Today and tomorrow

The Estonian music today might be divided into five subcategories according to the levels of openness and activity.

In the first case, avoidance of any relations with the international norms of pop culture is asserted. This means cheap and accessible, light entertaining music which is not interested in any expansion outside the borders of Estonia. Rather, it considers its tradition to stem from the ideal of village parties preceding the ‘civilised’ pop culture. At the same time, such music enjoys certain popularity and is guided by a lower-level commercial industry by organising summer tours, issuing cheap CD-s and tapes, etc.

The second type also comprises music that is generally restricted to the local market and survives on it. However, differing from the previous example, this type of music is aware of the scale of international pop culture — it even has an ambition to be placed at the very centre of popular culture, in the mainstream of trends and fashions. This cannot be considered a discourse, though. The music (if we talk about groups like 2 Quick Start and Caater, for instance), which is primarily dance music, is purely functional, adapting successful Western entertainment models to the local market without any sense of criticism. Pop mythology and its background holds no interest for it. Such music circulates fast and is, by its very nature, cheap. A large segment of Estonian entertainment culture — radio stations and nightclubs with their DJ-s — functions to the beat of this type of music.

The third option, however, involves an active relationship with the myths of global pop culture and an active discourse with them. This could mean several very different possibilities. Take Mr. Lawrence, for instance, playing American mainstream rock — they place themselves consciously in the centre of international pop culture and interpret universal clichés in their music. Vennaskond, on the other hand, changes the same mythological pop images (which for Vennaskond mostly originate from the punk and post-punk era) to fit the Estonian cultural space — rendering them smaller, more everyday and provincial in nature. Vennaskond reacts to the abundance of pop choices of the ‘great big world’ by a certain voluntary restriction, a refusal to play along, instead they retreat into childish nostalgia.

The fourth option is the constant re-defining of international popular culture. This is an extremely volatile and dynamic attitude. It does not care about the categories of ‘high’ and ‘low’, ‘global’ and ‘local’, ‘alien’ and ‘familiar’. We are talking about a popular awareness which is capable of incorporating extremely different and not-so-popular elements. Different kinds of fusion, distortion, deformation, and clashes and conflicts of cultures — anything is possible. This clearly experimental attitude is characteristic of groups like Weekend Guitar Trio and Tunnetusüksus. Even though they are both based on popular culture, they mix in elements of both ‘high’ and ‘low’ art. Improvisation is an especially important element in both their methods.

Even Estonian ‘serious’ composers (Erkki-Sven Tüür, Tõnis Kaumann, Rauno Remme, etc.) have always been in touch with the models of popular culture and such discourse has definitely made it more complicated to draw clear distinctions and establish hierarchies. This kind of perception of music is represented by the Jazzkaar festival which tends to exceed the boundaries of jazz music (to searching of ethnic music), the NYYD festival which presents experimental music of the 20th century and the Viljandi Folk Music Festival.

The fifth path is, for now, mostly imaginative, seen rather as a frail possibility than anything else and denotes a situation where Estonian (popular) musical expression has already become a part of the area of influence of international culture. This does not refer to dreams of a breakthrough which small and local cultures thrive upon, but rather, the opportunities offered by the internet and new possibilities for the presentation of one’s music to one’s audience. In the future, all manner of marginal cultural groupings, and expressions of the underground, may be able to relate to each other on an entirely new basis compared to the present. There is hope that the new media will allow their initiative to survive. Thus, this path would connect the marginal national and marginal cultural existence in a new mode.

Details about this article