Sumuvirsi: The Pentagram Of The Finnish Alternative
Finnish music as a cultural export is currently blossoming at an exponential rate: for instance, our fennoscandic nation has finally heralded her first international pop star Alma, who is joining the ranks of other internationally acclaimed nordic singers such as Mø and Lykke Li. However, Finland has a grossly underrated alternative music scene which, while celebrated inside our modest country, doesn’t quite reach the radars of foreign audiences except on very special occasions. This article will introduce five artists or bands from various corners of what Finland has to offer in terms of Alternative music.
Ruusut are an enigma in the modern pop scene. Collaborating intensely with producer Artturi Taira (of Rubik fame) and lyrics provided by writer Lauri Levola, his supergroup (featuring members of eg. Disco Ensemble, The Hearing, Eleanoora Rosenholm and Solano + Profettes) emerged during the first months of the year with their single “Käärmeen sisällä”, with the simple objective of “starting a band that hasn’t been heard before in Finland”. The band released their self-titled debut album right as the freshmen of 2018 were finishing up orientation week, merging a variety of different sounds and atmospheres from the techno and trance -influenced pop instrumentals of Suden Suu and Käärmeen Sisällä to the shoegazey outro of 555, which subtly seems to echo sentiments of artists like Jefre Cantu-Ledesma. Contradictions, while tastefully filtered through a clear pop aesthetic, seem to be a key element in the band’s sound. This is most apparent in the juxtaposition between Ringa Manner’s near perfect pop voice, featuring hints of traditional Finnish folk sensibilities, and the morbid yet romantic nature of Levola’s lyricism. It’s as if Britney Spears decided to make a cover album of The National’s High Violet. And got the team behind Anohni’s 2016 album Hopelessness to produce it. And then some.
Paavoharju was a music collective founded in Savonlinna in 2002. This esoteric group combines elements of lo-fi, freak folk, schlager music, ambient, drone music, hymns, black metal and even hip-hop on their last album “Joko sinä tulet tänne alas tai minä nousen sinne” (roughly translated: “Either you come down here or I will ascend”), recorded in collaboration with rapper Paperi T. The group has even enjoyed success internationally, gathering rave reviews since their debut album “Yhä hämärää” by music media such as Pitchfork and playing the Roskilde festival in Denmark. The milieu around Paavoharju, an often understated element of the collective when discussed by kallio-native art students, is an fundamental factor in attempting to understand the mindset of the group. Founding members and brothers Lauri and Olli Ainala and the people around the collective also indulge in squatting culture, often living in abandoned houses and factories and making saunas out of found materials. This ascetic and introverted lifestyle around nature and the often over-indulgence of alcohol are the building blocks which create the sound of Paavoharju, which vacillates between memories of summers in the forests of the Savo-region, and your worst nightmare materialising when the sun finally sets.
For anyone looking to get into Finnish hip-hop, Aivovuoto is by far one of the finest groups our country has to offer. Founded in 2012 by MC Jodarok and producer team and brothers K.V.N and Lobo, all household names in their respected fields in the hip-hop scene, Aivovuoto incorporate a lot of 90’s inspired, sample-heavy production (ranging from Finnish schlager music to shopping channel slogans) which are paired and intertwined with Jodarok’s very poignant and satirical storytelling. Aivovuoto are a band of well-thought wholes, where every element goes hand in hand, emphasising the main thesis of a song or even album. For non-Finnish speakers interested in translating, sitting down with the lyrics to Aivovuoto’s “Se tuli televisiosta” (which can be understood as “It was on TV” or “It came out of the television”) can be a very interesting and rewarding adventure into the semantics of Jodarok’s unique lyricism.
In a tightly nit and rich, yet occasionally saturated indie scene, Puunhalaaja are Helsinki’s hidden gem. Combining elements of 90’s indie rock à la Pavement and nuances of folk rock, Puunhalaaja provides the perfect soundtrack for sitting in your living room with the TV on mute, drinking stale coffee and, to quote Irvine Welsh, “wondering who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning”. Lyrically, Puunhalaaja celebrates the unbearable lightness of mundane life, and provide an easily relatable and consoling point of view to a myriad of symptoms we all endure.
Twwth is the producer alias of Matti Pentikäinen, aka. MattiP from the legendary pioneering Finnish hip-hop trio Ceebrolistics. Having released a succession of EP’s and split singles through his signal life label, co-run with finnish producer Desto, Twwth creates bass-heavy electronic music, which takes elements from a variety of styles such as grime, ambient and trap music. Producing mainly instrumental music, with the exceptions of occasional sampled vocals and the collaborative single ‘High Mountain’ with rapper Gracias, Twwth makes music which is ideal for and representative of the Helsinki club scene. With cold and slick ambient passages mixed with infectious and raw club beats, Twwth provides a natural soundtrack for anything from dark warehouse raves or a night out at the Kaiku club in Helsinki to art galleries and installation pieces.
These five artists provide a fairly diverse and broad entry into what Finland has to offer in terms of alternative music - and alternative culture for that matter. One or more of these artists will hopefully be a pleasant new musical acquaintance - god forbid even an insightful experience - regardless of what your relationship with or taste in music is.
Listen to the artists here.