This past weekend I was in Kuopio in eastern central Finland for the ANTI Festival. Primarily to prepare a review article about this 10th anniversary festival, which included work by Blast Theory, Mammalian Diving Reflex, Gaetan Rusquet, Aaron Williamson, Lone Twin (Beastie), TRYST, and the extraordinary Finnish vocal performer Juha Valkeapaa - but also, and more personally, to support friends involved in the '100 Year Old Rock & Roll Band' (Sue, Joff, Simon) and to watch their multi-generational gang's one-off performance of a single song.
By a huge distance, Kuopio is the furthest north I've ever traveled; it's hundred of miles north of Helsinki and St Petersburg, on a similar latitude to the southern edge of Iceland. And it is exquisitely beautiful - surrounded by lakes and forests, a grid city with every other street a pedestrian lane (the 'rannikatu', originally fire barriers between the wooden houses).
As someone apparently profoundly 'southern' - born below the equator in the southern part of Africa, and with many later years spent in Australia: a child of light and heat - the north intrigues and puzzles me. People are markedly different, and part of this surely relates to the rigours of the climate and the landscape - weeks of no sunlight in winter, temperatures of -30, daylight throughout the night in mid-summer, etc. To generalise wildly, taciturn introverted men of great privacy, deflecting engagement, but with flashes of dry and eccentric humour; and warm and open women, welcoming and often hilarious. I've never encountered such polarised gender characteristics.
Meanwhile, in this apparently subdued and orderly context, there is a deep-seated fascination with heavy metal and hard rock, as there is in other Nordic countries (for example, the infamous and occasionally psychotic 'black metal' of Norway's Mayhem and other extreme bands). Kuopio's walls, youth clubs and bars are plastered with posters for metal gigs; and music mags are awash with ads for bands with ominous names, most of them in English, often accompanied by contrivedly and overtly theatrical 'scary' images.
Lots of kids in coffee shops with studded leathers, with 'Six Feet Under' scrawled across their backs. And some of the wildest haircuts I've ever seen - towering gelled mohicans, and one tall thin streak of a guy munching a doughnut by a supermarket with a good three feet of vertical quiff bolt upright above him, as if he'd inserted his fingers into a plug socket.
Here's a swift selection of some of the band names I spotted:
Human Waste Disposal Unit.
Disease of the Nation. No Signs of Life. One Morning Left. Wolves in the
Throne Room. Klamydia. Rise to Remain. Anal Thunder. Fleshpress. Dark Buddha Rising.
Sunk. Dead in the Water. Throat. A bunch of these bands were performing at a festival called 'Amplifier Worship VI', its logo an inverted cross.
Hard to bring this submerged (and often comic, intentionally or otherwise) shadow world of apocalyptic paganism and the aggressive living dead into any kind of meaningful dialogue with what I could access wandering the oh so peaceful streets of a place like Kuopio. I could only guess at what fuels these fascinations and energies, how the psyche gets to want to hover there, in a very particular kind of ANTI, of an evening.
Hey, whatever keeps you going on those long winter nights ...