Keep the local and make it global
- Jakub Knera
What makes music scenes in Europe unique? Firstly, of course, the artists who perform there – get together to rehearse, record music, and release albums. Secondly, the promoters, club owners, festival organizers, and media representatives. Local scenes are also clubs and festivals where people can meet and collaborate. They make it possible to spread the word about the most interesting music emerging beside the mainstream, which is worth paying attention to. The music scenes in individual cities develop thanks to the synergy of artists, venues, and events, as well as label owners who make the recordings available to the wider audience, whether it’s innovative jazz, a fresh approach to tradition, or avant-garde experimentation. Here is the list of five thriving local scenes worth keeping an eye on.
Helsinki: the new capital of Jazz
If as a child I knew Finland because of Moomins – now, when I think of it, I think of We Jazz. Although that name has different meanings, I mostly associate it with freshness. The project started with promoting the local jazz scene, but now it has a much wider reach. We Jazz festival takes place every December at various venues in Helsinki. Be sure to check out the amazing selection of local performers, as well as the international artists who come there. We Jazz is also a label that has a dozen amazing artists under its wings – both established musicians and rising stars, such as Linda Fredriksson, Otis Sandsjö, Ilmieliekki Quartet, Petter Eldh, Timo Lassy, and Ville Herrala, among others. Well, and as if that wasn’t enough, they issue a printed magazine covering jazz music from across the continent and even the world. It features some of the most interesting jazz writers and has a major influence on the discussion of the contemporary jazz scene. For a few years now, while visiting Helsinki during the summer, you can also attend the Odysseus Festival on the amazing island of Lonna, a few steps – or minutes by ferry – from the capital. Don’t forget to visit the record shop run by… We Jazz, too! Someone sang: “we built this city on rock’n’roll” – Helsinki turns that last word into ‘jazz’.
Gdańsk: when a friend joins a friend of a friend
Known for its yass movement in the 1990s, Gdansk has always been an important and fresh part of the Polish jazz scene. The last decade was a fertile ground for new events, labels, and music groups. The jazz scene began to sprout a few years ago during jam sessions at the Lawendowa pub in Main Town. Nowadays, the most interesting artists of the younger generation graduating from music academies (or self-learning) perform at Jazz Jantar Festival and Boto Theatre in Sopot, or jam at Cafe Absinthe. Most importantly, however, the young scene took matters into their own hands, not waiting for the major labels’ interest. This is how Alpaka Records was founded – and now it publishes some of the most interesting records of the new jazz scene. The crème de la crème is Tomasz Chyła Quintet, Emil Miszk & The Sonic Syndicate, Immortal Onion, and the Quantum Trio. Every summer most of them gather at the DIY-organized Biedowo Fest in Masuria. When exploring the Gdańsk jazz scene, make sure to check out Coastline Northern Cuts. Jazz was a starting point for them, but now they also work on funk with Klawo, the synth variations by Pin Park, danceable songs by LASY, or the downtempo of Tropical Soldiers in Paradise. When in search of latest music, all the roads lead to Sonar Record Store, where you’ll find releases from all the mentioned artists and more.
Lisbon: dive into the music of the city
When visiting Lisbon, you can use Volupias as your personal guide to the city. It’s an album by one of the many outstanding musicians native to Lisbon, drummer Gabriel Ferrandini, on which every composition is named after another street in the Portuguese capital. Ferrandini plays in the RED Trio, one of the country’s most important jazz ensembles, but there are more names on the map worth your attention, namely Rodrigo Amado, Pedro Costa, Miguel Mira, and Luis Lopez, among others. If you want to be up to date with the scene, follow labels such as Clean Feed, Shhpuma, and Holuzam, which release the best there is on the Portuguese scene, but also look for music from across Europe. The founders of Holuzam own the Flur Record Store, which, together with Trem Azul, is a place where you will find the best selection of records. Wandering the streets of Lisbon, the sounds should lead you to venues with extraordinary live music. One of them is Zé dos Bois in Bairo Alto, a cultural space hosting various bands and musicians (check out their beautiful terrace!). Jazz Em Agosto is a must-see if you’re visiting in summer – it’s an amazing jazz festival hidden in an auditorium in the garden next to the Gulbenkian Museum of Modern Art in the north of the city.
Auvergne: speaking with traditions
It’s not exactly one city, but the French scene develops so rapidly that it’s difficult to limit yourself. If I were to choose a place that has the most interesting approach to local tradition and presents it in the light of rock, trance, or folk music, I would have picked Auvergne. Groups such as Cocahna, Sourdure San Salvador or collective La Nòvia show a new quality in drawing from traditional music or the Occitan language and juxtaposing them with new genres. Another fascinating phenomenon is the extraordinary approach to the rediscovery of the hurdy-gurdy aesthetic developed by Roman Baudoin, Yann Gourdon, and Gilherm Lacroux. Take a look at the psychedelic jams mixed with trance by France or Tanz Mein Herz, one-of-a-kind bands whose music will take you to another world. Remembering the tradition and using its tools is an important aspect of creating modern music. Where paths of folk, jazz, improvisation, and electronic cross, you will find dozens of albums by great labels such as Pagans, Carton Records, Ormo, Murailles Music, or Standard In Fi. If you’re more interested in music at the borderline of aesthetics, check out records published by Le Saule, Umlaut, and Unjenesaisquoi. They all have loads of amazing music to offer, and it’s just the beginning of your French journey!
Ljubljana: imaginary folk
In Slovenia different influences can be seen in its music scene. Ljubljana lies in the middle of the country, where roads from Croatia, Austria, Germany, and Hungary cross. One of the first bands from Slovenia I heard about was Širom, a trio combining improvisation with the sound of traditional instruments from various parts of the world and experimenting with psychedelic trance. They describe their music as ‘imaginary folk’ – which is not easy to explain, as it goes beyond well-known aesthetics. They are associated with Glitterbeat, one of the most important labels in the world when it comes to global music.
Imaginary folk is just the preview of Slovenia’s rich music scene. The local artists like to push boundaries, as proved by Matej Bonin or Tomaž Grom, whose improvisations are simply fantastic. If you wish to discover more, follow the unique Inexhaustible Editions label, connecting the European avant-garde scene and Sploh, which is improv-jazz-oriented. Kikimore or Rouge-ah will bring you very interesting electronics. If you want to hear some good music live, get tickets at Kino Šiška, which appears on numerous tour schedules, Druga Godba dedicated to new traditional experimental and global sounds or Ment Ljubliana, which hosts both Slovenian and foreign artists.
This article appeared in the second print issue of Periscope Magazine Creative Spaces for Innovative Music, produced as part of the European Offbeat project.
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