Tallinn Music Week: Survive the Marathon
There's a reasonable possibility that if you're in Tallinn in March, you're here for Tallinn Music Week, which is in this writer's opinion the coolest and most exciting event of the year in Estonia. It's never about partying hard - it's a marathon, not a sprint.
With the festival taking place, as the name suggests, over a whole week, you've got to treat this music and culture showcase like an athlete treats the Olympics. That means knowing where to go to watch bands, where to find liquid refreshment, and where to chow down at the end of the night before loping back to your hotel. The struggle is real for the TMW rookie who doesn't plan his route and his entertainment properly before setting off. What a good thing the Baltic Guide is here to help you.
We begin, perversely, not in a cavernous gig venue with a toilet bigger than your house and a bar queue longer than the Human Centipede, but in a tiny box venue, accurately known as Burger Box (Kopli 4). This little eatery is ”street,” but not in a dainty, hipsterified way. Rather it projects a ”what you see is what you get” attitude, from the wood-panelled walls to the man who serves you with a wary look in his eye that says, ”I've seen your type before.”
Don't be unnerved. Go with cash, show your TMW pass, and claim 10% off the sensational food available there, which goes from the workaday cheeseburger to the fusion phenomenon that is the Chinese pulled-pork burger. Top it off with properly spicy kimchi fries and you've got yourself all the reinforcements you'll need for an evening at Telliskivi Creative Hub, perhaps taking in a major concert at Vaba Lava (Telliskivi 60a), or the banging tunes and chillout sets of Erinevate Tubade Klubi (also Telliskivi 60a), translated as The Club of Many Rooms, otherwise known to some as ”The Slipper Club” because of its unique policy of asking revellers to take their shoes off in a special changing area, instead donning supplied soft footwear.
While you're in the formerly working-class part of Tallinn surrounding Kalamaja, you should head onto the beaten track - specifically the Balti Jaam (Baltic Station) Pavilion (next to the railway station). Reliable sources say that this vast room, surrounded by glass, has been restored to its former glory. The Pavilion used to be where tired travellers would rest their feet at the beginning or the end of the 18-hour train rides to Moscow, or the somewhat shorter blasts to Tartu or Pärnu.
These days, it's a party venue, and TMW has taken over it at the end of March and the beginning of April. One of the standout gigs, purely for its name, is Polish act Rhythm Baboon, and if you're not careful you might look like one if you're still awake at 3.30am when it starts.
There's also plenty to enjoy if you're a TMW attendee who wants to stay in the centre of the city. You absolutely must spend some time at the truly iconic Kuku Art Club (Vabaduse Väljak 8); its name is an abbreviation of Kunsti-Kultuur (Art-Culture), and the men who drink coffee in the attached cafe above the club can tell stories going back decades about what went on there.
Down below is your interest, though, and at the bottom of the stairs, you'll find a genuine link with Tallinn's past, a place where dissident painters once mixed with university professors, and where you'll still find film directors dancing to modern and retro classics alongside Kuku first-timers. To really understand Tallinn and its recent history, you have to pay a visit to Kuku. While you're there, you'll be able to sip a reasonably-priced beer and hear sounds from the likes of Estonia's PVC16 and Latvia's Sheep Got Waxed.Click on the address to see the location.
TEXT STUART GARLICK, PHOTOS TALLINN MUSIC WEEK
Stuart Garlick is a journalist and English language teacher based in Tallinn. Since 2012, his blog, Charm Offensive, has covered food, music and fashion in Estonia.