If you want a nice visual metaphor for how much Vilnius has changed since Lithuania declared independence in 1990, take a look at Lukiskiu Square during the inaugural edition of their Music Week.
Where once stood an imposing statue of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, pointing toward the KGB headquarters where Soviet dissenters were imprisoned, tortured and executed, now stands an impressive sand sculpture of John Winston Lennon, whose records were suppressed during the Soviet years. Lennon for Lenin: instant karma.
Vilnius Music Week is the latest addition to a growing trend, as cities with a burgeoning scene invite a cross-section of industry types over to chew the fat and check stuff out. And very well it works too, although admittedly the opening party features a chap from much further afield, Chilean/American producer Nicholas Jaar whose album ‘Space is Only Noise’ won so many plaudits last year. He’s a mesmerising live act too, albeit with a disquieting setup: Jaar behind the desk, plus a guitarist and (gulp) sax player.
The venue, Loftas, is spectacular: a huge Soviet-era radio factory with the old logo, girders and crane still intact, and Jaar gets the whole place grooving merrily despite being fairly low-key and abstract. “You guys listened in a really beautiful way,” he gushes.
There’s a proper local legend at the next day’s more formal opening ceremony. Algirdas Kaušp?das is the frontman for Antis, whose subversive lyrics and enormous concerts encouraged Lithuanians to rise up and become the first Soviet republic to declare independence. They also did a cracking version of Men at Work’s ‘Land Down Under.’
Hence, later that day, Clash somehow wangles an invite to the town hall to see Kaušp?das receive Vilnius’ top honour, from the mayor. His old classically-trained colleague Vaclovas Augustinas conducts a relatively straightforward-looking choir, who then separate, surreptitiously slip into the crowd and make a gloriously euphoric noise from several directions. Beat that, rock bands.
It’s actually another electronic act we catch first, on a stage situated right outside the revolving door of our hotel, which is handy when you’ve just massively overeaten at a mayoral reception. Golden Parazyth are a funky techno duo who warble away and manage to keep a vast and varied crowd entertained, which is good going for a couple of geezers behind a laptop and keyboard. The songs are quirky and catchy and they clearly have a fine old time up there.
It’s a festive few days in Vilnius generally, as this first Music Week dovetails with the city’s end-of-summer festivities. The main street is car-free and awash with wonderfully hazardous-looking kids’ activities and (also slightly hazardous-looking) local delicacies.
During the day the three large outdoor stages are dedicated to a varied array of cultural activities – martial arts displays, kids shows, historical theatre and lots of colourful stuff involving locals in traditional costumes singing jaunty folk-pop. All musical life is here. For the big main-stage headline slots they’ve even booked a couple of household-name UK dance acts, Dirty Vegas and Chicane, both of whom we bodyswerve in favour of local fare; wisely, it turns out.
Words by Si Hawkins
Photo by Hazel Gumble
Click HERE to read part two of our Vilnius Music Week review.