from pop to grime -- talking to finland's next big things
It might be a small country, but it's not short of artistic talent.
"A couple years back," says Töölön Ketterä's Fedja, "people were saying Russia comes late to music, and Finland comes after." If that assertion was ever true, it certainly isn't any more. No longer does the responsibility of taking Scandi success global rest solely on the shoulders of Sweden -- Finland is making itself heard. And what better place to listen than at Helsinki's Flow Festival, where we chatted to six up-and-coming Finnish artists about the music scene and how coming from the land of the midnight sun influences their music. From the playful exuberance of Litku Klemetti, to the sweeping orchestral balladry of Astrid Swan, via the euphoric electro-pop of the country's biggest export, 21-year-old Alma, the festival offered no shortage of serious talent. We also spoke to grime duo Töölön Ketterä, as well as indie popstar Elias Gould -- and all had their own perspective on the country that raised them.
What are the most unique aspects of the Finnish music scene?
Litku Klemetti: I think that we have a brilliant underground music scene and tradition. I guess that DIY culture has always had its fans here, and so it transfers to next generations. It's amazing to see how many people want to make their music outside of the institutions, without money, just putting out great music.
Vesta: The circles are so small in Finland, so basically it's possible to just pick up the phone and work with any talent you wish.
Töölön Ketterä: I think even in the age of the internet we are slightly separated. I think it matters as well that there's not so many people here. We have small cities, small towns, and if you want to make your living with music, you have to tour.
Astrid Swan: Probably the most unique, and one that I have dealt with all my life, is that the market for music in Finland is mainly for songs performed in Finnish. Check out the stats. It's crazy, because actually Finns speak very good English.
Alma: I think everything's very real. People are very honest, especially in rap music, and I really like that. Nobody is a star.
Elias Gould: The Finnish music scene is relatively small, so collaborating with other artists and producers you really like is quite easy.
How would you describe your music to someone you met in a pub?
Astrid Swan: After all these years, I just don't have that stock answer down and I usually start to mumble all kinds of stuff and give references from album reviews that haunt me and annoy me. I guess I'd say that my music is art pop, and then maybe I'd add that I write songs with a piano and sing and then construct a sound from there alone or with a band.
Alma: I would say it's pop, but with elements of darkness, and it's real and it's nice and you should go check out my Spotify.
Vesta: It's emotional. I don't want to categorise my music, I want people to listen, and then we can talk about it.
Elias Gould: I probably wouldn't, since 'Finnish indie-pop' just doesn't do the trick.
Litku Klemetti: Its magical rock and the newest wave. Think about an 80s jukebox that plays all your favourite songs in a slightly weird way.
How, if at all, do you think Finnish music is changing?
Töölön Ketterä: A couple years back, people were saying Russia comes late to music, and Finland comes after Russia, but I think that's changing slightly. Now, especially in Finnish rap, the artists are taking influences from different kinds of stuff. There's a lot of upcoming artists who are changing things and finding the importance of the internet in music as well. There are artists who don't get played on the radio but they have like 30,000 Snapchat followers.
Vesta: I feel like people are doing a lot right now. And doing it very much their own way, without caring about billboards etc.
Astrid Swan: The internet has changed all music, so too the Finnish scene. I think that there are just more good writers and makers of music, more diversity and genres. And less revenue for all… We're having a very strong mainstream phase, where everyone thinks that the biggest sellers are also the best artists. I'd love to see a movement away from that to even more diversity in styles, skin colours and expression.
Alma: These next five years are gonna be our years. Especially now, when I'm the first pop musician, at least in ten years, who is going abroad and doing things, people are getting inspired and more brave.
Litku Klemetti: Hard to say, on the other hand there is a wish to be credible in the global music market. But I think and hope that we soon start appreciating our DIY and indie music.
Astrid Swan: Right now, Finland inspires me to fight for human rights, be a badass feminist, write songs and do my research. The Finnish government, like so many other European countries at the moment, has taken a scary right turn. So the sorry state of our affairs and the lack of empathy is sort of inspiring me to act. Creatively though, when writing songs, I have to come to politics from a personal emotion. In the songwriting state, I don't have a nationality, I have a feeling.
Elias Gould: I find autumn really inspiring. The falling leaves and the feeling of change inspires good lyrics. The seven months of darkness after it can be a bit of a drag.
Vesta: I guess there's a certain special sense of ironic melancholy in the collective Finnish mind and that's always inspiring. There's 9 months of total dark winter every year in Finland, so it's a weird dark but comforting womb we live in.
Litku Klemetti: Yes, I have accepted my roots as a bit of an introvert and a shy human being (characteristic Finnish personality?). It's good to be a bit romantic about my childhood in Kainuu, the 90s recession and the surrounding wilderness.
Where do you find you're most creatively inspired?
Elias Gould: I like to change the location of where I write as much as possible to keep it interesting. But if I had to name one place I would say my studio, The Spacement.
Töölön Ketterä's Fedja: I find myself sometimes most creative at my own home, but usually it helps to leave your own home and go somewhere like your friend's place or studio. I do a lot of stuff while we're touring, in a car, in hotels... I think it's distance from your own home and basic routine that inspires.
Alma: Home. I get very many ideas around my friends, around my loved ones, and around my own city. Especially when I drive back to my childhood places, that's where all the memories come.
Litku Klemetti: The dark woods and white waters of Kainuu.
Vesta: I go swimming a lot and do a lot of brain work there, so pools in general are an inspiration.
Can you name one Finnish artist other than yourself that you think people should hear?
Töölön Ketterä: Noah Kin, who I think is the most underrated Finnish rapper at the moment, and he's making crazy stuff and getting no streams. Last year he dropped a sick EP.
Elias Gould: If someone hasn't heard of Alma yet, they definitely should check that out.
Astrid Swan: Frank Frank Frank, a pretty new trio on Soliti. Check out this song.
Alma: I really like these Finnish rapping dudes called Töis Crew. They're 15-year-old boys, they have a cool style and I think they're changing the game. And they are just beginning.
Vesta: Mikko Joensuu is great, you should hear his Amen trilogy. Also a new artist called M. She's really good, I think she's putting a record out soon too.
Litku Klemetti: Joni Ekman.
Where would you like to be in five years' time?
Töölön Ketterä: When people asked us that a year ago, we would always say we want to be bigger, but that's not the point anymore, because we learned that if you just want to be bigger and forget your own thing, you're not going to get any bigger. It's not about that anymore, we just want to bring new sounds to Finnish people.
Astrid Swan: Honestly, I just want to be alive. I live with metastatic breast cancer and to be alive in five years would be a victory and a dream. OK, say I'd be alive, I'd be 40 years old, so I'd be on a celebratory holiday with my family and maybe some friends on an island somewhere. I'd be waking up slipping into my silky morning gown, eating breakfast on the terrace, looking onto the glittering water of the ocean and the animation-like turquoise of the pool. I'd be planning the day's activities, my 10-year-old would annoy me a little by diving into the middle of my serene morning scene. Joy, that's what I would like to see for myself in five years.
Vesta: I like to think that I'd be making a lot of music, for myself and for others as well. Just be productive and happy and have many happy animal friends around me. And love.
Alma: On the road doing gigs with a very good team around me. We have the best team now but I think more people are gonna come. Just enjoying life.
Litku Klemetti: On stages and living in some artistic house, maybe back to writing my dissertation in musicology, painting, being excited about anything and being in balance.
Elias Gould: Where the party at.