Ilosaarirock Festival is one of Finland’s biggest and oldest festivals, taking place on the second last weekend of July at Laulurinne in Joensuu (northeastern Finland). It was held for the first time in 1971 and nowadays has over 50,000 annual visitors per year. In spite of the sizable crowd, Ilosaari is known for its relaxed atmosphere. With a wide range of bands and artists from all different genres, there’s always something for everyone. In 2015 for the first time, Musicalypse sent Maija Lahtinen out to see what all the fuss was about!
For me, the main reason to go to Ilosaari this year was because one of my favorite bands was playing on Sunday: Ghost! This was the first time I had visited Ilosaari, as well as my first time photographing this sort of “mainstream” festival.
On Saturday we left early from Jyväskylä, though unfortunately not early enough to see Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät. They’re a bit of a big deal in Finland right now since they not only represented the country in Eurovision this year, but they’re also a punk band comprised entirely of men with developmental disabilities. I had hoped to catch them, but because of my slow driving, we didn’t make it in time.
The first artist we caught then was Paperi T. I haven’t listened to rap since I was a teenager, but compared to other rap I’ve heard recently, this was rather good. I especially liked the visual aspect of it. Dressed in black and headbanging with long hair – it could’ve been a rock show if you couldn’t hear the music! With a different kind of lyrics and an aggressive style, it made the songs better than everyday rap. A nice addition to the show was also Femme en Fourrures in the background music, which was quite movie-like at some points in the show.
After seeing almost all of their show at the Rentolava (casual stage), we wanted to go and see Santa Cruz playing at the Metelliteltta (ruckus tent), but the crowd blocked the way and I couldn’t make it to the pit in time. That perhaps says enough about their popularity these days anyways! We skipped their show and went to see how it is to shoot at the Päälava (main stage) instead!
At this point it was 16:00 and the main stage hosted a British popstar called Charli XCX, and I must say that I didn’t get it at all. Not the music, nor the performance. When are the festivals going to bring back 90’s pop?
Next up was Amorphis, with the same set (and fireworks) as in Tuska. This year was the anniversary of the Tales from the Thousand Lakes album, and Ilosaari’s gig was the last place in Finland to hear the whole album live one last time. The crowd seemed to appreciate it and to my surprise, there was even a moshpit during their gig.
The second last band on Saturday was Solstafir. I’ve seen this Icelandic band live many times, but I still can’t decide whether I like their music or not. I always stay to watch their whole show because the songs are catchy and they have some beautiful melodies, but I never listen to their albums at home.
And then there was Placebo. Placebo with a photo contract. This was the only disappointment of the weekend. I had feared that they might have a contract for shooting but I was still very disappointed when it was confirmed from a photographer colleague – if we were to shoot the show we would have to first go to the media tent and sign away the rights to the photos. As a photographer, I just don’t understand these contracts that force you to give away the rights to use your work for free just to get a chance to photograph the band’s live show. Since Musicalypse, as a rule, doesn’t support these restrictions, we don’t have any pictures for this particular headliner.
The show itself was amazing, however. With darkness slowly descending and candles lit on both sides of the main stage, the band started to play and I almost immediately forgot my disappointment towards them. They played a bunch of hits, like “Meds,” “Special Needs,” “The Bitter End,” and more, and they sounded even better and heavier live than they do on their albums. And, of course, I have to say that Brian Molkos’ unique voice is definitely one of my favorites, ever. Their gig was an almost perfect ending to the first day at Ilosaari, marred only by being unable/unwilling to get some pictures of it.
On Sunday, we arrived at Laulurinne early enough to see Teksti-TV 666. I had only heard the name of the band and a few comments that they were worth checking out before the festival. This punk/indie-rock band from Helsinki was fun to watch and photograph because of how wild and crazy their performance was. The music wasn’t half bad either.
After they were finished, I went to shoot some pictures of the Von Hertzen Brothers, just for fun. They were playing at the Tähtiteltta (start tent), and even though it’s not the kind of music I would listen to at home, it sounded pretty good live.
Next up, it was back to the Metelliteltta to see Grave Pleasure (formerly known as Beastmilk) for the first time with their all-new members: drummer Uno (In Solitude), Linnea (The Oath), and Juho (Oranssi Pazuzu). The new songs from the upcoming album, Dreamcrash, sounded great, and if you liked Beastmilk’s song, “Climax,” you’d probably be into it as well.
Ghost has been my favorite band since I heard the demo version of their song, “Ritual,” in 2010 and I saw them live the first time in Sweden the same year. It’s been great fun to follow how they’ve progressed as a band over the years. The last time I saw them was when they were touring around Finland in 2013. Since then, there have been some changes in the band, like replacing Papa Emeritus II (vocals) with his three-month-younger brother, Papa III. I was excited to see him live, and of course, the Nameless Ghouls with their cool new masks.
The Tähtiteltta slowly filled with the smell of incense and the familiar intro started to play as the Nameless Ghouls walked on stage and started the set with the instrumental song, “Genesis.” After that we got to hear a new song called “Pinnacle to the Pit” from their upcoming album, Meliora. I was happy to hear so many songs from their Opus Eponymous album and the even played my favorite, “Stand by Him.” They played a total of four new songs – the previously mentioned “Pinnacle to the Pit,” as well as “Cirice,” “Absolution,” and “Majesty.” They all sounded great and as Ghost had promised, there are more guitars and heavier riffs. Some of the highlights from the set include “Year Zero” and “Monstrance Clock,” with the crowd singing along as loud as they could.
After Ghost’s perfect set, I was too tired to see Sunday’s headliner, Apulanta, on the Päälava, so it was time to head out of the festival area.
All-in-all, Ilosaari was a very nice festival with its relaxed and happy crowd. You might expect some troubles with that many people in one place, but everything went as smoothly as one could hope for. Also, a huge thanks goes to the organizers for taking care of the environment and keeping the area clean. Ilosaari says on their site that 70% of the electricity they use is green, the coffee and tea they offer are fair-trade, and the materials they use to make their clothing are ethical and ecological. They also use mostly recycled material for the decorations. We (both as a media and individually) are always happy to know these things are taken into consideration, and are all the more willing to continue to give our support in the future! I personally will definitely visit Ilosaari again if I get the chance!
Text/photos: Maija Lahtinen | Ed: Amy Wiseman