Festival Report: Wanaja Festival 2014


Wanaja Festival, held in front of a medieval castle in Finland, is not a festival for those who are exclusively looking a weekend’s worth of heavy metal; most of the acts mingle between pop and rock. Most of the acts and names you’ve never heard of since they cater to such a niche audience; the average Finnish music listener. Only a few bands add enough distortion, play enough riffs and grunt properly every now and then to qualify for a surefire spot on this site. But like you’ve probably noticed, we hardly limit ourselves here at Teeth, but if you do, then consider this a review of Turisas’ hometown concert.

by Mikko K.

Despite better judgement, I’d sent a request to get to see some bands again.

You see, I ain’t young anymore. It ain’t easy breaking the 30-year old mark. Not that it happened today or yesterday, hell, I think it might have been a while ago. But I ain’t young anymore and actions have begun to have consequences.

Thus, there I was, in the serene photo pit at 2014’s Wanaja Festival trying to take decent pictures of bands for your amusement with a sore fucking leg. Actually, it’s more than sore. I think it might be broken. Or fractured. Or whatever the fuck, but using that hunk of meat with a ton of nerves and some withered muscles was painful.

But I like the festival. Even if I had to skip the first day when Andy McCoy’s new band, Grease Helmet, played (featuring Amoral’s guitarist and someone from Amorphis). I didn’t know Andy was active, but good for him. I also missed Michael Monroe headlining that day. He must have climbed the rafters again. He always does. Actually, I wonder if Friday featured some sort of a Hanoi Rocks comeback, considering that I think Sami Yaffa plays in Monroe’s band nowadays too, so 1+1+1 equals… I don’t know.

But as I was saying, Wanaja Festival is an event, even if it’s hard to recommend for oppressed metalheads. Out of all the bands, only two (Turisas and Deadforger) were straight up metal with one (Kotiteollisuus) being sometimes lumped into the genre, even though it’s mainly schlager with distortion and jokes about being drunk.

The layout of the festival had changed a bit again from last year, with the removal of the third tent stage. A sad loss, but I guess it didn’t warrant an inclusion. Another addition that I didn’t get to experience were two separate, special concerts. One earlier on Saturday by Vesa-Matti Loiri or Finland’s Johnny Cash in lack of a better comparison. The next day, on Sunday, Finnish boy pop sensation Robin would perform to a screaming ocean of teenage girls. Sadly, I wouldn’t be one of them. As for the main event, changes didn’t stop there as it appeared like there was no main stage anymore. The two remaining stages were scaled to almost exact proportions and didn’t seem to prioritize bands by their fame or popularity. An odd choice at first, but I’m not sure if anyone noticed a thing and I guess it allowed ‘big acts’ to go straight after one another. Weather was nice despite the forecast promising thunder and lightning. Not the first time those meteorologists have been incorrect. Rather than face electrocution, when the sun pierced through clouds, it actually burned through and made the experience scorching at times. Anyway, it was good to be back. The grass was green. The people seemed relaxed and there wasn’t a hint of Tuska’s ruthless concrete jungle, aside from the sun.

deadforger-04Diablo’s Aadolf laying down the bass for Deadforger

Aforementioned Deadforger had the honors to start the day. The currently unknown group consists of heavy metal veterans from various bands that didn’t have any major breakthroughs for the most part; Corruption Inc, Helion, Jane Doe 69 and Pain Confessor — even though the last one had mild success in Finland and even got to do a couple of shows in Japan. Actually, some of you might remember then from last year’s article.

Deadforger is pretty much a pastiche of the band’s origins and inspirations, mainly materializing into a mix of groove-driven hardened heavy metal and hard rock that hasn’t been in the limelight as of late. The songs vary and take cues from various depths, say Alice in Chains, Mustasch/Sparzanza, Godsmack (or Alice in Chains again), Soil and hell, even Sentenced. Unfortunately the song material isn’t quite there yet as it tends to slightly dry up and be less than the sum of the band’s parts; there’s still some way to go before radio play if that’s the way they’re aiming.

Deadforger did however manage to hit me with a curve ball straight to the balls. I didn’t realize what was happening at first and it took me a long while and a bit of a push to figure out. The group ended the show with a cover of Danzig’s “Five Finger Crawl”. Now, if you’re doing Danzig covers, and nobody does Danzig covers, including from Blackacidevil and forward, I’m definitely not willing to write the band off just yet. Too bad it had me so flabbergasted that I didn’t appreciate the moment fully at the time… because goddamn. Nice move!

kotiteollisuus-05aKotiteollisuus hadn’t changed at all, really.

Then it was time for Kotiteollisuus. I think I saw the exact same gig from these guys two years ago at the same exact venue. I didn’t have any notes with me but the in between song banter was probably the same too. Actually, that’s not completely true, as I think they’ve since added another guitarist to the lineup in Mitri Aaltonen (responsible for a lot things, producing a ton of Finnish metal bands etc., among other things).

jenni-20Jenni Vartiainen

Jenni Vartiainen became part of an all girl pop group after one of the first talent shows on TV years and years ago. The group never really got anywhere and disbanded after a while. Then some years later, she appeared dressed up as a nun or some shit on the music video of a Finnish hard rock/metal band, Sturm und Drang which consisted of a bunch of kids and sold 100,000 albums in the process before they too disappeared from the face of the earth. Not soon after, Vartiainen released her first solo material and shot to instant success, steadily becoming the top female performer in Finland. Whereas Chisu (see our Wanaja piece from 2012) has put her coins in nostalgia and quaint, romantic city streets, Vartiainen has adopted more mystic and shamanistic overtones. Even when I’m not part of her target audience, it’s hard to deny Vartiainen’s sheer professionalism on stage and skill to captivate and lure her audience into obedience. A good example of a performer who unapologetically owns the space with her performance.

Compared to Vartiainen, Anna Abreu — who rose to fame for coming second in the Finnish Idols, losing to heavy metal oriented Ari Koivunen (currently singing in Amoral) — has a lot of growing up to do, and that’s not even a bad pun about her actual height. Whoever is responsible for her development is doing a shitty job, as Abreu seemed to come to terms with her career a few years back, but this year seems to have fucked it all up — at least as far the music is concerned. The new album apparently hasn’t gained the same traction as the one before and the media has mainly concentrated on her abs and pondered books-worth of pages whether or not her ass was authentic in a video or not. Serious business, that show business.

anna-10Anna Abreu

While she’s undeniably talented, she somehow managed to muster this year’s shittiest song in “Ra-ta ta-ta”, even though my niece loves the bejesus out of it. The lyrics in that atrocity make no goddamn sense even for a modern pop tune. It’s like she has an identity crisis of sorts that has her ‘trying too much’ so to speak, as she wants to be all grown up and raunchy while targeting the thirteen to sixteen year olds. It all comes off as forced. It just seems odd to me, considering she appeared to be aiming for an older audience on her previous album and seemed to pack at least a bit more universal appeal. As it stands now, compared to Vartiainen and her presence on stage, Abreu looks like a kid that’s lost but still deep down tries her best to impress the grown ups. We’re not even going to touch the 140,000 difference in the sales numbers…

Anyway. Perhaps Abreu’s not to blame in all of this. Perhaps the background powers that be have simply jacked off one times too many to Miley Cyrus’ latest vomit and think there’s some substance there. It’s not often I’m reminded of Britney Spear’s “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman” but somehow saying that out loud seems apt. Besides, this is a goddamn heavy metal website and here I am raving about this shit?! FUCK!

Anyway. The best part during the show was when Abreu talked rather lovingly about another artist who she wrote a song with and who makes an appearance on the track she was just about to do. I first thought she’d bring the guy on stage because she kind of set it up so, but fuck it, background tape that shit all the way. Strike one. Then she played that song she’s featured on and does the chorus to, but without the two actual guys whose song it is. Strike two. Lastly, she even manages to make a cover song somehow insincere, as she did a piece by Finnish reggae artist Jukka-Poika, “Kylmästä Lämpimään”. Granted, that cover was part of an extremely popular TV-show featuring the two artists (among other Finnish musicians) doing covers of one anothers’ tracks, but Jukka-Poika probably played that song the day before at the same festival. And doing the expected can be kind of lame anyway (unless you’re my favorite band. Then I only want to hear the good shit). Strike three and you’re out!

…and so am I mentally, because the next couple of acts had even less to offer. Having done most of my growing up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, there’s no denying that I like rap or hip hop, so long as the beats are good and/or the tone is dark enough to please my antisocial tendencies. One Finnish rap label had constructed some sort of a b-tier all-star outing to give the three artists some traction, but I forfeited the gig and didn’t feel bad about doing so at all. Pick your battles, as they say.

yo-07Yö’s Olli Lindholm

Another skip for me was . If you’re in your 40s or 50s and reminisce the past good old days when love was reserved to heterosexual couples in the backseat of a beat up Ford Escort, then (as in ‘Night’) might resonate with you. Originating from some punk-ish roots and successfully wading through growing pains throughout the years, the band grew into a safe-bet Suomirock-institution. I don’t think they’ve had as big of a success as of late like they did 10 years ago, but still have a somewhat devout following at live shows that in an instant raises the average age of attendees on the front row by ten, twenty or thirty years.

haloo-18Haloo Helsinki

Haloo Helsinki was another repeat from two years ago. The band put out an energetic showing back then and only seem to have grown (both in fame and in skill) even more since then, even though the frontwoman Elli starting the gig by hand greeting the front row audience felt a tad awkward. While the music is far from controversial, they’ve introduced a bit of roughness to the presentation that most artists battling in the pop rock genre tend to avoid most of the time. It adds an unexpected punch to the show and makes the group more interesting than they are on paper. Okay.

The basic deal at most gigs is that you can photograph the first three songs from the pit and then do whatever once you’re back with the peasants in the audience. One thing I’ve noticed though, throughout the years, is that a lot of bands skim through the first few songs and then, finally put it into gear later on in the show as they somehow manage to find better stage lighting and even better performance from within themselves. Perhaps they’ll even remove their sunglasses then. I do realize that you can’t go full speed all the time, that you need to balance the act and hell, even have a crescendo at the end of it to leave a lasting impression but goddamn does it make photographing the acts a pain at times.

turisas-00Turisas

Luckily Turisas isn’t one of those acts that constantly blueball people and cheapskate their way on stage. The Hameenlinna-native band had returned to their home stage, playing into the time machine aspect of the festival. Though, this time they didn’t have a Japanese video production after them, but they still remembered to take a pyrotechnician off the dole. Turisas has been touring the world and appeared somewhat elated about performing for their home city, and if there’s one thing the band does — aside from shuffling its members every now and then — is that they put out a good live show. At one point Warlord Nygård cherished seeing friends and family again, thanking some fans from America and Europe for showing up for the gig as well while inquiring the audience if they had any reasons to complain. “There’s nothing to complain about!” he determined, savoring the moment and somehow missing the few complaints that echoed “!” Turisas’ set didn’t hold any surprises with “Battle Metal” receiving a quality response from the fans and “Stand Up and Fight” finally ending their tour de force along with the bangs of some fireworks.

kaijakoo-06Kaija Koo

Kaija Koo is a long-running female singer with a ton of hits behind her and somehow she’s stayed relevant throughout her long career. She’s been able to avoid my CD player for all those years, but hot-diggity-damn, against all odds, I actually enjoyed her set which makes me confused. I’m not sure why, but the audience around me seemed extremely happy and lively, dancing around and singing along, giving a better response back to the artist than the people at this year’s Tuska. Plus, while I’ve seen some bloodied up people at Tuska, thanks to the pits, Kaija Koo actually got some unfortunate soul to drop into such a condition that the person had to be carried away in an ambulance. “So, let it go!” Kaija Koo sung, nothing to do with that horrible song off Disney’s Frozen, as the security and ER moved in to save lives.

The main portion of the festival was ended by Klamydia, who’ve appeared at the event so many times the organizers must have ran out of fingers by now. I missed them too, as I was pretty much satisfied with the day by then and the goddamn leg, that I’d forgotten about, started acting up again, putting my pain tolerance through some serious conditioning.

2014´s Wanaja Festival served more people than it expected with some 24,000 visitors going through the grounds in three days. The festival hasn’t relied on foreign acts in two years now and with the good outcome, I doubt we’ll see any outsiders next year either. There were also some doubts whether or not they could organize the event at the same perfect location next year too, but Monday papers said that they could, so good.

Wanaja Festival still provided a nice, relaxed conclusion to my summer’s musical needs and it’s always entertaining to see how oblivious the security manning the gates to the photo pits is. This time, I witnessed as one photographer tried to make the guard understand that the pass he was holding granted the press access in front of the stage like it even read on the guard’s cheat sheet. The guard instead insisted that we go shove our way through the audience to gain front row access. Luckily the matter was sorted and things worked fine until another guard took his place and only allowed us through once the band actually got on stage. Minor things and nothing to stress about. It’s all good.

Wanaja Festival is a ‘joy’ to visit, even though the artists aren’t necessarily up my alley and most of the time, less so on this site’s real agenda. Hopefully they’ll book some more metal acts next year under which’s guise I get to do this all again… even more older and fragile.

 

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