On the weekend of March 29 when a collective facepalm spreads around Europe over Brexit, at least one city will be fuelled by an inclusive, open-door international ethos, as Tallinn Music Week once again hits the Estonian capital.
The 11th edition of the music city showcase festival runs from March 25-31, promoting “tomorrow’s music, arts and ideas”. Symbolically set in spring, there’s a clear metaphor of growth and renewal, and the festival is regarded as the most open, inclusive and experimental showcase festival in Europe. Some 170 acts from 28 countries are playing in 10 venues over three nights in Tallinn, with a daytime conference programme featuring lectures, workshops, debates and industry panels.
With a mission statement of promoting “untapped talent… from Serbia to Siberia, from Latvia to Lebanon, Estonia to Ethiopia”, the diversity of acts at TMW is phenomenal, especially when compared with commercial festivals in Ireland and the UK announcing their line-ups in the last few weeks, caught in a depressing race to the middle of the road.
From neoclassical composers and free jazz ensembles to grindcore, death metal, ambient, outsider folk, techno, rap, industrial, spiritual music, avant-garde pop and whatever else you might come up with, TMW ticks many boxes you never knew existed.
I’ll be hitting Tallinn at the end of the month so a full report is incoming, but in the meantime, here’s a few choice acts on the radar so far…
Alyona Alyona (Ukraine)
Alonya Savranenko is a true outlier in Ukrainian music – a rural preschool teacher and daycare counsellor who’s become a viral hit with her satirical take on hip-hop. She emerged last year with the video Рибки 2 (Fishies 2), which morphs from a kids’ folk tale DVD into a hyper-kinetic ravey trap blast. Her videos like Відчиняй (Open It) and Залишаю свій дім (Leave My House) are racking up millions of hits, and her upcoming debut album is the most anticipated record in Ukraine this year.
Molchat Doma (Belarus)
From the brutalist Soviet hotel on the cover, to the minimal synths and deadpan vocal delivery, Molchat Doma’s latest album Этажи (Etazhi) sounds like a cult 1979 cold wave tape curio that’s just been unearthed by a reissue label such as Dark Entries. Melancholy, bass-heavy post-punk vibes with an evocative lo-fi aesthetic.
rosemary loves a blackberry (Russia)
Moving in the same Anti-Ghost Ray circles as Gazelle Twin, Diane Burkot is another artist who explores the dark side of performance art, pop and electronics. Her stunning, surreal videos veer from a Tron-like immersion in social media to playing with black metal imagery and VHS degradation. In performance it’s laptops, pedals, video cassettes and a mic for her spectral vocals – and in one live video, a hula-hoop (very Grace Jones).
The only Irish act on the bill, Ian ‘Eomac’ McDonnell and Dara ‘Arad’ Smith have been experimenting in outsider techno for years. If you’ve been battered by Aphex Twin’s multimedia live assaults in recent years, chances are Lakker’s music has been woven into your skull along with the other assorted brain-wrongs. Their new album Época explores electronics with abstract use of Irish traditional instruments and their own vocals. They’ll be presenting Época with a new audiovisual showcase at TMW.
SADO OPERA (Russia)
Russian queer disco performance art crew SADO OPERA are the house band at the infamous Berlin sex club Ficken3000, and they veer between celebrations of late night dark room flings to middle finger salutes to their home country and the toxic patriarchy. It’s all done with a subversive, dry wit and a sonic palette that draws on acid house, electro, disco and Hi-NRG flamboyance.
Talinn teenager Myspacebabe has been knocking around Soundcloud anonymously for a year, uploading abstract electronica with brilliant shitposting titles such as ‘I Died For About 4 Minutes And Came Back With Gifts’ and ‘K1, yelling at artifacts as she slowly descends into madness’. There’s hints of vaporwave, Braindance, Detroit electro and a nagging feeling that he spends every waking hour on the internet.
A few years ago ROKKY could be found on the streets of Berlin busking with an acoustic guitar. No offence, but I’m glad she’s left that aside for now and has been dishing out jackin’ basement electro-pop. Her 2018 single My Lips could well be the catchiest song of any artist on the whole of the TMW line-up, landing somewhere between Technotronic’s Pump Up the Jam, Depeche Mode and Miss Kittin.
Since her first album in 2003, Galina Ozeran has flitted around the outskirts of electronic music, settling on droney, spectral pop on her latest cassette album New Season. She came up with her wafting, misty abstract vocal style after losing her voice on tour years ago, and started composing with just minimal synths, breathy multi-tracked whispers and found sounds.
Anna Kaneelina (Estonia)
Like fellow Estonian Mart Avi (who won the TMW Artist Award last year), Anna Kaneelina bends pop music in odd, thrilling shapes. Her new debut album may have some passing references to Fleetwood Mac and raw, minimalist singer-songwriters, but her stunning voice and the avant-garde arrangements on tracks such as Thunder and Lilledes add many extra facets.
John and Sandra Fedowitz revel in a gravelly, hyper-distorted take on shoegaze and psych-rock, with deadpan Brit-affected vocals buried beneath feedback squalls, overdrive and everything in the red. Their fifth album east coast is another entrancing, reverb-soaked opus, spinning out in all directions.
A controlled riot of blastbeats, distorted squeals, swarm riffs and gleaming, droney interludes, Mol build on bands like Deafheaven and Alcest, proving black metal, shoegaze and post-rock aren’t such a hot take when they’re woven together. Their 2018 album JORD is a colossal, intricately-woven extreme metal that manages to stay tightly-wound while offsetting the chaos with shimmery ambience.
Russian electronic producer Åmnfx’s upcoming third album is called Modern Life, and all the signs point to him thinking it’s rubbish. The Moscow native keeps things dark and nervy, from the EBM-techno of his Rave EP, to the lo-fi warped house on his Vision One album.
Don’t judge Ghlow by the fluorescent yellow and pink cover of their EP Crystal Memoriz – this is dark, distorted analogue electronic punk with nods to ADULT., A.R.E. Weapons, Foetus and early Cabaret Voltaire. They’ve been getting a debut album ready over the last few months, so expect new music in Tallinn.
I never thought I needed the Estonian Jesus Lizard in my life till I heard this. Zahir have been all about “guitar trouble since 1993”, according to their Bandcamp bio. On top of this derailing three-guitar (no bass) dissonance and wonky jazz drumming, frontman Tamubcho hits all the right feral vocal notes and enough venom to keep you wincing through it all. It gets particularly squalid when they go full hardcore on ‘Burgers For Hostages’ on their album What Noise?.
Sorry not sorry, but a band called Cumbeast are going on the list. The Finnish reprobates will upset members of polite society as well as metal purists, with their splatter-gore tongue-in-cheek take on death metal and grindcore. With track titles like ‘Leper Beach’, ‘Strangled With a Dreadlock’, ‘Grindiana Jones’ and ‘Hobo Christ’, you kinda know what you’re in for. Sick guitar grooves, double kick drums, contorted growls and self-pride in their utter vileness.
- Tallinn Music Week runs from March 25-31. For the full line-up, tickets and other info, see tmw.ee.