The second edition of annual Nordic cultural feast, JA JA JA Festival, starts today, and is a good starting place for Londoners to discover the new potential of Finnish music.
Sweden of course has pop gold history and in terms of Nordic music has made well in excess of $150m globally from its music exports and as a subsequence naturally gets a very easy ride. For me though, Finland is the most outward looking country in the Nordics at this present time. There is a fully revived and cosmopolitan exuberance to Finland's music scene that just cannot be ignored. And if any of the Nordics is to create a big impression on the UK, like Sweden has done over the years, then Finland is ready.
Across the last decade or so, Nordic music, via a dedicated export agency named Nomex, has stormed the UK, and has perhaps developed into a scene or music sub-culture all of its own. Dedicated support from websites like The Line of Best Fit and Clash, broadcasters such as BBC 6 Music and XFM, and labels like Fierce Panda and Bella Union have helped many bands and artists from these territories including the Ravenonettes (DK), Of Monsters and Men (ICE) and even recent new hopes Kid Astray (NO) flock down from the under the northern skies and tickle the UK's taste buds. Nomex offspring organisation JA JA JA Music being the prime mover and regularly placing hotly tipped Nordic acts into venues like north London's Lexington. Today even sees the start of the second edition of the Ja Ja Ja festival taking place at the aforementioned venue and Mile End's Great Hall. The Nordics these days make up a large part of the UK's underground heartbeat.
A few weeks back I visited a conference called Music & Media 2014 in Tampere, Finland. It is an event that sees an annual convergence of music executives and entrepreneurs from major labels, publishers and independents of all sizes. It is a great event that seamlessly conducts big business meet-ups, technology seminars and sync licensing summits with a fantastic showcase programme called Lost in Music held in venues around the small industrial city. This is the place to go to get an educated handle on the musical might and prospects of Finland.
The emphasis is naturally geared towards Finnish music, namely the pop, rock and electronic variety...and thankfully not as much Metal as one might expect. Finland in comparison to the reputation of its Scandi neighbours has taken its fair share of knocks, and is easy to dismiss in comparison to the likes of super slick Sweden, cosmopolitan Denmark, Ice cool Norway and the eternally kooky and too-cool-for-school Iceland. Finland, and especially since Lordi landed the double-edged sword of a Eurovision win in 2006, has for a considerable time been pigeon-holed with sub genres of the darkest metal.
I am not sure if Lordi embellished the country's metal reputation in a good way or not. Whatever the case maybe the band's winning song Hard Rock Hallelujah brought Finland back up to speed, for a few years at least, with it it's Nordic neighbours in terms of music commerciality. The Finnish music mission is now seemingly very clear - broaden its commerciality by throwing everything they have at it.
Of course, the UK's musical love affair with the Nordics is nothing new. Sweden, having had the upper hand for many years, even before Abba! But in the years that followed the "Ab four" we have witnessed Norway's a-ha and the Swedish Roxette, both master and desicrate the UK's pop charts. The Danish Whigfield wig out with her massive one hit wonder, Saturday Night. We can continue to scrape the million-seller barrel and name check Rednex, again Swedish. Aqua, a Danish/Norwegian mix-up, and Basshunter, again Swedish. In mainstream terms if we exclude the brilliant Abba, and if we put the UK's public's dubious taste buds to one side, is it any wonder the Nordics have gone all out to form organisations such as Ja Ja Ja and more recently the Nordic Playlist to fire a warning shot over their own pop history, and formulate a new cultural undergrowth to ensure a new kind and alternative pop dominance?
But it is Finland's outward facing attitude that will be key to any success. Labels and technologies are bubbling and surfacing with great ideas and even better bands. New, rates free, digital aggregator Music KickUp comes out of Finland. Cool and eclectic independents like Helsinki's Soliti and Turku's Svart Records blend in nicely with the country's big time independent all-rounder Fullsteam (an agency/label/promoter) and are all contributing to Finland being the new jewel in the Nordic crown.
It was recently announced just prior to Music&Media 2014 that Fullsteam have merged with German indie, and some say their equivalent, the promoter and booking agency FKP Skorpio. A magnificent move that will further position the music of Finland. To boot, in Lapland this coming January an event called Lapp Dance will launch and electronic club music from Berlin in all its forms will be showcased at Hotel Crazy Reindeer. Again, asserting that the future of the Nordics could well be Finnish.
Of course there is stiff competition. Sweden's Goat and also Icona Pop immediately come to mind as two examples, albeit polar opposite. But Finnish bands like the neo psychedelia of Black Lizard and Jaako Eino Kalevi, the dance pop of Axl Smith, along side the new angular and fuzzy pop/rock experimentalism of Kap Kap and Death Hawks, all bands that could blow huge in UK. And again demonstrating that Finland is harbouring a healthy, broad base of crossover appeal just as much or more than any other Scandinavian nation.
Finland's geographical location also places itself within easy reach of not only the Russians (some may argue the reason why the Finns look outward) but more importantly, fast rising Baltic nation Estonia. The two countries have extensive business ties and also beneficial tax measures with one and other. Estonian acts like Ewert and the two Dragons, signed to Warners in north America, are receiving more attention in UK and interesting electronic acts like Faun Racket are bubbling on the surface. Hard hitting tie-ups between the two nations by way of Music & Media 2014 and Estonia's well respected conference Tallinn Music Weekcan only help and not hinder a global push on Finland's part.
The Nordic alliance is curious. It does help Norway as it is naturally a distant place, and when an act like Kid Astray comes along it is important they are catapulted in some way. The Danes are wealthy enough, and seem content with their easy freeway into the mainland European market place. In terms of the Nordic push into UK I believe they gladly just tag along for the ride. Iceland has sadly become so achingly hip and out there zany it only seems to look inward (sorry Iceland friends). For this reason, the combined effort of a united Nordic assault is vital to the Icelandics. Sweden in pop terms will always be great and will remain at the top of the Nordic Christmas tree. But on a talent level at least, Finland is just as strong or even stronger than Sweden, and could very easily make its own headway with or without a Nordic united front. But if massive Juggernauts are required to pull the likes of Iceland, Faroes and Norway along, then move over Sweden, Finland is now burning on a full tank.