Tallinn Music Week 2019: 8 highlights from across the festival
- Arusa Qureshi
- 5 April 2019
Siksa / credit: Sven Tupits
Eclectic city festival in the Estonian capital offers plenty of surprises
'30 years ago we did not know what Estonia was going to be,' Kersti Kaljulaid, the President of Estonia, stated in her opening address at Tallinn Music Week. 'Now we know – it is the creative hub of Europe. We want Estonia to be the safe dock for people who think globally and act globally. Without freedom there is no creativity.'
As one of Europe's most eclectic city festivals, Tallinn Music Week is a wholly unique event, presenting everything from thrash metal to neo-soul across its diverse showcases. The 11th edition of the event, which took place at the end of March this year, featured an impressive 170 artists from 28 countries, with 22,587 attendees visiting 75 festival venues across the week. Music may only be one part of the week-long event but the range of genres on offer undoubtedly sets it apart in the European festival market, providing multiple surprises along the way.
Here are eight key performances from the 2019 festival, which highlight TMW's forward-thinking ethos and global appeal.
Having initially gained attention for her single 'Рибки' (Fishes), which went viral with over a million views on YouTube, Ukrainian rapper Alyona Alyona is a true force to be reckoned with as far as European hip hop goes. Backed by a DJ and her fierce fellow MC, she commands the stage with her blistering verses, rapped in Ukranian with razor-sharp focus. A true highlight of Telliskivi venue F-hoone Must Saal's hip hop stage, Alyona Alyona's style and speed has a familiar vigour, reminiscent of artists like Leikeli47 or even Migos with their rhythmic raps and multisyllabic flow. Her presence here is visibly valued by the audience, as evident in the number of people shouting along to the hooks, enthusiastically bopping along to her confident swagger even without understanding the lyrics. With her debut album still to come and plenty of support already from the media in her home country, Alyona Alyona could be the person to put Ukranian hip hop on the map.
Composer and accordionist Tuulikki Bartosik draws on Estonia's musical heritage and influences from regions around the world to capture stories and moments in her music. From tunes rooted in the Scandinavian musical tradition to Finnish and Hungarian melodies, Bartosik's style of folk is fresh and melodically rich with a vibrancy that feels unique to her realm of performance. Opening the Viljandi Folk Music Festival / Crossroad of Cultures Night at Vaba Lava, a sole spotlight places the emphasis on her instrument and her seamless movement from piece to piece. Bartosik blends the traditional with the experimental, with small phrases and her occasional wordless vocal accompaniment providing unexpected surges of emotion. The character and feeling that she injects into her compositions and arrangements allows for a renewed appreciation of the accordion as a contemporary instrument.
While there are many acts on the Tallinn Music Week line-up whose music makes subtle (and not so subtle) nods towards the current political climate both globally and in their own countries, there is no other act that presents unadulterated rage quite as clearly as Siksa. The polish duo, made up of bassist Piotr and unrelenting vocalist Alex, present a set that is confrontational and combative on the one hand and yet contemplative in the many questions and issues that are torn down and built back up. Alex's fiercely feminist provocations oscillate around the whole room in the Sveta Bar, as she makes use of every space from the bar itself to the stage, screaming in people's faces, pleading with them to join her in her fury. Piotr's heavily distorted bass, meanwhile, serves as the perfect musical backdrop to Alex's piercing incantations, creating a cacophony that is raw, immediate and uncomfortable for many. Here, Siska deliver not just a gig but an intense and vivid theatrical performance that feels truly authentic.
Like some kind of beautiful cross between Depeche Mode, Joy Division and Massachusetts synth pop duo Boy Harsher, Minsk three-piece Molchat Doma's music is soaked in a sinister nostalgia, soviet-era influences melding with 80s dark wave sounds to create an almost industrial feel. Egor Shkutko's vocals are submerged in a sea of melancholia courtesy of the synth and guitar of Roman Komogortsev and bass work of Pavel Kozlov. Part of the Manka Boutique Pop Festival Night in Kivi Paber Käärid, the trio's tone and structure is hauntingly robotic, the eeriness of each track ricocheting between the biting synth and dense drum machine beats. Their minimalist formula and moody electronics succeed in creating an interesting atmosphere of tension and anxiety.
Tallinn-based singer-songwriter Anna Pärnoja may not be a new face in the country's music scene, but 2019 marks her new foray as soloist Anna Kaneelina. Having performed with husband Erki Pärnoja (himself a well-known Estonian composer and guitarist) for some time, Anna's new solo project and self-titled debut takes her to new heights, allowing her bewitching vocals to shine above expansive and suitably dark soundscapes. With the power, drama and gothic majesty of artists like Anna Calvi and PJ Harvey in tow, she utterly charms with her otherworldly pop resonating throughout the walls of F-hoone Must Saal. Playing an early slot at the Made In Baltics & Sony Music Night, she manages to create an aura that is spellbinding, echoing well past her set and providing a certain serenity to the venue.
The best way to describe the music of Duo Ruut would be to use a word like 'enthralling'. Katariina Kivi and Ann-Lisett Rebane are young Estonian musicians who play together on one single kannel (an Estonian plucked string instrument), subverting traditional songs in innovative ways to create a genre of folk music that is distinct and striking. In their few years as a group, the duo have won a significant number of awards and accolades and are held in extremely high regard by their peers at the Viljandi Folk Music Festival / Crossroad of Cultures Night, where they play fairly early on. Their music creates a soothing ambience, with every person in the room captivated by their synchronicity. Using the kannel as a melodic, harmonic and percussive device, Duo Ruut are creating music that is immensely special and unconventional within the folk music world.
Fitting somewhere in between the genres of cabaret, punk and performance art, queer disco crew Sado Opera are an undeniably entertaining act to both watch and interact with. Originally from St Petersburg but now based in Berlin, the group are all about subverting gender norms and smashing toxic masculinity, their music drawing on electro-funk, pop and disco to relay their message of inclusivity. Camp and flamboyant frontman The Colonel and mysterious co-vocalist Katya strut about the Station Narva stage in Erinevate Tubade Klubi, enthusiastically encouraging the audience to get involved in their dance party. As the resident band of Wild Renate, a notoriously quirky club in Berlin, the group have become somewhat synonymous with the queer party scene in the German capital, despite being Russian. They even dedicated one of their recent singles 'In The Dark' to Berlin sex club Ficken3000, which they describe as a favourite haunt. Their TMW set provides everything you'd expect from the eccentric group; plenty of fun, relentless dance moves and a song called 'Russian Anal Game'.
Estonian R&B artist Yasmyn is a popular act at the Sveta Bar for the 'Kids Are All Right' night, her songs (sung in English) already known by a considerable number of people in the crowd. Before she even begins her set, there are young fans up front quietly chanting her 2018 single 'I Like U a Lot' to each other in anticipation of her arrival. With splashes of genres from soul to pop in her music, Yasmyn displays a steady confidence as a vocalist, with hints of artists like Jorja Smith and Kali Uchis in her repertoire. There's a syrupy sweet sound to her vocals, backed by the mellow vibes of her DJ and drummer who provide the upbeat accompaniment to her sleek dance moves. With her hazy and hook-laden tunes, Yasmyn gives off an air of cool that is hard to resist.
Tallinn Music Week 2020, Mon 23–Sat 28 Mar. Find out more at tmw.ee.