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Report: Good music...
  ... (almost) always comes from Finland

 A.K., 21.09.2012

Featured Artists:
 Jonsu, (Singer, Songwriter) - Indica
Anzi (Producer, Singer, Songwriter) - Anzi Destruction
Marko Mäkilaakso, Director
Anne-Mari Pahkala, Designer

The Story so far:

Minä rakastan sinua, Soumi
With a total of just 338.432 km2 Finland is smaller than Germany. Still about 5,4 million inhabitants of the parliamentary republic live in the south of Finland and its capitol city Helsinki.
Finnische FlaggeOne of the northernmost countries, the "land of thousand seas" is located within the polar circle, leading to the fact that the Finns are used to cold and harsh winters as well as to the polar nights.
Thinking of Finland usually makes you think of snow covered landscapes and a pretty popular cellphone manufacturer. The Sauna is figured to be the typical resemblance of the finish lifstyle, not to mention their "good relationship" with booze. Yet most apparently music is the one thing that comes to mind when talking about the northern people!

Since the Eurovision Songcontest 2006 took place, the Finns have proven once more there most precious export are the numerous, amazingly good local bands which are dominated by metal acts foremost.
Glancing at my own collection of music CDs reveals at least one third of the bands I cherish to come from acts originating from Finland.
A fact which often led me to the statement, that good music (or in this case good Metal) usually comes from it that easy to globalize?
Is it a given fact that the biggest strength of the Finnish people comes down to the music they make? It occurred to me I had to dig deeper in order to find out what truly made the bands and artists as talented and successful as they are, to define where this skills come from. And what do the Finns themselves think about this? Well time to start digging!

To stay fair, it has to be mentioned that I realize that there are equally as many great bands coming from other countries and it´s not possible to determine the talent of an artist or band from their home country. Bands like Cradle of Filth aus Großbritannien, Dimmu Borgir aus Norwegen, Hammerfall aus Schweden oder auch aus unserer Heimat stammende Combos wie Accept, Edguy, Blind Guardian oder Equilibrium are proof enough the amount of talent isn´t limited to certain countries. But for now I´d like to stick to Finland.

Finland's musical History

In order to not just name possible reasons for Finland's strength regarding music, but actually talk to those who create it, I knocked on the doors of several musicians as well. They should have an answer or explanation.

Nightwish, Children of Bodom, Indica, Apokalyptica, Stratovarius or H.I.M., to name all famous bands from the metal genre would eventually become a mission impossible keeping in mind how many of them come from Finland. Yet also none-metal acts became well known around the world, marking their territory on fans CD shelves like the Synthie-Rocker from Iconcrash, Reagge-Star Jukka Poika and the Pop-Rockers from Sunrise Avenue and The Rasmus did, amongst others.

Jonsu - IndicaJohanna Salomaa – better known as Jonsu of the Finnish all-girl band Indica, tryed to explain the success of artists and bands from her home country this way:
Jonsu: "There are some great music schools in Finland and I think that the musical education is good here overall. Some genres like heavy metal and rock music are very popular in Finland so that´s probably the reason why so many good metal bands come from this small country."

And she is absolutely right about that! Early music education has become a vital aspect to their schools. Thus about one in a hundret finns takes lessons on one of the renowned music schools, such as the well known EMO - Espoon musiikkiopisto, the Espoo Music institute . Being the biggest Institute located in the second biggest cities of Finland, many talents had begun their musical career within these historical walls. Sirkku Karvonen (Indica) , Jazzpianist Lenni-Kalle Taipale and Vocalist Mirja Mäkelä are but a few examples.
By this, the Finnish are not only ahead of all European countries regarding their educational system, but also when it comes to music and arts alike.

Anzi Destruction - Anzi DestructionAnzi Destruction, Singer-/Songwriter and head of the homonyms manifold act figured:
Anzi: "Seems like all the scandinavian bands have been more like a trend and yes they do have a unique sound. There have always been great bands in Finland. Another thing is how and how many of them get a chance to go to the world. There´re tons of bands compared to how small this country is. Maybe you develop quickly when there's lot of people around you playing instruments. Cold dark winter also must have something to do with the Scandinavian melancholy sound. Finnish attitude also. Finns often thinks that someone is better somewhere else which is not true, but it makes you try harder."

Apparently Anzi nailed it with this. The said melancholic sound is ubiquitous to Finnish music and a possible guaranty for their success. But also the general interest for music – especially Metal – is a reason why Finland´s one of the most ambitious country when it comes to music.
The "Eurovision Song Contest" enjoys a huge popularity. This makes it easy to figure why even renowned bands are proud to participate. In contrary to the German equivalent, many known bands rock the stages on the Finnish preliminary rounds as did Iconcrash and Stig in 2012, to name a few.

Lordi - Eurovision Song Contest 2006Finland´s first participation to the ESC was in 1961. Condemned to only reach lowest places for quite some time, it was in 2006 when the monster-rockers from Lordi made it happen and brought the title home, with a mind blowing and – for some people – probably awkward performance. They even made it to the 3rd highest score ever by winning the ESC with a total of 292 points.

Looking back on the history of traditional music in Finland, we can find two different sources, reaching back several thousand years.
The so called Kalevala music, containing the essence to Finnish mythology and legends, these folklore tunes already existed during the pre-Christian period. Passed on verbal from generation to generation, this traditional style of folklore survived the decades, kept alive even in the 19. Century in Eastern Finland.
The second line of traditional music, called Pelimanni was introduced to Finland around the 17. Century by Swedish immigrants. Mostly accompanied by traditional instruments like the typical Finnish Kantele as well as the Accordion or Clarinet. Even today, many popular and tradition bound bands make use of this instrumentation. Korpiklaani and Finntroll, are but two bands that come to mind, keeping the tradition alive in their modern music. Also bands like Apokalyptica made it clear how talented the Finnish people are, when it comes to combining classical instrumentation with modern metal sounds, thereby creating their own vision and sounds.

An eye on the Finnish music industry

Petrax Studio
Petrax Studio
Petrax Studio
A vital part in music production takes place within the walls of the legendary Petrax studios, located in the south of Finnland, Hollola.
The initial farm named Rappula, was established in 1577. It was transformed into one of the best equipped studios since 1993. Over the years the three mayor rooms became a musicians dream, with the 120m2 recording room – the once garage for tractors and other vehicles – as the heart of the studios. Many renowned bands like Nightwish, Korpiklaani, Indica, Apokalyptica (i.e.), and more did their recordings at Petrax.< br> But it´s not only the high quality of technical equipment what makes Petrax famous amongst musicians. Offering a full equipped kitchen, accommodations and a wide variety of leisure activity, even a small Church close to the Studio is waiting to be used by bands and artists.
It´s easy to figure why the studios are valued and praised, while several funny memories revolve around it. Such as revealed by Jonne Järvelä from Korpiklaanii, who recalls a situation where a lamb found its way into the control room during their recordings for the Manala album.

Kumu ShopAside from production facilities, Finland makes high standards in terms of manufacturing instruments. One of them are the steeped in tradition drum set manufactures Kumu. Providing musicians with hand-made Drum kits made of Finnish birch since 1984, one can order his or her custom made kit from company owner Pekka Helanen.
Not just Finnish drummers like Laura from Indica or Janne Sivunen from Collarbone rely on the home-made drum kits, but also many foreign customers from around the globe know to cherish Kumu´s vintage creations.

Pekka Helanen owner of Kumu Drums has his own thoughts regarding Finland´s success when it comes to music: "Well, I think Finnish musicians are honest and hard working people, who have lots of guts ( “sisu” in Finnish ). Maybe now it’s time for such values... And we still have a strong relationship to the woods and earth, nature is so near everywhere here. It must have an influence to the music making."

Marko MäkilaaksoAlmost self-explanatory, we can find numerous heroes within the music video industry of Finland as well, supporting bands and artists from around the world with outstanding video creations. I was fortunate to get to talk to Director Marko Mäkilaakso, known from directing countless videos and motion pictures.

Marko Mäkilaakso: "Hahahah! Nice to hear that your affinity for Finland is so strong. Good music does come from Finland! But also from our neighbour country Sweden. But what comes down to metal / rock, Finland is high up there! I guess it's the cliche dark, gothic endless winter nights which gives the Finns something extra dark flavour and we need to express that through music. Same to me as a director. When I look back at all my work it's overall very dark in tone and to be honest, I am not trying to make it, it just comes from inside, so I guess it's in our Nordic blood to be darker in tone that many other countries, it's also a nice contracts to the Scandinavian Blond image! What comes down to music writers, there is a strong legacy of powerful composers and poets in Finnish history and this continues in our modern day music. So we have many talented composers and writers and now it's easier for them to get their songs out there than let say in the 80's. Back then it was all about drinking songs about how life sucks so people can sing along in a bar in a long dark winter day, in Finnish language of course! Now the set up is different and I remember well when the change happened, all of sudden Finns were getting known outside Finland in mainstream kind of way, doing English language songs and heavy metal bands got their international breaks, as well as H.I.M. and bands like that which dominated the charts around the world.  Since I've been living in Germany for almost four years now, it's been fun to see how some Finnish bands have become even more popular in this country. The Rasmus and Sunrise Avenue are very liked here, I can see that!"

Anne-Mari PahkalaWhich naturally leads to the visual aspects of both music videos and stage outfits. Having been responsible for the glamorous looks of bands like Indica, Iamx (UK), Tuvalu, and Rosa on and off stage, the exceptional talented costume designer Anne-Mari Pahkala brought to live the magic of her designs.

Anne-Mari Pahkala: "I have always been in love with clothing art and costume designing, fantasy, as well as music. I think those things were the most important influences for my decision to start my Designer studies long time ago. I've been working as a self-employed designer on my own for five years. It was doing my Thesis for the University of applied sciences, when I made my first project for musicians, it was Costume designing for Indica-band for a really well known Elämä Lapselle- concert in 2007. The concert was also the first live broadcasting show that I’ve designed for, so it was really exciting."
Anne-Mari Pahkala - AMP Designs

Most Fans of the Indica band – such as I am – recall these named outfits, verifying Anne-Mari´s amazing feel for creating costumes that suit both the band and there music.

"The word is Exclusive. The key words for my design philosophy are quality, ethicalness, dreamlike and Finnishness. Playing with contrasts, imagination and feminine and masculine features are a great part of my design philosophy. When I keep those things in my heart, my designs will become AMP".

Asking Anne-Mari for her opinion on the fact that many good and successful bands come from her home country, she explained: "That's a funny thought I think. My own opinion is that there are a lot of different kinds of music in the world, the thing is in personalities of individuals, how you experience music. The way in Finnish metal music, well I think the big reason for our dark heavy music style is that we really live almost 6 months of the year in the dark and cold world, you others should try that. I think the nature is our destiny which makes us use our imagination in the darker sides of fantasy worlds than example Spanish people do. It's nature and surroundings, that always makes people create as they will. How you experience it, depends on you. Finland´s my home, my dears, 4 seasons, magic in nature; snow, fall and colours, individual truthful people, design and metal music."

On the other hand

It is a sad fact the melancholic touch doesn't make a hold in the music of the Finns.
The rate of suicides committed in Finland is one of the highest within Europe, most often come alongside with psychic distortions caused by excessive alcohol consumption. Certainly this doesn´t mean the Finns to be a depressive bunch of people by nature, but its undeniable they consider their melancholy a cultural part of their lives, which too often takes extreme proportions, having people and youngsters choose death before life in some cases.
Its most likely the extremely long winter periods combined with seasons when the sun is either shining 24h a day or doesn't rise at all for about 6 months has its effects on the peoples psyche, as was found out by a study done by the Karolinska-Institut in Greenland. Messing with the human household of hormones, these extreme cycles lead to insomnia which can lead to raising the suicidal tendencies.
Another thing thought to be typical for the northern people regards the consumption of alcohol. But studies have revealed that contrary to common belief the Finns are below the European average and "binge" are rather seldom.

Those crazy Finns – a charming bunch.

Should the improbable occur and you´ll find a Finn who´s not able to play an instrument or is a part of one of the countless garage bands, doesn´t mean he´s not capable of celebrating heavy music at all. Playing air-guitar can be done anyway.
Due to this, the official Air-Guitar World Championship take place in Oulu as a part of the Oulun Musiikkivideofestivaalit (Oulu Music Video Festival) since 1996.
Is it nuts? Depends on how you look at it! But considering the fact that the rules allow you to bring your own roadie for your air-guitar to the Championship, makes it clear how established this event is.
So what can you say? The 11th commandment to the Finns must be:”Thou shallt make music".

The bottom line

As I mentioned in the beginning, it´s impossible to really say good music comes from a certain country alone. Nevertheless it´s obvious our friends from the polar circle do have an amazing talent when it comes to heavy music, making Finland one of the biggest forces to Metal Music, spiced with a melancholic touch only to be found in their music.
And since each country in the world own their legendary and unforgettable bands, it doesn't matter where an artist or band comes from, but it´s the love and closeness that is important.
On my part – and that´s a personal opinion only- I can´t hide my affinity for Finnish bands, which makes it hard for me to truly be objective on this subject. Yet I still hope to have passed on my fascination for this country and eventually even revealed some new insights to Finland.

Special Thanks
My gratitude goes to: Jonsu, Anzi Destruction, Marko Mäkilaakso, Anne-Mari Pahkala, Pekka Helanen, Petrax Studios
Pictures of Petrax Studio © Petrax – Used with permission.
Pictures Kumu Store © Kumu – Used with permission.
Pictures Anne-Mari Pahkala Designs - © Heli Hirvelä & AMP used with permission.

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