Music in Finland – Part II

Last week we talked about the current wave of new acts coming from Finland and the burgeoning scene that’s taking place there. Inspired by the attitudes of acts abroad and fueled by a desire for international exposure, today’s Finnish bands are creating fresh and unique sounds. Acts are also adopting the ethos of DIY culture and creating the types of music that they want to make, turning Finland into one of the most exciting countries producing music today.

In the Finnish capital things are starting to get exciting too. Their start-up culture is thriving, they’ve appeared in top-ranking spots in countless Quality of Life surveys by Monocle and this year they proudly hold the title of being World Design Capital. It’s clear that Helsinki is a creative city on the rise! Collaboration there seems to be particularly strong and people are excited to work together – pooling their creativity into all sorts of events; from restaurant days to block parties.

Sami Suova plays in two bands (Shine 2009 and Cup – both alongside Regina guitarist / programmer Mikko Pykäri). For him, Helsinki is his “favourite city for collaboration when it comes to the visual side of things”. Sami speaks with high regard for the inspiring people he’s worked with in the city, including people like Santtu Mustonen, Tsto, Osma Harvilahti and most recently Jaakko Pallasvuo (below). When it comes to aesthetic sensibilities it seems that the Finns are quick to adopt the openness, collaboration and social dimensions of their design heritage.

Jarno-Erik Faarinen (aka Fotoshop) speaks fondly of the capital too. Originally from Tornio in Lapland, Jarno-Erik moved to Helsinki a few years ago: “It’s a big city in Finnish scale” he says, “but small enough for everyone in the business to know each other.” Considering the size of the country it seems understandable that many bands decide to head to the capital. “In Helsinki there are so much more venues and audiences, so I think it’s really good to be here compared with anywhere else in Finland. Here the distances are long, and the cities are small.”

Living in Helsinki means that bands are also close to the other big cities of Turku and Tampere. Yet despite the Helsinki scene Jarno-Erik is quick to add that it’s not just all happening solely in the capital. “I have to say, although the ‘Helsinki scene’ is strong” he tells me, “there are really good productions coming from the weirdest little places, surrounded with snow and trees.”

In the first part of this piece we talked about how the internet has really changed things. In truth it shouldn’t matter if music comes from a big city or from a weird little places; all that should matter is if the music is good. Eino Anttila agrees. For him it doesn’t matter where a band is from. “These days it’s possible to start out by just recording and making music with your laptop, downloading everything you need to make a good sounding recording for the web and to release the music without really mentioning the country you’re from.” That way everything just speaks for itself.

Eino is creative director at Stereotype Helsinki, a relevantly new creative collective based in the Finnish capital. For Eino (and many others) the internet has leveled the playing field. “The social web and blogging culture has made it possible for the enthusiastic music lovers to make a change, to make a mark and to lift up music that they love and to leave the cynical attitudes at home. This is creating a much more positive, rewarding atmosphere in the whole music scene and it becomes a question of who’s good and not who’s bad. The bad ones just don’t get mentioned and don’t get put down and stomped over.”

Eino talks of how the internet also has benefits both ways. Bands can get their music out there but they’re also able to “see exactly how bands abroad perform, record and make music”. He says it shows how high the bar is set and how to do things; how well you have to be able to perform, write and record music – to make a mark on music globally”. If this fully true, then perhaps we shouldn’t see music as ‘Finnish music’, perhaps now all music now has become ‘global music’.

I was interested to know what Jessika Rapo thought about this. One half of Burning Hearts Jessika has also sung with Le Futur Pompiste and Magenta Skycode, while her bandmate Henry Ojala has played with the wonderful indie act Cats on Fire. Originally from the Swedish-speaking Ostrobothnia province of Finland, Burning Hearts are a band who sing in English and they released their debut album Aboa Sleeping through the American label Shelflife. I asked her that with all of these factors in the mix did she feel it was difficult to have a connection with Finland.

“It’s not difficult to feel a connection to Finland at all” says Jessica. “Even if our mother tongue is Swedish we have no more in common with Swedish culture than an average Finn has. Our songs have some connections to the Finnish melancholy often present in the music from our country, and of course the nature is an important source of inspiration.”

With that said, Jessica did say that early on they found it difficult to feel a connection to the Finnish music scene. “That’s why our first album was only released abroad” she tells me. Yet since 2007 a lot has changed: “The music scene has evolved and music journalism is slowly but surely evolving too; it’s now more up-to-date with what’s going on in the country.” Burning Hearts are now starting to feel like they’ve found their place: “We feel that we have found our own small spot among the bands in this country” says Jessica, “and I’m very glad for the response we’ve received at home.”

I feel that this is important. No matter how global music can become it is still crucial for many bands to feel as though they have a place to call home. Stereotype Helsinki is one of a number of groups helping to create a place like that in Finland. Set-up in 2007, the group tend to evolve and grow depending on the needs and efforts of those involved. Eino Anttila joined as Creative Director in 2009 just as the group was starting to expand and began to create what he describes as “something that we ourselves would like to see more of in Finland”. Sounding like a modern-day version of Warhol’s factory, the collective’s multi-disciplinary approach already includes the operating of a recording studio (pictured above and in Part I), as well as a blog, a video production sevice and a radio show.

As Finland goes from strength-to-strength we’re starting to see more people making the effort to create the sorts of things that they’d like to see in their country. While Finland is often said to be overlooked by touring bands, music festivals like Flow Festival (now in it’s ninth year) are bringing more international acts to city and putting Finland clearly on the festival circuit. On top of that, Finnish record labels like Soliti and Fullsteam are putting out more and more great music while organizations such as the newly formed Music Finland and NOMEX are helping to promote the success and awareness of Finnish music at home and abroad.

When I spoke with Eino he’d just returned from Berlin where Aves had performed as part of an exhibition held by Helsinki FRESH – an event organized to promote Finnish design and culture abroad. I asked him how important he thought things like this (as well as the title of World Design Capital) are for the arts? “I think it’s good, not because of really the national aspect or because of any kind of competitive spirit, but because these kind of exhibitions are getting recognition to Finnish culture and giving motivation and a bit of pressure to create more and better design and interesting happenings in Helsinki and in Finland overall.”

Eino describes Finns as being horrible at marketing and says that these types of things are finally giving a bit of recognition to the country. “Hopefully this is only the beginning of how good, distinctive and interesting Finnish arts, crafts and design can get in the future.”

Certaintly the future looks bright! With more-and-more bands emerging from Finland we’re also seeing more blogs featuring Finns and more Finnish-focused blogs emerging (Glue, All Scandinavian, It’s A Trap and Swede and Sour to name a few). Eino sees this as hugely important. “I actually seriously believe that the kids right now, the Internet generation, will make a huge difference in Finnish music, since how well they’ve completely integrated themselves to the global world and the social web from birth” says Eino, before nervously adding “At least, let’s hope so.” I think with music this good we can all hope for that!

Many thanks to the Sami, Jarno-Erik, Jessika and Eino for helping with this piece. Make sure to check out their music in the videos above and find more great Finnish music videos here. If you missed part one make sure to catch it here.

August 13, 2012 / By