Multiphonic Rodent at TMW Odessapop showcase, Mustpeade Maja, 25.03.2011. Photo: Tõnu Tunnel
Words: John Rogers the-fly.co.uk
Apr 08 2011
And so once again, just as London starts to see some glimmers of spring with an early warm weekend, The Fly is packing a case full of wooly jumpers and heading off into the parky wilds of Europe in search of exciting new sounds, this time at the annual Tallinn Music Week.
The Estonian capital is in deep midwinter, with a temperature hovering around zero. Linnahall, a giant crumbling graffiti-covered seaside concert venue, looks like a cross between the Barbican and a Mayan temple and has a spectacular view of the frozen Baltic Sea, with a single ship ploughing through the ice in the distance.
But climate aside, Estonia is a country with something to celebrate. As if twenty years of independence from the Soviet Union wasn't enough, Tallinn is the European Capital Of Culture for 2011, and in the city's beautifully preserved Old Town lies a thriving music scene. There's a sense of excitement and sparky creativity that feels more like the modern day artists' playground of Berlin than the chocolate box vista of cone-topped towers and church spires might suggest.
Our festival begins with the Odessa Pop-curated night in the beautifully vaulted (but impossible to pronounce) venue, Mustpeade Maja Kedlrisaal. Multiphonic Rodent opens the show with a selection of distinctive, lean-to DIY ditties. He plays live drums through a loop station, switching between guitar, clarinet and vocals to create messy but charming indie-pop, reminiscent of a one-man Beta Band with Fonda 500's good-hearted, blurry melodies. He's joined onstage by a hirsute flautist for some enjoyable improv solo duelling. Multiphonic Rodent is unusual and creative; straight away, we feel like we've found the right party.
The flautist, it turns out, is the second act of the night, Pastacas. His is a different iteration of loop pedal-based live music. More contemplative than playful, he deftly assembles tight, mathy passages seemingly from whatever instrument comes to hand, elaborating on them with solos or vocal drones. There are elements of Squarepusher's more leftfield, jazzy moments, reminders of Owen Pallett's plate-spinning loop builds. This music has sprung from folk and jazz rather than the pop tradition. It's relentlessly innovative in its construction, and when Multiphonic Rodent comes back onto the stage for another improvised solo joust, it's a set highlight.
Kreatiivmootor are a band that scream out with awesomeness even from their description in festival programme: "they combine many musical styles and techniques to create a provocative mixture of conventional, less conventional and absolutely unconventional songs, sounds and structures". Led by the shamanic pink-clad singer, vocaliser, rabble-rouser (and, as it turns out, philosophy professor) Roomet Jakapi, the eight piece band smash together techno, jazz and noise into an utterly joyful explosion of sound that has the room vibrating with energy. Apparently it's the first time they've ever performed in this Ableton-led configuration, and their recorded output to date sounds entirely different. Such is their ever evolving nature. But bands like this are few and far between, and Kreatiivmootor deserve to be appreciated by an international audience - on tonight's evidence, they could hold their own alongside that other force of nature, The Boredoms.
There's a full contemporary classical programme, but we only have time for one piece in a packed schedule - Helena Tulve's ‘North Wind, South Wind’, performed by Resonablis. This striking quartet are dramatically turned out and made up with glittering face jewellery and splashes of red war paint. They begin by exhaling simultaneously; slowly empty their lungs and mouthing indecipherable words. It sounds like some sorcerous secret knowledge or spell; like words spoken backwards, sounds being summoned from beyond the four musicians. The flautist blows over and into the mouthpiece, and the cellist scrapes his bow across the strings. The atmosphere is taut and nervy like the part of a séance when something starts to happen. Before long, we are whipped up into an operatic storm of notes, fraught with a sense of drama and unease - the sounds tumbling or stretching across the seconds, awkwardly. It's a breathtaking performance.
If Estonia is to have a mainstream pop star, then the youthful Iiris certainly fits the bill. In front of an equally young band and a heaving and enthusiastic crowd, she's impish and arena-ready in a Patrick Wolf-meets-Twilight sort of way, bounding around the stage with relentless energy, punching the air, jumping along and trailing just-so colourful strips of material behind her. She's polished, styled and professional, but when the big piano ballad comes, The Fly’s heartstrings aren't plucked - like many young artists eagerly leaping into the limelight; Iiris could do with some more incubation time to discover her real voice.
Amongst other highlights we're treated to everything from fantasy folk-rock (Oort) to gothic industrial pop on homemade instruments (Cleaning Women); from large-scale dance parties to various iterations of indie, metal and electronica. What's mentioned here is just the tip of the iceberg - the scope and variety of bands at Tallinn Music Week reveals a rich and multi-faceted musical culture that demands further exploration.