Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Parting shots: Drama reading festival 2011

Just a few words about the Festival of European Contemporary Playwrights 2011 before the summer starts in earnest for Yours Truly. Being, like, cultural and stuff is hard work! We sat through approximately four hours of text readings per day, and drinks in the downstairs bar afterwards. That’s a full day’s work.

The festival featured eight playwrights from different parts of Europe. Finland was represented by Saara Turunen and her fresh play Broken Heart Story, due to open at Q-teatteri in Helsinki on September 21st. It was an interesting piece of absurd drama, a bearded woman writing political theatre and her relation to an unbalanced girl with a – literally – bleeding heart contrasted the dull anguish of steady relationships against the boundless horror of being alone. I find it difficult to do the text justice in just these few words, there was also a charming self-irony to the piece that is hard to explain.

Broken Heart Story. Photo: Q-teatteri.
Another personal favourite of the festival was the play Homecomings (Tilbakekomstene) by the Norwegian playwright Fredrik Brattberg. A middle-aged couple’s grief at the loss of their son is turned to joy as the son suddenly returns home! Yet, after a while their son disappears again, and is thought dead, but returns home once again, only to perish in an accident, only to come back to life. And so on, at an accelerating rate, which has surprising emotional consequences for the boy’s parents… A delightful little piece with humour as black as pitch, the best kind there is.

This was the third year of drama readings at Husets Teater, and the festival seems to improve for each year. There is talk of expanding the festival to another theatre in Copenhagen, and we are also looking into the possibility of providing the non-Danish guests at the festival with headphones for simultaneous interpretation.

Before heading off for summer holidays, I would also like to point out that the Finnish jazz band Juhani Aaltonen Quartet is playing at CPH Jazz this summer, 9:30 PM on July 2nd at Jazz House. 

Thursday, 2 June 2011

No place for a sober man

No rest for the wicked. The SPOT-festival in Århus is no place for a sober man. Too much fun to rest, too many bands to see, and for me the best way to enjoy an occasion like this is to let go of all illusion of control.

For us at the Finnish Cultural Institute the festival went splendidly. Our main event was throwing a networking brunch on Saturday morning (together with the Finnish Embassy in Denmark and Music Export Finland) for the music industry people at the festival. The British music journalist Kieron Tyler of the Guardian gave a very good presentation of Finnish music in the past and present decades, and we had also invited Viljami Puustinen of the Finnish music magazine Rumba, and Ilkka Mattila of Finland’s biggest daily newspaper Helsingin Sanomat to give their views on the state of Finnish music.

That's French Films, with groupies. Photo: Sini Pesonen
The brunch was quite well-attended, we counted something around 120 people in the audience, and we got some very good feedback on the event. People enjoyed themselves and a lot of them stayed on after the event, until the restaurant people asked them to leave. We also got some nice feedback afterwards from people who had attended, so on all in all I believe we have a good reason to feel satisfied.

I especially enjoyed listening to Kieron Tyler on the stage. He has a way of combining British verbal elegance with a brutal frankness of opinion, and I find that kind of honesty is rare in a person being interviewed. I told him so afterward, when I thanked him for participating. ”Yes,” he answered, ”that’s  why so many people hate me.” I gave a polite chuckle, but he just kept his icy, unmoving gaze on me, like he was asking me why I found that amusing.

If you want to suck up to this guy, just send some money. By the way, here is an interview with him in the Danish music magazine Gaffa, and here’s what he wrote about the festival himself.

I saw a lot some good bands, and a couple of amazing ones: French Films played on Friday, the singer emulating the ennui and blasé-attitude of an Andy Warhol-hangaround right down to the wearing of sunshades at midnight. The music was a nice combination of old-school light rock and indie, the audience was digging it, and a bunch of blonde groupies went nuts in the front row. All in good fun.

Neufvoin, with the harsh, brutal bass. Photo: Sini Pesonen
I mentioned the Finnish band Neufvoin in my previous post, but unfortunately their gig wasn’t as well-attended as the band would have deserved. I don’t know what the problem was –  that the audience didn’t find their way to the venue down at Vox Hall, which is outside the general festival area, or that the savage thundering bass scared away the customers – in any case it was a shame to see a good band playing for a small audience.

Saturday evening we saw K-X-P in the big brick hall Ridehuset, they played a gig that strayed deep and far into the wilderness of experimental ambient distortion weirdness.

I saw an amazing concert by the Norwegian musican Bernhoft, who played an absolutely magnificent gig in the large hall, the crowd was on fire by the end of it. (Just watch the video, you’ll get the general idea.) Walking out, dazed and humbled, I remember thinking that any band would have a hard time following that act. 

K-X-P at Ridehuset. Photo: Sini Pesonen

But then I’d severely underestimated the strength of Siinai’s performance.

I was never a big fan of slow stoner rock, but there was something incredible about seeing Siinai perform, in my sleepless, intoxicated mind I was elevated to a state of ecstatic clarity. Like my colleague Jonas said after the gig, “they know their psychedelic shit, man.” Word up.

Siinai. A truly kick-ass performance. Photo: Sini Pesonen. 

So here I am, Thursday, four days later, and I have slowly managed to get my head together enough to gather the receipts from the weekend and compose this rather lengthy post. Jonas and Sini, my other colleague, tried their best to tempt me into joining them for a Zombie Pub Crawl in the streets of Copenhagen last night, but fortunately I had the good sense to give them the slip.

You see, there’s this other thing I have to attend next week, that requires me to replenish my stamina. The Festival of European Contemporary Playwrights at Husets Teater, four days of drama readings followed by heavy drinking in the theatre’s splendid little cellar pub. Looking forward to it.