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Exploring the Estonian Underground At Tallinn Music Week
John Rogers , April 4th, 2014 07:14

During an inspiring weekend at the sixth Tallinn Music Week, John Rogers sought out some of the leading lights of Tallinn's thriving scene to look into what feeds the city's seemingly boundless creative energy.

Andres Lõo (Faun Racket)
Photo above

I trained as a drummer, and have been in and out of bands since then. I'm self-taught in everything else. Becoming a singer and a frontman came a lot later. Faun Racket came from wanting to make something with the hypnotic qualities of house, but injecting a sense of drama into the vocals.

There's was a whole generation of bands who never really had a chance to break out. The Estonian bands of the 90s - there were some really good ones that never really went anywhere. Most of their stuff was self-released, with a lot of work involved to get it out.

Because of the studio quality that was going on back then, and the technology being used, the music had a very specific sound. It just sounded weird. It was trying perhaps to copy some qualities from the West, but it got translated into a non-existent language, if you know what I mean, and I think that has lived on.

We played with that too, though. One of my earlier bands released our album on cassette, and we copied the artwork of cheap Polish bootlegs as a retro gesture. We used noise, be it visual or textual or musical - trying out an analogue aesthetic, to counteract the domination of digital.

Bands would know there was not a big audience here, so would just make music for the sake of it, and for the people who really appreciate it. This in itself dictates a different approach - bands sculpt their style to a level that would be appreciated by these serious listeners. But to be honest, even the pop music made under those conditions was kind of twisted and strange."

Jaarmo Nutre (Blood Pavillion)

Tallinn Music Week is a huge help for bands here. It got my previous band Talbot a show at Roskilde festival. Not directly, it was step by step, but Tallinn Music Week led to another festival, and then that led to another, and so on. Bands benefit a lot from meeting the people who come here.

I started with metal and went into electronics, then back and forth - fifteen years ago there were like metal heads and discoheads, but now it's all mixed together, there's less genre-bound stuff now. I'd say there's an interesting scene here, in that everyone knows each other, a little bit at least, and so everybody's music affects everyone else, in a way.

Mari-Liis Rebane (Vul Vulpes)

My background is in animation. I studied animation, directing, film making, and started a film festival called Animated Dreams. I've been doing the programming for the festival for three years now.

My first gig as Vul Vulpes was one year ago at Tallinn Music Week - before that I was in a band called Several Symptoms, but my bandmate moved to London, so I started this solo project. I haven't released anything formal yet, just on Soundcloud, and there's a new video coming out.

I do get bored of people putting labels on me, comparing me with Maria Minerva or other female musicians, just because they are also female. I don't like to be compared for just that reason, just because I'm a female vocalist and producer.

People multiple-task a lot here and it's quite natural that if you're an artist or a film maker you might end up making music or playing in a band.

Ellian Tulve (Holy Motors)

I sang in a choir, but Holy Motors is my first band. Both of my parents are musical - my mother is a composer and my father has his own ensemble. We actually had our first concert together in this lineup this week, at Sofar Sounds. The band performed last year, but I just joined.

I think the bands that have had an effect in me and Holy Motors are mostly from outside Estonia actually - Tamaryn from New Zealand, My Bloody Valentine, Brian Jonestown Massacre, and a lot of film scores. I like bands from here of course - Faun Racket is maybe one of the best bands in Estonia, and I admire Vul Vulpes - but most Estonians listen to mainstream pop and indie. There are people doing interesting things here, but it's underground by comparison.

Roomet Jakapi (Kreatiivmootor)

I actually played every night at Tallinn Music Week this year. The first one was a band formed one hour before the gig, at an art opening. The second was a nosy jazz-rock group Phlox, who I guest with often. Yesterday was the city stage gig with Kreatiivmootor, in the mall - it was even more chaotic than usual. And then Kreatiivmootor's main show at Von Krahl.

We use backing tracks that are composed, then the drummer is free to improvise or work out something that fits the Ableton rhythm pattern. So the percussion unit has no obligation to make the rhythm itself. The sax and vocals are completely improvised, the guitar is 50/50.

We have a lot of different professional backgrounds in this band. I'm a 'senior researcher', on the history of early modern British philosophy. Our drummer is a natural scientist - nano technology, material science. Our bass player is a specialist in criminal law, the percussionist is a German teacher, and the saxophonist studied psychology, and does translation. Oh, and we have a biologist.

I do my lot of improv with musicians with classical or jazz players outside of Kreatiivmootor. It's a tiny and specific scene, but even there I've heard comments from Danish or other international types, that there is 'something going on' in Estonia... they partly explain it by the geographical and cultural location we have here.

There are a lot of bands here whose music is hard to define - who aren't trying to be perfect in a particular genre. It wasn't like this ten years ago, it's developing quickly. We had all kinds of music in the Soviet era as well, but there's now kind of an explosion of new bands. We've played with a board range of them, all pretty different... there's definitely an awareness of what the others are doing, and a mutual respect.