Tallinn, Estonia

Before the first note even rings out, Tallinn Music Week has already pulled off an incredible feat.

The four-day Estonian festival has managed to reschedule its 2020 edition, pushed back from its March date due to Covid restrictions. With precautions including reduced visitor numbers and a limited venue capacity, it’s one of the few large music gatherings in Europe to be given the green light this summer. The tenacity and creative planning involved in staging this year’s event is certainly a credit to the organisers.

Many of the international artists originally billed to play are unable to travel for the rescheduled event, and so for its latest chapter TMW distinctly revolves around a Nordic-Baltic programme. Whilst postcards of the charming capital of Tallinn concentrate on its historic Old Town, there’s an abundance of established and repurposed gig venues beyond the city’s walls; a thriving hub of cultural renewal.

The Estonian dichotomy of old and new is highlighted by two of the week’s most singular performances. It’s thrilling to see avant-garde composer Valentina Goncharova and her string instruments weave musique concrète, drone and ambient into a spellbinding display. The musician is a part of the Sõru Saund showcase, curated by Raul Saaremets and Siim Nestor and staged at the ramshackle Grand Hotel-turned-nightclub Kauplus Aasia: a fitting venue for an artist who is revered for her cult home recordings. The fantastic Mart Avi transforms the same space into a futurist cabaret with his captivating avant-pop, debuting exciting new work from his forthcoming album Vega Never Sets.

Electronica in an array of styles is a cornerstone of the week, reflecting the diversity of sounds that Estonia’s contemporary scene has to offer. Bedless Bones plays a murky, pulsating set of industrial beats at the Telliskivi district’s hip Sveta Baar, where gritty duo Bible Club also deliver a thundering sermon in experimental techno from their hardware-laden pulpit.

At the contemporary photography art centre Fotografiska, folktronica four-piece OOPUS combine light installations and visuals with analogue synthesisers and Estonian bagpipes. Club music rattles the cavernous walls of HALL, an underground space known as ‘the Berghain of Tallinn’, as resident DJs from Berlin’s Wilde Renate keep the tunes rolling well into daylight.

Proving that there is something for everyone at TMW, there’s also time to dip a toe into free jazz with the experimental three-piece collective The Meat, helmed by Estonian pianist Kirke Karja. EGOMAŠINA enliven with their raw garage rock, and the wonderfully bizarre Florian Wahl hypnotises a tightly packed crowd with his surreal storytelling and theatrics.

Especially poignant for international visitors who have had their access to live music curtailed this year, the atmosphere at Tallinn Music Week feels somewhat like a break from hibernation. What we’re met with is a dazzling warmth, a programme of innovative musicians and the inimitable experience of physical performance. For those who want to discover what Estonia’s brilliant, burgeoning scene has to offer, TMW is the definitive place to start.