From the moment I arrived in the Estonian capital, the value of music and culture was immediately apparent. Coming from the UK, where arts funding is consistently being cut, venues are at risk, and there’s an overwhelming political uncertainty country-wide, this precedence was refreshing…

This year’s Tallinn Music Week saw a significant focus on conferences about the impact of the arts on Estonia’s economy; I was repeatedly impressed by the consideration and dedication to the event. One of Tallinn Music Week’s key messages is the ability for music and the arts to inspire unity, and I felt honoured to enjoy a wealth of incredible performance, and to share in an all-encompassing celebration of such a beautiful and interesting city.

A testament to the event, on the flight from London it was clear that many punters return to Tallinn Music Week year on year. Throughout the week, performances, talks and installations take place across the city, with the official opening ceremony on the Thursday evening. Festival founder Helen Sildna opened proceedings at Pōhjala Tap Room, a lofty, sunlit craft brewery. The sincerity and gratitude that permeated during Sildna’s speech was indicative of the festival as a whole; many artists made a point of expressing their appreciation during their performance.

Musically, the city’s offering was inimitable. I heard the soaring folk-tinged electro-pop of Anna Kaneelina, to ear-splitting metal from the likes of (the curiously named) Cumbeast, to the trance-fuelled, hypnotic techno courtesy of Lakker, all within a matter of steps.

Channelling an early noughties grunge-rock attitude, Estonia’s Sibyl Vane displayed an effervescent energy during their set at Sveta Bar, an unpretentious and industrial concrete space with low light, houseplants and a cosy smoking area with retro furniture. With a nostalgia for that particular late 90s, early 00s alt-rock, Sibyl Vane delivered with an infectious charisma, largely thanks to singer and guitarist Helena Randlaht whose stage presence was captivating. Soaring over brooding basslines, Randlaht’s vocal is sharp and assertive with a suave fullness to her tone. Later, in the same venue, Japanese duo MOJA delivered one of the highlights of the festival. An onslaught of thundering drums and juddering riffs accentuated by Haru’s distorted, otherworldly vocal, MOJA craft a whirlwind of sound bigger than you’d expect for a two-person outfit. With a heart-warming sincerity and a tangible warmth, MOJA formed a genuine connection with the crowd.

Wandering between venues offered the perfect chance to explore the particular beauty of Tallinn. The architecture is striking; a fusion of Nordic, Brutalist and European buildings. Tallinn Music Week is as much a celebration of the city’s infrastructure as it is of its culture. Tallinn has many quirky details too, one such detail being Erinevate Tubade Klubi, a cosy venue that gives you slippers at the door.

The majority of the venues were in Telliskivi, a former industrial complex that’s now a vibrant creative district. At the Manka Boutique Pop Festival Night, Alex Kelman crafted hypnotic darkwave ambience, accompanied by Aleksandra Glazunova’s swirling vocals and crisp percussion courtesy of Mikael Norstedt. Having previously played in Russian indie-punk bands, the Siberian artist’s performance now offers a heady blend of catchy rhythms, blissful synths, and distorted guitars — a perfect late night sound.

Tallinn Music Week offered many opportunities to catch exciting artists as their career begins to flourish. One such artist was Berlin based, Icelandic electro-pop artist ROKKY. With her first EP due out this year, her performance purveyed a glistening elegance; ROKKY is an artist on the cusp of pop royalty.

A name on many lips throughout the festival was Ukranian rapper alyona alyona, an artist who’s been garnering attention since her first video Рибки” (“Fishes”) went viral last year. The venue was packed as she took to the stage with a fiery presence and lyrical dexterity, proving why she deserves a place at the forefront of the scene. Sonic diversity in full force, the experimental soundscapes of Ratkiller followed alyona alyona. In a dark smoky bar bathed in blue light, the curious arrangements of the Tallinn-based artist elicited an unsettling atmosphere. His set veered from the shrill and clattering to a hazy ambience, an unpredictable journey with an air of unhinged brilliance.

Saturday night’s performance by SADO OPERA did not disappoint. The Berlin-based Russian collective’s eccentric, queer nu-disco is impossible not to dance to. Think Scissor Sisters but more theatricality and more flamboyance. Performing tracks such as ‘Russian Anal Game’, which singer Boris Day announces as “a song banned in Russia”, and the pertinent ‘Patriarchs’, SADO OPERA are audacious and vivacious — experts in good times.

The Tallinn Music Week tagline is “a festival for tomorrow’s music, arts and ideas”. Ambitious, carefully considered and meticulously curated, the festival delivers on its manifesto. I experienced a wealth of new music, and I was consistently reminded of the arts’ capacity to unify.

Photo credits
Telliskivi – Ken Mürk
alyona alyona – Henri-Kristian Kirsip
SADO OPERA – Kristelle Ahone

Find out more about Tallinn Music Week here.