Festival Report: Wanaja Festival 2012

Hämeenlinna is a city (with a population of 60k) some 100 kilometres north from Helsinki. A somewhat of a beautiful place during summertime (for example, the national park Aulanko). The city’s name stems from the iconic castle of Häme, built around the beginning of the 14th century. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the city was also the home of a long-defunct festival, Giants of Rock, which saw acts such as Dio, Sepultura, Suicidal Tendencies, Helloween, Motörhead, Anthrax, Obituary and countless others play live — some could argue that some of those bands were in their prime at that time. (Check out Sepultura’s gig on YouTube.) But enough with history lessons…

by Mikko K. & Matti Manner

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You’d think that there’s some new deathcore band in town, but it’s only Lapko. Those rascals.

MK: Unfortunately, I found myself at the scene just as Lapko were two or three songs from finishing their slot. There was barely anyone in audience at that time, but it didn’t seem to pose a problem for the band as they were kicking ass on stage. The band’s rendition of alternative (standing on its own two feet, balancing somewhere between acts such as Placebo and even Tool) has been refreshing on their albums as The New Bohemia and ΓΟΛΕ have been outstanding records, and the songs seemed to sound even slightly more effective on stage. Wish they had gotten a better spot despite Ville Malja donning slightly peculiar trunks.

Roctum was here. And at McDonalds.

Speaking of missing something special, Hämeenlinna’s pride and joy (or not) Roctum had opened Saturday with, what I believe, might have been a spectacle. While the band might not say anything to you first or afterwards, at least if you browsed now-defunct Relapse Records’ forums some eight years ago perhaps, you might have stumbled upon a ‘caption this’ thread featuring the band’s more front-row members. The band is known for their extreme stage antics of throwing sandwiches and toilet paper (among other things) out into the audience and looking at the second stage’s perimeter, something similar must have taken place here too.

  • MM: Well, Roctum are a weird bunch. They still are not as big as they once prophesied during some interview (“We are going to be bigger than Jesus and Beatles combined!”), but they can be mildly funny on stage. When I arrived later the photo pit still looked like someone had just mugged Pennywise — serpentine and shit all over the ground. Circus clowns… I hate them.

Karri Miettinen aka Paleface leaning to the left.

MK: Paleface (Karri Miettinen) is a Finnish rapper who used to do his thing exclusively in English with his biggest hits coming out at the beginning of the century. The man struck gold again a few years back when he switched the language into Finnish, embraced old Finnish protest songs and started commenting on the state of the nation. Currently he’s performing with the Räjähtävä Nyrkki (“Exploding Fist”) outfit who have added plenty of meat to his songs. The highlight of the set was probably “Maan tapa” (“Nation’s way”), which looks at how today’s world really functions. The track was introduced with a quote from former radio personality and current green party politician Pekka Sauri: “If we admit that we don’t know where we’re going, then the game’s already lost.” Then the track rose into quite progressive levels by the end, allowing the band to truly showcase their talent as musicians. The show was one of the best on Saturday.

In the past few years, it’s been really nice to see current and former rappers employing proper live bands into their music, sometimes making the material far more interesting than the drops of phat beats and autotune-corrected whistling.

MM: I have never been a metal puritan, as I listened almost as much to Cypress Hill records (and such) growing up as I did Pantera and Sepultura. Still, it took me a long time before I could admit to appreciating Finnish rap or hip-hop music in general — since it was performed for the longest time mostly by all kinds of untalented assclowns one could imagine.

Paleface is a guy who has been hanging around ever since that worst (second) infancy period of Finnish rap culture, being one of those rare few who have always tried to “keep it real” and bring some professionalism to the local rap/hip-hop scene. Thanks to all the efforts of hard-working guys like him, there has been much progress in this field, and up until now it has cultivated few acts that have really come to their own.

As a rapper, Paleface can be said to be politically active as he has always been decent at incorporating his thoughts, ideas and sociopolitical views into his lyrics. While his English stuff ain’t that bad, in my mind his music has taken huge leaps forward after he adopted his mother tongue. I would even argue that his latest album “Maan Tapa” is the best Finnish rap album to have been produced thus far. Now that he has gotten an able band to back up his lyrical skills, I guess he is also the overall top rapper in Finland right now. When you take all aspects into account–lyrical content, execution and live performance–I think it’s difficult to find any other Finnish rap-artist or group who could make a case to deny his place as the top dog.

MK: Similar musical ambitions drive mainstage rap group Notkea Rotta who, once again, use real instruments to shovel their material to the people. The band members share a somewhat varied musical history that pours directly into the group’s material as there are small but obvious hints of bands such as The Beastie Boys, Run D.M.C or say, Suicidal Tendencies and a plethora of other cool shit from the ‘80s to early ‘90s. I bet they were fans of early Sepultura as well. Hell, in the song “Klassinen syy” they name drop bands like Slayer and Carcass. The group’s own musical extravaganza didn’t seem to garner the reaction from the small-ish crowd that it perhaps deserved, but the show rolled on convincingly, nonetheless.

MM: Notkea Rotta is another Finnish rap unit that I have learned to love. While Paleface raps about more “heavy” subject matters with a more serious tone, Notkea Rotta is all about fun. Their lyrical content spurs from their home in East Helsinki and revolves around their fictional alter-ego characters who work as protagonists as well as antagonists in their songs. The main reason why I personally dig this group is that they are masters of coming up with funny premises and unconventional lyrics that tell hilarious album-long stories. For example, their “Kontula – Koh Phanga All Night Long” album is a chronologically-driven collection of raps about Finnish tourists chasing ladyboys and other depraved pleasures while visiting Thailand and other sex tourist hot spots. Simply a ingeniously crafted and fun record based on a growing trend since the beginning of 2000’s amongst working-class Finns. Taking it back to metal, the original rhythm section for this band called Liekehtivät Torsionit (Flaming Torsions)—a name inspired by Adidas sneakers from the ‘80s—include members of Finnish metal acts such as Ensiferum, Waltari and Defuse.

  • MK: The drummer used to play in Barathrum too I think. It’s hardly surprising considering that many of the ‘better’ rappers in Finland have a history with heavy metal or hardcore.

Chisu calling out all the poseurs in the audience. Leave the hall.

MK: Speaking of black metal, the complete opposite of that is Chisu, one of Finland’s biggest female singers who desperately tries to outshine lesbian sexual-fantasy impregnator Jenni Vartiainen. Chisu brought her (visually) Madonna-esque flair to the second stage and while she has a few catchy tunes, by the end of the set you really tend to wonder why you aren’t doing something more important, like filling your body with krokodil.

MM: To me, Chisu might be the ultimate doom vocalist/song writer as her music filled me with misery and almost made me lose all my will to live. Sure, her voice is sweet and she looks cute, but the songs and lyrics she unleashes are murder if you try to make any sense of them from a man’s perspective.

Petri Nygård wins the Olympics.

MK: Petri Nygård (real name Petri Laurila) is a professional provocateur (elaborate dickjokes) and a Finnish rapper who saw major success 10-12 years ago, then faded due to not wanting to perform live actively. He tried another, more serious hip-hop style under the moniker Travis Bickle, but failed miserably and has now returned to his Nygård persona and is again selling shitloads of albums and touring extensively — and doing it big. The funny thing is that before the guy became a sensation, he had undeniable skill but since his resurrection, he’s catering towards the lowest common denominator. Which, in a way, is genius due to CHI-CHING.

The stage was prepped with screens and a huge blow-up doll spreading her goods which acted as an entrance between front and backstage. Then there were funny costumes and two dancers as well as plenty of merchandise thrown into the audience. For the oddest of comparisons, his variety show brought Devin Townsend’s Ziltoid the Omniscient show from Tuska (a few years back) to mind, since there was some pre-shot drama elements going on between the songs on the screens, but ultimately…

MM: We just arrived to the place where things cross that fine line between good shit and utter shit. Petri Nygård represents something that I can’t stand behind. Dick-joke songs comprised of simple rhymes made for 5-year old children to absorb and sing along to. Delivery that only relies on being as loud and obnoxious as possible. I admit it might take some skills to make this shitty formula stick with average listeners’ brains. It might take some talent to come up with memorable lines that are so catchy, even a passed-out person can repeat them. But the entertainment value of this depends as much on listeners’ IQ (or rather lack of it) as on the amount of alcohol that is affecting it.

The decision to fill the stage with a traveling circus to entertain the crowd worked well as the music would have problems standing by itself in a more toned-down scenario. While I was focusing my optics on those butter-faced strippers spicing up the stage side, I thought that no man had been this close to getting hepatitis through the lens since Max Hardcore.

Marko Annala had a good bad day.

MK: Just as with Stam1na the day before, Mokoma also seems to benefit from playing on smaller stages. This time, their show didn’t have any particular theme, but instead pummeled through songs from their entire discography. They also threw in another new song for the audience to preview. At one point, vocalist Marko Annala apparently got fed up with technical problems and threw the front monitors off the stage. Later on, someone tried to come fix and pick ‘em up, which seemingly annoyed Annala. “Leave them there. I hear so much fucking better when they’re there”. Good show, but that’s to be expected.

This is Vesku from Klamydia. A handsome man.

MM: Klamydia (chlamydia) has released 329 songs since forming in 1988, and all are more or less dick-jokes. To me, it’s very much like a 1.00 punk version to Petri Nygård’s 1.05 rap update. So it brought more loud songs about being drunk and obnoxious to the mainstage.

  • MK: They’re not all about poop jokes. Don’t forget their patriotic, veteran appreciation with “Suomi on Sun” (Finland is yours). And “Kemppainen” is a legendary song.

Looking at the crowd, I was surprised how many young people there were singing to these “classic” Klamydia songs. I guess that in some evolutionary pockets of Finland, where the average Joe is still trying to figure out his thumbs, these songs are seemingly passed from father to son (or as I saw in some cases, daughter) along with the physical symptoms of the disease. I was also surprised that the vocalist Vesa “Vesku” Jokinen seemed to be sober, as I had been told these days he’s completely unable to recite their songs and has to be pretty much rolled on and off the stage by the roadies.

  • MK: Having drank the tap water in Vaasa plenty of times, I can’t hate Klamydia at all, and comparing them to Petri Nygård is a bit excessive since the dudes seem to have a much more realistic take on life than most ‘rock stars’ or their fans. The band’s part of the Finnish rock canon and that’s alright. Plus, shouting drunken, romantic obscenities at Swedish europopper Tess (who?!) made for entertaining TV eleven years ago.

Turisas having a BBQ.

MK: Turisas played its one and only show in Finland for a while to an eager hometown crowd. The show also got an extra boost from the fact that it was being filmed by a Japanese television channel. This meant that the band had constructed a much more elaborate show than say, a year ago at Tuska (when Netta Skog was still part of the group, sigh). But even with pyrotechnics, fire dancers and a focused performance, the formidable spectacle never quite seemed to rose up to its intended level. Perhaps not least because the audience sucked for the most part.

MM: There seemed to be as much confusion around photographing Turisas’ show as there were pyros in use. As the first one of the press arriving to the stage, I tried to ask around what the protocol was. It took awhile to get a vague answer: “By your own admission you can enter the pyro zone. Oh, and please don’t play around with those flamethrower things that cough out fire and brimstone”. I think this would never work in Tuska or any other larger festival, for if some nimrod would go out just to get torched, there would be legal hell to pay. I also think that a simple verbal admission would not protect the festival organizers from possible lawsuits resulting from any sort of mishaps that might occur.

  • MK: The security guys made it seem much more larger than it turned out to be — aside from the ending. Brought last year’s Tuska to mind. Pew pew.
  • MM: Well, it was a small stage and maybe the Japanese TV-viewers are not that keen anymore on watching things go boom in the telly.

Leningrad Cowboys don’t have much Leningrad in them.

MK: Leningrad Cowboys is a cult band of sorts that originally rose from a collaboration between the slightly anarchistic band Sleepy Sleepers and film director Aki Kaurismäki. In the early ‘90s, the band provided a somewhat good-spirited and optimistic soundtrack (Total Balalaika Show) to the fall of the Soviet Union and also to Finland’s depression. That period saw skyrocketing suicide numbers and pushed many hard workers into personal bankruptcy and years worth of debt (which led to even more suicide). Meanwhile, the people directly to blame for the mistreatment of Finnish economy walked free and onto better positions within safe-harbored companies and governmental entities, where they could get right back at it again. To those, I’d like to offer the following two kind words: FUCK YOU. But I digress. Leningrad Cowboys are perhaps best remembered for their performances with the Alexandrov Ensemble covering a ton of old school rock n’ roll classics and other symbolic songs with a hard rock touch. Now, consider it was the ‘90s and the Red Army Choir was singing “Sweet Home Alabama”…

If Petri Nygård’s ass-shakers showed lack of class, Leningrad Cowboys’ Go-go dancers had plenty to spare.

I was hoping for at least a glimpse of such power but alas, that was a dream that never had any wings to begin with. While the band is still hell of a group of talented musicians and puts out an entertaining cabaret show, it’s clear that the boys from Leningrad (some 20 years later) have been reduced to a slightly more elaborate cover band (which they were previously but still held some mystical aura back in the day). Current vocalist Ville Tuomi (Kyyria, Suburban Tribe) particularly left a lot to desire. So, after a handful of covers, it was time to call it a day. The crowd seemed to appreciate the headliner, though. Throughout the summer I’ve witnessed bands summoning moshpits, circle pits and walls of death but this was the first time I saw a long letkajenkka (something similar to a conga line) form spontaneously. Not an easy feat to pull for sure, but goddamn, my childhood’s ruined.

  • MK: Bring back the early ‘90s line-up from deep-freezing…
  • MM: Hear, hear! This felt more like a variety show from some cruise ship in the late ‘80s than a worthy main attraction.
  • MK: …then again, it’s not like those guys would have frozen with their livers.
  • MM: Very true. By the way, where the hell was the Red Army choir that used to tour with these guys? Outside of the hot dancers dressed up in uniforms, I didn’t see enough communists out there to warrant the Leningrad part of the name.
  • MK: The dream is dead, Jim.

MK: Overall, I’d say Wanaja Festival was a refreshing two-day set that didn’t perhaps provide the greatest musical experiences, but nonetheless was a good way to spend a summer weekend and write something home about. The two stages were enough and the less hectic pace compared to Tuska (where you’re running between four different stages, trying to cover bands as if you were collecting Pokemon) gave a much-welcome breather. Small festivals are fun — especially when they’re held in such a humane location where it’s easy to just sit down and bicker about the bands at hand.

Perhaps the only problems came from minutiae such as the main stage’s front stage lights sucking donkey balls. Artists who came to the edge were completely unlit, which made photographing the last acts a drag. Also, over at Tuska you have to fight at the photo pit to get some photos. I mean, literally ground and pound people to death. In Hameenlinna, we had more room to maneuver and it was the oddest feeling ever. It took me the whole first day to adjust as there wasn’t any threat to my life. When the shooting conditions are perfect, it appears that taking quality photos becomes next to impossible; Stam1na provided me with a 10-second window to take the photo of my life and I failed like a Finn at the Olympics.

MM: I have to gripe a little about the weird scheduling of Saturday’s bands. To me it seemed that the main and the second stage were billed backwards. If you would have asked me what to put on the bigger stage and what on the smaller one, it would have been completely the other way around. That main stage had second-tier billing written all over it the whole day — this is if you take into account where these bands stand in popularity and relevancy.

I know that some might accuse me of sporting bias towards metal by default, but putting Turisas as the main event of Saturday would have been the right and noble thing to do. Firstly, the band is a homebrewed commodity of Hämeenlinna, and they’re currently a hot commodity abroad as well. Secondly, with a longer set there would have been more material and perhaps a better stage show, since they brought bombs and international media with them. Thirdly, if I’ve got my facts right, this was one of the two or three gigs they’ll be doing this summer before starting to write up the next record. Lastly, could someone please tell me what the hell has Leningrad Cowboys done in the past decade that makes them relevant?

  • MK: They played at the opening ceremony of some shitty sport event some years ago. And they need to pay for all the ex-members’ kidney transplants.
  • MM: Oh, and can you explain to me again what the hell we were doing in Hämeenlinna when there was Hammer Open air happening somewhere in the outskirts of Turku? They had bands like Marduk, Eyehategod, Asphyx, Roots and Solstafir. Weren’t this supposed to be a metal site or something?
  • MK: Sush you, barbarian!  We’re branching out to further educate and immerse ourselves in musical theory and dolente-like contextual, rapturous philosophy with a natural connection to acceleration of reviving the monumental, immaterial harmony in black metal so that we can finally be worthy and do a cohesive, in-depth interview with that guy from Liturgy and maybe get a mention on Pitchfork. So just shut the fuck up and do as you’re told!
  • MM: Well, Turku is a shitty place anyways. All they have are hordes of of beauty pageant winners and hockey players, so fuck them…
  • MK: Maybe next year.

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  1. Commented by: Apollyon
  2. Commented by: gabaghoul

    great writeup M; plenty of bands in the Finnish scene I’ve never heard of. will have to hit on Spotify or YouTube later on.

  3. Commented by: Noel


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