Sunday, September 25, 2005

Extreme Music From Finland

I am a bit of a jet-setter. Back in April my beloved & I popped over to Glasgow to see some bands performing as part of this Subcurrents festival thing in the Centre for Contemporary Arts. We had mainly come over for the Finnish bands who were playing on the Friday. An article in the Wire had piqued our curiosity about the underground scene in that country, and this combined with a personal connection to one of the bands was enough to have us booking our flights. While we were at it, we also booked tickets for the Saturday night, when bands and artists not from Finland would be playing.

The festival's MC was one Dave Keenan, who writes for "The Wire". I always had the idea that "Wire" journos would be serious, restrained, chin-strokery types, but Mr Keenan turned out to be an excitable Scottish fellow who kept going on about how "psyched" he was by whatever was coming up next. He almost sounded like he was going to have kittens when he revealed that Fursaxa would be appearing with Finnish outfit Es, but this was as nothing to the quivering wreck he became when he introduced Tony Conrad on the Saturday night.

Kiila were the first band of Friday. There is an Irish band of tradders called Kila, but these are the ones from Finland. You could imagine them having a hoe-down with the Irish band, as they are both a bit folky. Kiila are maybe the more ambitious outfit, playing original compositions with a multi-layered sound. They featured a number of different singers (men and a woman) but one fellow with a beard gave the impression of being Mr Kiila. He pulled entertaining rock god faces while plucking at a mandolin. As their set went on it became more and more mesmerising and immersive.

Es featured a bloke who had already appeared with Kiila, whom I understand to be Mr Fonal, two Finnish women (one of whom is an internet friend) and Ms Fursaxa, who had played on her own the previous night. They all sat on the floor and did overlapping vocal stuff, with Mr Fonal generally doing lead and playing guitar. I think electronics might have been fiddled with, and also people did this strange thing of threading beads over a speaker. The latter created an odd effect, striking in both its prettiness and its randomness. Ms Fursaxa is an interesting presence, gnomic, self-contained, and unknowable.

I had a brief conversation with this guy on the Finnish bands' merchandising stall, thinking that this behemoth in an Acid Mothers Temple t-shirt must be some kind of roadie. He turned out to be Mr Avarus. His was the only one of the Finnish bands who were due to be playing in Dublin's popular club Lazybird two nights later. I mentioned how Lazybird is very popular with the kind of informed audience who like that kind of thing, but revealed that I had never actually made it to the club because I'm always too *tired* on Sunday nights. "Well it is being the strange night for having the club" said Mr Avarus.

In terms of actual performance, Avarus were the most ROCK outfit thus far, featuring a large line-up that included Mr Avarus on actual drums. Various other instruments were also played, and the woman from Kiila was joined by another with a yellow dress (and possibly others) to play the funny electronics and do vocal stuff. If Post-Rock was no longer a dirty word you might lump Avarus into that genre, with their improvy, slow building music that made their set seem like one continuous piece. Avarus featured no language-based vocals, but Mr Avarus and some of the women did deal out the occasional animalistic yelping noise, sometimes seemingly when the spirit moved them. If this is improvised music, I want more of it.

I did think maybe that Avarus are a bit of the tease, in that their music spent a long time suggesting that it was going to break into AMT-style insano guitar riff action without ever doing so. Nevertheless, it did develop a full-on wall of sound by the end. The hypnotic quality of the music meshed well with my tired state.

Kemialliset Ystavet were the last Finnish band of the night. By now I was quite *tired* indeed, so my notes are less than adequate, but I can reveal that KY (as the Finns seem to call them) have musical elements in common with the other Finnish bands, as well as certain differences. They also shared personnel with the other bands, notably the beardy fellow from Kiila and the yellow dress woman from Avarus. Beyond that I can say little about them, except that they brought me enjoyment.

Perhaps some brief generalisations about the Finnish bands are in order. They all seemed to like combining electric, electronic, and acoustic instruments, lending them an air of folkish technophilia. If they had a defining musical instruments, it probably would be beads allowed to drop over microphones, creating a random and thus unpredictable sound. When they sang using words, they weren't in English. I liked that, as I feel lyrics sung in a foreign language allow you to focus not on the narrative but on the musical sound. My new theory is therefore that all bands should sing in Ugaritic, except when performing in Ugariticland. Finally, for all their adventurousness, I was somewhat struck by the musical gender roles in the bands - the blokes almost completely monopolised traditional rock instruments like guitars and drums, while the ladies took control of things like violins or funny instruments.

No comments: