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):