20 June 2012

Back to the Baltics: 60 Hours in ESTONIA by FILTER magazine

After logging 15 hours of travel and a 7-hour time change from New York, my international adventures began upon landing in Tallinn, Estonia, a 900-year-old capital city in the northernmost Baltic country, for Tallinn Music Week. Now in its fourth year, the conference and showcase festival is clearly hitting its stride, featuring over 180 bands on 27 stages over the course of three days. The majority of acts were from Estonia (who knew there were so many?) and neighboring countries such as Finland, who presented a whopping 15 acts. Last summer, I had trekked to Latvia to attend Positivus Festival, and although that country’s capital, Riga, and Tallinn are only a five-hour drive from one another, there are plenty of cultural differences. Most noticeably, Tallinn immediately seemed to feel a bit less “post-Soviet” compared to Riga. Estonia has a stronger cultural connection to Finland than Russia, since Helsinki is only a short, three-hour ferry trip away. (I’m also told the Finnish and Estonian languages are similar enough to the point that opposing speakers can understand one another.)


Upon arriving at my hotel and picking up my festival badge in the lobby, I only had a couple of hours before the delegate bus was due to whisk us visitors off to Rock Café, where frenetic indie-pop band Rubik (Finland) and electro-sweetheart Iiris (Estonia) were slated to kick off the festival. (It is also where I would drink the first of many Saku beers over the course of my short trip.) The clock was ticking: T-minus 60 hours to soak up as much Baltic music and culture as possible. I quickly dropped my bags and hit the “old town,” which was only a few blocks away.


For the most part, being in Tallinn felt much like being in any modern European city: tall buildings, classy hotels, department stores, sleek restaurants and clubs. Tallinn’s old town, on the other hand, felt very much like stepping back into the medieval ages or, as locals described it, a “fairy tale land.” My stroll through this part of the city, which was founded in 1154, felt appropriately medieval: the windy cobblestone streets led me through narrow passageways, past homes and shops dating to the 13th century, across the city’s border wall and up to the castle— yes, a real castle. Oddly enough, it’s all only a short walk from Depeche Mode Baar—a real bar that plays nothing but Depeche Mode nonstop and is completely decked out in band memorabilia (the bar really hit the big time in 2001 when Depeche Mode members partied here before their Tallinn concert).


The next morning, the two-day conference part of Tallinn Music Week was opened by a speech from Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who many delegates consider to be the coolest head of state ever. Having worked for Radio Free Europe in the ’80s, he’s incredibly knowledgeable about music and is known for citing his favorite artists—Jello Biafra and Ramones—in speeches. What’ll he do next, slow jam the news?


The next day and a half went fast, but was filled with catchy live music around the old town. Highlights included dramatic siren Alina Orlova (Lithuania), experimental rock duo Mona De Bo (Latvia) and folky trio Diver (Austria). The folks at Tallinn Music Week really took care of me throughout the weekend (big thanks to Helen, her crew and all our new friends in Estonia), and before I knew it, my 60 hours were up—or, in the measurement by which I’m now prone to keeping time, I’d reached the end of five complete listens through the entire Depeche Mode catalog. Thank you, Estonia, you’ve changed me forever.



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