BY Riikka Hiltunen
From the 1950s through to the 1980s, Russian songs in Finnish translation made their way into Finnish ears through record players and radio waves. Today, it is possible to dance to live Russian-language music in Finland, partly thanks to the Tusovka Association, established in 1998.
The Tusovka Association was founded in the late 1990s in order to promote Russian popular culture in Finland. In the beginning, the association was a pioneer in the scene, joined only by the Oranssi Association and Sputnik Club in importing some of the more marginal Russian artists. Now, in 2016, there are several other organisers who bring Russian popular music to Finland, and Russian bands and artists have become more active in terms of promoting their own gigs in Finland.
Oskar Rajewsky, the current chairman of Tusovka, has been involved with the association for a decade. He states that both imports and exports of popular music between Finland and Russia have experienced growth in the past ten years -with the exception of the past year, since the economic sanctions against Russia have inevitably changed the situation. According to Rajewsky, a major reason for this increasing mobility is the fact that the internet has made the world smaller.
“Twenty years ago, if you wanted to bring a Russian band here to play a gig, you had to make a phone call to a persona! acquaintance, or to go and hear them in Russia in order to organise them a gig in Finland. Now, if you find an interesting band on YouTube, it makes no difference where they are based, it only takes a moment to organise them to come here.”
Music from the world heard as world music
Tusovka strives to bring unknown and interesting Russian and especially Russian-language artists to Finland. In recent times, audiences have particularly liked rhythmic, world music-esque content imported from Russia. And even if the music does not have a specific world music feel, it is still often perceived as world music.
“The fact that bands travel across borders more and more, not just between Finland and Russia, is partially due to the general rise of the world music scene. Music that is considered to be closer to rock or pop music in one country can be exported to another country and to a different language area, and it suddenly transforms into exotic world music. You do not have to understand the words in order to dig the music.”
World music-centered festivals offer another important forum for promoting Russian music in Finland. For many years, Tusovka has collaborated with the Etnosoi! Festival in November, and the World Village Festival in Helsinki is another event that has featured Russian artists.
In Finland, Helsinki offers the best chance to hear Russian popular music live, but you can catch the occasional gig in cities such as Lahti, Tampere and Turku as well. Of the Finnish rock festivals, the Ilosaarirock Festival in Joensuu, close to the Russian border, has proved to be the most active in booking Russian artists. Merja Jokela, Culture Secretary of the Finland-Russia Society, estimates that 90% of Russian artists’ gigs take place in the Helsinki region. The Finland-Russia Society organises concerts to some extent. The City of Helsinki Cultural Office presents some Russian music in its cultural centres, for instance at the Russian festival Harasoo, which is based at the Kanneltalo cultural centre, but which also branches out to other cultural centres as well.
In addition to the more marginal Russian rhythm and world music, some of the more mainstream Russian artists are seen in Finland as well. In the past twelve months, Goldenzwaig Creative Solutions consulting company (see here) brought the cult rock band Aquarium and its frontman Boris Grebenshikov to Finland in May 2015, and presented the first Finnish appearance of the legendary Andrey Makarevich in October 2015.
Rajewsky reckons that compared to gigs by these bigger artists, audience demographics are somewhat different at Tusovka’s events.
“These big names certainly attract the majority of he Russians based in our area, whereas more obscure artists do not pull a Russian audience simply because they are Russian, perhaps with the exception of bands coming from the city of Petrozavodsk. This is because after St Petersburg, the second-largest Russian diaspora in Finland comes from Petrozavodsk, and they come to hear bands from their home region.”
Tusovka’s evening events also attract a large number ofFinns who are interested in Russian or otherwise marginal music. The events often also feature a Finnish group who may increase the audience numbers through their own fan base.
“Different metal music festivals have also presented Russian artists. I am sure there are Russian electronic music artists and DJs around as well, and they definitely attract listeners who are into those specific genres.”
Tusovka in St Petersburg
Tusovka organises a festival in Helsinki each spring and another in St Petersburg in the autumn. Over the past couple of years, the Finnish ensembles featured at the St Petersburg festival have had a strong folk and world music leaning. In the 2010s, Finnish artists who have performed in St Petersburg include groups such as Pekko Käppi & K:H:H:L, Joose Keskitalo, Jaakko Laitinen ja Väärä Raha, Tundramatiks, St Rasta and Yona & Liikkuvat Pilvet.
It is often easier to organise gigs at short notice in St Petersburg rather than coming to Finland to do so. Russian ensembles often contact Tusovka with a couple of weeks’ warning, asking for performance opportunities in Finland while en route to Central Europe. There are, however, very few clubs in Helsinki that can react that quickly. In St Petersburg, the club scene is bigger and the financial realities of the clubs are very different.
Riikka Hiltunen is Research Manager at Music Finland, and has recently bid a fond farewell to her old job as Editor of Finnish Music Quarterly.
The next Tusovkarock event takes place on May 4-5 in Helsinki.
Translation: Hanna-Mari Latham
See also Greg Goldenzwaig’s column here and Tero Heinänen’s article Finland’s love affair with melancholy Russian melodies.
The word “tusovka” comes from St Petersburg slang. Tusovka happens when people come together at a concert, restaurant, festival or simply around a vodka bottle in the kitchen. Film director Sasha Bashirov visited a Tusovka Association meeting in autumn 1999 and gave the word his own definition: “Tusovka is creative interaction between free people.”