The fifth edition of the Station Narva festival celebrates communion through music in the new setting.
As its name implies, the festival’s concept has a certain element of mobility. Venues change so does the atmosphere. With its last-year edition taking place on the premises of Narva castle, the current event sees the Krenholm culture hub as the epicentre. Although the building of the former textile mills previously served as a venue for electronic music acts, Station Narva 2022 introduces other hidden gems of the area.
“It’s true that through this festival we want to show different sides of Narva, so moving locations is part of our idea that we want people to have different experiences to see that there are very different picturesque locations”, says Helen Sildna, the founder of Shiftworks, the event production company, running Station Narva and Tallinn Music Week. “This time, we decided to concentrate on the Krenholm area and also to show in particular that it is not only the island and actual textile mills but also the buildings of the Narva Art Residency and the Director’s House, situated in front of it”. Although not immediately obvious to the Krenholm visitors, these units were used as the textile mills’ management villas back in the 19th century. “In fact, the Krenholm area is much wider and bigger”, says Helen. “Our purpose was to show Krenholm on a larger scale”. As a result, some of the venues were embedded into such facilities as Narva City Hospital and Gerasimov park, initially built for the needs of the textile mills workers.
With its fifth edition, the festival brings together international headliners like Red Snapper and local acts, varying from Estonian prog-rock veterans Mahavok to new names such as Narva-based dubstep producer PTF1987. Not only the change of venues but the new approach to sound makes Station Narva 2022 special.
The 3D sound environment surrounding the front of the Pealava stage works wonders. Kimmo Pohjonen, a Finnish accordion maverick, provides his audience with an immersive experience. His cyber-punk presence conjures up protagonists of The Matrix and Memento. Yet, there are more elements to his multi-faceted image. Dressed in a black cloak, Pohjonen occasionally cackles in a Count Dracula fashion, bombarding his audience with bullets of sounds from his accordion and sampler. Pohjonen is an auteur, channelling his sparkling personality through experimental and sometimes bizarre music. One of the performed pieces, Earth Machine Music, features sampled roars of tractors that the musician recorded in the Finnish countryside. The avant-garde compositions go hand in hand with numbers that are ingrained in the national psyche. Traditional Säkkijärven Polkka is played to remind the audience that sometimes music serves as means of protection. In 1941, the Finns played the polka non-stop for hours to deactivate the remaining mines at the castle of Vyborg that had been left by the Soviet army. The frequency of the melody matched that of the weapon and, thus, diminished its detonation power. While listening to Pohjonen’s story, one could hardly ignore a mound on the right of the stage that served as an air-raid shelter during the Second World War.
Echoes of military conflicts are balanced with peaceful scenes at the festival where music and arts help to reconcile the opposing political opinions of the locals. With the population consisting primarily of Russian native speakers (95%), the bordering city has close ties with its neighbour. Some residents of Narva occasionally travel across the border along the river to meet their relatives living on the opposite bank that belongs to Russia.
Sergey, a Tallinn-based programmer and dedicated follower of electronic music, attends the festival for the second time. “I was born in Kohtla-Järve (a city in Eastern Estonia 44 km away from Narva – edit.) and Narva feels like home. Also, this region is quite special musically. Some Estonian legends were born here, for instance, Raul Saaremets, a pioneer of the local drum ‘n’ bass scene, is also from Kohtla-Järve”. A few members of the audience have travelled from as far as Finland, Germany and neighbouring Latvia. Vitaly, a worker at Narva Power Plants, spends his time between Estonia and Riga but never misses a chance to visit Station Narva. “I’m a construction worker but music has always meant a lot to me. I heard about the festival on one of the R4 radio programmes. Narva is one of those events where you discover new names”.
Indeed, new names emerge. At Hoone stage, the Tallinn-based dream-pop artist Kitty Florentine combines pantomime with contemporary choreography that brings to mind Rosamund Pike’s twitches in Massive Attack’s video Voodoo in My Blood. Despite being solo, Florentine has enough presence to keep her audience focused. There is a sense of gothic drama that might conjure up Icelandic darkwave trio Kælan Mikla. The two acts would likely make a good match. After the set, Florentine shares her thoughts on the local music scene: “The first time we drove in here I saw Krenholm, the massive building of the textile mills, I thought architecture and even the landscape reads differently. Landscape affects the breath of the culture, how the music flows and what kind of music is made what kind of is made. Because the environment inspires you and motivates you, and that’s how you function. As I drove closer to Narva, I almost felt like I got a different type of breath. Tallinn is very techno, here the scene is more hip-hop, IDM which is quite refreshing also because it’s all in Russian”.
Multi-dimensional set of Ukrainian electro-folk collective Onuka is evocative. Their performance features striking cyber-punk-esque visuals and choreographic elements that make the persuasive concept somewhat similar to the late The Knife. They play traditional instruments such as bandura and sopilka that conjure up the phantasmagorical musical devices that the Swedish duo used during their Shaking the Habitual tour.
The whole Station Narva trip shakes the habitual, sometimes pushing you out of your comfort zone. In-between those periods of revelation and thrill, peaceful moments occur. In their need of respite, the members of the audience walk in the 19-century red-brick building of NART (Narva Art Residency). The two halls downstairs host art and photography display one of which portrays the soothing pace of life in Sillamäe, an industrial town in proximity to Narva. Upstairs, a documentary about Arvo Pärt is screened, providing an insight into the spiritual approach of the legendary composer. “Each sound should be treated as if it was a human soul”, says Pärt, explaining his minimalist compositional style, known as tintinnabuli. If these words were translated into the language of politics and taken as an approach by certain leaders, the world would be different.
Nevertheless, Station Narva reflects the state of the world as it is, attempting to make it a better place. At least here, people of different backgrounds come together, forgetting about their recent arguments over politics. Gratifyingly, music always reminds one that life stands way above anything and must be celebrated – through music and communion.
More information about Station Narva is on the official site.
Photography credit: Anna Markova (Kimmo Pohjonen, Kitty Florentine), Dmitri Fedotkin (Onuka), Juri Vsivtsev (Arvo Pärt).