Live Report: Tallinn Music Week 2023

Unencumbered musical expression…

With another spring comes another Tallinn Music Week, one of the most prominent music events in the Baltic region, practically brimming with undiscovered musical artistry as well as music industry professionals, artists, and music lovers from around the globe. A showcase for an unimaginably diverse range of music and artists, the festival aims to put local and emerging talent on the map while also providing opportunities for networking, learning and a beautiful weekend getaway to the magical city of Tallinn. 

The festival spans over three days, during which the city of Tallinn comes alive with music performances, workshops, panel discussions, and exhibitions hidden amongst its winding streets. TMW embraces a wide spectrum of musical styles, including electronic, hip-hop, pop, metal, rock, indie, jazz, folk; essentially every genre you could think of and a few you undoubtedly have never thought of at all..

Clash touched down in Tallinn and within no time at all we were immersed in the picturesque streets of old town, with its cobblestones, Gothic spires, and enchanting architecture, the sun, (surprisingly) beating down on our heads. Even the locals were surprised by the good weather and we made our way to the opening ceremony. 

Photo by Sulev Lange

Held in Tallinn Art Hall Lasnamäe Pavilion, a building located further out into Tallinn’s Suburbs, the ceremony took place surrounded by an eye opening spring exhibition featuring the best Estonian contemporary artists, an excited air brewing amongst the delegates with the promise of a good weekend ahead. 

We wandered through the winding streets to Telliskivi Creative City, a small district on the outskirts of town where many of the shows were to be taking place. A former industrial complex, the district has been transformed into a cultural hub of concert halls, galleries, bars and cosy venues. It feels like the edge of summer and throngs of people wandered between venues and food stalls, chatting, laughing and climbing on slacklines erected between the trees. The city is easy to navigate and travel options via tram, bus or even one of the many electric scooters is cheap and accessible to newcomers and residents. 

Duo Ruut, an Estonian duo, delivered a stunning spellcasting of sounds to early bird audiences on Thursday evening. The pair stood facing each other, eyes locked, simultaneously playing a single instrument; the Estonian zither, a string instrument played with hands and a bow that hummed across the enraptured audience. Combined with their beautifully haunting vocal tones delivered in perfect synchronicity, the music took on a folk like quality with their own modern twists and even those who could not understand the lyrics sat cross-legged and listened as if they were being told a bedtime story.

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Photo by Kaie Kiil

Representing the Scots over at Sveta Bar we had Post Coal Prom Queen, with their space-age sixties look and their sweetly synthesised art-pop. Honourable mentions to another Scotsman, Chef the Rapper, who never compromised on his high energy and the distorted ambient musings by MC MYASNOI. 

With Friday comes a wealth of activities; conference talks covering topics from music and politics to AI to DIY, workshops, mentoring sessions and speed networking, truly something for everyone. 

With the evening came the opening of one of the crowning jewels of the festival, the Africa Now! takeover at Club of Different Rooms, a lineup that was packed with international talents such as Afrodelic, ARASHKHA, Arsenal Mikebe and Colloboh, among more, each act bringing a wealth of passion and innovation to the stage. 

Franco-Iranian artist ARASHKHA had the Friday crowds up and animated, dancing with wild abandon. Informed by his Persian roots, the heavy electronic beats contained a myriad of languages and genres, accented by a drum pad and impressive interjections of clarinet. The venue was a shoes off affair, and there was something very sweet and even liberating about the sight of a crowd dancing and spinning around the floor in their socks to the infectious electro drums. After flying for 11 hours to play this set, ARASHKHA certainly still had bounds of energy to spare and it was apparent how completely in love with his craft he was. 

Back at Club of Different Rooms, Colloboh sat silhouetted against the spinning lights, hunched over a dizzying array of wires on his modular synth. Despite having to tell the overexcited crowd to quiet down one too many times, the Nigerian born producer delivered an awe-inspiring mix of experimental electronic sounds, washing over each other like ambient waves. 

Photo by Kadri Tiganik 

Heavenphetamine provided some much appreciated edge to the night with their smoky atmospheric grunge peppered with radiant runs of the flute, a combination which left onlookers in Sveta Bar gawking. 

It was clear diversity was a focus of the festival, with 51% of the acts including women or queer members and of 173 conference speakers 45% also women. Creators of the festival are also the founding members of Keychange, a global network and movement taking steps to achieve gender equality within the music industry, creating the welcome and much-needed change within these usually male dominated showcase festivals.

After a day of more surprisingly sun soaked weather and some much needed sightseeing, TMW crowds eagerly gathered in venues around the city ready to drink in as much music (and local lager) as possible on the last night of the event. 

We begin by checking out the metal stage located further out from the main hubbub of the festival. On arrival a sea of black clothes and long hair came into view and the gain-heavy guitar sounds permeated the evening air. Here, metal is a seemingly loose term for a myriad of punk, hardcore, death metal, grunge and more and Borm Bubu blasted the crowd with their doom rock inspired display. 

Photo by Kersti Saumann

Back in Telliskivi, Elizabete Balčus was truly a sight to behold. In a small boozer on a corner, the Latvian performance-artist stood on the small stage adorned like some kind of alien forest creature, surrounded by wires connected to various controllers, synths and best of all to an assortment of vegetables clustered together on a table. Curious passers by peered in through dusty windows as she crooned softly into the mic, creating dreamy avant-garde soundworlds as the crowd swayed obediently as if hypnotised. 

As the main festival came to a close, throngs of people wandered over to the equally quirky and smokey club, Hall where DJ’s continued spinning their webs into the early hours of the morning.

Something that sets TMW apart from other showcase festivals is a definitive and unencumbered musical expression. You could walk into any venue and find something so incredibly different from the one before and therefore it creates a wealth of possibilities for musical discovery and broadening of taste. From the conferences to the exhibitions to the music, there is a steadfast integrity throughout and untouched by some of the traps of genre or stereotype, these artists are free to play. 

All in all it was a weekend packed with new music, culture and sunshine. If only you could be in 10 places at once to experience everything the festival has to offer, but alas, we must limit ourselves to our human capabilities.

The next edition of Tallinn Music Week is scheduled to take place from April 3rd – 7th 2024, early bird pro passes and festival tickets available here: https://shop.tmw.ee/

Words: Oshen Douglas-McCormick
Photography: As Credited / Main Picture: Sulev Lange

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