DBTL 2015, Turku, Finland, 28.7.-1.8.2015

DBTL (Down By The Laituri) is the oldest “city festival” in Finland and it’s been running since 1988. It’s mainly a pop & rock festival, but in the recent years there have also been many Finnish “Schlager” artists performing, probably in order to try to attract a wider audience to the event. However, DBTL has been struggling for the past few years with poor ticket sales.

Which is a shame. DBTL used to be a fabulous little city festival, located all over the city in bars, on squares and on the riverboats. Then it grew bigger, moved to the riverside and the fences started to rise, as the festival area needed to be separated from the rest of the city center. It now feels like the festival is held in a cage, which is not a good thing. It’s not exactly a perfect way to make the festival seem welcoming or, in fact, a city festival. It’s just a festival held within a small, fenced area within Turku city limits.

This year is probably a turning point in the festival’s history, because in order to save the festival, a new organizer was found quite late in the process and they’ve done what they could with the nearly shipwrecked event. The number of artists performing has been cut down, and this year there is only one stage compared to the previous years’ two stages.

I think the one stage solution is a good one, as it makes the festival area function better. But there are plenty of other issues the festival organization needs to solve in order to make DBTL a truly interesting option for the Finnish festival visitor. There is already Ruisrock, a mega-sized festival, in gorgeous surroundings in Turku – what does DBTL bring to the fierce competition for festival visitors’ money? Does it offer something unique enough to interest people? At the moment I’m not so sure. Perhaps it would be time to take the festival back to its origins? It remains to be seen what the organizing team decides to do.

I went to this year’s festival to see some of the gigs, mostly according to my own interests and the interests of the reader of Stalker. Which means I skipped some bands. And after experiencing DBTL in an extreme heat wave in 2014, I wouldn’t have believed possible that in 2015 I had to skip a few late night gigs because it was too cold to stay! In July! Oh, the Finnish summer…

Tuesday

This year the festival opened already on Tuesday, Sunrise Avenue being the big name of the day.

I arrived at the festival area in time to see Niila, a young singer & songwriter step in front of the audience with a six song setlist. He’s only released an EP so far, but based on what I heard, he should be doing more, soon. Excellent, very current, music! The band has been a part of the Sunrise Avenue tour this year, so they have practiced quite a bit – yet one song got started in the wrong key and we all (including Niila himself) got a bit of a laugh out of it. He had a great beatboxer in his line-up, but mostly I would describe his music as being lyrical soft pop rock. If such a thing exists. You know, the Ed Sheeran kind of songs. A very enjoyable start to my festival week/end.

Tuesday continued with Wake the Nations, which is a band I hadn’t heard of before. They played quite classic AOR style rock, and I thought they would’ve felt right at home performing in the late Firefest in Nottingham. However, their music sounded pretty safe on the first listen, no particular highs or lows to their songs, but the crowd started to warm up while they performed. Solid stuff. Worth a listen, definitely.

The last time I heard My First Band play on stage was a year ago, in a very sweaty and hot DBTL. This year I’m shivering from cold, but MFB definitely made the temperature feel warmer. They performed in an energetic and happy way, which I like. In fact, I do think I need to find out more about this band and their music. Their stuff works so nicely on stage that it must be worth listening at home, too.

I’m sure the German fans would agree with me on that one. Yes, there was a small group of German fans who had been standing (and sitting) in front row since 3 p.m., just waiting for MFB and more importantly, I suppose, Sunrise Avenue. As I chatted with the ladies (Hallo, Silke und Jennifer!) I heard that they were actually rather happy none of them had had to camp outside the festival area since the previous day in order to get front row places– us Finns, we aren’t as big on Sunrise Avenue as the Germans are. Nevertheless, when Sunrise Avenue finally stepped on stage, the festival tent was packed full. And the Finns, too, loved Sunrise on their Fairytales Best Of Tour 2015.

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My previous Sunrise gig was in the sold out Logomo in Turku, a few years back, when they were doing their big band tour. Back then the familiar SA hits were arranged into smooth and cool big band pieces, this time around we heard some of the songs turn into throbbing dance club hits. I loved the demonstration of versatility from the band. And so did the others, it seemed. Turku clapped and sang along with the band quite happily. Samu also confirmed that the rumors spreading online about the band breaking up are totally and completely false. I was happy to hear that, because I’m looking forward to hear more from Sunrise Avenue in the years to come.

Wednesday

Wednesday in this year’s DBTL was reserved for Finnish artists who are more of the “schlager” genre. All the performing artists are popular (except perhaps for Aurora, who I haven’t heard of before, so I don’t know if she’s got a solid following or not) and some could be considered huge classics in their genre in Finland.

Unfortunately for those readers among you who would’ve liked to hear more comments on Wednesday’s gigs, I was suddenly about triple booked for the day. Which meant I only made it to the festival area after Aurora and Tuure Kilpeläinen had already performed.

But when I arrived, it was just in time to see the epic schlager duo, the brothers Matti and Teppo, step on stage. They’re from Turku, so for them to perform in their hometown is always somehow special – and the people of Turku appreciate their famous brothers. Perhaps it’s the dialect. It’s so familiar to us. But in any case, the brothers have a staggering 40 years of career behind them and whether you like their music or not (I don’t, really), it can’t be denied that they are serious professionals. Their gig consists of music from their whole career and some rather lame jokes in between. The crowd seemed to enjoy it, I wasn’t too keen on watching the whole gig through.

Same goes for the unrivalled Queen of Finnish schlager, Paula Koivuniemi. She is an incredibly successful artist who has been able to take her shows from dance halls to rock festivals and remain believable. Her band has some of the most talented Finnish musicians in it (Tuomas Wäinölä in guitar, for example) and since her career is also decades long, most of us 30-somethings can sing along to her songs because we heard them when we were kids in the 80’s. Her set was filled with old and new material, her band was superb, I left somewhere in the middle of the set to sit down and have a chat with some fellow photographers…

The last performer of the Wednesday evening was Jonne Aaron. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay for his gig. But I heard from friends later that it had been a good gig. Which I don’t doubt for a second, having seen his performance on DBTL stage last year.

Thursday

The third day of the festival was a pop-rock day. It started out with me getting really, really excited – thanks to the fact that a proper photo pit had now been created in front of the stage and I (and the other photographers) could go and take pictures in front of the audience for a while. Which makes a huge difference in the quality of the images, I can tell you!

Which is why I was really stoked to be shooting Maija Vilkkumaa’s gig. She’s a hugely popular female rocker in Finland, but she’s been taking time off from performing for a few years now. So it was nice to see her back on stage again and releasing a new album in a couple of months. I have to confess I’m not her biggest fan, but boy, she’s good on stage! And the familiar hit songs were making the crowd very happy.

After Maija’s gig I went to have some food (some really good gourmet style food was sold in the festival area, I had a delicious cheese burger) and a cup of coffee at a nearby café (outside the festival area), so I missed most of Ile Kallio Big Rock Band’s gig. Ile Kallio is a Finnish guitarist and he’s gathered a proper big rock band around him, complete with a brass section. They play straightforward classic rock, blues and soul. They do both cover songs and original ones, having just released an album this past spring. Their Swedish vocalist has a strong rock voice and Ile Kallio’s own guitar solos were impressive enough for any rock band.

The next performer was Juliet Jonesin Sydän (The Heart of Juliet Jones, named after a cartoon), a Finnish rock band that was popular in the 80’s, but has now been inactive for quite a few years. I’m not very familiar with their material, and the few songs I would’ve known from the 80’s, they didn’t play. Instead they played a few punk(ish) rock songs and quite a few country style songs. When I asked from my friends who are fans, if the gig was a good one in their opinion, they hesitated a bit. They were a bit disappointed that the old hits weren’t played and that the material they did play, was perhaps not so interesting.

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The absolute highlight of my Thursday was Happoradio’s gig. They’re one of my favorite bands in any case and it’s been a while since I saw them on stage. So this was a great opportunity to get some nice pics of them and to party! The band played mostly hit songs, which worked well on a festival stage. People knew the songs, even if the majority of the audience members were on Happoradio’s gig for the first time ever, when the vocalist Aki Tykki asked about it. This was definitely a good gig.

Thursday’s last act was the legendary Finnish band Neljä Ruusua. Their songs are known by all and sung by all, judging by the loudness of the audience participation. I didn’t stay till the end of the gig, but I’m sure Ilkka Alanko and the rest gave their all in the darkening night. Great way to close the pop rock day.

Friday

Friday’s theme was heavier music, even if the opening act, Teflon Brothers, is a Finnish rap group. Their song Pämppää is apparently somewhat of a summer hit of 2015. I wouldn’t know, as I don’t really like their style – nor did I see the gig.

Unfortunately I also missed the gig of Kilpi, the Turku based metal band. They’re a classic act, but I couldn’t make it to the festival area in time. Maybe next time. However, I arrived during the last half an hour of Stam1na’s furious set. Whoa, they really hammered their stuff through. There was a mosh pit going on in the audience and I was left in no doubt of the effect this band has on their fans. Sheer energy. Probably needless to say that I stayed well away from the pit with my camera gear. And would’ve stayed so even if I didn’t have a camera with me. I’m a big wuss and I’m scared of mosh pits, hahah!

After the more aggressive and growling Stam1ina performance it was time to tune in to the power metal world of Teräsbetoni.

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With the impressive vocals of Jarkko Ahola, it remains a prime example of the genre. On this gig the band played their whole first album, Metallitotuus (2005) from the beginning to the end. That meant hit songs like Taivas lyö tulta and Orjatar – certain crowd pleasers.

After a short break it was time for Kotiteollisuus to play their excellent set. Like the previous bands, also they played a brutally strong gig, making Friday probably the best day of the festival, if the intensity of the performances is considered.

By the time Kotiteollisuus was finishing, I was feeling frozen solid. Not wanting to remain waiting and freezing more, I missed out on CMX. They had closed the day with what a friend of mine said was one of their best gigs ever. They had played almost all their hit songs and knowing CMX’s career, that’s not a bad setlist.

Saturday

The last day of the festival opened with the gig of Stina Girs, a talented singer who participated in one of the Finnish Idols reality show seasons and made it quite far in the competition, finishing fifth. I saw a fellow photographer’s pic of the start of her gig and there were about four people in it… I felt a bit bad that I didn’t go to see her gig, either. I hope she’ll get better audiences in the future!

The second act on Saturday was Scandinavian Music Group. Not one of my favorites, but the crystal clear and occasionally even ethereal voices of Terhi and Pauliina Kokkonen were delightful to listen to.

Next it was time to see Janna start her show. She’s currently one of the more popular female artists in Finland. I guess, anyway. All I know of her is that she comes from an extremely talented and musical family and that she has a few hit songs. That’s about how interested I am in her music. To each their own, and this is not my kind of music, as I find it quite unimpressive.

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Olavi Uusivirta was a new acquaintance to me in last year’s DBTL. Loved his performance then, loved it now. I don’t know all the songs, but his energy on stage is like nothing I’ve seen before. He bounced around on and off stage, high five’ing and hugging fans (and even I got a sweaty hug!) and he even did a successful stage dive while still managing strong and clean vocals. He’s both utterly lovable and oozing sexual energy. I bet the girl who got to climb up to the stage to dance with him had a few moments of weak knees during and after the dance… This gig was one of the highlights of my DBTL 2015. Even if it was also one of the most difficult to photograph…

This year’s DBTL’s final performances were by Juha Tapio and Lauri Tähkä. They are both hugely popular in Finland, both very charismatic men, both originally from a bit more “schlager” type of music genre and nowadays veering strongly to the side of rock. Both have songs I recognize from the radio, but I’ve never seen either one perform live before. I did enjoy my first experiences. Perhaps not to the point where I would start going to their gigs more, but at least I’d enjoy listening to them in future festivals as well.

These two ridiculously talented singers had attracted a big crowd to the festival and even though it seems DBTL didn’t reach its goals this year, either, there was a full house (umm, tent) on Saturday night. And that’s good. We’ll see if there is a DBTL next year, and if there is, what the concept will be like then. I’m hoping some new innovations will be made and that this was the last time DBTL was fenced in, in a small area by the river.

My highlights of DBTL 2015 in a nutshell:

  1. Sunrise Avenue
  2. Happoradio
  3. Olavi Uusivirta
  4. Excellent food in and outside the festival area
  5. Networking and getting to know some new photographer colleagues

My lowlights:

  1. Tue-Sat is too long for a festival constructed like this
  2. No photo pit on Tue & Wed and therefore only poor pics from those days
  3. Weather (cold, windy, rainy)

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text and photos: Johanna Ahonen

GastmitarbeiterInnen / guest contributions

Regular guest contributors e.g. Grit Kabiersch, Maria Levin, Elvira Visser, Nina Ratavaara, John Wisniewski

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