Summer in the North of Europe is short and intense, and naturally people want to make the most out of it. This has led people to organize all kinds of cultural events outside. Join E&M author Justus Lehtisaari to investigate one of these events named Ö Fest, where young talented artists are crafting the future of Finnish sound and music.
2023 has been an interesting year for Finnish music. A guy in a green bolero became national pride for a short period of time, placing Finland second in the Eurovision Song Contest. Only the hard rock and heavy metal band Lordi managed to do better with their monster costumes, leading Finland to victory in 2006’s Eurovision Finale.
Green boleros and monster costumes come and go but if you really want to get a glimpse of what happens inside Finnish music and culture you cannot look away from summertime outdoor parties and festivals. One of the most interesting ones, named Ö Fest, takes place over the weekend in July in the heart of the Finnish archipelago. To truly find out what was happening this summer, I needed to pack up my camping gear and head out to find out what was going on.
There is a house, a yard and an old red barn. A typical Finnish countryside summerplace, or as we call it in Finnish “mökki”. The word “mökki” translates directly to a cottage, but can nowadays mean anything from a shackle in the woods to a modern house with running water and electricity. This place where I have arrived seems to belong to the second category. By a first glimpse everything seems totally normal, a typical countryside home where many Finns like to enjoy their summer holidays. However, there is something that doesn’t quite fit in the picture – a stage reaching outside from the old red barn.
This is my fourth time here, and every year the stage seems a bit bigger and more professional. And this is not a false memory. Comparing pictures from four years ago to this year the stage has actually started to resemble something that belongs to a real music festival.
It is hard to tell if Ö fest is more like a party or a festival. My observation is that it has been able to cherry pick good details from both sides – especially this year.
The weekend is filled with quite a mix of shows. 26 different artists and bands take the stage one after another. One moment you can find yourself doing a “stank face” to a juicy guitar solo from guys playing jazz without shoes, and right after you can find yourself in a mosh pit. Genres here vary from Western pop to trash disco, and everything in between. The thing that binds these shows together is the feeling that if some of these artists and bands haven’t made their breakthrough yet they might do it at any point.
Indeed when looking at the history of Ö fest, Artists like Yrjänä and Safira played their first gigs here and have since moved to bigger stages and festivals, like Flow festival, Block fest and Ruisrock.
Headliners of this Year’s Ö Fest are more established artists like Malla, Pehmoaino and Melo. However most of the time the stage is occupied by new representations of Finnish music, like rising pop stars Ellaella and Nupu, but also Lavender representing a new generation of Finnish jazz players – just to mention a few.
This festival feels almost like an exclusive human trial for the future of Finnish music. Part of the exclusivity is that the location of the event has been kept secret and according to my estimation only around a couple hundred guests can take part. Most guests connect to the organizers with first or second hand personal links.
But as exclusive as the event is for humans, it is a total “all inclusive” for mosquitos. Nonstop biting mosquitoes make me scratch my body like I have scabies and google if I can bite the mosquitoes back, making me tired of being their victim.
The Nordic summer has other plagues too, like hardly predictable weather. Before the festival I found myself looking for the weather forecast every two hours for a week, seeing it change all the time. Well, I found this being totally useless as the weather offers its best show with everything it has to offer, like heavy rain and sunshine. This hardly seems to bother people here, as it almost feels like accepting the terms and conditions (which nobody actually reads) to register on a new web service.
The summer in the north of Europe is short and intense. Mosquitoes and changing weather is a tiny price to pay for the two to three months of bright nights and decent weather compared to what is yet to come for the rest of the year. Knowing the inevitable fate of upcoming darkness and rain makes people enjoy their every moment. Maybe you could call this some kind of summer mania? I conclude that this makes people organize outdoor parties like Ö Fest.
The name of the event “Ö Fest” is actually not Finnish but Swedish, translating literally to “Island party”. The name of course already gives a hint about the location, but also highlights that you cannot really find the location by accident. You have to know what you are looking for.
This kind of exclusivity is not new to Finnish underground music events. For example, summers in Helsinki are filled with underground outside parties, made possible by city planning that has left room for parks and forests that allow illegal parties to take place without being shut down immediately. Usually these events are found by social media or mouth to mouth information. Just like Ö Fest.
Coming from the small DIY-party to a laboratory of future Finnish sound might force Ö fest to change. Hints for this already came from the organizers who repeatedly announced that the event will be held in its current location for the last time. The real question is, however, can Ö Fest stay the same in the future, or is the exclusivity just a fading heritage from its DIY origin? At the end of the day, it is a real question to wonder how long one can sustain cherry picking good aspects from festivals and parties to find the perfect middle ground.
Only the future will show us where Ö Fest will evolve. I wonder if we can still find the same old spirit from here in the future, that makes Ö Fest a special experience, or if we have to look into another direction to find it. This task shouldn’t be too hard as Finnish summer is filled with DIY outdoor parties. What we know however, is that these kinds of events are the soul of Finnish music and summer culture.
Top picture by Marko Nevanperä.