Live review of day one : Thursday
(John Robb) Tallinn Music Week is the best music event/festival on the circuit.
These showcase events are key to the musical calendar now with bands getting their breaks performing at them and the narrative of music being shaped in their debates, panels, in conventions and key notes.
Tallinn Music Week has taken this a massive step further though and as well as having the most diverse and compelling musical line up of all these events it also has a cultural, political and social side to it that not only showcases the city but also informs and drives the government and the president herself who gives a great speech at the conference as well as giving the whole nation a sense of its identity.
It’s this breaking down the borders as well as the idealism and cultural sense that makes Tallinn Music Week very special…and also the great line up that sees a vast diversity of music from classical to experiment to metal to indie fill the brilliantly diverse venues in the beautiful Tallinn old town…
In all great art there are no borders. An immigration of ideas is the key and an open mind is an open heart. In the modern world where populism and cynicism runs amok in music and life it’s great to see an event moving forwards untainted by the nervous breakdown of modern times. Tallinn Music Week is fast forwarding to a far better future. It understands the music is the key. The fluidity of ideas and emotions of the good stuff.
(Richard Foster) The opening night began in the huge converted factory, the Kultuurikatel; we missed the “secret” kick-off gig but managed to catch those heroic nomads Alexander Hacke and Danielle de Picciotto in the Small Hall with a fabulously louche set of pan-Gothicke lullabies. Then we popped into the Hall of Cauldrons to see Maarja Nuut and Hendrik Kaljujärv play. Nuut is becoming something of a pinup for modern Estonian music. But she’s not one to rest on her laurels, as she’s currently forcing her brilliantly stark take on folk down a tougher, more enticing electronic path. The sound on the night was a bit weird, and Nuut and Kaljujärv’s complicated multi-channel live mixing sometimes sounded a bit sharp or maybe a bit unplanned, but when it did work it was pure magic. At one point (during one of the more ravey numbers, yes you heard it here first) Nuut couldn’t repress a smile and started to jig about techno-style, even if it did shock a few of the folkie old guard. If Dylan can become a Judas for his art, why not Maarja?
(John Robb) Alexander Hacke and Danielle de Picciotto create an atmosphere of sound that builds in layers. Using a collection of instruments that they carry round the world on their 21st century art nomad mission like an autoharp, violin and a hulking looking guitar they combine these with looping and laptops to build up mesmerising pieces that are driven by Alexander Hacke’s rolling tom toms and Danielle’s exquisite violin and autoharp pieces that switch from sweet melody to hypnotic drones. There is story telling or droning vocal hums that sound like an oncoming thunderstorm from Hacke who is also the musical director and bassist of Einstuzende Neubauten that perfectly compliment his wife and musician, artist, writer, filmmaker Danielle’s lines in a music that is as entwined and magnetic as their marriage and is also as dark and compelling as you would hope for.
(Richard Foster) Next stop for me was the tiny Kuku Klubi, famous in the Soviet era as a place of cultural dissent and naughtiness. Recently renovated, this intimate venue nevertheless retained some feel of its louche past. It felt… well, how to put this… a cheeky place; rebelliousness was ingrained in its psyche, and definitely a place where anything could happen. We stumbled in just in time for Sobranie 8 18 from Russia. This young duo knocked out a sort of dark, poppy Gothic cabaret with an ease and panache that was really really exciting. Their dark, swirling sound was set off by brilliant vocals and a sort of look-but-don’t-touch cool that nevertheless bypassed any snottiness. Ones to watch out for, especially if you like that interzone between Mac Almond and XMAL Deutschland. After that, (and some more of the competitively-priced adult liquids) we caught local cabaret star Indrek Spungin, who played what can only be described as soft psych-folk, interspersed with catty asides. We had no idea what he was on about, but the locals laughed and that was fair enough.
(John Robb) Whilst Richard is running around town with his head full of lists of bands and heart full of song I’m watching the wonderful Maarja Nuut play in a big packed room which is a great experience. We have written many times about Maarja singing her praises and every word is justified. This is an unexciting music rooted deep in Estonian folk but fast forwarded to the 21st century with her violin pushed through loop pedal building textures and atmospheres with every small sound being utilised to create unlikely rhythms and vibes. She also uses her breath and voice to add to these builds and then plays these hypnotic violin lie top adding vocals in her stunning voice that makes you well up with joy and fear and life. All the good stuff is here and now she has taken another step, adding an electronic backdrop to her sound with Hendrik Kaljujärv now adding a spectral dark electronic pulse underneath her sound – it’s a spectacularly successful combination – all great music is about technology – at one time the violin would have been hi tech future noise and it’s this marriage of the traditional and the future that makes for so much great pop culture.
As ever Maarja’s music draws you in – deep into the forests of Estonia full of mystic shadows and flickering emotions – its truly spellbinding and with her touring he UK soon it’s a gilt edged chance to go and see something stunningly original and emotionally powerful.
(Richard Foster) Sinilind is a funny club; it has a feel of a rabbit warren, with lots of interlocking rooms leading into very surprising spaces. One minute you’re in an intimate cafe, the next in a cavernous, dark venue. After a few light ales, it’s most confusing. Still we managed to negotiate a way to finding a spot near the front for Belgian band Whispering Sons, who bashed out an accessible, sometimes fabulous post-punk set. Watching the gig it struck me; it’s funny how these twentysomethings process post-punk and Goth music. And how modern audiences react to it. I get the impression that it’s seen as a style first and foremost; the moves, sounds and looks all studiously copied and reassembled to suit; and done mainly to entertain, not to agitate. It’s no surprise the socio-cultural frustrations and impetuses that originally shaped this music 40 years ago are by and large irrelevant to these moderns.
Regardless, Whispering Sons have a great singer whose assertive presence is based round a really tough voice and a set of simian moves that recall Savages’ take on that bobbing and weaving dance Jim Kerr used to do, back when dinosaurs walked the earth. Belgium has a long, proud tradition of Coldwave and post-punk bands (Nausea and Allez Allez to name but two) and Whispering Sons are definitely of the canon, even if their worldview is still under construction. The bits that didn’t appeal (to me at any rate) were the poppier numbers that ended up sounding like a Coldwave-by-numbers take on Editors. But at times, when the band dropped down a gear and plunged into more abstract, grittier less poppy territory, and singer channelled her tough, howling aggression over the top, it was great. Really great.