And so, back to the beautiful Estonian capital of Tallinn with it’s stunning Old Town, it’s peaked medieval towers and winding cobbled streets, vaulted concert halls, bustling bars and basement rock clubs, for all the wonders on offer at Tallinn Music Week 2012.
The city’s history is visible in buildings like the Sõprus cinema: an imposing piece of Soviet architecture that houses a fantastic converted film auditorium with the original screen still in place – a vast wall, flickering with patterns of light, that sets the mood of the Friday night party of choice hosted by Odessa Pop.
Candy Empire open, playing stylish retro guitar-pop. The band was started by one member of now-defunct breakthrough Estonian indie band Opium Flirt, but this project treads a more stylised path, with a vintage feel to their look and artwork as well as their sound. Candy Empire’s remixes reveal a dance sensibility underlying this early incarnation: as a young project, you get the feeling they have potential they are still discovering. But for now, Candy Empire make quite light songs with the charm of early Blondie, and their aesthetic is seductive.
After four days of trying, I think I’m getting close to being able to say Valjasoit Rohelisse (pronounced Val-Ya-Sweet Ro-Hell-Ease). This enthralling four-piece started slowly, drowned the swaying audience with swathes of echoing noise and passages of hypnotic minimalism, disappearing behind a wall of swirling smoke and emerging as their throbbing, dark repetitions slowly chased it away. Their compositions ebbed and flowed invitingly, pushing their persuasive, teasing tendrils through the crowd and making the air feel thick with sound. Like Kreatiivmootor last year, this is a band that emerges fully formed, and could hold their own on stages around the world; in fact, with a new album on the way, it feels necessary that they do exactly that.
On Saturday, Zebra Island open proceedings at Von Krahl, the central theatre of the festival, with their dreamy pop-sound, like a Baltic Beach House perhaps. We then embarked on a whirlwind trip across town to the underground Rock Cafe for Russian five-piece Motorama. In front of a whooping crowd, they played an impassioned new-wave-inflected set with a lack of pretension that stretched to an accomplished (irony-free) cover of Althea and Donna’s Uptown Top Ranking. Andres Lõo followed, playing exciting, intense electronic pop with crooned poetic non-sequiturs and bringing to mind Bryan Ferry, as produced by Ariel Pink and styled by Daniel Agust. But time was tight, and with a packed schedule of performances happening all over the city, we reluctantly left mid-set.
Back at Von Krahl, Talbot are whipped up a thunderous sound. The drum kit took up half the stage, behind them sitting heavily tattoed, utterly solid percussionist Jarmo Nuutre, who beat his instruments within an inch of their lives with pummelling brutality and an almost balletic grace. Distorted basslines form their blunt, powerful tunes, and a dual vocal played a melodic rock vocal off against Nuutre’s guttural doom-metal roar. Talbot marry bone-crunching force with dextrous musicality.
Kreatiivmootor were a clear highlight last year, creating a new problem for me: a sound so utterly vivid and vital it’s difficult to portray it in words. True to form, they’ve moved on in the last twelve months: from a set built on a base of a pounding 4×4 techno rhythm, they’ve decided to explore abstract improvised melody with the same adroit experimentalism. Roomet Jakapi is a live-wire frontman, not still for second, rocking and twitching his way around the stage, getting into an improvised in-depth discussion with a saxophone, or gripping his effects table with white knuckles and vibrating as if electrocuted. Few bands can keep speed with the vast imagination of Japanese rhythmic-noise collective Boredoms, but this is one of them. Kreatiivmootor are lightning in a bottle – teeming with energy, truly unique and utterly special.
These are just highlights amongst the many other bands that could have been mentioned, like the triumphant pop sound of Rubik, the odd electronic pop constructions of ÖÄK and the promising shoegaze-inflected guitar music of The New Tigers. But it’s a testament to the quality on offer at Tallinn Music Week that of the ten bands mentioned in this piece it seemed there were ten more I wanted to see but couldn’t, ten more I got recommendations for, and ten more after that.
Estonia’s mingling of Russian and Nordic cultures is a widely held perception, but after this mind-blowing display of the experimental eclecticism and joyfully creativity of the Tallinn scene, the comparison starts to seem irrelevant. Estonia has just been clearing it’s throat these last few years, and now this little country is singing with a distinctive voice all of it’s own.