Bido Lito!’s Craig G Pennington heads to Estonia to indulge in a weekend of ludicrously off-the-wall hip hop, the folksong of the future, tech clubs in train stations and mesmeric Dutch indie darlings.
I’ll come clean. Before heading to TALLINN MUSIC WEEK I had little or no understanding of Tallinn and zero knowledge of Estonian music. Given that such trips are likely to be outlawed in two years’ time as the UK puts two fingers up to our European chums, I thought I’d better seize the moment. Tallinn, with its spaghetti-web of cobbled streets and ornate medieval squares makes the perfect picture postcard. But is its music any cop?
Kuku Klub is the first stop on an enlightening journey to find out; an artists’ hangout and creative hub since the oppressive days of the KGB – when the club provided an atmosphere for artistic expression, away from authority’s glare. Thankfully, this atmosphere of creative exchange is still in good health today and is much embodied by KARAMELL, whose complex soundscapes weave between freeform jazz, driving Neu!-beat krautrock and Klaus Johann Grobe-esque keyboard acrobatics.
The project is a collaboration between celebrated Estonian visual artist Marko Mäetamm (Drums) – whose exhibition I’m Only Streaming also opens in coordination with the festival – radical publisher and artist Kiwa Noid (Keys, Samples), and vocalist Siri Soosaar. Kiwa Nord’s Paranoia publishing house host this stage for the festival. Their mantra of “responsible action and the destruction of reality”, sees them produce gorgeous published artefacts – some of which are on display tonight – concerned with the “breakbeat of meta-meanings and hallucinating psycho geographies”. It’s an organisation certainly worth checking out. Their collection of ‘fake-magazines’ is straight from the Tactical Media world Bido Lito! explored in Issue 75 and shows further evidence of the movement’s internationalist clout.
TOMMY CA$H is an Estonian MC who seems to revel at the edges of good taste, and flaunts taboo. The stage he plays at this ‘secret’ show is quite literally a lorry backed into a car park in the downtown area of the city, overhung by skyscrapers and construction cranes. Two AV screens back the stage and carry a set of loops comprising YouTube meanderings and hand camera footage; MMA fighting in the woods, a rubber-clad dominatrix, montages of Oscar Pistorius, armed break-ins from CCTV, a guy who tattooed his eye balls.
Tommy’s delivery is nasal and sinister. He’s like some kind of white trash Count Dracula; thin moustache cropped tight with an aggressive undercut, a massive black fur coat and Adidas trackie. A razor sinister stare in his eyes. He’s on the tipping point of being either completely fucking terrifying, or an utter laughing stock.
For me he’s the former.
He embraces hip hop clichés, but in a way that he’s clearly taking the piss out of both himself and his subject matter. Pearlers such as, “I’m so white that it makes me black/My weed’s so strong that it might be crack” set the tone for his 25 minutes of bonkers bollocks. Tommy Ca$h is post-truth, post-naff and positively soddin’ marvellous. The unlikely messiah, a post-hipster pin-up. The Dick Dastardly of Estonian rebel music.
I also hang out at Tommy’s car park for Copenhagen’s BLACK DANIELS a drum ‘n’ bass MC who draws on a fairly straight set of high-tempo 4/4 beats and bottom end swells. He’s cool, but nothing revolutionary. The hot Jägermeister glühwein with Bombay Mix stirred in, on the other hand, very much is. I have three and bob along blissfully.
I stumble across the aforementioned Marko Mäetamm’s latest solo exhibition at Tallinn City Gallery, just off the main central square, later in the day. His mix of provocative, slapstick pop art and graphical linguistics gives an accessibility that could play down the depth of the subjects he explores; pluralism in society, the challenges of family, mass migration and socio-politics play out in his work. It’s accessible, challenging, humorous and little surprise he has garnered so much attention outside of his native Estonia.
ARGO VALS has had two records nominated for the Alternative Album Of The Year at the Estonian Music Awards. Technically he is arresting, but his guitar loop pedal schematics leave me a touch cold. There are waves-a-plenty of chopped beats and breaks, topped by singular, effect-laden guitar plucks. Its spacious and interesting enough, but I feel we’ve been here before.
I catch MICK PEDAJA – an artist cut form a similar cloth – at Von Krahl and he has great success with his own brand of broken beats, synthesiser swells and strained, luscious vocals. He has less success with his acoustic guitar loop layering – numerous artists mining this seam with little success are encountered over the weekend – and should stick to the arresting ebbs and flows of his electronic work.
The challenge to come up with new ways to balance the relationship between creative activity and the built environment is one facing cities across the world, as we know too well at home. One of Tallinn Music Week’s brilliantly mad-cap projects shows the festival taking this challenge head on; hosting a continuous 30-hour rave – with full, high-spec AV and a blisteringly loud soundsystem, (yes, the works) – within the city’s Balti Jaam tube station across the festival weekend. Joining the action, I stumble across DENIS PUNCH delivering a set of heavy duty tech-house. Alongside the main activity beneath an LED-encrusted canopy in the ticket hall, an adjoining underground access tunnel plays host to a light and sound installation by Estonian visual artist Emer Värk. It’s a brave project for the festival and one which embeds it literally within the infrastructure of the city.
EETER are a three-piece who fuse sinister and granular electronics with hypnotic, enveloping vocal calls. They envelope traditional southern Estonian folk song with mesmeric futurism, in a similar vein to how Fatima Al Qadiri does with the traditional sounds of Kuwait. It’s a dazzling mix, and set within the Gothic arches of St. Olaf’s Guild Hall, there’s a powerful synergy between artist and context, especially when the white-washed walls are drenched in decaying, organic visuals. The set builds and ebbs through a series of otherworldly soundscapes, what I interpret as some kind of hymnal prayer song cut-up with stabs of abrasive electronic samples. It manages to be both organic and processed, and this beautiful contradiction maintains throughout. This is precisely the kind of gorgeous oddity we were hoping to discover. I urge you to check out Unustamise Register. By the end of Eeter’s show I’m completely hooked and manage to catch up with Eeter’s Anna Hints, Marja-Liisa Plats and Ann Reimann.
“I have absolutely no understanding of pop music,” Reimann confesses, over strong coffee in a hippyish hang out snuggled within Tallinn’s medieval centre. When she expands on this, revealing a principle focus on film composition and a background as a child protégé concert pianist, much of Eeter’s otherworldliness begins to make sense. Hints talks of a “deep connection. We go somewhere else when we make music together, it is magical,” she reveals. We spend an hour discussing the folklore of Voromaa and Setomaa, two regions in southern Estonia with a language and culture distinct from the rest of the country. Theirs is a culture bedded in a rich relationship between humanity and the earth, an ancient form of local paganism. The song of this culture, a distinctive vocal reprise passed down from Hints and Plats’ grandmothers, adorns much of Eeter’s material. Interwoven with Reimann’s classical and filmic discipline, it makes Eeter a unique and fascinating proposition.
Kelm is nestled within the cobbled streets and castle walls of old town Tallinn, all heavy flock wallpaper and wood panels. The main room is packed way beyond capacity for Croatian shoegazers ŽEN, whose shimmering celestial-ness is technically very solid, hook-laden and ripe for disciples of the Slowdive renaissance. In a similar vein to Tel Aviv’s Vaadat Charigim, Zen approach a familiar international form from a completely different local perspective, layering it up with high contrast, intersecting linear visuals.
ГШ are precisely what we’re looking for. Hot out of Moscow they are completely anagrammatic, in a Duds, Beefheart, Devo-ish kind of way. Fronted by Jehnny Beth’s slightly tapped Russian step-sister, they throw time signatures and tempo changes about like a tiger pissing about with its not-quite-dead lunch. Beautiful slabs of jagged guitars interlock tongue and groove with weaving drums and oh-so-frantic vocals. Gorgeous chaos.
THE HOMESICK are three 20-year-old scallys from Dokkum in Holland who embody the same youthful distain as Jakobínarína did in 2007. As that baby-faced Icelandic six-piece seemed to emerge fully formed, perfectly crafted for the discerning UK indie-nut to fall head over heels in love with, so do The Homesick. They serve up gorgeous post-punk sonics, tight-cut drum work, driving melodic bass hooks, all wrapped up in a glistening, heart-warming nonchalance. It’s arresting. It’s captivating. It’s the Teardrops on the razz with Omni.
And with song titles like set-closer, The Best Part Of Being Young Is Falling In Love With Jesus, what is there not to love? I’m besotted. At the risk of getting a touch carried away with myself, The Homesick are completely, totally, utterly and unequivocally, brilliant. The Best Part Of Hitting Your Mid-30s And Having A Wild Old Weekend Of Musical Enlightenment In Tallinn Is Falling In Love With The Homesick.