FADER Goes to Finland (sort of), Part I

September 29, 2009

Frequent FADER contributor, man-about-town and cat lover, T. Cole Rachel, recently visited Finland for the Fullsteam Records Showcase in Helsinki and offered to share the sights and sounds with us and you. Click through to read part one of his escapades in the land of a thousand lakes and beers.

Some advice to anyone visiting Finland. Before arriving in Helsinki, I suggest first getting ridiculously drunk in some other European city and, if possible, having some kind of Before Sunrise-type romantic experience. Befriend a handsome stranger, stay up all night talking, walking, and affirming your future life-partner status, consume several gallons of beer, and then board a plane feeling emotionally spent, completely dehydrated, and monumentally sleep-deprived. Then, if at all possible, arrange to have someone from Fullsteam Records (aka Finland’s finest indie label, booking agency, promotion company, and party-generating entity) pick you up from the airport and take you directly to one of Helsinki’s oldest restaurants to consume a hearty lunch of reindeer steaks and red wine...then pass out.

I had the good fortune—along with ragtag group of international journalists and music nerdologists—to be invited to Fullsteam Records’ yearly label showcase. I clearly had no idea about the workings of the Finnish music scene, but guess what? Finland is kinda small and a lot of popular indie-rock bands have never even toured there at all. (I am told, with some incredulousness, that Built to Spill has never played in Helsinki. Never!) So, in an effort to fill the hipster music void, the clever guys at Fullsteam have adopted a kind of DIY approach to everything music biz related. They put out records, book shows, have their own recording studio, and are part-owners of two different music venues. Plus, they are all young, affable, and can even put an avowed NYC boozaholic such as myself to shame in the beer-chugging department.

The band’s showcase showdown took place in the nearby town of Turku, which is a two-hour drive from Helsinki (a little longer if you stop to buy Finnish cat figurines along the way, which I did). The Fullsteam-owned venue, Klubi, played host to the night’s big event—two alternating stages showing off seven of Fullsteam’s most popular acts. I was told that almost any of the bands might have easily sold out the venue on their own, but for the locals, having all of the label’s heavy hitters playing one place on the same night was cause for celebration (i.e. a huge line outside the venue and much much much drinking). It bears mentioning here that the legal drinking age in Finland is 18, but all the kids look like they are about 15 and everyone loves drinking something called Olvi Karpalo Lonkero, which is basically sweet, carbonated gin in a can (in red or purple varieties). It also bears mentioning that I’ve rarely seen people get so happily and messily drunk at a rock show (i.e. some girl tumbled down a flight of stairs in front of me and immediately laughed it off), but there was nary a fight, a police officer, or any crying to be seen.

And what of the bands? Well, the labels’ roster is nothing if not diverse. Of the seven bands on display, I was particularly taken with the poorly-named, but fun to watch Cosmobile (a kind of Talking Heads-y outfit with a record out sometime this fall), Jaakko & Jay (acoustic punk rock duo reminiscent of The Dodos), and Lapko, a band I inexplicably liked even though they sounded like the fusing of Placebo and Rush, had a Tilda Swinton lookalike on bass and a banshee vocalist with white person dreadlocks at the helm. They are apparently one of the biggest bands in Finland and even though I was deeply dubious, their set was compelling and actually epic.

Fullsteam’s most promising export and my favorite set of the night came courtesy of Rubik. Coming off like a Finnish Broken Social Scene (if the dudes in BSS had more robust beards and higher voices), the band created a lovely wall of sound during their set. Even though they sing in English, I was too drunk by the time they played to make out any of the lyrics. Still, the songs clearly vascilate between tender and twee romanticals and big, sweeping arm-wavers that got the crowd singing and jumping. The kids at the show were all flipping their collective wig as Rubik played the big stage upstairs at Klubi and the band were clearly enjoying themselves. Rubik's fine debut, Dada Bandits, saw a release here in the States just last week and they will make a trip to the US this October to play CMJ and a string of east coast dates.

One of my last official duties as a visiting semi-professional journalist before stumbling back to my hotel was to have a quick chat and raise a can of Olvi with the Rubik dudes just after their set. I tried to record our brief interview with my new digital recorder, but all you can hear on the recording is the dull roar of bar noise and the sound of cans and bottles clinking together as someone yells, “We’re coming to America! We’re coming to steal hearts!”

Posted: September 29, 2009
FADER Goes to Finland (sort of), Part I