Festival Report: Wanaja Festival 2015


While summer 2015 didn’t met all the expectations, there was at least one constant in that equation; Wanaja Festival held in Hämeenlinna, Finland. Again, its inclusion on a heavy metal site is questionable at best and totally schizophrenic at worst, as most of the artists on the bill aren’t necessarily singing about Satan or promoting safe sex with dead people. But as always, there’s at least a band or two that gives us an excuse to attend the festival and live to tell about it on a heavy metal website. So gather around for some egotistically driven babble about the experience from few months back — when the weather was actually still nice.

by Mikko K.

Foreign artists are a thing of the past for the festival, as with the last few years, the festival remains a 100 percent Finnish ordeal, almost solely banking on current pop acts, while still showcasing some fringe-talent every now and then to keep at least some sort of a balance. Thus, if you’re here simply for metal, just hit ctrl+f (or cmd+f if you’re on one of those fancy Apple personal computers… or jam a finger somewhere if you’re on a phone) and seek for Stam1na and Mokoma for the metal. Anyway, here’s a chronological list of what I saw on two separate, lovely days.

 

 

FRIDAY

At some point Disco Ensemble was touted as Finland’s biggest indie/alternative rock bands, but I’m not sure what happened to the world domination or if it’s still on going. I’ve never clocked the time to listen to their shenanigans, despite having had some distant personal connection to the band, but alas, the lads were doing a pretty good thing on the stage when I walked into the festival grounds. Energy levels seemed alright and the drive was actually decent at times, so perhaps someday I’ll actually take the time to check out what the rave is about, or was.

discoeDisco Ensemble’s Jussi Ylikoski still putting an effort

Kaija Koo was up next, briging in some major flashbacks. Just like last year on the very same stage, the show seemed to repeat last year’s playbook — from what I gathered anyway. I actually enjoyed her show last year and quite frankly, there wasn’t anything wrong with this one either, but I just disconnected after a while. Still, I have to say it’s somewhat interesting to see just which ‘80s/’90s pop singers are able to stay relevant throughout the years and with what kinds of audiences. Kaija Koo seems to do just fine branching out from the her old fanbase and reaching out for all sorts of new listeners.

kaijakooKaija Koo provided some major flashbacks of last year’s show

Finnish reggae superstar, Jukka Poika, performing with the Soul Captain Band, was another repeat offender from last year. The last time I saw him perform was some years ago at some city festival in Tampere and while relaxed reggae might not be my go-to music too often, I had to admit that the guy had a decent show. This year’s overly positive Wanaja set wasn’t that bad of a thing either, but it felt different and somehow more calculated. It’s hard to pinpoint it exactly, but it’s kind of like the feeling you get when you deal with reptilians. Everything seems perfect, too perfect perhaps… but it also got me thinking just how important of a part the backing band, Soul Captain Band, plays. In my opinion, they’re the true stars of the show. The backing band is tight and easily appreciated. Plus their bass gave a tingly sensation all around.

jukkapoekaJukka Poika seemed to be on a good mood

Stam1na, Friday’s only (and the festival’s first of two) metal band, has been featured on our festival reports a couple of times. Since I didn’t get to see the band last year, I didn’t mind seeing them once again. After all, they always give their all and put on a great show. I guess it could be entertaining to see a bad show from the band, one where you’d die out of boredom but alas, that, as expected, didn’t happen this time around either. Instead, the group came in and gave an entertaining slab of heavy metal, armed with some new material since they released a new album (SLK) last year. There didn’t seem to be a particular theme this year, aside from some running dick sucking joke, but the show started out funnily enough with the band performing their own intro. Supposedly they didn’t happen to have time to arrange anything else. Another curiosity was that this year, almost all of their songs were being introduced as being about the current situation in Greece.

stam1naStam1na always putting on a sweat on stage

Next up was Elastinen, a Finnish rapper turned singer and every mother’s fantasy son-in-law. The man has been said to be partly responsible for the rise of Finnish hip hop and rap in the late ‘90s as the duo he was in, Fintelligens, was one of the first ones to break out to the mainstream in an impactful way. That’s the official story anyway. The real deal is that in the early ‘90s, acts like Raptori, Hausmylly and NikkeT laid the true foundation. Now, many will say how at least the first and last one killed Finnish rap by making it a joke for a good 10 years, but we all know that’s revisionist, sensational bullshit. You can’t rewrite music history like that, not like military history anyway… but enough with school.

cheekElastinen elastically reaching towards the sky

Elastinen has come a long way in ~15 years and his show sounded big, well crafted and every punch was made to make it seem epic and grand. Everyone on stage was dressed in white like in some cult ready to be raided by the FBI while the man’s own label’s (Rähinä) logos were featured on every available inch. So the show is big as fuck, trying to bring a stadium gig to a much smaller stage, and in some perverse way, actually doing a good job with it. But that’s where the thing starts to lend itself to an unintended parody; the going gets so fucking ridiculous and while it’s packaged into a positive, fun, experience it still reeks as too fucking serious for it’s own good. But maybe I’m jaded. No. I am jaded. The whole bigger-than-life thing began last year with another rapper, Cheek, who sold out (or almost) two stadium shows before taking a year off music. Now all the biggest sellers are trying to build an empire, craft themselves as living legends and most likely quote Scarface in the privacy of their mansions. The most hilarious part of Elastinen’s gig was when the guy put all his soul into a PMMP cover, pouring down the syrup so thick it actually made all the late ‘90s mallcore angst seem genuine growing pains. Jesus F Christ.

Eppu Normaali had the honors to close the day off. For those not in the know, Eppu Normaali is one of the cornerstones in the Finnish music scene. The group began as a punk band in the ‘70s but throughout the years, it has become one of the biggest rock groups in the country.

eppunormaaliEppu Normaali and the highlight of the day

At Wanaja, Eppu Normaali was celebrating the 30th anniversary of one of its most celebrated albums, Kahdeksas Ihme (‘Eight Wonder’) by performing it in its entirety. After quite a few pompous acts, the comparably minimalistic, straight to the point approach cemented the fact that sometimes, some-bloody-times, music is actually enough. Personally I don’t know the band’s whole discography too well, but even I had a few flashbacks to early years once sure-fire hit “Vuonna ‘85” blasted on air. Before that, ”Voi kuinka me sinua kaivataan” actually made me want to revisit the group’s stuff to see if there’s anything else a bit less obvious, but good. The band seemed to be in a good condition for a 40-year old band. They were able to evoke, not necessarily nostalgia but certain reminiscent longing. And no matter what you think of the band or their material, their songs are so incorporated into the culture nowadays, that they’re sure to evoke at least something else other than total indifference. Definitely the highlight of the day, a perfect way to close Friday and embrace the night.

 

 

SATURDAY

The next day brought in a bit colder weather with plenty of light rain. I didn’t mind.

Atomirotta is the current incarnation of Notkea Rotta. They’ve been mentioned a couple of times in the past festival reports. What’s different is that they’ve gone from a full-fledged orchestra into a three man group. What’s not different is that the group’s still entertaining. Guitarist and a general swiss-army-knife, Rane Raitsikka (also known from the ‘80s act Smack), seemed genuinely excited about the stuff they’re doing.

atomirottaAtomirotta

Samuli Edelman was up next. Now, for some he’s turning into this icon and some sort of an heir to another well-regarded Finnish singer, Vesa-Matti Loiri. Both of ‘em are also well known from acting, with Vesku being most well known for his role as Uuno Turhapuro; a mythological Finnish comedy character. Fun fact: one of the Amorphis guitarists bought some vintage guitar equipment that was used for the soundtracks of those comedies. Anyway, Samuli is more well known from his a comedy group Vintiöt, but also as the bad guy’s right arm in Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol. Dude came out on stage with a chair set up and basically did the whole gig from there. If you like mellow and easy pop tunes that somehow make middle-aged women weak in the knees, give him a shot. As much as there’s certain smugness to it all, can’t hate the dude at all.

samuliedelmanSamuli looking for Tom Cruise

Mokoma was the other actual metal band set to play on the bill. After their two albums received somewhat lukewarm reception, the band parted ways with a major label, formed one of their own and readjusted their musical focus by leaning towards thrash metal. With the help of the single “Takatalvi”, 2003’s album Kurimus shot the band to a whole other level and basically paved the way with gold again for Finnish-sung metal. 12 years and some seven-ish albums later, the band still does well in the top lists. While the band’s past few albums haven’t really resonated as well as some of those earlier ones, the level of consistency is undeniable, especially live and on stage, where the band has proven to be top tier even after all these years. And, Wanaja 2015’s set was no different.

mokomaMokoma put ona good show. As expected. However…

The biggest surprise of the festival was Olavi Uusivirta. Now, I had expectations set in the minus celsius degrees, but the dude came and conquered. His music is an absolutely terrible blend of pop, indie and rock that caressed absolutely zero of my taste buds, but the stage ethic was unrivaled by a long shot. The man absolutely gave a sincere 100 and one percent effort, accidentally tearing up his shirt during the first couple of songs. Unlike Elastinen‘s set the day before, the going here actually felt authentic, so while the music was a miss for me, it’s hard to bitch and complain.

olaviuusivirta…Olavi Uusivirta put on a better show.

Since I’d already gotten my nostalgia fix few years ago, I decided to skip Leningrad Cowboys’ show at the end of the festival, and thus Haloo Helsinki’s performance became the last one for me. The band has grown into one of Finland’s biggest rock groups in the past handful of years, each year becoming bigger and bigger. In fact, so big that they are in the midst of a see you later -tour as they’re winding down their operation for a break. If I were to bet money, I’d bet on singer Elli releasing a solo album within the next couple of years. To celebrate their temporary retirement, the show was taking visual cues from Germany and topped it with pyros, thus disallowing photographers to point their technical soul sucking devices at them at close range. But credit where credit is due, it seems like all the touring the band has made has paid off and it’s no wonder, with catchy pop-rock songs, that the thing has blown into huge proportions. It does help that the lyrics are a bit wordier from the usual nonsensical bullshit that most mainstream acts try to peddle.

haloohelsinkiHaloo Helsinki doing farewells with a bang

So another year, another Wanaja, another coverage of non-metal acts on a metal-dedicated website. I like the festival, partly because it gives a quick vertical slice of the current Finnish music scene that I otherwise don’t pay that much attention to, but also because it’s a chill gathering in a perfect environment. Now, they could update their practices and have quotas for minorities, ie. metal acts. Let’s say, three bands a year. Yeah. At least three metal acts a year sounds good.

Anyway. Until next year.

 

Comments

  1. Commented by: gordeth

    Great photos and writeup as always, Mikko.


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