Tallinn Music Week 2020, Estonia, 27-29 August | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, October 29th, 2020  

Tallinn Music Week 2020, Estonia, 27-29 August,

Sep 18, 2020 Web Exclusive Photography by Ake Heiman Bookmark and Share


Tallinn Music Week (TMW) - the multi-venue city showcase fest, now in its 12th year - is nothing if not open-minded in its music curation. So, whether you're a mosher or chin-stroking academic avant-gardist, raver or Soundcloud rapper, you will find you have been well catered for by the festival's offering, set against the picturesque backdrop of the Estonian capital.

The festival's catch-all approach works, because wherever the acts on this wildly eclectic Venn diagram sit, they all reach a certain level. Some are highly promising, others are legendary artists, but they have all been placed in the programme by the invisible but assured hands of excellent curators, the unsung heroes of the slick TMW operation.

For me, Tallinn Music Week is important, because it's such a reliable place to come to get a sense of the best music from this part of the world and beyond. I frankly lose count of the number of recommendable bands taking off in interesting, new and worthwhile directions whom I have discovered for the first time at TMW.

It was touch and go whether I would have to skip a year. Take the risk of being behind the curve without the annual bump of superb yet undeservedly underappreciated great stuff to rave about. But, coming from a relatively Covid-safe country, Latvia, there was no need to quarantine upon arrival. For countless artists from countries where the virus has been more out of control, that was not the case and several bands were forced to cancel. Promoter Roman Romcha states he's booked-rebooked and then cancelled 250-300 artists in the build-up. And a lot of these cancellations happened just before the festival was due to start, because the Estonian government introduced stricter measures. So, that meant no Russian new wave; and no well-funded Canadian poutine-snack laden schmooz-y showcases either.

Nevertheless, a festival starring 140 bands from 10 countries, held in August instead of the originally planned March, has been patched together. After so little live music all year, it was a tantalizing prospect.

Lukamon

Marmormaze

(Photo: Marina Pushkar)

Of the 10 countries represented, most artists were either from Estonia or from nearby countries. And that meant a Covid-induced Baltic-Nordic focus year at TMW. A chance, then, for me to see the correlation between TMW showcases and the strength and depth of the year-round Baltic music scene.

The first place to go on the opening night, Thursday, is Void Valley at Sveta baar. It's a night with roots in heavy metal but encompassing of many variants of dark music, and curated by promoters who are more active on the heavy scene than anyone else in Estonia: Damn.Loud Agency boss and TMW's music programme and production manager Roman Demchenko and Urban Culture Entertainment's Tanya Korenik.

Their picks prove brilliant. Especially post black metallers Eschatos from Latvia, who craft an immersive, strobe-lit fuzz storm which proves fitting for the grungy, arty environs. And Estonian three-piece doom metallers Kannabinõid (main photo), who are masters at crafting harrowing atmosphere and cutting the tension with incendiary riffs. Both acts play to roughly 150 people this evening but could have captivated 10,000 - they completely hold their own.

There's only ever a short walk between venues - nearly all events over the weekend are in the Telliskivi quarter - to the venue where Tallinn-based solo artist Anna Kaneelina is playing. Backed by a full band, the singer evokes Angel Olsen and Jefferson Airplane and offers a chance to luxuriate in melody and drama. A great nightcap.

Anna Kaneelina

Anna Kaneelina. 

(Photo: Kaie Kiil)

Friday's best music is put on by Estonian independent scene heroes, Siim Nestor and Raul Saaremets'. It's their Sõru Saund showcase and held in the haunted house aesthetic of stylishly run down Kauplus Aasia.

The curators, who have their own popular radio shows and each run a label (in addition to the Sõru Saund festival in summer) have been blowing minds for a living with their Mutant Disco club night for years, so you there's a sense it'll be stellar even before we arrive. Looking back at Mutant Disco line-ups they had an uncanny ability to book acts before they'd go on to win Wire mag album of the year. So we're here to expect stuff that's of a musically adventurous spirit.

And true to their reputation Sõru Saund presents the extraordinary 66-year-old violinist Valentina Goncharova. It's awe-inspiring stuff - not a million miles away from the sound of William Basinski. This musician's stamina, as she executes perfect drone-y strokes on the violin to create a cyclical, flowing sound for the collage electronic sound underpinning it, is jaw-dropping.

Valentina Goncharova

Valentina Goncharova 

(Photo: Priit Poder)

Goncharova, who's had a late renaissance this year thanks to a reissue of her forgotten late 80s and early 90s material, is famed for having earned a top-notch classical music education at St Petersburg conservatoire in her youth. It was a place where she would start her journey of using that formal education as a foundation and splicing it with wilder elements associated with free jazz and improvisatory music.

Saaremets and Siim Nestor tell me they had absolutely no idea that a musician of such calibre lives in their beloved Tallinn. "We've been in this music game all our lives and thought we knew everyone. But it wasn't until the Ukrainian label Shukai label, which is partly run out of Tallinn, came to me with tapes of her that we discovered her. She's very special."

Goncharova is later followed by the subversive Mart Avi stage show - a compelling Estonian performer who borrows from genres as disparate as jungle and neo-soul and synthesises his own reverb-laden pop world with thrillingly jagged contours. The set's banging digi-dub number "Scorpio", (a beat written by Ajukaja; alias of Raul Saaremets), is a highlight as are numerous unreleased cuts played from his upcoming album, which is titled Vega Never Sets, and leaves me certain this will be Tallinn's next star to rise.

Mart Avi

Mart Avi 

(Photo: Priit Poder)

In between Goncharova and Mart Avi, I make a quick skip over to Sveta baar to watch a Latvian artist, MNTHA. As an aside, the solo artist was placed sixth in Eurovision in 2016, but has not even the faintest hint of that kind of past in her performance now. Dressed as an elf, this artist who's making a name for herself on the Berlin underground, proves incredibly enigmatic with her ethereal voice and synth-y dark disco sound design. MNTHA's confidence on stage proves infectious throughout the room and a loose-limbed, unhinged atmosphere prevails. The shackles-off rock n' roll spirit evokes the curators' own love of alternative music. Those running the show tonight (Roman Demchenko and Sveta founders Luke and Madleen Teesov-Faulkner) are opening a new festival in November called GROM, which has earned its place as one of the most brilliant looking alt-leaning festivals in Europe.

Sveta baar is once again magnetic in its offerings on Saturday, the third and final night. This time with the Estonian academic avant-gardist Mihkel Tomberg curating under his DIY label Heavens Trumpet moniker. Heavens Trumpet is principally a community-minded label which he set up to promote his own musical projects and his contemporaries. And since Tomberg is such a galvanising spirit on the Tallinn scene, it feels very just that he's running his first-ever TMW showcase.

The pick of the bunch is a project Tomberg performs in, the Estonian Electronic Music Society Ensemble. They are reviving a work of experimental genius from a Tallinn-born composer Udo Kasemets, and the pieces they perform are the 7th, 8th and 10th moon of "Lun(h)armonics" (1990).

Estonian Electronic Music Society Ensemble

Estonian Electronic Music Society Ensemble. 

(Photo: Tanel Tero)

Staying true to Kasemets' original, they use sinusoidal oscillators to create these long-held humming sounds. It's perhaps the most out-there, risky idea for a festival, but it comes off wonderfully, proving the Tallinn Music Week crowd's hunger for adventurous sounds is there.

For the last roll of the dice in the Baltic scene discovery at TMW 2020, it's off to the Lagi showcase at F-Hoone Must Saal, which is curated by Soru Saund man Siim Nestor. Nestor is in the process of starting a label called Lagi for new breed of Estonian hip-hop. No one is better qualified to be bringing this new generation than Nestor. He has a radio show on Raadio 2 has been there since the genesis. He tells me that when he started playing it, there were 20 or 30 artists. And now he counts he's played tracks by 150 new ones on his Raadio 2 show, each act chasing the kind of stardom that breakthrough rapper Nublu has had.

The showcase has been running all day and well into the evening when I arrive. Performing on the small stage is the newcomer Lukamon. He is playing his first-ever gig and does so with the confidence of the Australian band Confidence Man's Sugar Bones; baring as he does a similarly muscular torso and short bob hairstyle. Musically the kitsch autotune is beautifully antagonistic towards more serious styles of hip-hop. The wild energy in the room and swooning in the audience is outrageously receptive.

Next comes the biggest outsider in these showcases, Marmormaze. His bedroom trap style, all self-produced, is not confined by anything and swerves into all manner of extreme genre contrasts. From soulful rap to intense distorted anger, befitting to his dripping black eye make up and runaway bride attire - there's no denying that he wears a wedding dress well.

Marmormaze

Lukamon

(Photo: Priit Poder)

Marmormaze and Lukamon's show gives a whirlwind introduction to the new breed of hip-hop. And that is a reminder of how the listener gets totally immersed in these very different and discrete worlds, one after another; a few hours spent watching the academic avant-garde, then getting right into the baltic metal scene. What this multiple close-up exposure achieves is that it instils a desire to keep peeling back the wallpaper. And what that does is to reveal what magnificent art is based in Tallinn and its surrounds.

My music collection has been hugely enriched by this year's TMW. And the fact that the Tallinn treasure trove has been so strong this year is all the more remarkable because it has all been put together during an insanely difficult time to plan a live music event. To get such magnificent results, and to carry such a positive spirit in the face of such challenges shows commendable resourcefulness and an utterly brilliant sense of community. The magnitude of the organizers' services to the creative scene in Estonia, and services to culture everywhere, simply cannot be overestimated. This has been marvelous experience to live through.

The next Tallinn Music Week takes place in May 2021...

 

 




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