Thursday, October 29, 2009

Finland 4

One night while I was in Finland, I found myself seated at an event I would never in my right mind have attended back in the United States: a music industry awards ceremony. And yet there I was, subjected to all the free Jägermeister I could tuck away for three hours and an MC that looked like NBA star Tony Parker dressed up as Andre 3000 for Halloween.
The table I'm seated at won two awards and the statuettes looked like this:

Which in a way sums up the Finnish music industry: blocky, unpolished, not quite gold. For convenience's sake, let's just group Finland in with its Scandinavian brethren (leaving Estonia and Russia out of it) and ask why the Finns lag behind Sweden and Norway in musical exports. Seated at the table with me are a few members of said industry. Sweden is simple: starting with the massive success of ABBA in 1975, they've grown into the third largest music industry. To rattle off the artists who hail from here is a fool's task, but so ubiquitous are its talents that even our own chart-toppers are often propped up by their productions and studios.
And at least on an indie-rock level, Norway's crested in the past decade: Röyksopp, Annie, Turbonegro, Kings of Convenience,  Lindstrøm & Prins Thomas, etc. while whole subcultures like space disco and black metal are cultivated and nurtured there (and then there is 80's one-hit wonder, a-ha). But for most of my trip, I was hard-pressed to name famous Finnish acts beyond Luomo/ Vladislav Delay, Pan Sonic, and Jimi Tenor. Do any of them count as "famous" though? For a country of roughly-similar size, why does Norway outpace Finland?
One of my tablemates works for the Finnish Music Information Centre, and she informed me that Finland's breakout year actually occurred back in 2000, when three acts took Europe by storm: HIM, Bomfunk MCs, and Darude:

Conveniently enough, I was traveling through Europe at that time and remember all three acts very well. So my reply went something like this: "They were all Finnish?!"
For whatever reason, each act lent itself to anonymity or a misconstruing of their roots. HIM surely must have arisen in Sweden, while Bomfunk MCs were such a heinous strain of hip-hop that surely it must have been the Germans who got it all so horribly wrong. I mean blond dreads, jeeeesus. Darude was the number one song the duration of my trip, it seemed. Hearing it everywhere made me wonder why the US pop charts hasn't had an instrumental number one in decades (can anyone out there tell me what the last one was? My mind said "Axel F," yet it only reached #34 in the US). It took years before I heard "Sandstorm" stateside, but it was at Yankee Stadium, so it's at least crept into the subconscious.
Since then, the industry has admittedly been hard-pressed to follow up on that success, with only HIM being something you could really hang future expectations on. But what sort of act would it take for Finland to be back on the map? While we pondered that at the table, we were treated to the sounds of this band (I shit you not):

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Finland 3

Since the Sibelius symphonies I checked out from the New York Public Library were too scratchy to play, my main impression of what the music of Finland sounds like remains the wondrously inscrutable Fonal imprint. In years previous, I had written about artists such as Lau Nau and even gave an overview of their folk scene for the Nashville paper, but hadn't quite kept up with their releases since then.
Before I left, I again pulled out the works of Kemialliset Ystävät, Paavoharju, Islaja, and ES and uploaded them to my iPod, providing an alternating soundtrack of blissed-out and jarring sounds. What I played again and again though was this double album by ESSateenkaarisuudelma, which was just sublimely idyllic for watching the pines and birches flicker past on the landscape. Steeped in the sounds of Harmonia and Popol Vuh (at least to these ears), it's one of the most beautiful minimal albums of the decade.

Arriving in the city of Tampere for the Lost in Music Festival, I wondered if I might somehow see acts such as these. Instead, I braced myself for what I knew to be a weekend of metal and attempted indie-rock, rather than the weirdo, introverted, idiosyncratic music that Fonal trades in (and that I am magnetically drawn towards).
As luck would have it though, the man behind ES, Sami Sänpäkkilä, is also the man behind the label itself. And while my impression was that the Fonal folks lived under giant mushroom caps or in log cabins out on the Laplands, Sami lived but a few blocks away from the festival and I spent a few afternoons listening to music with the man (our favorite being the French pop album cut by Princess Stéphanie of Monacco). He told me that the two principal artists that inspire his label and its telltale sound are Terry Riley and Alice Coltrane. Fitting then that those two artists and their body of work continue to inspire me as well. Sami then gave me a slew of new Fonal releases, by himself, as well as Shogun Kunitoki. To top it all off, Fonal won an award that weekend from the Finnish music industry (for Best Album Art), which is sort of kin to Catsup Plate Records walking off with a Grammy.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Finland 2

I can unequivocally state that I've never been in a culture as intent on eating black food stuffs as the Finns. (Even in Cambodia, they stopped short at giant scorpions and tarantulas. Okay, that's a whole other level of fucked up, but I digress.) Perhaps it has to do with the dearth of sunlight, the sky an impenetrable cataract of clouds the duration of my stay, the time of day gauged only by gradations of grayness. Anyhow, I found myself ingesting quantities of black licorice that I never thought possible, especially salmiakki, this salty variant on the stuff: strong in taste as well as in fortitude: you could feel your gums developing muscles.
Another day, my hostess offered me a chocolate that when I bit into it, oozed out what she translated as "tar." Tar? In chocolate? It left an ashy streak on my skin and stank like Pine Sol, leading me to think that the confection was actually filled with pine tar. Meaning, what major leaguers rub all over their Louisville Sluggers is what counts as a delicacy here.
Nothing can possibly top the sight of mustamakkara (a/k/a black sausage) though:

Saturday, October 17, 2009


Packing up for a week in Finland today (read: thermal britches). A few days in the countryside and then off to attend a music festival in Tampere. Expect updates about the music scene (beyond Kemialliset Ystävät and Pan Sonic) to follow.

notebook beta

Originally, I merely wanted to swoon over this description of the San Bernadino Valley mental state as sussed by Joan Didion, wherein "a belief in the literal interpretation of Genesis has slipped imperceptibly into a belief in the literal interpretation of Double Indemnity," but as I recently catalogued a giant trunk filled with pen-scratched notebooks of mine, dating back to a college course wherein we were required to keep a journal/ notebook (something I've done ever since), this musing by Joan Didion resonated with me instead:
The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself... Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss...our notebooks give us away, for however dutifully we record what we see around us, the common denominator of all we see is always, transparently, shamelessly, the implacable "I."

Friday, October 16, 2009


While I still haven't figured out a way to attend the New York Film Festival proper, I was able to watch an in-person interview with Spanish director Pedro Almodovar last week as part of the festivities, regarding the man as he espoused on the connection between motherhood and divas, how he detests fast, slapdash edits and prefers the long takes.
"Cinema helps us to explain ourselves, our troubles, our situation better than our own words," he explained, gushing about American b-movies, Spanish melodramas of the 1950s, and most surprisingly, expressing his lifelong devotion (as "a humble student of") to the film works of Ingmar Bergman and John Cassavetes. Recently re-watching scenes featuring men with great tits snorting heroin amid campy wallpaper, those are not the first two names that spring to mind. (He also mentions Douglas Sirk though, which does make sense).
He then proceeded to show how he paid homage to John Cassavetes' Opening Night (detailing that the film was ravaged by NY critics and only ran in one theater for a week before closing) by lifting a scene from the film for All About My Mother. He then did the same for Bergman, comparing a scene from Autumn Sonata with his own film, High Heels. I kept hoping he would do the same with Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity and Jean Renoir's La bête humaine, since both posters appear in the cinema for a crucial scene from Bad Education, but we would have been there all day.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Nearly two years ago, I wrote an appreciation on the films of John Cassavetes for the Idolator website, focusing on this curious soundtrack I found for his 1967 film, Faces. In it, I lamented that one of my favorite Cassavetes films, 1970's Husbands, remained out of print, never ever released on DVD. Thankfully, that has finally been rectified (though seriously, it's time to get the man's swan song, Love Streams, out in the 21st century). To celebrate, I am re-posting this sodden, totally ridiculous mess of an interview (prank?) between Dick Cavett and the film's stars.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Linda Perhacs video interview

Funny how things work. Last October, I found myself in Los Angeles interviewing the lovely Linda Perhacs (I also found myself in a four-hour traffic jam...but I digress). A year on, I get an email stating that the video interview I conducted with Linda Perhacs is now streaming over at Anthology. Watch me scratch my beard and nod my head in her presence. And via serendipity, I will be back out west for her first-ever performance!

beta's mess

Random things I've lost recently:
  • the packaging for the new Tinariwen CD (scant seconds after importing)
  • headband (for gym purposes)
  • checkbook for writing the rent check
  • Boney M's Love for Sale long-playing record
  • power cord for a Chinese DVD player
  • a journal dated April 17, 2003 through August 25, 2003
  • Yasujiro Ozu's Late Ozu DVD box set