Editorial2

Rolling Estonians
Punk Rock in the Baltics

Punk is anarchic, nihilistic, thirsting for freedom. What started in Britain in the Seventies quickly spread across the rest of Europe.

 

In Estonia the Soviet occupation was in full flow. People were forced from their homes, oppressed. Russian culture was threatening to dominate Estonian culture and language.

 

Out of this oppression grew the need for revolution. “There was only one window to the rest of the world, to the modern pop culture.” Mart Niineste, an Estonian music journalist tells me, “It was Finnish TV.”


The Sex Pistols were shown on Finnish TV, which catalysed the movement: “You can blame British punk on everything that Estonian punk is. It’s historically rooted to British punk rock.” During the Eighties it was a really underground movement.

 

Hendrik Sal-Saller was one of the founders of Generator M – the first Estonian punk band. He spoke about how it was formed: “The time was right and my youthful rebellious soul needed to express itself. I was invited to a school-band where everybody else was older than me but after some

time I realised that the group and the music needed a total change.

“Me and two other guys, who were on the same page with me, kicked out some soft fellows who didn't have a clue and started a band called Generator M.” In Estonia the punk scene was only just beginning. “In Estonia we were pioneers, other punk bands came after us.”

The Soviet regime was: “In one word – oppressive,” and that was one of the main reasons for Generator M’s music. “Fighting against the Soviet regime was of course one of the main themes - we felt that we needed to express the real feelings and to let people know that we can fight against this stupidity. I also formed a couple of other bands before Generator M and they were all political.” It was difficult to publicise the band under Soviet occupation. “We organised gigs all over the country and the information about the concerts spread by word of mouth.”

 

Another punk band to leave a big mark in Estonian history was Propeller. They were a bunch of professional musicians, who in 1980 decided to form a punk band. They were banned after their first summer together. “It was almost a legend,” Mart Niineste says. The band caused a riot in Tallinn in September 1980. Propeller played a concert, but it was stopped by Soviet authorities. People were expecting to see more. “The crowd just got pissed

 

 

off. It was in a football stadium and the crowd started to walk, one whole mass, to the centre.” Trams were overturned and police cars were destroyed.  “For that, Propeller was banned.” They stopped completely, turning to progressive-fusion and changing their name to Kaseke.

Generator M, and many other bands faced a similar situation, Hendrik says: “We, just like other similar bands, were blacklisted. Public concerts were forbidden - but that didn't stop us.” Despite the restrictions placed by Soviet authorities, punk bands were keen to fight against it. “To fight our independence back and kick out the foreign intruders. To have a free and independent country.” Generator M’s themes concerning the youth were typical to punk bands across the world; the expression of nihilism was common. Politically, Britain’s punk bands sung about anarchy. Estonian punk bands focused on the politics that affected them. The Soviet oppression was in full flow and fighting the oppression was one of the main goals of many Estonian punk bands: “Political songs focused on making a fool of and mocking the Soviet ideology and government.”

In 1982, Generator M split. But it was not the end of the punk scene in Tallinn.

 

In 1986, JMKE formed. The lead singer, Villu Tamme became the face of punk in Estonia. He was a punk hero, Mohawk, piercings – the poster boy for Estonian punk. They signed a record deal with the Finnish Stupido Twins in 1989. By April the Soviet Union’s stronghold was beginning to weaken, the band were finally able to travel abroad. They reached Finland and became fairly successful. Their song “Tere Perestroika” (Welcome Perestroika) became the unofficial anthem of the Singing Revolution. It sung about changes made in the Soviet Union, intended to give ministers more independence, but eventually led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

 

In 1991 the Soviet Union disintegrated. Without the oppression of the Soviet state the punk scene began to lose direction.

 

The new rise started in 1993, when Vennaskond returned from Finland after 2 years. With their new western influences, they had Fender guitars, cool clothes. Mart Niineste said: “they became big, huge, like Oasis.” They were geniuses and slightly dysfunctional, but the line-up couldn’t last.

 

 


Punk bands now focused on capitalism, burger culture, poverty, animal rights and a huge variety of other issues.

 

In 1991 Psychoterror was formed. Influenced by The Stooges and Undertones, they played short songs, one minute long. Nyrok City came from the neighbouring town, Tartu. On stage, their singer Peeter Pask (Peter the Shit) was the master of destruction; nothing was safe from him, microphones, monitors, equipment. They represented the punk attitude, destruction, intoxication, hedonism. At one gig Peeter Pask was arrested for being drunk, not even backstage.

 

Today in Tallinn the music scene is slightly different. The punk scene is not as prominent as it was in the 1980s. Hendrik said: “It was exciting back then because we had a target and a clear message to spread but now?... I don't really know any more.”

 

PeZ is the lead singer of Highmachine and spoke about the current rock scene in Tallin. “The scene is

so small, because there aren’t many people.” Highmachine are a metal band, with mainly American influences (a very different situation from the 1980s, where bands were restricted to European influences, and what they saw on Finnish television). “Everything is so derivative, you can tell it’s influenced by this band or that band.” Tallinn is very small (150,000 people), and many people are in more than one band at a time. The music scene is quite active: “There is some concert going on everyday. Depending on where you go, it’s indie bands, you have rock bands, you have metal bands, you have hardcore bands. Every kind of scene is represented, even the smaller sub-groups. It gets really weird if you look into it.” There are a few web forums that all the bands in Tallinn communicate on.  Social networking sites have become more important, but many use www.rada7.ee to communicate and promote. “If you’re active in the music scene you know almost everyone.”


“Punk’s weird, there are a pool of hardcore bands. It’s even smaller than the metal scene. For some reason the metal scene’s quite big. Those dudes who played in the metal bands in the 80s are still active today.” It’s the same with some of the punk bands, like JMKE who are still touring. “Because the scene is so small, you have the main dudes and you’re always going to go: That’s a metal dude, and that’s a punk dude who were active in the 80s. That’s everywhere.”

 

Like the punk scene in the 80s the metal scene was also British influenced: “There was only so much that came through, up until the 2000s there was a gathering every Sunday downtown on a hill, called ‘Record Hill’ by people. Every Sunday people came together, it was unorganised (officially). They swapped albums, swapped tapes, swapped posters made of photos, self-developed and blown-up, metal band t-shirts. It was a big thing in the 80s and early 90s. There were a lot of funny stories, they weren’t selling drumsticks so they had to make their own from coat hangers. They took a wooden coat hanger and machined them into the shape of a drumstick.”

 


Out of the 1980s came a punk scene that swept across the youth of Estonia, there were riots and revolts. But also came a whole load other genres, which had finally passed the iron gates of the Soviet Union. There are still echoes of that musical revolution in Tallinn, forming a huge music scene for such a small city.

 

Review and photography by Sarah Swan-Brown
Front Page Illustration by Russell Taysom