Festival Report: Wanaja Festival 2013

“I wasn’t even supposed to be here today!” insisted Dante in Kevin Smith’s Clerks and being in the middle of a cold, breezy 10th Wanaja Festival on Friday, July 19th — held in the historic city of Hameenlinna, Finland — I thought the exact same thing. And, the weather wasn’t the only thing on my mind since the lineup made me question my own priorities as well. The metal bands could be counted with three fingers and all of those three would make an appearance on the second day. Yet, following my life patterns like the rats in that Paul Simon song, I still had asked if I could come. I didn’t hear back until just right before the festival’s D-Day when they said “Come on in”, so after shuffling my obligations around and trying to make it all work, here I was.

by Mikko K.

Yet, despite all that mental anguish about being at the right place and the amount of actual metal bands being very low, metal still seemed to linger here and there, even when it didn’t manifest itself in its clearest and most evident form.

pmmp1PMMP touring for the last time…

Take for example the Finnish girl duo, PMMP, who are winding their 10-year (or so) career down by doing this final tour. Their at times minimalistic music and relentless performance has gathered plenty of fans from all areas of music and listening to them doesn’t seem to bring any shame at all to anyone. Perhaps it’s the fact that their sometimes genre bending pop tunes hold melancholic and excessive realism; a fact not that surprising considering that the band’s music is pretty much composed by one Jori Sjöroos that some might know from such acts as Magenta Skycode and This Empty Flow or even before that, funeral doom act Thergothon.

But I’m fast forwarding.

paakiiShut up, Pää Kii!

I arrived to the scene late due to prior obligations and caught the last few songs from Finland’s currently hottest punk rock group, Pää Kii (or ‘Shut Up’). Going by what was happening on stage musically, either I’ve got a completely distorted view of punk or the band was playing their most mellow songs. Either way or both, there didn’t seem to be much danger on stage aside from the band laughing at their bass player for showing off and fucking up a song in the process. After the scandal that mainman Teemu Bergman caused earlier this year by appearing somewhat wasted (on whatever) in an interview for the national TV, I was expecting something different. Something with a bit more spit and piss, I guess. Instead the band sounded almost like reinvented Klamydia.

jonneJonne Aaron

Another safe act followed as Jonne Aaron took the stage with his solo ensemble. The guy’s appeared on teenagers’ walls for his duties in his rock band Negative. Now there were some older faces in the audience too for the guy had appeared in a TV series where a bunch of rockers, poppers, new and old talked shit with one another and performed each others’ songs, making those at home teary-eyed for one reason or another. I can’t say I waste my time by hating the guy or anything, but it would be safe to say that the stuff does absolutely nothing for me.

notkeaThis guy seemed to appreciate Notkea Rotta

Unlike Notkea Rotta whose jamming soundcheck I decided to check instead. They appeared at the very same festival last year, this time manning the second stage (fitted them better) and co-touring with another Finnish rap oriented group, SMC Lähiörotat — who romanticize Finland’s version of the life in the projects. Notkea Rotta’s metal connection was discussed last year but what was forgotten to mention was the fact that guitarist Rane Raitsikka originally played (and still does) with the legendary Finnish punk act, Lama (who in turn made an appearance at this year’s Tuska). The ensemble threw an entertaining, enjoyable set that sometimes was a mere distortion pedal away from proper crossover. Maybe some day. The show did rile up the audience and in turn, the band on stage as well.

pmmp2PMMP’s Paula Vesala empowering the audience

As for PMMP, they came and did what was expected of them. The two singers, Paula and Mira, we’re all over the place (including the top of the stage) making the best out of their last times on stage together — sometimes to the ire of the security who tried to hold them back from interacting with the audience too closely (at one point making Paula shout “Let go of me!”). Crowd participation was good and the songs echoed nicely live. Towards the end, the duo caused yet another problem for the security as they invited everybody (“We ain’t gonna pick and choose the cream of the crop”) on stage. I didn’t stay around to see the clean-up aftermath, but it was interesting seeing fans climb all over the place.

elakelaisetElakelaiset showing how it’s done (be it music or boozing).

On the outside Eläkeläiset (roughly translated into The Pensioners) has very little to do with metal, but their humppa covers of known rock songs — and not least, alcoholism — has raised them up to legendary levels over here and abroad (with quite a few stints to Wacken). While one might skip them on CD, in a live setting they’re nothing but pure destruction and mayhem, disarming the audiences of any nay-saying and inhibitions with self-deprecation, showmanship and catchy fucking rhythms; “Twenty years of this same shit and still you come to see us”. The ultimate live band.

apulantaApulanta’s Toni Wirtanen

Friday ended with one of Finland’s biggest and most successful rock groups, Apulanta who crashed onto the scene with their punk-ish (pop) rock nearly 20 years ago or so. They’ve gone through various phases in that time, at one point adding a few more strings to their instruments and a meatier downtuned flair to the music (see 2005’s “Pahempi Toistaan”). That happened around the same time when everyone else did so as well due to finally discovering Meshuggah again or something. But, they’ve since toned it down (or up) again. Interestingly the band’s origins were in (death) metal when it was formed by Antti Lautala and Toni Wirtanen, but Lautala left the band when he wanted to continue with metal, with the rest wanting to add more pop and punk to it. So, Toni Wirtanen picked up the vocal duties and eventually launched the band into the success it is today. Personally I’ve never gotten the feeling that the band has calculated its way to success, as they’ve been able to keep themselves somewhat relevant and accepted by simply doing their own thing.

During the show, Apulanta bathed in a wall of extreme light, with some displays set up to support the close encounter of the third kind. The stage setup, which I felt to be quite unique for a Finnish act, acted as a clear contrast to the band as the trio performed in classical, childhood fantasy cowboy outfits. I only got to watch the first three or four tracks since I was on the clock, but it didn’t look like the group was underperforming.

The weather was tons better on the bright new day, with sun shining and warming up the place — it was still summer in Finland, hallelujah! I had a clear cut plan. Go in. Three bands. Get out. Due to my prior commitments I didn’t have the opportunity to stick around longer, but that was okay, as the festival had kindly organized all the metal acts to open up Saturday.



The gates opened at 2:00 PM. I was there 30 minutes later ready to witness Hameenlinna locals, melodic death metal group, Pain Confessor, take on their home turn at three o’clock. Pain Confessor made note of themselves with their debut album Turmoil back in 2004 — especially with their memorable hit song “Lake of Regret” (which is a lake in Hameenlinna where, as it’s been said, people went to wash off their forced baptism). The band released two more albums in 2006 and 2007 but never gained the real, lasting breakthrough they were perhaps hoping for (despite scoring a few international gigs as well). Last year the band returned rejuvenated with an updated lineup and released Incarcerated — their strongest and most interesting outing yet. The album saw Pain Confessor tackle some heavier notes and at times sport a strong Vader-esque feel. Just see “Oceans of Sickness”.

painconfPain Confessor’s Jaakko Kunnas gazing

The day’s opening show was held on the fourth stage inside a tent that stood within the gated alcohol zone, a new addition to the festival since last year. Pain Confessor’s crowd seemed to consist of the band’s friends and family — not unexpected considering most of the ticket holders were probably still sleeping off their hangovers.That didn’t stop the group from making a decent showing for themselves, though. A reliable live band that hopefully will carve out more interesting, pummeling songs in the future.

omniumOmnium Gatherum still rocking

Next up on the main stage was Omnium Gatherum, making it a second time for me to see them live this summer. They didn’t seem to have a problem with it and I didn’t have any reason to complain either. Omnium Gatherum acknowledged that the festival had a bit of everything for everyone, and hoped that the (still rather small) audience wouldn’t mind some metal. Vocalist Jukka Pelkonen did his earnest to whip at least some kind of a reaction out of the tiny crowd. “You girls up front, yeah, you — clap your hands…Why? Because it’s fun. Try it” or singling out someone at the bar area “You in the In Flames shirt. Yeah you. Show me what you’ve got”. Between his smiles and vocals, he also gave out a general rule to the pop-oriented audience who were there lined up for ‘good seats’ to see shitty Finnish rap sensation Cheek: “Try moshing!”. Omnium Gatherum too did a good, warming show on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

peerguntPeer Günt, surprisingly lively

Last on my list was a somewhat legendary, again Finnish, hard rock group Peer Günt who I thought might have called it quits not too long ago. Last time I heard of them, they had a huge lineup change due to alcohol related differences, so I didn’t know if they were still operational. Apparently they were. I saw the band before with the previous lineup about ten years ago at some shady, local American car gathering. Compared to that, the going seemed quite sober. Not necessarily a bad thing, as the band looked quite happy to be on stage despite the early time slot, throwing some authentic-sounding, hard rock ’n’ roll towards the now steadily growing audience and adequately ending my festival experiences. It was finally time to enjoy a bit of the summer — or what was left of it; the clouds were brooding.

After two larger, dedicated metal festivals, Wanaja Festival again provided a nice, differing if not even relaxing experience. The festival’s area, with grass, trees and a big fucking castle at the back, was the best one out of the three, adding to the festivities’ feeling; it felt like a place where you could come, sit around and enjoy the music even if it wasn’t always your cup of tea.

omnium2Omnium Gatherum’s audience

According to festival goers, the security was tighter this year as the men in neon vests tried to weed out alcohol from the area (and I too got searched). But inside the festival area, the atmosphere was relaxed and welcoming — even if outside, the nearby city streets were littered with drunken and passed out teenagers trying to grasp what was left of their vacation.

Finnish goddamn summer.



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