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EIGHT TRACKS A Foreigner’s Introduction to Estonian Pop Music

As heard by KALLE PAAS


EIGHT TRACKS A Foreigner’s Introduction to Estonian Pop Music

As heard by KALLE PAAS

December 2011 www.kallepaas.eu Feel free to share, print and discuss. I’ve credited all the photographers, I managed to identify.

That’s entertainment. Just like Paul Weller once famously claimed.


EIGHT TRACKS A Foreigner’s Introduction to Estonian Pop Music

Dear Barret, I see that you've seen a lot of Estonia and are still enjoying it. Therefore I thought that in addition to this god-forsaken language, pretty girls, fabulous Old Town in Tallinn and vivid Ida-Virumaa there are other things about Estonia you might want to know. I think you might enter the next level. Being someone somewhere means being amidst the local pop culture. Nowadays, of course,“local“ might as easily be „global“. I recall how we discussed U2's music from the 1980s last summer; it is clear we both have experienced Nirvana or Oasis on some level. And we as well as tens of millions of people across the globe know a certain ms Black... But then again, there is still a lot of 'local'. If you imagine Earth's pop music as some sort of a city, then it would have two dense and close cores and many suburbs. The States and The UK would be the two in the centre, while France, Germany, Spain and Sweden with Agnetha, Björn, Benny and AnniFrid would be the areas right around the cores. By following this lead, Estonia would, of course, be somewhere on the outskirts. If you are a habitant of the core, you would know your area very well, but you would have very little knowledge of the life in the

Random pop art found on the streets of Tartu, 2009. Self-loathing (or actually self-realization?) while processing dairy products might be the mainstream of tomorrow.

periphery. John Peel, for example, was an outstanding man in this sense – most certainly was he well aware of Anglo-American pop music, but he had an eye for the periphery as well. In the beginning of the 1990s, he asked Röövel Ööbik, an Estonian indie rock outfit, to play in one of his legendary BBC sessions. This case of Röövel Ööbik's is still fondly remembered by indie enthusiasts over here. John Peel's session stands proudly among other moments when Estonian pop music and culture broke into the consciousness of the core. Moments such as. Err... The Singing Rev... Oh wait, it's not the time yet to go all Singing Revolution again... A suburb dweller from this aforementioned city – just like an Estonian pop culture junkie – would be quite well aware of what's going on in the core. Just like he (or she) is aware what's going on in his (or her) everyday home, the periphery. Therefore, we might even say, the life in the edge of the city is more interesting, since it sort of makes you „zoom“ in and out in the pop culture. This consideration is the first and perhaps the most important point of this brochure. The rest is a few

stories and some bad music. Be warned! I wrote the following short pieces without much research. This is mostly because of the time limits. Nevertheless I’d prefer to leave the actual scientific research to the guys who have the ambition to be actual scientific researchers. Rather, my point here is to give an entertaining insight to a microscopic part of Estonian pop music. I try to draw a few lines from the past to the present. Accidentally, while browsing my records, I stumbled upon a lot of 90s. Perhaps it's not even so much of an accident, rather than a sign of this decade's importance. The 1990s were years when Estonia, the state and its society re-oriented towards the West. This deeply affected pop culture. And everything went sort of nuts back then... Actually, from another point of view, we can say that it was actually the popular culture that affected everyone and everything else, right from the 60s (and even previous decades) up to today. If we went all Singing Revolution now, I could point how the whole process was pop culture in political action, but this is not the point of this brochure.


EIGHT TRACKS

A Foreigner’s Introduction to Estonian Pop Music

BORIS LEHTLAAN VANAS RATASLAEVAS I see what Boris did here! This is actually Creedence Clearwater Revival's „Proud Mary“! First recorded in 1968, it has been repeatedly covered in four decades by Tina Turner. In Estonia, the latest well known rendition was performed by the eventual winner Liis Lemsalu in Estonian Pop Idol’s fourth season. In this version, however, it's эстрада singer Boris Lehtlaan (b. 1946). Quite amusingly, the lyrics in first verse are basically the same both in Estonian and English, even though it's quite hard to board an old riverboat here in Estonia. The thing is, the rivers here are generally not wide enough to fit a boat! Yet I included this cover for many reasons. Most obviously, it represents

the reach of Anglo-American pop culture: a 1969 song by a Californian rock outfit became domesticated on the other side of the other side of the Atlantic. This is interesting, considering the geography and history - when Western European cultural connections with the States were rather obvious, the other side of this Europe, the Eastern Bloc was ideologically cut off from this fun loving, beat-believing music. But indirectly this culture came across the Baltic Sea, because the people under Брежнев’s rigid socialist beats longed for something fun. And so, symbolically, rataslaev reached another harbor.

Still no actual rataslaev.


EIGHT TRACKS

A Foreigner’s Introduction to Estonian Pop Music

APELSIN MATKALAUL Although Western pop culture was in public ideologically frowned upon by the Party, it was not that Western vinyls were seeked and burned together with their traitor owners by the KGB. Actually, it has been said that the Party even encouraged modern pop music among Soviet youth – but candidly, and with a hope to use this craze to control the youth. So there was even this all-Soviet pop circuit – a closed circle of artists that were permitted to tour the whole Union. Most of the superstars that toured Sankt Peterburg or Moskva as well as Siberian winter wasteland towns were, of course, Russian. But then again, even alien Baltic people had their chances. Apelsin was among the most curious of this curious Estonian superstar plejaad – it was basically a ten-piece musical humour troupe, yet very fine instrumentally. When I call Apelsin jokers, I must emphasize the the differences between Soviet and Western pop industries. In

the Union, bands were often not so genre-specific, this due to the censorship but also the lack of equipent and the Union’s huge socioeconomical and cultural differences. Therefore, Apelsin is actually a fine case study. From the powerful spiritual of „Laululilled” (”There are many who have suffered, who have sacrificed their lives...”) to the tuba-powered variety of „Karulaul”, they represent quite a few genres. „Matkalaul“ („The Hiking Song“) is from the humours side. For me, personally, it represents a dominant ironic Soviet Estonian vibe. Its lyrics have lines like „Kahekümnes sajand / näkineiud vete pääl / kosekohinas / kandled käes, gaasimaskid peas“ („20th century / mermaids on the water / in the murmur of the waterfall / with harps in their hands, gas masks on their heads“). This paints a decent picture: heavy industrialization and folk cultre together with nature and pollution.

While many Estonian pop-rock groups tried to be more hip, tried to look in fashion, Apelsin were too great to bother. Plus this photo proves that the Soviet jacket industry was actually really striving.


EIGHT TRACKS

A Foreigner’s Introduction to Estonian Pop Music

METRO LUMINAL ISA TULI KOJU and rather suicidal music that was yet neither emo nor Nirvana, rather a mixture of northern/eastern melancholy and post-Soviet angst set to overwhelming guitar rock. „Isa tuli koju“ is perhaps the most well known Metro Luminal song. This tune, which I remember form my childhood as graspingly strange and yet very serious, is the ultimate trip into depressiivrokk. As the lyrics go –

f: flickr.com/photos/sludgeulper/

The 1990s were a terrible time. During previous decades, quite often the best was actually filtered out of that hardto-obtain Anglo-American pop music. Because of the exclusiveness of Western music, people actually performed and listened to a lot of progressive or art rock. Now the floodgates came crashing down and all hell broke loose. In everyday music, the liberty to choose produced the liberty to produce cheaply packaged nonsensical eurodance. Going back to Europe turned out to be taking the worst out of cheap German or English synthezised dance beats. Quality rock music was not the mainstream anymore; part of it was, but most of it sunk underwater and resettled as subcultures. This, for example, combined with the state of shock the society was in, produced an interesting branch of rock called depressiivrokk. Bands such as Metro Luminal and Kosmikud as well as Sõpruse Puiestee produced emotional

Father came home – father's hands are cold Father came home – father and his soul Father came home – and his eyes so sad Father came home – and his cigarette smoke

- it becomes clearer that this music might entertain you or might not entertain you, but most certainly it will take your soul and force it to march dead drunk through a cold winter night from a bar to nowhere... Or to another bar. In the middle of the 1990s, in the middle of a post-Soviet wasteland of a society.

I tried to google a photo of a bar in Tallinn from the 90s. Found no photos of bars. Most probably everyone was to depressed or drunk to take those photos. Therefore, here is a slick daytime photo of telephone booths - almost lacking any decent phones!


EIGHT TRACKS

A Foreigner’s Introduction to Estonian Pop Music

A-RÜHM POPMUUSIK For me, the problem with Estonian rap has always been that we don't have it here. By it, I mean the social ground needed to produce these rhythmic slashes through the curtains of injustice. Sure, we have had – and have today – a lot of social injustice. But this injustice is more general and involves the whole country or all the people instead of a certain social group. Therefore, we all should be rappers around here – or should no one be. One well known Estonian rapper, Cool D (also a member of A-Rühm), was born in Tartu. He lived in Tammelinn. This is not the typical set-up for a rapper shouting about kindergarten kids getting AK-47s and killing sons of bitches (from the song titled, wait for it, „AK 47“). First, Tartu is the artsy university town, yet has no major airports or seaports to generate dense traffic and clash of cultures. And neither are there

demographic or cultural ensions that can be seen in Lasnamäe or IdaVirumaa. Second, Tammelinn is a bourgeois suburb in the forementioned town. And so the chances of coming from such a background and becoming a rapper are, to say the least, slight. But then again, we have neither had those Mississippis nor riverboats, yet the music that grew out of them captivates us. Therefore, it might be that rap and hip-hop are actually as universal modes of expression as pop music in general. And so we have A-Rühm, whose late 1990s super hit „Popmuusik“ is arguably the most well known and beloved Estonian rap song. The lyrics bash local pop music and pop industry at the time. And somehow A-Rühm and their older songs retain certain self-reflecting humour and irony, something that many modern pop rap outfits often seem to lack.

Here is an interior photo of a house that is currently being sold in Tammelinn, Tartu. You surely can find 50 cent here, those damn sofas swallow all the change that pours of the pockets while sitting!


EIGHT TRACKS

A Foreigner’s Introduction to Estonian Pop Music

Rock music, as we know, is crowded with poetical expressions for deflowering ladies while aboard a horse/motocycle/car. Or, in Queen's case, bicycles. These processes need to be fuelled with booze and motivated by Columbia's finest. And while you live a life of drugs, you might as well write songs about it. A well known example is Black Sabbath's „Snowblind“, a song not so much about making a snowman rather than being one. By following the Western route, we

might also interpret Estonian 1990s eurodance star Estin's „Esimene lumi“ as a song describing aspiring young artist's first trip into this life of drugfuelled stardom. But then again, this might just be a bad love song about the first crush melting just like the first snow. This might as well be a song that characterizes quite well this less than interesting mainstream of Estonian pop music in the 1990s. And Estin was never that aspiring anyway.

f: Jarek Jõepera

ESTIN ESIMENE LUMI

This is Estin (born Esta Simakova) a few years ago. Just like the pop music from the 90s has become the basis of quite popular retro parties, Estin has become somewhat of a MILF material.


EIGHT TRACKS

A Foreigner’s Introduction to Estonian Pop Music

„A good way to promote your album is to show your penis while on stage,“ claims Ivar Põllu, frontman of 1990s/2000s pop-rock group Genialistid. He has a lot of marketing advice – strangely for a band who never was much into mainstream marketing anyway. The thing is, Genialistid was ironic as m u c h a s s i n c e r e a n d t r i c k y. Throughout their few albums, they played around with themes ranging from love to drinking beer. They never claimed to make art, but managed to be more classy than most of their

counterparts. This is a bit about having it instead of hoping to find it. Genialistid – whose members have pursued other interests ranging from composing classical pieces to founding theatres – were just talented and strangely attractive because of that. Even though mr Põllu looked – and still looks – more of a nerd librarian than rock star. But then again, Phil Collins has sold more than 100 million records while looking all the time like... Phil Collins!

f: Annika Haas

GENIALISTID MAAPEALNE PARADIIS ON ROCK’N’ROLL

Managerial advice: „It’s penis time now!”


EIGHT TRACKS

A Foreigner’s Introduction to Estonian Pop Music

The bitter truth is, you are not a famous pop musician unless there's a solid subculture of people who hate you. If you leave people indifferent, you are just like their everyday surroundings, mundane and unattractive. But people do not want to see the guy next door on the stage, they want to see something out of the ordinary (Cobain, in fact, looked like the guy next door, but he had crazy mode the actual guy didn't have). Unfortunately, for every fan you get an additional hater who finds you either too pretentious, fake or just plain irritating. This is the law of the pop. But as we see, if there are haters, there are lovers. For the artist wants to be spoken about, this is the fuel to The Stardom Express. The same can be said about hit songs. One summer evening I was out on the tiles (as Led Zeppelin once put it). I passed a bar while a group of people sang a rendition of singer-songwriter Jaan Tätte's recent hit „Tuulevaiksel ööl“. It had such lyrics: Tuulevaiksel ööl Tätte pihku lööb Tuule suund on nord Nüüd on Marko kord The actual lyrics are much more about sailing, foghorns and real love rather than

fictious homo- or solo-sexual encounters between Tätte and his friend, actor Marko Matvere, who are currently on a boat journey around the world. Therefore, Jaan Tätte is certainly a star. He and his songs have become sort of raw material for stories, jokes and memes. He is both beloved and hated. I have friends who think Tätte's naive and simple songs are absolutely amazing. And then I have friends who find Tätte's naive and simple songs to be utter pseudo-deep bullshit. Actually, coming back to the beginning of this story, Jaan Tätte does not fully fit into this star formula. He looks like a random long-haired bass player from a rubbish cover band. He is far from radiating the raw, yet glamorous vibe of Robert Plant or Jon Bon Jovi. In Lady GaGa's wardrobe terms: the only meat this guy actually carries as an accessory might be some small dead animal he caught while being the lighthouse guard on one of the westernmost of Estonian islands, Vilsandi. „Sõprade laul nr. 2“ is basically this man in a few minutes, you either love it or hate it.

f: Ants Liigus

JAAN TÄTTE SÕPRADE LAUL NR. 2

Before going sailing around the world, Tätte did a hugely succesful farewell tour. Even during this moment depicted here on this photo, he cashed in a fortune. It has been speculated, however, that some of the crowd was there, hoping that if they pay, Tätte would leave for good.


EIGHT TRACKS

A Foreigner’s Introduction to Estonian Pop Music

Yesterday I read an article about Mihkel Raud's this year's achievements. It seems that in addition to being one of the judges in Estonian version of the „Pop Idol“ and hosting a weekly talk show in TV, Raud wrote songs, performed as a guitar playerand a singer in a few bands, wrote a play, travelled around the globe and did a bunch of other things I've already forgotten. Well, he is a busy man. In the beginning of the 1990s he had just become sober. He had spent the latter half of the previous decade dead drunk while being the guitarist of a cult Estonian band called Singer Vinger. For years, he had lived a life as rock'n'roll as it could be in Soviet Estonia, performing in kultuurimajad, playing raw sounding pompous social rock. All those events are in fact described in detail in „Musta pori näkku“, Mihkel's hugely successful autobiography. Yes, he has even written a book that surpassed everything else in Estonia in

popularity, the Holy Bible included. Not that I am saying Raud is a genius, but then again, he is quite close to it. But let's keep moving. Back in the 1990s (while also being a radio jockey!), he founded a band which was eventually called Mr Lawrence. This song – „Call Your Name“ – is not one of his greatest hits, but illustrates quite well the case I want to prove. Mr Lawrence was quite successful – they played real music in real venues to real people. Something that was rare those days, considering our previous stories. Basically, it took one Mihkel Raud to do great Estonian pop music while the rest of the mainstream was either absolute rubbish or alarmingly close to being rubbish. It took one genius-like guy who sounded like god damn U2 to stand out in the middle of this whirlpool that was the re-orientation of Estonian pop culture in the 1990s. It was quite a time.

f: pikseldused.blogspot.com

MR LAWRENCE CALL MY NAME

Among other artists, Mr Lawrence performed at Rock Summer, an Estonian festival which attracted over the course of a few years artists such as Uriah Heep, Jethro Tull, EMF, Bonnie Tyler, Marillion, Bob Geldof, Slade, Procol Harum, Shamen, Ultravox, Blur, Iggy Pop, Motorhead, Simple Minds, Björk etc. Many of them most likely came because Tallinn was an exotic stage to be on. When the air of extraordinary faded, the festival went bankrupt.


EIGHT TRACKS


Eight Tracks. A Foreigner's Guide to Estonian Pop Music.