“What We Learned From…” will be a new feature promoting bands who have come to Shanghai in association with the Expo. Now that all of our great venues are intact and countries are bringing their musical talent here to share, we thought it appropriate to document that process, week by week, country by country. This week we were invaded by Finland.
Mache: Everything began in Beijing last Tuesday with the first night of Helfest. Tuesday late at night I found an email from Betti saying the concert was great and that her photos about it were coming soon. On Wednesday, it was the China-Finland music industry convention at the Donghu Hotel. The schedule included speeches from industry people from China and India, and a trade show during the afternoon. I met Paulina Ahokas, from Musex, and the director of Music Export Finland and organizer of these events. While chatting with her, she told me that all these concerts and music events were organized because it was senseless to come to China and not get involved with the local music scene, which it seems pretty obvious to her and to me, but clearly it hasn’t been that obvious to every country in the Expo. Cheers to them!
The trade show was basically a bunch of Finnish musicians, record labels, and promoters ready to show their music to us, the Chinese music industry, and some of them are already organizing tours around China for this year. Some of those were the guys from Husky Rescue, working with Icon Productions, and who were on the way to Beijing to film a video.
I talked with some more managers and musicians that are planning tours around China for this year and I left the Donghu Hotel loaded with name cards and CDs of Finnish music. I’m still listening to these albums, some of those that you might want to check too are Luna Nova, KTU Band, Johanna Juhola, Burn Out Mama, Villa Nah , Marko Nyberg & Uskolliset Ystävät, Timo Lassy, Suburban Tribe, Black Magic Six.
Wednesday evening was long-awaited. Helfest was on, and heavy metal was in the air. We went with Emma. I also met Al Di, and Yang Yu from Rockinchina.com and Painkiller Mag, both of whom were involved in the organization of Helfest. Stratovarious was the big dish, and they were great, but hell! I totally fell for Turisas. I want those guys on my team! Here’s Emma for more about Helfest:
Helfest was my first metal concert. Ever. And I would hereby like to thank Finland for showing me the light, er, darkness.
It was a night of many firsts. I saw for the first time, five people get stuck together due to their various goth/metal accoutrements (e.g. chains, links, spikes, fishnet stockings). The untangling took five minutes, or 1.5 cans of cheap beer from the neighboring convenience store. I saw a thousand Chinese youths crying for battle. There was a guy dressed in riot police gear in the front row and another who was drinking liquor from a ram’s horn. Also, it was the first time I saw some dude with waist-length hair totally thrash it around like a windmill. It was fantastic.
I came around 9:00, the start time shown on MAO Livehouse’s website, only to find I had missed the first band. I did make it in time to catch Negative, a Glam rock band. Negative has been around since 1997, and they definitely know how to get a crowd excited. Their music is lighter, poppier, and very fun. Their guitar sounds similar to Brian May of Queen, which is never a bad thing, and the whole band often veers into early-90s Guns ‘n’ Roses territory. A great way to ease into the metal.
Next came my favorite band of the evening, Turisas, who emerged onto the stage looking as though they were ready to battle the Visigoths in 672 A.D., all leather and fur and terrifyingly awesome face paint. Turisas (FYI, named after the Finnish god of war) is a metal band with folk and symphonic influences. Instead of having a lead guitar, they’ve got a dude with a navel-long beard playing electric violin and a bleached-blond goddess on accordion. The band’s songs touch on subjects ranging from battle to fighting to drinking and then to fighting again. They also did a fantastic adapted version of the Boney M song, “Rasputin”.
This is what I’ve always imagined a metal band to be: thrashing, classical influences, pre-Christian imagery, and crazy costumes. There was nothing tongue-in-cheek or ironic about the performance; everyone on stage was 100% serious about performing well and putting their heart into the show. And to prove these guys are serious badasses, despite MAO’s sweltering and packed state that night, they managed to perform a highly physical show while wearing leather and fur. No one passed out! Turisas: Layabozi gives you all a hearty pat on the back and a goblet of mead.
A sidenote: The setting up and breaking down of equipment meant there was always a 45-minute break between every band. I think it was for the best for a couple of reasons. One: It was hot (as hell!) in there and the most crowded I have ever seen MAO (although I missed the Peaches show, which was apparently very well attended). Everyone seriously needed to go outside to the alley and cool off before getting up the energy to thrash around for another set. Two: As noted often by our Spice Queen, the sound was fantastic for all the shows. Every band had their own couple of sound engineers working to get everything right before the set, and they did not skimp on making the guitar sounds clear, the bass bass-y, but not so low that you can’t hear it, but suspect your sternum might shatter at any minute, and the high-end present enough to punctuate without causing uncomfortable wincing.
The show’s headline was, of course, the mighty Stratovarius, a powerhouse of power metal since the mid-1980s. I am new to the genre, but I know enough to know that these guys are amazing. Singer Timo Kotipelto can belt with the best of them, and is also a charming frontman. The keyboard player Jens Johannson carried a couple of the more dramatic and slow songs, and also ripped into a couple of sick solos. Matias Kupiainen, on guitar, had a fantastic tone and great riffs. Well done, gentlemen. The only uncomfortable moment in the set was when Timo was pushing some audience participation and warned the Shanghai crowd that we shouldn’t let Taipei be louder then us. Lesson for the future, Timo: There needn’t be any more competition between the mainland and the island than there is already.
One of the most fun things about their show, though, was watching the fans in the audience. It seemed as though every metalhead in a three-province range had showed up to rock out, mosh, crowd-surf, and pump their fists in the air. The majority of the audience knew the words to the songs and sang along to the whole set, even along to some of the guitar solos. It was amazing to see a crowd as involved with the bands as this. Who knew there were so many metal heads around? And now there’s one more.
Mache again: While this was happening, Mike was at JZ with the Finnish jazz cats who were also going to take part in the Expo on Thursday, together with all the bands at Helfest too, and Hel Yeah guys also. Here’s Mike’s say:
I’ve had the great pleasure of knowing Finnish trumpeter Verneri Pohjola for about nine months. It started with a performance at the JZ festival last year and, thanks in large part to the Finnish Expo pavilion’s emphasis on music, we have since been able to play some gigs in Finland and Shanghai and make a record together, along with Shanghai-based pianist Mark Bai and Finnish drummer Joonas Riippa. It’s a wonderful relationship, both musically and personally, and I’ve been very pleased with what we’ve done. I think I’ve talked about Mark Bai a number of times on this site, so you already know how I feel about him. Verneri and Joonas really have something special in their playing. Their styles are so direct and uncluttered and at the same time so fresh. For me it’s been easily one of the most rewarding musical experiences of my time in Shanghai, and I’m very thankful to them and to the Expo people for helping to make it happen. I hope a lot of people will get to hear the album and that we’ll have more opportunities to work together in the future.
Back to Mache: Thursday night came, and more Finnish Jazz was happening at JZ, and Hel Yeah was on on Xingfu Lu. Finland did what every clever Xingfu Lu lover has thought at least once: a Xingfu Lu festival. Finnish DJs, Finnish VJs, and Finnish musicians were crawling all over the three bars there (LOgO, Dada, and Anar), and probably Tai Bei realized for the first time it wasn’t such a bad idea to do something together with Dada and Anar. He looked enlightened to me.
In summation: When things work well in any process, organized and flowing smoothly, everybody involved in the event feels positive and good about the energy and the time spent on it. The Expo came with many hopes for many people and there were others, like me, holding the breath, hoping it wouldn’t cause too much damage around us. Then, when it finally started, it wasn’t so surprising to meet bad management strategies, bad promotion, bad mise en scene, bad public relations, and so on. However, this was one event that worked well. There are still months of Expo to go and, thanks to Finland (!), now we believe there’s hope for music from the Expo.