St.Petersburg times: TNG warming up for Röyksopp @ Stereoleto Festival, St.Petersburg

14.6.2012

"This year’s Stereoleto will bring to the city Finland’s electro-dance band LCMDF and soul band The Northern Governors, as well as Norway’s electronic duo Röyksopp."

NORTHERN CONQUEST

The Nordic music industries are setting their sights on St. Petersburg and northwest Russia.

Published: May 10, 2012 (Issue # 1707)

WWW.NORTHERNGOVERNORS.COM

Soul band The Northern Governors will play at Stereoleto this summer.

It now takes just a few hours by train to get to St. Petersburg from Helsinki, but the history of Finnish bands performing in St. Petersburg is relatively recent and somewhat mixed. Many suggest that Russians and Finns have a kindred spirit, and local audiences are sure to find something they like in the wealth of Finnish rock music, which covers everything from psychedelic rock to ska, but often with a touch of Finnish tradition and mentality. But the city’s appetite for live Finnish music is not yet sated.

The first contact between Finnish music and St. Petersburg (then known as Leningrad) audiences in 1989 was a truly shameful flop.

For unknown reasons, pop band Beat found itself performing at an old Soviet palace of culture at a concert marking John Lennon’s birthday, a regular local underground rock event at which Russian bands traditionally performed Beatles and Lennon songs.

The audience, consisting mostly of young Russian hippies, was clearly shocked by the band’s upbeat Euro pop tunes, and by the end of the opening number, most were sitting on the backs of the chairs with their backs to the stage in protest.

Perhaps Beat could have found more welcoming audiences in St. Petersburg if only the promoter had had a better understanding of the local scene. At any rate, when representing Finland in the Eurovision Song Contest the following year, Beat came last of the 22 contestants, scoring just 8 points.

Unlike St. Petersburg, Moscow was introduced to Finnish rock in a more appropriate way.

The first Finnish rock band to play in the Soviet Union is believed to be Sielun Veljet, a postpunk band led by singer-guitarist Ismo Alanko, whose concert was organized by music critic and promoter Artemy Troitsky in Moscow in 1987.

Although Alanko visited St. Petersburg a couple of times as a tourist, he did not perform in the city until 2010, when he played with percussionist Teho Majamaki as Ismo Alanko Teholla at the now-defunct club Tantsy in October 2010. The concert was part of the Start Finland program launched by local promotion agency Light Music in 2009 with the goal of introducing Finnish music to St. Petersburg residents.

The first taste of Finnish rock in St. Petersburg arrived in the early 1990s, but had little to do with the music. All of a sudden, every kiosk in the city was selling cans of Leningrad Cowboys-themed Koff beer inspired by the tongue-in-cheek Finnish band. The cans bore the band’s Lenin-with-a- quiff logo, were more expensive than Russian beer and stayed on display for months.

The Leningrad Cowboys themselves did not come to St. Petersburg until July 2006, when they drew a measly 30 fans to an otherwise great and fun concert at the now-defunct Port club.

FULLSTREAM RECORDS

Ismo Alanko Teholla played in the city for the first time in 2010.

The situation did not improve until 1997, when the Finnish all-girl punk band Grumps performed a proper gig at Fish Fabrique’s old rooms at 10 Pushkinskaya Ulitsa, opening the way for others to follow. But this history is largely unwritten, and blank spaces remain. For instance, Jarmo “Toppo” Koponen of the band Eläkeläiset recalled that his other band Kumikameli performed in Leningrad in 1988 or 1989, but could not remember the name of the venue. No other memory of this event could be found.

Klub Sputnik, the cultural exchange initiative launched by the St. Petersburg-born, Helsinki-based Sergei Mitrofanov with funding from Finland, played an important part in raising mutual knowledge by bringing Finnish bands to St. Petersburg and vice versa between 2001 and 2003.

But even now, St. Petersburg lags behind Moscow, where promoters seem to find a constant stream of interesting bands to bring to the capital’s clubs. Eläkeläiset, a band famous for its traditional Finnish humppa dance music versions of international pop and rock hits, first came to Moscow in May 2001 and played four concerts in clubs there, but did not come to St. Petersburg for another decade, making its local debut at Zal Ozhidaniya in May 2011. It will return to the city to perform at Kosmonavt on May 26.

Far from smoke-filled basement clubs, music professionals from Russia, Finland, Sweden, Iceland and Latvia sat in the comfortable surroundings of the Consulate General of Finland in St. Petersburg late last month to discuss music export from Nordic countries to St. Petersburg and the other cities of northwest Russia. Called “Music Industry Operators in Northwest Russia,” the seminar was organized by the Northern Dimension Partnership on Culture (NDPC), a European initiative that focuses on cultural co-operation in the Northern Dimension area.

“The geographic closeness of Europe and, in particular, Finland inspires a certain interest in and better awareness of Nordic music among younger music consumers,” wrote Greg Goldenzwaig in a research report called “Mapping the Music Industry in Northwest Russia,” which he presented at the seminar. Goldenzwaig, who started out as a music journalist in Russia, now runs Goldenzwaig Creative Solutions agency from Stockholm, Sweden.

The existence of a cult following of Finnish music in St. Petersburg is confirmed by groups dedicated to Finnish music on Russian social networks and the number of fans who come to concerts by Finnish bands, but their number is still not sufficient to make tours of Finnish artists profitable if the band is not very well-known among the Russian public.

“Despite the fact that the connections were created quite early, development has been slow; Finnish artists haven’t been flown to Russia in numbers,” said Tuomo Tähtinen, acting executive director of Music Finland, a broad-based organization representing the entire Finnish music industry.

The import of Finnish music was hindered by a lack of contact with the very few local promoters who existed back then and by a lack of knowledge about the Russian market, while the Finnish recording industry has been appalled by rampant digital and physical piracy here.

“Despite the long history of cooperation and enhanced connections between key industry figures, the majority of the Finnish music industry still considers the Russian market to be the ‘great unknown,’” Tähtinen said.

“For many, fear of insecurities and lack of door-opening connections remain barriers to market entry.”

NIKLAS SANDSTROM

LCMDF will also play Stereoleto.

According to research undertaken by Music Finland, Finnish companies now consider Russia to be the sixth most interesting country to which to export Finnish music, Tähtinen said.

While Moscow remains the most important hub for the industry, St. Petersburg and Russia’s northwest have become important for Finnish artists, not least because of the convenient location and the increasing number of venues, promoters and festivals, he said.

Since 2006, Finland has held a Finland-Russia music exchange showcase in Moscow called News from Helsinki. There are plans to hold it in both Moscow and St. Petersburg this autumn, according to Tähtinen.

Internationally popular bands such as Finland’s HIM or The Rasmus have plenty of fans in St. Petersburg, but it’s artistically conscious, experimental bands that local fans have little chance of seeing.

Local promoter Ilya Bortnyuk, whose agency Light Music is behind St. Petersburg’s major music festival Stereoleto as well as regular concerts by international acts, said such concerts could not be commercially profitable and needed funding from cultural organizations.

A small percentage, maybe 10 percent of expenses, are covered by tickets, said Bortnyuk, who has been promoting Start Finland events introducing Finnish music to St. Petersburg fans since 2009.

“You can’t count on ticket sales at all,” he said.

“Even if the band performs for free, it has to be brought here, accommodated, fed and so on. It’s clear that only 10 or 50 tickets will be sold for an unknown or little known band, which will cover only a small fraction [of the costs].”

Start Finland was launched with a concert by Risto and Pintandwefall at Sochi club in April 2009, and continued with a concert by Ismo Alanko Teholla and Lapko at Tantsy in October 2010, followed by the Tampere-based folk-punk duo Jaakko & Jay, who performed at Griboyedov club in October 2011. There are plans to hold a similar event this autumn.

“For a couple of years we had a festival called Nordbeat with artists from Finland, Denmark and Norway, but because the event was dependent on the money we received from foundations, as soon as we ran out of money, we had to discontinue it,” Bortnyuk said.

PENTTI HOKKANEN

Elakelaiset, famous for its Finnish humppa versions of international hits, returns to the city on May 26.

Bortnyuk acknowledged the existence of a Finnish music cult in St. Petersburg, but said that people tended to follow certain bands they liked rather than like Finnish music as such.

“There’s no interest in music from Finland for the sake of it. Perhaps there’s a bigger percentage of people here than in Moscow who like Finland and are interested in what happens there — that’s true, even our Helsinkibar proves that,” he said.

“But it doesn’t mean that they like just any music from Finland.”

He said there is no knowledge of even famous Finnish acts among St. Petersburg fans, which was demonstrated, for instance, by the Ismo Alanko Teholla concert in 2010. The band that packs venues in Finland drew about a hundred people when playing at Tantsy, with the audience dominated by Finns.

“It’s the same story with Russian bands in Finland,” Bortnyuk said.

“Take Animal Jazz — they can draw 5,000 fans and you might not even be able to get into a concert here, but if you bring them to Imatra, maybe five people will come to the show.”

Despite having been attracting attention to Nordic and Finnish bands for years, Bortnyuk is doubtful that interesting bands from Finland or the other Nordic countries could suddenly become household names in St. Petersburg exclusively on their own artistic merit, though he admitted that with enough money, “everything can be done.”

“For instance, the biggest Australian band that draws 20,000 there but is totally unknown here can be made popular in Russia,” said Bortnyuk.

“To do so, there has to be somebody who would give you a million dollars or $500,000 and say, ‘Make this band popular.’ You can buy spots on Channel One, cover everything with their posters and so on. The solution is well-known.”

Cultural expansion is only possible bit by bit, with the help of cultural foundations in the respective countries. Exceptions are rare, but they do exist.

“We’re doing Eläkeläiset without any support, because it so happens that they’re quite well-known [in Russia] themselves,” Bortnyuk said.

“There are bands that have some local notoriety simply because they’re good. We bring a Finnish band to Stereoleto every year, and a lot of people know this band.”

This year’s Stereoleto will bring to the city Finland’s electro-dance band LCMDF and soul band The Northern Governors, as well as Norway’s electronic duo Röyksopp.