What’s the best way to experience Estonia’s ever-changing capital? Head there during Tallinn Music Week, which takes over much of the city during late March/early April, and showcases many of the lesser-known hotspots by sending in a varied array of performers. The resulting cultural collisions can be pretty special.
Check out the highlights below:
Albert af Ekenstam
The Venue(s): Apollo Bookstore and Mademoiselle Cafe
It transpires that Mademoiselle Café is actually inside the Borders-like Apollo bookstore, which we only discover after confusedly wandering the mall and thus missing the excellent Estonian singer Mari Kalkun. Ah well, Apollo and Mademoiselle are also fine places to both browse at your leisure and let your kids run riot.
The Highlight: In the café, young Estonian hip-hopper EiK is upstaged by a tiny toddler clearly digging her first rap gig. Meanwhile, Sweden’s Albert af Ekenstam strolls around the Apollo stage playing reflective bluesy guitar like a man who has just been told the meaning of life, and isn’t quite sure how to process it. Still, a bookshop is a useful place for that sort of issue.
The Venue: Uuskasutuskeskus
A bracing stroll south of the city centre throws up this treasure trove. Uuskasutuskeskus is a ‘re-use’ store created by organisations like the Estonian Fund for Nature, where you’ll find everything from newish electronics to old Russian LPs. Happy hunting.
The Highlight: After that hefty walk it seems apt to catch an outfit called The Boondocks, who are from the Estonian resort Pärnu. Fans mix with random shoppers as the stripped-down band play a lower-key version of their spunky main-stage punk-pop: usually they’re a sort of Baltic Monkeys.
The Venue: Biit Me Records
This funky little shop is actually less little than it was, which is a rare development for modern record stores. Now relocated from its old second-floor location to another (so its secret hangout vibe remains intact), Biit Me now offers a little more space for browsing, and for passing rhymers.
The Highlight: Chyno is a charismatic rapper with a complicated backstory. He’s Syrian/Filipino, lives in Lebanon, and was previously a banker before traveling the world. “Who wants to heara song in Arabic?" he enquires, and gets a big cheer, which wasn’t unexpected but still comes as a relief, these days.
The Venue: Renard Coffee Shop
A busy café in a building also boasting World Clinic Records and a funky barbers, Renard is based in Tallinn’s Telliskivi area, where old factories have become a ‘creative city’ – a carefully curated community of startup companies, restaurants and shops. The project has been so successful that similar creative cities are now planned elsewhere in Estonia, and beyond.
The Highlight: Fallen Flags, two Danish rock/jazz renegades who arrive in Tallinn early in the music week to hook up with a couple of young Estonian jazz players, then bump into a local jazz/rock/sax legend so rope him in too, even though he’d hardly have time to rehearse. No matter: their improvised fusion is marvellous, mesmerising stuff.
The Venue: Puänt Bookstore
It’s good to see little bookstores still hanging in there, too. Estonia is practically a digital nation – they’ve been early-embracers of systems like e-voting – but clearly still relish old-fashioned physical stuff too. Puänt is pretty, compact, and packs out quickly, so no place for energetic bands.
The Highlight: Japanese violinist Midori Komachi is part of TMW’s classical strand – or Nonclassical, perhaps, as she also appears at that excellent UK event’s dedicated evening. Here she performs several avant-garde pieces for a rapt audience distracted only by people who don’t seem to know how to shut doors quietly.
The Venue: Nordic Hotel Forum Suite
The hub of Tallinn Music Week, the rather nice Nordic used to stage shows in the lobby. Now it’s relocated them to a suite on the sixth floor, where a bed doubles as a stage.
The Highlight: Indrek Spungin is a character: a singer and performance artist who stands on that bed strumming angsty songs, while what looks like blood pours down his legs from realistic (but surely fake) wounds. Let’s just hope they changed the sheets before the next act.
The Venue: Velvet Design Agency
One of those places you probably wouldn’t visit were it not for bands playing loudly in the window. Velvet Design Agency looks a nice place to work though, all exposed brickwork and a cool kitchen hangout area. There seems to be a meet-and-greet on the mezzanine level during Friday’s gigs: hosting cool bands is probably a good way to impress clients.
The Highlight: Roxy Jules is definitely a cool band, no extra design flourishes required. From Denmark, they’re largely a vehicle for Julie Runa, an authentic icy-veined post-rocker who sings atmospheric, shoegazey songs and seems relatively untroubled by the oblivious kids running around. They’ve no introspection at that age.
The Venue: Muhu Pagarid Bakery
Yep, it’s a working bakery, over in the aforementioned Telliskivi. Out back there are various ovens and prep stations; out front there’s an array of splendid looking brownies for sale, and in between, some seriously odd music.
The Highlight: We arrive too early for the striking Estonian singer/actor/model Lepatriinu, so first encounter Shtuby, an Israeli guy in a skin-tight red bodysuit who performs fabulously energetic laptop electronica. Then he unzips his mouth-hole, plays an electro-flute, and zips the mouth-hole back up again. Well, you can't be tempted by cake when you're rocking an outfit that tight.