Floating Points And Arvo Pärt Shake Tallinn-Narva Music Week

But will rumblings of war drown out the music? MOJO finds out, to a soundtrack of zither folk, Baltic acid and post-punk.

Floating Points at Tallinn-Narva Music Week, 2022

by Ian Harrison |

BALTIC, SCANDI- AND EASTERN EUROPEAN music showcase Tallinn Music Week has been running since 2009, and has previously entertained attendees with appearances by Vashti Bunyan, Pussy Riot and Estonian ex-President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who did a DJ set in 2016 (selections included The Troggs and Plastic Bertrand).

This year is, of course, overshadowed by Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine. This complicates what should be a time of cross border music and celebration: the host nation was, like Ukraine, occupied by the former Soviet Union before regaining its independence in 1991, and cannot help but have certain perspectives on the unfolding situation. With numerous Russian acts canned from the line-up in the weeks leading up to the festival, and more Ukrainian artists brought in, there is no question of carrying on as usual.

But this is no time for hiding, and it’s hard not to enjoy Tallinn, an open and western-facing city with a clubbing and drinking district where the musical action happens (you can also go to the basement Depeche Mode Bar, where the band have visited more than once). Ukrainian pop singer Ivan Dorn opens the festivities on Thursday at an outdoor stage in the Telliskivi Creative City Square, and tells it straight in an interview with Estonian news show Aktuaalne Kaamera: “Let us dance in defiance of the enemy… we won’t give in.”

There’s another kind of defiance at the 14th century Katariina Kirik church, where Swedish electronicist Maria W Horn and the Tallinn University Of Technology Academic Female Choir give apocalyptic medieval hymn Dies Irae the cosmic ambient treatment, with mass glass harps lifting the performance into the realms of pure sound. The Estonian choral tradition is seen in earthier form at the Vaba Lava theatre with local twosome Duo Ruut, who double up on a single zither – it’s used as a drumkit as well as a stringed instrument – to create a band-sized sound with high-keening, folk-style harmony singing, to stirring effect (think a female, Estonian Proclaimers).

Should things get too civilised, there’s a violent lurch into synth-rock scuzz with Latvia’s The Bubble Gum expLOTION at bar and venue Uus Laine. A ‘gaffer tape-over-the-nipples/writhing on the floor’ experience with guitar and electro-noise, they’re a suitably bracing and dignity-free aperitif for the Africa Now! programme at the Vaba Lava, where musicians from Tanzania, Algeria and in the case of Fo Sho, Ukraine-via-Ethiopia, play until the early hours.

Some daytime music business panels ease us into Friday: one is by ex-Cocteau Twin Simon Raymonde on running his Bella Union label for 25 years (“imagine being in a band with your ex-partner” he says, trenchantly), while another considers the need for peace, the rampaging Russian elephant in the room and the small matter of Estonia’s NATO membership.

22-Pistepirkko at Tallinn-Narva Music Week 2022

On hand to distract from alarming speculation is local sound-artist Maarja Nuut. Onstage at the F-Hoone venue, her environmental audio-collages meet programmed dance beats for a synapse-sparking rave in the beehive. There’s more uplift at the D3, where reformed Finnish veterans 22 Pistepirkko (pictured, above) play garage-bound rock’n’roll and Arctic Circle blues so loose that bassist/keyboardist/voice Asko Keränen plays without shoes. The fun peaks at the Fotografiska stage with the hard acid nutjobbery of local loons Oopus: throughout, a gleeful vibesman pulls gurning ‘face solos’ which are then manipulated and projected onto an onstage screen; add vocalist Mari’s Estonian bagpipe action and the entertainment is complete.

The next day the action moves 200 miles to the Estonian city of Narva, separated from Russia by the river of the same name. A point is possibly being made – it might have a majority Russian population, and Russian servicemen are visible on the opposite bank – but this is, remember, also the easternmost city in the EU.

A performance of Estonian musical titan Arvo Pärt’s choral work Da Pacem Domine at the Resurrection of Christ Orthodox Cathedral – a super-loaded meeting of form, intention and location – looks to the divine for a way forward. Sung by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir in the composer’s self-created musical language of tintinnabula, its prayer for peace includes moments of discord spiking its hypnotic spiritual ambience. The tacit is made explicit at the Vaba Lava arts centre by folktronica artist Mari Kalkun. Hailed as Estonia’s “voice of the forest” she speaks openly about the horrors of war and plays a Siberian love song to a reindeer on the zither-like Estonian kannel.

Over at the Kreenholm, a stunning outdoor island venue inside a huge former mill, Floating Points plays a mutating, pounding collage of house and techno, though the light show also succeeds in showing just how much rain is coming down. Yet, clad in plastic macs and some improvised refuse sacks, the ravers dance on – aware that sometimes, that’s all you can do.

The afterhours fun concludes at the Ro-Ro bar’s outdoor stage, where striking Slovenian four-piece Lelee play a full-pelt post-Yugo-punk collision of Television and Elastica. It's just one of many moments of communal release and celebration that could never compute in the dictatorial mind, a principle well understood by Tallin-Narva Music Week.

Picture credits: Floating Points by Anastassia Volkova; 22-Pistepirkko by Jelena-Rudi

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