Best picks from 15th edition of Tallinn Music Week, Estonia’s flagship event and one of the best showcase festivals in Europe, including Ed O’Brien’s new favourite band.
Launched in 2009 in the capital of Estonia, Tallinn Music Week has quickly become a benchmark for what a showcase festival and conference should look like, and with each edition it proves to be one of the very best such events in Europe.
This year, Tallinn Music Week invited 188 artists from about 40 countries in Europe and beyond. The conference saw almost as many speakers, discussing topics like the European music ecosystem and the ways to support it, future of radio, AI and music, the current state of the music scene in Ukraine (it’s better than you might think!), and even the impact the climate crisis has on Greenland, with some amazing guests from Earth’s biggest island.
As always, Tallinn Music Week also offered a number of art installations and exhibitions (the city of Tallinn itself seems like an expo of TMW’s inventive designs). Unconventional concert venues / areas were an adventure on their own terms, and this year a summer-like weather was an extra bonus.
Still it’s the music discovery that remains in the heart of what Tallinn Music Week is about, so here are some amazing artists that one wanted to watch again right after they finished the show, plus one special light & sound installation.
Neon Fir (Estonia)
Unexpected is the word that comprehensively sums up Neon Fir’s show in Tallinn. Unexpected sound – a mix of pop, prog, jazz, synth, fun. Unexpected songwriting – songs would keep changing minute after minute, including weird time signatures. Unexpected emotions and energy, the most important of all.
If you go to showcase festivals and run from venue to venue with a rumpled schedule in your hand, it’s because you hope to be rewarded with a show like the one Neon Fir presented. The band seemed no less satisfied with their performance, here’s what they told us:
“Tallinn Music Week 2023 was like seeing daylight for the first time after a year of self-imposed exile in the Dark Dungeons of Songwriting where we toiled and tinkered endlessly with our new material. Seeing the new songs well-received by the crowd was the best possible welcome back to society for us.”
Neon Fir on Spotify, Facebook, Instagram.
Aston Kais (Latvia)
Latvian eight-piece group Aston Kais was a similar surprise to Neon Fir and another highlight of the entire festival. They also mix almost all genres you can imagine – pop, prog, jazz, and lots of other stuff, adding a healthy dose of craziness. And they’re amazing at it.
Guitars, trumpets, rich vocal harmonies, and the revolting rhythm section kept our ears and eyes glued to Aston Kais throughout their show with no second to waste. And on the top of that, you get Latvian lyrics making the whole experience even more fascinating.
“We had an ecstatic time – we had never played in Estonia, but we felt the love and wild side of our Baltic brothers all throughout the show,” says the band when we ask them about TMW.
“Not only did the fans show incredible support, but after the concert Ed O’Brien of Radiohead even complimented us on our performance, which was mind boggling.”
Aston Kais on Spotify, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.
Michał Jan x Immortal Onion (Poland)
“Now this was interesting,” said one of delegates after nodding his had heavily for over half an hour. The concert of Polish
jazz trio Immortal Onion joined by the saxophone djinn Michał Jan was so “interesting” that the audience enforced an encore, successfully breaking the “no encores” rule of showcase festivals.
The quartet played in a venue called Philly Joe’s Jazz Club and it was both a wrong choice and a right right one. Wrong, because jazz is just a part of what Michał Jan and Immortal Onion are about, equaled by electronic music, (prog)rock, film music, and the relentless desire to have fun on stage. Right, because this aproach is what jazz should really be about.
Immortal Onion on Spotify, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter.
Other amazing bands from Tallinn Music Week:
• Puuluup (Estonia). This marvelous duo reminds us that folk and classical can and should be fun, and their talks have the same quality as their prolific music.
• Stabs (Latvia). One of the heaviest or maybe the heaviest band at this year’s TMW, but minimal in their spirit, it only makes sense to see Stabs live – they offer free earplugs, so don’t you worry.
• Tuulikki Bartosik (Estonia). If music really works in about 20-year cycles, it’s time for a post-rock comeback. Tuulikki’s accordion and Sander Mölder’s electronics made a perfect pair, showing us bits of the past and future.
• Monsieur Doumani (Cyprus). When they were starting their show, everyone was sitting, and one guy was even meditating on the floor. When they were finishing, half of the room was dancing, including the meditating guy.
• Duo Ruut (Estonia). Folk has been in the center of the modern Estonian music since anyone can remember, but this young female duo – combining traditional with now – found their own niche with Estonian zither, helping to keep the genre fresh.
• Junn (Finland/Belgium). Talented singer-songwriter and pianist Anu Junnonen can play relaxing smooth jazz, but she can also make your nerves explode with dissonances, and finish it with a Radiohead-like hymnical chorus. Plus, she sings some songs in Finnish.
• Jinj (Armenia) – this band from the Caucasus region discovered that folk, rock and rap are actually the same thing and they made sure that everyone in front of the stage agreed, while the powerful rhythm section kept the pulse tight.
Ensemble for New Music Tallinn (Estonia)
With all of the unexpected (here’s that word again) things that the Tallinn Music Week offered this year, the performance of the Ensemble for New Music Tallinn (ENMT) might have been on top of everything in this aspect.
Not being sure what instruments they played – though being sure it would be great to hear them again – it was best to ask ENMT about it, so here’s the full programme linked to their earlier performances:
– Jeff A. Brown – motion harmony #6 (for 4 pendulums)
– Hugo Morales Murgia – Topspin Plasma (bug zappers and cymbals)
– Arash Yazdani – Instruction Manual of How to Learn Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb in 5 minutes (for 4 otamatones).
Otamatones were the best:
Ensemble for New Music Tallinn on Facebook, Instagram, www.
Exhibition: “Time Lines” (Germany)
“The 60-meter sound art installation Time Lines by German artist duo Martin Recker and Paul Hauptmeier explores the fleeting nature of events and the passage of moments within the context of a multidimensional perception of time,” says the official introduction.
This amazing work could also be a set for a horror film or a scene from a video game. A long, dark corridor in some old industrial building, with lights flashing way above your head, metallic sounds coming from the pipes on the walls, and right in front of you – a neverending line of steel tables, water drops playing a mysterious soundtrack on their tops.
This was also a music performance, going from relaxing to unnerving to scary, from elevating to depressing. The whole ‘song cycle’ lasted about 17 minutes. And while it would be great to see all of the ‘proper’ concerts mentioned above once again, the experience of water playing its music in Tallinn’s darkest corridor truly deserved to keep it on repeat.
The next edition of the Tallinn Music Week is scheduled for 3-7 April 2024.
See you there!
Photo credits: Sulev Lange, Silver Jaanson,
Kaie Kiil, Kirke Tõnismaa, Vivian Avent.