You do wonder if Tallinn Music Week – which takes over Estonia’s eye-catching capital every late March/early April – has given serious thought to altering the name, over the years. This increasingly mighty city festival is about much more than music.
There’s also a high-profile creative conference, opened by Estonia’s new president, Kersti Kaljulaid (the successor to Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who actually DJed at last year’s TMW – although that isn’t why he’s no longer president), a big restaurant strand, travel-focussed City Stage events in bakeries, bookshops and botanical gardens, a new Youth programme aimed at kids, documentary films, art installations, a design market… you really could stay the week.
For now, though, the ‘M’ in TMW stands proud. These are the acts that still resonate a few days on.
Like a Motorcycle
As a respectable bespectacled lady nearby observes, you don’t get many glasses-wearing rock ‘n’ rollers. Is speccy not sexy, or is it just the logistics of trying to keep them on your face while hangbanging and perspiring furiously? Probably the latter.
Like a Motorcycle are a Canadian FFFM quartet who caught the eye pre-gig with a naked promo photo, which would actually be a sensible live outfit given the sweat ‘n’ steam they give off here: it’s like an Estonian sauna up there.
Fronted by the proudly spec-sporting Kim Carson but lead-vocalled by drummer Michelle Skelding, LaM make a tremendously engaging post-punk clang; full-on energy, no pretence, three-girls-and-a-guy just wanna have fun. And they may well still be in Estonia, as we speak. “We’re all into women, so if four people will marry us, we’ll stay,” they say. Tallinn has that effect on people.
Many of TMW’s performers from further afield will squeeze a few extra gigs into their visit, in order to rinse as much showcase value from the occasion as possible. Chyno is a Syrian-Filipino rapper who’s flown to Europe from his home city of Beirut, so has some stories to tell, and it’s interesting to see how he works two very different rooms.
At a hideaway second-floor record store on Saturday afternoon he’s chatty between tracks, explaining the themes; more a spoken-word artist with beats. Then at TMW’s dedicated hip-hop night much later that night it’s all about the party, as he stalks the stage, pointing, posing, and working a nice two-mic system to add a little extra echo and atmosphere, on occasion. A vibrant, versatile talent.
This intensely-focussed threesome/foursome (we’ll come back to that) seem like the sort of band who’d prefer to soundcheck for about four days, ideally, to get their finely-honed soundscapes absolutely spot-on. In truth, they probably manage about half an hour’s prep-time at a big multi-act city fest like this, so what they cook up is all the more head-swimmingly admirable.
Žen are from Zagreb, Croatia, and offer a fully immersive experience, much of which is due to that mysterious fourth member. Tanja Minarik is the woman behind their wonderful visuals – which work particularly well with the plush wallpaper in this venue, Kelm – but though she stays offstage she’s a proper part of the band, and quite right too. As for the music, it’s the sort of glorious post-rock, shoegazey fare that can lead you up a ludicrous stairway of pretension when trying to describe it, so let’s leave it there. Look them up.
Maarja Nuut and Hendrik Kaljujärv
Nuut is Estonia’s finest export since Skype - just one of this forward-thinking nation’s world-altering start-ups – but usually utilises a more traditional form of communication; old village folk songs expressed via voice, fiddle, whirly dancing, and evocative between-song stories. She’s been heartily embraced by the global folk fraternity, in particular, but is now testing that tag.
Keen not to get stuck in a Nuut rut, Maarja has hooked up with Estonian sound artist Hendrik Kaljujärv to add an electronic edge to her regular arrangements, which is appropriate, given that they’re performing in a magnificently ominous old power station turned gig venue, the Kultuurikatel (their stage is the Game of Thronesy ‘Hall of Cauldrons’). The result is quite an experience: not so much folktronica as acoustic-industrial, or something, and a huge successful new string to her bow.
A grubby garage/parking lot on the edge of town, and a buzzing crowd have largely gathered to watch one of Estonia’s other burgeoning exports, Tommy Cash, who’s made a splash on mainland Europe via his track Winaloto, which put a freaky new spin on flesh-heavy hip-hop videos. But much more fun is the act directly beforehand, the Danish drum ‘n’ bass MC Black Daniels.
Where the sleepy-eyed Cash mainly just basks in his audience’s (slightly hard to fathom) adoration, Daniels puts on a hell of a show, the highlight being the bit where he jumps out to a mid-audience podium thing, spots a dancing tweenager nearby so beckons him up to join him, then ends up bringing him onstage properly, and they prance around together like a Danish/Estonian Run DMC.
Daniels then departs to a huge ovation, while the kid stays onstage and enlivens the between-shows period with an interpretive dance to a Kate Bush cover.