocals have the clarity of Fleet Foxes and when they find a focus (a couple of songs were bit like what might be heard in the Xmas section of a department store), there’s no reason they wouldn’t fit snugly onto the bill at open-minded festivals like Green Man or Latitude.

It becomes clear that when Finnish musicians borrow from elsewhere, things can seem less successful to the foreign eye and ear. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to metal, where Finland has copper-bottom status. But what’s locally massive can mystify. Stig is a moustachioed, mullet-sporting chap that’s apparently Finland’s R Kelly (except he’s white) (pictured below left, photo by Ellifelin). Although he goes down a storm, he just cannot compute for the visitor. Likewise for Barbe-Q-Barbies who, although fun, wear their New York Dolls/trash rock thin.

Lost in Music Festival StigThe more (once again) understated electro of Sin Cos Tan has an instant appeal, as the yearning melodies and vocals evoke emotion. The same applies to veteran indie band 22 Pistepirkko, where it’s also not about gesture. The crowning moment for reducing gesture to the minimum was The Barry Andrewsin Disko, a solo act with a keening voice and music sounding like New York's Suicide as beamed in from outer space. All about atmosphere, it was left to the music alone to make it impact.

Most perplexing of all were Death Hawks, a four-piece clearly on intimate terms with The Doors. Their songs have the chugga-chugga of “Roadhouse Blues”, but their singer has adopted the look of Jeff Lynne. Even so, they have a familial resemblance to Sweden’s Soundtrack of Our Lives. Mr Lynne falls onto the drum kit. The drummer keeps hammering. Could it have been accidently on purpose?

Compared with the diamond-sharp psychedelia of gesture-free Kiki Pau, Death Hawks scream ostentation. Nothing wrong with that of course, but comparisons are inevitable at this wonderful event, with band-after-band on offer. Seeing things in isolation is impossible. Especially once it’s obvious that the tender formality of the Finnish tango and the directness of, say, Murmansk or Eva Alkulan & Jenny Vartiaisen articulate more about this magical country than any gesture ever will.

Visit Kieron Tyler’s blog

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