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It was Sunday. I woke up to the sound of church bells tolling over the Aura River, which splits the city of Turku in half. My T-shirt was soaking wet from the sweat as the sun had woken up before me and started doing its thing. I needed to get working, too, but the last two days of intensive festival reporting at Ruisrock had taken its toll and my assistant was still sleeping on the passenger seat. Kling. Klang. Klang. Kling. I looked out the car window and located the sound to be coming from the nearest house of prayer, the Martin’s Church, which rose on the horizon across the river.
Here I was, in the city lying on the southwest coast, the former capital and the oldest city in the country. With somewhat 186,000 inhabitants, it ranks as the 6th largest, and the atmosphere feels like a visit abroad. People speak their own dialect. They for example extend the vocals of you and me to mää and sää. And to make it even more complicated, sää also means the weather and mää is something the sheep utter in children’s books. The Turku citizens also seem to smile more than in Finland in general, especially when walking along the river in the sun, and I’ve heard that Ruisrock has the tendency to uplift the spirit, too.
Oh yeah, Ruisrock . . . we needed to get there today as well. It was the last day. One more squeeze and maybe another musical orgasm would be waiting in Ruissalo, just a 25-minute ride away on the water bus.
The festival is located at the Ruissalo National Park, on an island, on the outskirts of the city and at the border of the Archipelago Sea, which contains the largest island group in the world. For the average visitor, the path to reach Ruisrock is adventurous; you take the stroll of a few kilometers in the woods among tipsy people on the way in, and join the crowd turned drunk on the way out. No passenger cars are allowed to enter the island.
Or you can buy the VIP package and take the water bus, a small ship, which rides the small waves of the Aura River to the pier of the festival, where the waterway channel opens to the blue water and the wind rocks the ship slightly.
We had chosen the water bus. Along the river, we had seen military boats, small yachts and large sailboats, and one evening we rode the tailwind of the flagship Viking Line cruise ferry Grace on its way to Sweden.
[alert type=red ]”Why are you talking to my girl, you goddamn Mickey Mouse!”[/alert]
On Friday, the program included performances by artists like Ellinoora, Kelis and Jack Ü. Ellinoora performed at Ruisrock for the first time. Last summer, while I was soaking up the atmosphere, I met her sitting among the crowd and her friends, having a picnic on the sand outside the gates. She introduced her as an up-and-coming singer, a music fan and an ordinary festival spectator. “Next year I will play at Ruisrock,” she said confidently and gave me a T-shirt for her upcoming single “Minä Elän,” I live.
In the span of a year, her single “Leijonakuningas (Lion King)” has been streamed over 4 million times (platinum amount) and her second one, “Carrie,” is about to reach the same number. She is preparing to release her debut album in September.
On Friday, Ellinoora opened the festival, a tough task for any artist, especially a newcomer – you never know, whether the crowd will come in on time.
According to one female reporter with a long career in covering festivals, she couldn’t remember a crowd as large during any opening act of Ruisrock. The spectators sang in unison to Ellinoora’s lyrics. “I have dreamed of this for so long. This is totally crazy,” the 22-year-old singer, who originally comes from Oulu, shouted on stage.
After Ellinoora had done a fine job in bringing people in, people looked fresh and relaxed. There were dozens of food vendors and the gentle breeze spread exotic smells across the island in the warm air.
Ruisrock is the oldest rock festival in Finland (started in 1970) and the second oldest in Europe. (Pinkpop festival started a few months before in the Netherlands.) On Friday, the day was sold out, attracting 35,000 visitors. The day was filled with performances by popular Finnish artists like Antti Tuisku, Sanni and Apulanta – all rocking the masses.
Kelis, the American R&B/dance/soul artist, was the highlight of Friday evening. She entered the stage in a leopard suit, accompanied by a live band.
Many of her songs, which have a dominating electronic sound on album, sparked alive to the sound of a trumpet, bass, keyboards and a funky drummer. Songs like “Millionaire,” Rumble,” and “Forever Be” moved the crowd. But “Milkshake” made people crazy. Two lovely ladies, a singer and an actor, joined the dance with us. We danced wildly in the puff of sand surrounding us, while the last rays of the sunset reflected from the calm sea.
“Why are you talking to my girl, you goddamn Mickey Mouse!”
As I opened my eyes, a heated argument had broken out between a bodybuilder and a tall guy in one of the last water buses leaving the festival.
“What’s the problem? Is there a problem!” the tall guy shouted.
“You fucking Mickey Mouse!” the bodybuilder continued, while his friends were holding him back.
“I am Donald Duck and you are the Mickey Mouse!” shouted the tall guy.
The bodybuilder went silent. He let out a sudden snicker. It was verbal self-defense at its finest. The situation de-escalated, and soon the ship was ashore.
On Saturday afternoon, we caught a heated performance by the Finnish pop singer Anna Abreu. Abreu was a pack of dynamite, dressed in a black top and loose yoga pants, emblazoned with a purple lightning-like figure; a perfect metaphor for her electric performance. She opened with a massive intro, the band playing a bit of Beyoncé’s “Crazy In Love” and Abreu dived into “Bandana,” a single from her upcoming album, which will be released in Finnish. (Abreu has published 5 albums in English.)
Abreu danced and moshed her silver and black hair wildly. “I am so happy here on the stage with you. You are so wonderful! Thank you for coming to watch me.
One of the highlights of Abreu’s gig was “Kylmästä lämpimään (From Cold to Warm).”
“Show me your best Shakiras! Make your hips move,” she shouted and sang the lyrics: “Hey brown skin / You wanted a photograph with me / I wanted to take you with me,” Abreu sang. “But I couldn’t take a tropical flower in the middle of frost . . . . ”
The following gig we jammed to was the set of an American DJ duo, The Chainsmokers. The men became popular for their song “#SELFIE,” in 2014, popularizing the word, while urging the listeners to grab selfies during the song. Finland was the only country where the tune reached the top charts.
At Ruisrock, the duo didn’t play the tune explaining in an interview for YleX that they now have a better idea of “what kind of a band they are” and that their music is now “more personal, authentic and more real.”
Fair enough. The song has become maddening.
Instead, the duo rocked the crowd with a massive bass-infused sound, mixing Coldplay and Red Hot Chili Peppers and their new massive hits such as “Don’t Let Me Down” and “Roses.”
Major Lazer, an American group charming crowds with their catchy electronic, dancehall hits and huge stage effects, went straight to the point by shooting fire and smoke in the air during their set which started at midnight. You could feel the heat in your face in the front row, while the scantily-clad ladies shook their booties on the stage.
While a bass-heavy beat was playing, Diplo, the producer, stepped inside a transparent hamster ball and the security guys cleared the path and helped him pass the fence between the crowd and the stage, and Diplo took a few running steps, continuing to crowd-surf on top of the audience. After he was safely rolled back to the stage, the group continued with big baile funk beats, infused with Miami bass and African samples, and their massive beats thumped until 01:30.
[alert type=red ]After the gig, most of the festival crowd, some drunk, others just tired, started their walk back to the city, along the path, which carries the name Via Dolorosa, “The Way of Suffering.”[/alert]
After the gig, most of the festival crowd, some drunk, others just tired, started their walk back to the city, along the path, which carries the name Via Dolorosa, “The Way of Suffering.”
While I took the water bus, my assistant had decided on taking the walk with a friend and he later described the experience as a “mass of drunk people laughing and falling all over the place.”
I decided to visit a club called Dynamo, at Linnankatu, close to the center of Turku. I saw no visible queue in front of the bar, so I tried to enter.
“Hey! You. Don’t try to pass the queue! If Jenni Vartiainen queues, you have to, too,” said one of the security guys.
I stepped behind the four people who had just appeared in front of the door.
After a minute and four euros poorer, I was in.
I rose the stairs to the first floor. It was steaming hot and the air was thick. The place was crowded with revelers, some from Ruisrock, others were locals and people from across the country. I didn’t see the pop singer Jenni Vartiainen.
Dynamo is known for its live music and soulful DJs, playing everything from old rock to rap and funk. I bought a glass of beer. The low price surprised me: 3.50 euros, so I bought two for both hands.
“Is this your favorite club,” I asked a young blonde.
“I visit the place maybe twice a year. I’m not a local,” she said and continued, “But the last time I was here, I danced so hard that I fell off the stage at the back of the room.”
I received a call. It was my assistant.
“Hey! It’s me, Sammy. I am in town. My overnight plans changed,” he said.
He said there were two chicks waiting in bar Edison, around the corner, near Dynamo.
“I’ll come out,” I said and drank the beers down in two gulps.
It was raining and I hurried under the canopy of Edison. The bar was now already closed for customers. It was 3:30 in the morning and soon I saw Sammy arriving as if trying to outrun the rain.
A girl’s head popped out from the door of the bar.
“Well, hello. We’re looking for an after-party,” we said.
“Oh, let’s wait for my friend first.”
“So, what do you guys do?” the girl asked after stepping out.
“We’re journalists. Professionals,” I said.
“Have you been drinking?”
“I haven’t,” said the girl.
Her friend stepped out.
“So, I heard you guys are looking for an after-party,” she said. “I’ve had only two ciders, though.”
“Where are you guys staying?” asked the other girl.
“In the car,” I said.
“Oh, wow. In the car?”
“So, you need a place to stay?”
“It wouldn’t hurt.”
“We’re not homeless, you know,” Sammy said. “We have a place in Helsinki but are homeless in Turku.”
The girls looked serious. They yawned.
“Huh, I’m getting tired,” said the girl who came out first.
“We’re neighbors but I don’t think we have a place for you guys to stay.”
It was now raining heavily.
After waking up to the sound of the church bells in the car, I was wide awake on Sunday morning. It was about 10 o’clock and there were already fresh-looking people running along the Aura River but my assistant was still sleeping. I needed some coffee and croissants, so I took the free ferry, Föri, that crosses the river non-stop in one and a half minutes. There was a corner store on the other side. As I came back, sipping the coffee, fast-pedaling cyclists passed me by a hair, ringing their bells furiously. “Don’t break it!” I yelled as I spilled some coffee on my shirt.
Sammy had woken up, so we went to a nearby hotel to read some news and update the site. At first sight, it was not pretty. The police reported of three suspected rapes and of two cases of sexual harassment at Ruisrock. In addition, 16 people were caught by the police and 22 people removed from the area for drinking too much and acting ugly. 32 incidents were related to the illegal use of drugs, which is six cases less compared with the previous year. Later, the police reported that they had stopped the investigations on the two suspected rapes. The third one would still be investigated, but the police will not report about the incident further. On the positive note, Ruisrock had sold out on Saturday, too.
There was one more performance to catch in the late afternoon: Patti Smith and the Band. Patti Smith is an American punk rock progenitor, “The Godmother of Punk” and a poet, an anarchic spirit turned worldly-wise in the respected age of 69.
She stepped on Niittylava wearing a dark blazer, loose blue jeans and dark cowboy boots. Her voice was strong, charming, and she seduced the crowd of thousands with her talent and charisma.
Patti Smith and her Band performed the critically acclaimed album, Horses, recorded in 1975. Lenny Kaye, 69, a founding member of the group, joined her on stage with his rudimentary guitar work. Jay Dee Daugherty, another original member, sat behind the drums. Tony Shanahan played the bass and keyboards and Jack Petruzzelli accompanied with the guitar.
The group followed the album’s track structure to the letter. The album is an emotional roller coaster, and like an engine, it slacks off gradually. During the fourth track, “Free Money,” I was glued to the sand, only able to move my head, while the energy flowed in my veins. Between songs, Smith urged the audience to fight for their rights, especially for freedom. “Don’t sell your water to the big corporations to make soda,” she said. “You have a beautiful country and nature. Hold on to them!”
[alert type=red ]”Don’t sell your water to the big corporations to make soda,” she said. “You have a beautiful country and nature. Hold on to them!”[/alert]
Before tuning into “Break it Up” Smith explained that she came up with the song in a dream of the late Jim Morrison, the legendary Door’s vocalist, who was figured as an angel with wings merging in marble. Smith stood over him, chanting “break it up, break it up, break it up.” The stone dissolved and he moved away, able to fly again.
When Smith played the centerpiece of the album “Land Horses / Land of a Thousand Dances / La Mer (De)” the spectators started dancing in a frenzy.
During “Elegie” Smith brought tears to the eyes over a tender piano melody by dedicating the song to Jimi Hendrix and other musicians who have passed away, including the late David Bowie and Prince.
Smith ended her set with “People Have The Power,” the first track of her ’88 album Dream of Life. In the end, she grabbed an electric guitar, played a skillful solo, and started cutting strings off. One by one. “Listen! We don’t need any of your fucking bombs, we don’t need your missiles,” she said and fixed her eyes on the guitar. “Here’s everything we need!”
She cut off the last piece of string. “Remember, you are the fucking future, you are holding it in your hands.” Smith thanked the audience and left the stage.
Smith made me feel good, just like music is supposed to do. Many of her songs are about life and death, tragedy and suicide, but her stage presence and preaching made me feel powerful. The gig was easily the highlight of the whole festival.
On the water bus, a man was flirting with a lady wearing a cowboy hat. Suddenly my assistant rose from his seat and picked up something from the floor.
He gave the tiny red packet to the man and the lady. It was a packet of festival condoms, known as “the summer rubbers.”
The man grinned and the lady smiled. “Oh damn, they must have fallen off, when I was digging for my wallet,” the man said.
Sammy smiled back.
A moment later, the man and the lady walked together toward the bathroom.
“I wonder where they are going, I don’t trust them,” Sammy said.
We looked at each other and fell into a hysterical laughter.
On the way to Helsinki, I received a news bulletin.
“Ruisrock in its present form attracted a record crowd: 100,000 visitors. The festive spirit, which prevailed during the weekend and the joy sparked by the festival was contagious.”
Indeed, it was, indeed it was.
You can find more pictures on Finland Today’s Instagram @FinlandToday.