You're seemingly more likely to encounter the
Finnish underground in some dusty dive in East London than in
Helsinki. Few artists on labels such as Fonal or Ektro seem to do
many gigs in Finland, aside from a few sporadic appearances, and
even people into folk/psychedelia in the country tend not to know
much about them. Meanwhile, cheap air fares from Finland to the UK
have ferried such acts to London on a regular basis. Musically it's
a fantastic arrangement for us, although a paradoxical one.
On my last trip to Finland I finally found these artists' work on their home soil – in a museum. The Finnish Design Museum was running a New Nordic Design exhibition, a rather wide and woolly selection of works of which the Finnish underground stuff was certainly the most original. Paavoharju, the group who put the 'freak' into 'freakfolk', had built a strange DIY shelter filled with empty beer cans, magazines and homebrewed alcohol – like a makeshift den in the woods transposed into an pristine exhibition space. Islaja, meanwhile, had a Super-8 type film of darkened woods and the outdoors, her face flashing into frame in the torchlight – a highly evocative bit of work, somewhere between Margaret Tait and The Blair Witch Project.
It's a bit dispiriting that the 'wildness' of the Finnish underground has itself become a kind of commodity to the design world, and that it should be encountered in a museum, the precise antithesis of the kind of naturalness that's the inspiration for good Finnish DIY stuff. For me, the obvious platform for Finnish underground music would be outdoor gigs, something that's extremely popular over there. Considering how much blandly pseudo-academic outdoor sound art there seems to get art funding, surely there's space for Kemialliset Ystävät to play a gig on an island by a Finnish lake, or Lau Nau or Islaja to do their wood-folk thing actually in a wood? Maybe someday.
For now, events like the Approximately Infinite Universe tour, which has just completed a successful UK tour, selling out at the ICA, will have to do.