Music in Finland – Part I

Finland is a country best known for its heavy-metal and hard rock yet things are changing. The current music scene is buzzing with a new generation of musicians, producers and collectives eager to create great sounds. I spoke with a number of them to discuss this new wave of Finnish music.

“Things have been changing for some years now and the pace seems to be increasing” says musician Sami Suova. “There’s a lot more interesting Finnish music around now than, say, only two years ago.”

Passionate about music, Sami is a musician, producer and DJ based in Helsinki. One half of the indie-electro duo Shine 2009, he has already clocked up a number of gigs around the globe as well as a fantastic collaboration with label-mate Paula Abdul. Not content with releasing a new Shine 2009 album before the year is out, he’s also working on a second album with his Shine 2009 band-mate Mikko Pykäri under the new moniker of Cup.

For Sami the reasons for this new crop of musicians is quite natural. If one band manages to be successful then their success inspires others. Sometimes it gives bands the confidence they need, other times it makes them feel like they can do better. It’s a healthy atmosphere for a musician to work in.

Finns are well known for their hardworking nature and their honesty but they’re also said to be modest about their talents and it was interesting to find that everyone I talked with was quick to point out how important confidence-building was for new Finnish acts.

“I’m sure the success of similar bands from abroad has inspired the Finns to start making music themselves” says Jessika Rapo, the lead singer of Burning Hearts and Le Futur Pompiste. “Once you see that other Finnish bands are noticed over the internet, the synergy spreads and the self confidence rises”. Yet despite this synergy one of the biggest problems in Finland today is that most of the big Finnish labels are reluctant to recognize the indie scene.

“Unfortunately, the bigger record labels and music exporters don’t seem to be up-to-date with the ongoing trends, and a great deal of the financial support goes to the established metal bands that really wouldn’t need any financial support” says Jessika. “Luckily, this hasn’t stopped new bands from keeping up the good work”.

New bands seem keen today in taking a do-it-yourself approach to their music. No longer do they wait for big labels or government funding to help them record their albums or book their tours – now they’re simply doing it themselves. Jessika tells me that five years ago this wasn’t the case. “Not many smaller indie bands had played outside the borders of this country” she says, “nor did they have a foreign record label releasing their music. Now everybody is focused on the markets outside Finland.”

It would seem that Finland’s lack of financial support for new music could be seen as a mixed-blessing. Without the restraints of big labels Finnish acts are free to experiment and be slightly more progressive with their sound and it forces new acts to really push themselves.

Last year the Helsinki-based producer and musician Jarno-Erik Faarinen self-released his debut album Lifeforms under the moniker Fotoshop. Lifeforms gained top reviews, critical acclaim and it appeared on a number of ‘best of’ lists at the end of the year. Although offered a few record deals Jarno-Erik said that for him it was really important to have the last word about everything he put out. “At least when it’s with my own vocals and face on it” he says. “Maybe we are a very self-conscious people, or maybe it’s just me!”

This new do-it-yourself ethos is what’s really pushing the new-wave. Jarno-Erik lists social media and breakthroughs in recording technology as two very important factors that have helped bands. “Nowadays things have changed a bit because everyone has a chance to make good recordings even with a small budget. I feel that you can expect a lot of really good productions with unique exotic influences from Finland.”

It’s true! Take a listen to any of the acts above or other great acts like The New Tigers, Husky Rescue, Regina or Rubik (the list goes on). You’ll discover that there’s something unique about Finnish music. While this new wave of acts might not be tied to any one genre they display an interesting mix of influences, often defying current trends and taking inspiration from the past and from nostalgia. These influences mixed with their own vibe go to create something wonderfully new and unique.

For me, I see this not just as an exciting time for Finnish music, this is an exciting time for music in general.

Thanks to Sami, Jessika and Jarno-Erik for their help with this piece. In part II we’ll continue to look at the current scene as well as discuss the factors of making music in the country and ask whiat it means to be a musician in Finland today. Make sure to check it out next week!

August 6, 2012 / By