Tallinn Rocks the Region With its Music Festivals
Three days of musical perfomances by some of the best bands in the region takes over Tallinn next week.
Published: March 27, 2013 (Issue # 1752)
Iiris at Tallinn Music Week in 2012.
Once again Tallinn is becoming a hotspot for St. Petersburg fans of rock music. With Tallinn Music Week, a three-day music industry event and festival, being held early next month, it has been announced that the legendary Soviet-era outdoor rock festival Rock Summer is to make its return to the Estonian capital this summer.
Tallinn Music Week, opening in Tallinn on April 4, will be a three day-long collection of performances from 233 bands and artists, including 164 Estonian acts, performing in all music styles and genres at 30 different music venues and locations around the city.
One of the event’s highlights is 21-year-old five-time Estonian Music Awards nominee Iiris, who will perform 34-year-old film composer Ülo Krigul’s critically acclaimed composition “Luigeluulinn” (Swan Bone City) with the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra.
A major cultural event for the Baltic country, last year’s Tallinn Music Week was opened by Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who delivered an informed speech about rock music and freedom in support of the Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot, whose members had been arrested three weeks earlier in Moscow. He concluded by dramatically putting on the “Holy Mother of God, Drive Putin Away” video, which was banned by a Moscow court as “extremist” earlier this year.
Launched in 2009, Tallinn Music Week is one of the biggest indoor festivals in the Baltic region. The mission of the festival, taking place for the fifth time, is to raise the profile of Estonian music, to enhance the international development of the local music industry and to promote Tallinn and Estonia as a cultural tourism destination.
This year, the program will be bolstered by the addition of a restaurant festival that will showcase 10 to 15 top local restaurants offering afternoon tasting menus.
Tallinn Music Week features indoor concerts in proper music clubs and concert venues, such as the cozy and artistic Von Krahl in the Old Town or the spacious and more straightforward rock-oriented two-room Rock Café, located near the Tallinn Bus Station, but also in theaters, shopping malls, bookstores, a hotel suite and the offices of Skype.
While Tallinn Music Week is held in and around Tallinn’s Old Town, Rock Summer is a stadium event, although it takes place at the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds, which were built to host traditional Estonian song festivals rather than sports events.
When Rock Summer was first held in 1988, Estonia was officially part of the U.S.S.R. and there was a direct night train from St. Petersburg’s now-defunct Varshavsky Railway Station and no border to cross. The three-day free rock festival looked like something drastically un-Soviet and apparently the closest thing to the West that a St. Petersburg fan could get to.
With “Glasnost Rock: Rock for Peace!” as its second name, the first festival, in August 1988, was headlined by Sex Pistol John Lydon’s postpunk band Public Image Limited (PiL) and drew some 190,000 people to Tallinn’s Song Festival Grounds.
The arrival of the former frontman of the Sex Pistols — the band which was the arch-scapegoat for Soviet propaganda — was a true breakthrough and cannot be overestimated. In many ways, it was a mind-opening and symbolic experience, signaling the approaching end of the Soviet regime and liberation for Estonia. Importantly, for the first time in 40 years, the festival had the previously banned Estonian national blue-black-white tricolor flag at the top of the radio tower of the Song Festival Grounds. Many small flags were in the audience.
The location is closely linked to the Singing Revolution, a commonly used name for the events that led to the restoration of the independence of the Baltic countries in 1991.
The term was coined by an Estonian activist and artist, Heinz Valk, in an article published a week after the spontaneous mass night-singing demonstrations at the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds in June 1988, two months prior to the first Rock Summer festival.
From then on, the festival ran annually until 1997 — featuring acts such as The Jesus and Mary Chain, Blur and Super Furry Animals — when the promoter went broke and the event was discontinued.
This year’s event will celebrate the 25th anniversary of that first festival, and its lineup — some of which was announced late last month — will feature John Lydon’s Public Image Limited, just as it did back in 1988.
Tallinn Music Week is held on April 4, 5 and 6 in various Tallinn venues, see www.tallinnmusicweek.ee for times and locations. Rock Summer 25 will be held at the Song Festival Grounds on June 15 and 16, see www.rocksummer.ee for more details.