By Wif Stenger, July 2013
How does a party on the beach with Ville Valo sound? Or are fiddle hoedowns and late-night, cutting-edge sessions that defy classification more your style? Either way, there’s a festival for you in western Finland in July.
HIM, Finland’s biggest band ever, plays its first major domestic show in three years at Ruisrock, held on an island outside the southwestern city of Turku. Started in 1970, it’s Europe’s second-oldest rock festival. A few days after Ruisrock, 400 kilometres to the north, Kaustinen Folk Music Festival features an explosion of genre-bending shows from more than a dozen countries, with everything from hip-hop and street circus to afrobeat and Celtic rock.
For many Finns, festivals are the epitome of summer, a chance for communal outdoor experience in the sunny nights. There are as many kinds of fests are there are tastes: rural or urban, big or small, mainstream or niche, with just about any kind of music or performance you can imagine (and plenty that you can’t).
The best festivals bring together people who might not otherwise meet to experience culture that they’d otherwise miss. And the fondest memories are often surprises – that unknown artist who grabbed you, who made you dance, laugh or maybe even cry.
At the seaside Ruisrock (July 5–7, 2013), dozens of up-and-coming acts appear, but the headliners are HIM, who have not appeared in Finland for three years, except for a few New Year’s shows at a small Helsinki club. In April 2013 the band released their eighth album, Tears on Tape.
After a Saturday-night show in Turku, HIM plays Oulu on July 27 before a North American tour in August. The band enjoys an avid following in the US, where their 2006 Dark Light was the first Finnish album to be certified gold and Tears on Tape debuted at number one on the Billboard Hard Rock list.
Also at Ruisrock are hard-rock stalwarts such as CMX, who began in the 1980s as a hardcore punk band before moving on to progressive, metal and pop, and Amorphis, who are strongly influenced by Finno-Ugric mythology, as well as Kotiteollisuus and Stam1na, known for their grim social commentary.
If it all gets too heavy, you can try less metallic fare such as electronic duos Pet Shop Boys and Crystal Castles, or Seattle indie rockers Band of Horses, or Erykah Badu. You can cool down with a swim beside the stage – the park-like festival area, complete with a beach, is located on an island accessible by road or ferry.
From Ruisrock, a five-hour drive brings you to the village of Kaustinen, where the folk fest begins the following day. The two festivals attract roughly the same number of visitors – 60,000 to 90,000 – but Kaustinen spreads over a whole week, July 8–14, 2013.
If you’re seeking a transition between these contrasting events, the missing link might be metal singer Timo Rautiainen of Trio Niskalaukaus. He has collaborated with members of Nightwish and Children of Bodom, but now appears with his new Folk Band. Or try the hypnotic death-blues of Mirel Wagner or “trash folkies” Esko Järvelä Epic Male Band, who combine elements of folk, rock and jazz.
For wild solos, there’s Nashville-based fiddler and Grammy nominee Casey Driessen, best known for his work with Béla Fleck.
“Casey is a true pioneer of bluegrass fiddling,” says Kaustinen programme producer Antti Järvelä – also a multi-instrumentalist who plays double bass in leading bands such as Frigg and JPP. “He’s one of my big favourites and I’m so happy we got him to visit our violin-loving neighbourhood.”
The festival is known for its informal, non-commercial, community feel, with many visitors staying in local homes. In 2012 it featured more than 3,000 performers in 300 groups from 15 countries. There are plenty of events for kids and impromptu jam sessions.
Järvelä’s other picks include Russian folk music group Otava Yo, French-Finnish folk-pop duo Eva & Manu, Austrian hurdy-gurdy pioneer Matthias Loibner and Orkestar Bordurka, a Slavic band named after the evil dictatorship in a Tintin adventure.
This year’s theme translates to “out of bounds” or “no limits.” Järvelä explains, “That allowed us to build a programme with openness and perspective for anything and everything.”
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