Tuska (Finnish for 'pain'), or Tuska Open Air Metal Festival as it is called officially, is one of the biggest metal festivals in Scandinavia and it will take place for the 19th time from July 1 til July 3 and make black the summer fashion color throughout Helsinki with usually over 25 000 festival goers. For the past years the festival has been taking place at Suvilahti, a former energy production area, with two iconic gasometers that give the whole festival an industrial atmosphere and make for a popular photo backdrop. They even show up in the official festival logo.
The 2016 Tuska logo with the Suvilahti gasometer.
As per usual, the line-up holds a variety of Finnish and international bands from all walks of metal. On the top of my list for this year are Swallow The Sun who will play one album of their 'Songs From The North' each day, Tsjuder, Myrkur, Mantar, Katatonia and Jess And The Ancient Ones in no particular order. And I will definitely check out Kvelertak, Ghost, Behemoth, Primordial, Lord Vicar, Mörbid Vomit and maybe Lordi and Turmion Kätilöt for some party mood.
But not everything is same old: For the first time, blast beats will be heard (two minutes) til midnight as Tuska got permits to keep the festival open into the night on Friday and Saturday. On Sunday, the festival ends at 9 p.m. as in the years before. There are also some changes and additions on the stage front: The already familiar Radio Rock Main Stage and Inferno Third Stage are still around, but there will also be a tent stage called Helsinki Stage this year. There hasn’t been a tent stage for several years now, and the Inferno Third Stage which is located inside the Kattilahall building is great for atmospheric gigs but it gets packed very fast depending on who’s playing - or if it is raining outside.
Another new name is also popping up on the program: On the Solmusali Stage Tuska hosts panels and interviews with industry people and metal legends. It will be very interesting to see who attends these talks and how it will go – I will check it out for sure. And this is also where Toni-Matti Karjalainen comes into play. He is responsible for getting the metal weekend started already on Thursday as he is organizing the Modern Heavy Metal Conference that is taking place in Helsinki for the second time from June 30 to July 1. There will be research presentations, panels and talks followed by Tuska Heatseeker at the legendary Tavastia rock club in the evening with three Finnish bands playing: Lost Society, Santa Cruz and Shiraz Lane. It's metal all the way in Helsinki during the first week of July. Or even more metal than there is usually in the Finnish capital.
Toni-Matti is also involved with the Solmusali Stage program as he will interview Alex Skolnick from Testament in the 'Metal Legend Interview' on Friday, and moderate the 'ALL BLACK- The aesthetics of darkness in metal today' panel on Saturday with Titus Hjelm (Thunderstone), Kimi Kärki (Lord Vicar) and editor-in-chief of Inferno Magazine Matti Riekki. The panel will be held in Finnish so if you’re not proficient in this oh so easy language you’re out of luck. But hey, you've still got about 3 weeks’ time to learn the language if you want to listen to this discussion – or harass a Finnish speaking friend to come along and translate for you.
But I’ll now let Toni-Matti speak for himself on what the conference, the interviews and panels are all about, and what Tuska means to him.
P.S.: Watch this space – I’ll of course write a festival report and post it here in after Tuska is over and I've recovered from all the festivaling.
Toni-Matti Karjalainen with Alex Skolnick at Modern Heavy Metal Conference 2015. (Photo by Ron Claus)
The Metal Phenomenon: Could you introduce yourself shortly?
Toni-Matti: Hello! I’m Toni-Matti, a big metal and rock music fan, born in Jyväskylä, living in Espoo and working in Helsinki, Finland. I currently work as Academy Research Fellow at Aalto University School of Business. I have a long background in research and education, in various different areas such as design management, visual communication, product design, branding and storytelling, and cultural industries. The last few years my main focus has been on metal music studies, particularly on the export of Finnish metal and culture.
TMP: How did you get into metal?
T-M: It was the year 1984 when I found an interesting looking cassette among my sister’s stuff. It was ‘Animalize’ by KISS. I put it into my player and it then opened the jar of worms and I started to explore these long-haired hard rocking bands more extensively. During these 32 years, I’ve been taken into different directions within the various sub-genres of metal and hard rock, from the classic stuff to hair metal, to thrash, to progressive, to grunge, to melodic death, and so forth.
TMP: This year, the Modern Heavy Metal Conference is taking place for the second time in Helsinki and for the first time in connection with Tuska. How did that come about?
T-M: Yes, this is the second time. The Conference first started with an idea to hold a one-off big event for the global metal research community and the newly established International Society for Metal Music Studies (ISMMS). I also wanted to get the “industry” and “metal workers” (managers, promoters, artists, etc.) interested and involved. The conference then became a very extensive five days of research presentations, keynote speeches by well-known metal academics and practitioners (we had for instance Scott Ian of Anthrax and Alex Skolnick of Testament speaking in our university), panel discussions with music industry reps, concerts, movies and other metal-related program bits. Altogether 150 guests from over 30 countries attended the conference.
The feedback was so positive and it was so much fun that I wanted to organize something similar again. But with a smaller and more compact setting due to limited time and resources available. We had very good collaboration with Tuska Festival already last year and the key idea was to organize MHM closely integrated with the festival itself this time. So we started to make some integrated planning with the Tuska people and everything turned out very well. And Music Finland [author’s note: Music Finland is the Finnish music export office] has also been a really good partner too. They are again bringing lots of international metal industry people both to MHM and Tuska also this year.
TMP: What is the conference about?
T-M: MHMC is about presenting and discussing various research projects on heavy metal music, culture, markets and practices. And about discussing research and metal in general. It’s directed to academic scholars and students, but is really open for anyone interested in hearing and discussing more about metal music; its history, culture, diversity, markets, fans… and as said, we have lots of practice-driven contents as well.
TMP: Why research Metal academically? There must have been some controversial reactions to that.
T-M: There are sometimes, but not too many in fact. Also the artists and other metal people seem to like the idea. And we metal scholars are serious metal heads ourselves too! Metal is an important global genre and culture that has an almost 50 years long history. The whole diversity and culture simply deserves to be properly and richly documented and explored, also from the deeper academic point of view. And every research project of course has its specific intentions and aims. In addition to explorative and documentary approaches, research also generates practical insights on the cultural characteristics, fans, and different markets as well as increased the recognition of different scenes – which can then be further utilized by bands and other people within the field.
TMP: This year, not only is MHMC closely linked to Tuska but you are also having an official role at the festival: You are interviewing Alex Skolnick from Testament and moderate a discussion on the aesthetics of darkness in metal today, both part of the new Solmusali Stage program. What can people expect from these interviews and panels? Why should they check this out instead of watching bands with a beer in their hand?
T-M: I guess you can have a beer in your hand also there… but yes, this was the idea of expanding Tuska contents to new territories and bringing some discussions also to the festival grounds. With Alex we’ll probably continue the discussion on his various insights and projects concerning metal culture and its diversity, started in his MHM speech and interview last year (the whole presentation is on YouTube, by the way). [Author’s note: Here’s the link to that]
It will be cool. Alex is a very thoughtful person. As are all the members also in our “All black” panel discussion. They will bring different various insights of metal culture and aesthetics to a relaxed round table discussion. This one will however be held in Finnish (sorry international people!). And then there will be other stuff in Solmusali as well, including the interview of Scott Ian. It’ll be a good place to have a bit different Tuska experience. And a good place to escape the burning sunlight for a little while! But please notice that it’s a rather small place, so you need to be there early to not miss the sessions.
TMP: What is your personal Tuska history?
T-M: I started going to Tuska a bit late, 2004 was my first time. I went there primarily to see DIO, one of my all-time biggest favorites. By sheer accident, I’m actually listening to 'Dream Evil' right now… ;) After that I have tried to go there every year if I’ve only been around. It’s certainly the main summer festival to attend for me. Musical highlights are too many to mention, but Tuska is of course about the very relaxed and friendly atmosphere. It’s a very special festival indeed, also because of its location within the city.
TMP: Which bands and what are you looking forward to the most this year at Tuska?
T-M: Katatonia, Gojira, Stam1na, Swallow the Sun, Kvelertak, Lord Vicar, Testament, Anthrax… and the side program as well, of course. And meeting old friends and new people there.
You can find more info and contents about the MHM Conference and my research on www.modernheavymetal.net and www.tonimattikarjalainen.info.
And all information about the festival can be found on www.tuska-festival.fi.