From Aural Innovations #37 (September 2007)
As soon as I heard that Porcupine Tree, one of my favourite bands, would come to play at Ilosaarirock, I knew I just had to get to see them. It was to be their first ever performance in Finland, and the same festival would also feature for example Hidria Spacefolk and Opeth. Who cares if Joensuu is rather far away from Helsinki... Well, I had nice travel company and the trips went just fine, no problem. On the way to Ilosaarirock we made a totally spontaneous visit to the “Museum” of Machanical Music in Varkaus, and it sure was a very interesting place and had an extremely eclectic guide.
I had never been to Ilosaarirock before, so I was a bit anxious. The festivities started on Friday with two separate clubs: Sulo that took place on two of the festival stages and Töminä at the nearby ice stadium. As my travel mates stayed in town enjoying the serving of the local bars in Joensuu centre, I headed for the festival site and I was there just in time to witness the end-half of Ismo Alanko Teholla show. Mr. Alanko has taken with him his trusted man Teho Majamäki, and together the duo played songs from Ismo’s back catalogue from the Hassisen Kone days all the way to Ismo’s latest solo material. The first track I heard was “Kun Suomi putos puusta”, after which we got “Tyhjällä tiellä” by Hassisen kone while Ismo sung by the piano and Teho played the vibraphone. The full YleX tent was enjoying themselves a lot and the audience applauded very loudly. Then Ismo switched for more recent material and guitar. “Peltirumpu” by Sielun veljet was played with guitar and percussion, on “Kanoottilaulu” Ismo just sang and danced while the audience sang with him.
I have never liked YUP, and the band’s main figure Jarkko Martikainen didn’t convince me with his solo show either, so I went to order a beer. That proved to be quite a hard task, since the alcohol stalls were totally undersized compared to the audience at Sulo, and I spent close to an hour queuing. Something like this shouldn’t happen; in other parts of the world this might have caused a riot. This definitely spoiled the festival spirits of many people to some degree. Just when I got a couple of beverages CMX was starting their set. The next album of the band is rumoured to be some kind of a sci-fi epos, but during this summer Yrjänä and his company tour powered with the hits from their old albums, unfortunately. The show started energetically, and it stayed pretty straightforward and radio friendly. There was a short hard core burst in the end for the old time’s sake. After the gig I walked to town in a mild rain to join the others in a bar. During the rest of the night I had some fun, which was nice!
Saturday arrived with a little hangover (all those Jägermaisters...), but a couple of painkillers and some beer helped a lot. So I left relatively early to see what was happening at the festival site. The security control at the gates was a lot tighter than on Friday when I could have brought almost anything with me. There wasn’t that much people there while Happoradio played on the main stage. They are a pretty boring band playing commercial rock.
The sun was shining in between the clouds and more people started to show up little by little. One of the stages at the festival was the rhythm music oriented Rentolava (Relaxed stage in English), that this year was concentrated on reggae. Puppa J & Tasoittavat had to cancel their gig because Puppa was just about the have a child, but a very obscure Profeetta ja Uusi maailmanuskonto who have esoteric MySpace site and share musicians with Tasoittavat was playing in stead of them. The band have just released their debut album that got some awful reviews features the Prophet who declares the good news of psychedelia, a lot of synthesizer players and an electric drum kit. This seemed pretty interesting so I just had to watch a couple of songs although Hidria Spacefolk started at the same time on Kolmoslava (Stage Three). The fist track begun with synth bubbling after which the Prophet started his chanting for mind- expansion; soon a relaxed reggae beat played with the electric drums joined in. “Psychotropic will never cool down...”. The second number about psychosis was much more punchy and faster. Very brave lyrics and psychedelic stuff, I must admit, I have to investigate further later on.
Then I had to run to see Hidria, and the band was on fire. Their tight groove was enhanced by a djembe player. The roofed area at Stage Three was full-packed, and some of the people were dancing like mad. The audience was evidently excited and clapped their hands and yelled wildly. The band played tracks from their albums with high volume while the video projections were running on two screens. They had a nice surprise saved for the last track when up to four beautiful girls danced with fire. A very successful ending for maybe the best performance I’ve ever seen by Hidria Spacefolk! And this was also the first gig by them that I saw sober... Also the band members were very happy with their performance. This is the most psychedelic and best instrumental music in Finland.
After that Maj Karma played on the Main Stage for example songs “Viihdytä minua”, ”Ukkonen”, ”Sodankylä”, ”Kokki, vaimo, varas ja rakastaja”, ”Metallisydän” and ”Romanssi”, they even had a drum solo in the set. This isn’t exactly my thing, but they still play pretty okay, heavy music.
Klaus Thunder & Ukkosmaine was a humorous and entertaining two-man pop band with synthesizers, backing tapes and vocals. I wasn’t laughing that much, though. Luckily Husky Rescue started their set soon on the nearby YleX Stage, and this band sure was a lot more interesting and enjoyable experience. I hadn’t really heard them apart from a couple of hit songs, but the group’s atmospheric indie pop touched me more than a lot of the stuff you hear on radio. The soft-voiced female singer also made an impact.
I still left in the middle of the show to check out Stonegard from Norway, and I could easily listen to their heavy metal with melodic vocals and growling backing vocals for a while.
After the press conference I watched Ville Leinonen & Chrisse Forever Band for a while, and I must say that popular song really isn’t my cup of tea. CunningLynguists from the US played on Stage Three and these pretty convincing hip hop dudes seemed to have a rather drug-friendly message... A very nice surprise was Suhinators who played at Rentolava by the water. The band played groovy but relaxed stuff that even included an analogue synthesizer and some UFO sounds! The first track was pretty much in the reggae vein, then they went for a bit more energetic moods and the third, very good song was wilder and trance- like.
Every time I arrived to the Rentolava area I felt like I had arrived to a whole different festival when the dreadlock-haired boys and slim, half-naked girls enjoyed the water, relaxed music, dancing and each other. A very good atmosphere! A couple of guys are making a documentary of the music at Rentolava and the reggae way of life in general and it should be out this Autumn.
Also Calexico’s Mariachi-Americana styled psychedelia with horns worked very well on the YleX Stage, and we also got to hear a cover by Arthur Lee’s Love.
Before that, Sonata Arctica didn’t get much attention from me, but Rubik was much better than I suspected, a hypnotic and tight band that also has some space sounds and other psychedelic stuff in their sound! I only briefly checked out PMMP, and Dunce was a very mediocre metal band.
And now let’s go to the point. I had seen a lot of Porcupine Tree t-shirts in the audience all day long, and their fan base in Finland seems to be quite big. The fans gathered in front of the YleX Stage well in time to shout the band’s name. I was really happy, that Porcupine Tree played on the roofed YleX Stage, since their excellent video projections and lightshow has a much better visibility. I don’t know how wild the fans usually get on the band’s gigs, but I’m pretty sure that the guys were surprised by the enthusiasm of their Finnish fans. The atmosphere was so intense that one could have sliced it with a knife! The whole, huge tent was clearly full of total fans, and there we no casual festival drunkards in the middle, because everybody was so into it and putting their souls into the music. The atmosphere was just unbelievable! After the keyboard into they started with the first, title track of the new album “Fear of a Blank Planet”, and the sea of audience swelled wildly in the waves of energy. The sound was superb all the way from the beginning, although Wilson’s vocals were a bit too low in the mix in the beginning. I was a bit surprised when the band played next “Lightpulp Sun”, but it sure was very nice to hear this one as well, and the new version was just swell. “Open Car” from Deadwing followed next, and worked perfectly. Then they got back to the new album, and we heard the long, excellent track “Anesthesize”, and the heaviest parts boomed like ten atom bombs. Gavin Harrison really is a dazzling drummer, and the other guys are just amazing as well... The band was unbelievably tight and energetic. “Blackest Eyes” that combines the beautiful with the heavy stuff was also superb. Then they played “Way Out of Here” and the bit Massive Attack styled, dark “Sleep Together” from the new album, and the bands leader, singer/guitarist Steven Wilson also played some keyboards on the latter. The rest of the song seemed to have some jam spirit?! After the tremendous applause we heard the excellent “Trains” and the catchy “Halo” as encores. The band played over on hour, but I definitely would have needed at least 30 minutes worth more of this ear-candy, for example “Radioactive Toy” and a few other older numbers... Absolutely one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen, and I’m sure the thousands who could fit in the tent feel the same way. This gig alone made it worthwhile to travel to this festival.
After Porcupine Tree the only Finnish gig this summer by HIM didn’t feel like anything. I doubt if any other band would have made much more impact, though. This was probably what most of the people at the festival wanted to see, but the going was pretty weak.
So after e few tracks I went to check out the Metelli club at the ice stadium. 1800 tickets had been sold for this metal happening, so the event was almost sold out. Impaled Nazarene has just finished their gig when I arrived, and the next to play would be Amorphis. I had already noticed some of their members looking very excited before the Porcupine Tree gig since they are big fans. After some minor problems the band started a little behind schedule and we heard “Myrskyluodon Maija” as an intro. The gig itself started right away with heavy pounding and growling vocals. The band was pretty energetic. “Against the Widows” and “In the Beginning” worked well, and then they played the mid-tempo new single track “Silent Waters”. The new full-length will be released 29.8. During “My Kantele” (one of my favourite Amorphis tunes) I just had to call it a day although I didn’t want to miss the rest of the great gig and Finntroll was still to play.
Nieminen ja Litmanen started my music dose on Sunday with their groovy Scandinavian action jazz, and this surely was an excellent way to get back to the festival mood. The gig of this great organ-drums duo climaxed towards the end when they played “Leo Jokela (bailaa Kalastajatorpan pyress salissa vuonna 1969)”, but there were also other highlights in the set. The going varied from rather jazzy groove to The Doors styled atmospheres, the hypnotic and a bit kraut rock like “Tutankhamon” was played “because metal is so trendy”, and at some point they went for dance music with disco rhythms. A very enjoyable and positive gig!
I had to listen to Lännen-Jukka for a while at the Main stage, and J. Karjalainen played the banjo and sung with the aid of a violinist and guitar player. They played rather nice folk music that had influences both from American and Finnish traditional music.
Soilwork from Sweden was heavy, modern metal and a pretty okay band. Dalindéo played nice jazz music and Aiyekooto and His Afrobeat International was a really big band with for example two bass saxophones.
Viikate didn’t really work for me, Magenta Skycode’s indie pop only a little better. During the energetic and raw Disco Ensemble it looked for a while that we would get a real hurricane on top of us, but luckily the heavens just decided to wet us, after all. At this point it was a good move to escape under the roof at the YleX stage, and RJD2, a hip hop legend from the Sates was actually a very positive revelation. This guy really is a top-notch disc spinner. He had come to Finland with a whole orchestra. At times the music worked really well and was even quite psychedelic, but some of the tracks were unquestionably too usual and commercial.
Opeth from Sweden begun their set on the Main stage at eight o’clock, and this was the highlight of the day for me. Although I only got the band’s albums that include Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson, the band still plays about the best metal done nowadays. Suitably progressive, heavy enough, and lovely melancholic stuff. I had only seen the band once before at Sweden Rock, and my expectations for the gig were rather big. The band just got a new guitar player about two months before, and this surely was his time to show what he was made of, and the dude did well. This show was like a gift from heaven for all the Opeth fans, since the band played their only gig this year at Ilosaarirock. They said they were sorry to be a bit rusty, but the tracks like ”Blackwater Park”, ”Liberance” and ”Damnation” still went very well. My only complaint is the too short set, since you really can’t fit that many tracks so long to one hour! The gig still crowned the festival on Sunday in a great way, and after the gig we had to start the drive back to home. It would have been nice to check out Von Hertzen Brothers at the Sunday’s Päätös club, but what can you do.
All in all, Ilosaarirock was a very peaceful festival, and also the local authorities were pleased with the way it turned out. Apart from the Friday’s beer queues everything worked out great, so the organizers truly had everything under control. From the total of 80 bands I totally missed many of course, but the supply was very varied and of high quality, any way, and I was very pleased to notice that in stead of the huge best-selling acts the organizers had mainly booked more interesting artists who are maybe still sort of bubbling under. These acts are usually closer to heart to the true music fans. This is also the reason why the audience was rather specific because most of the people were there most of all for the music, not just to drink themselves to oblivion. A very functional concept. If they will keep on including some interesting bands, I’d like to take part also in the future.