President Cool Opens TMW

Estonian president Toomas Ilves made the keynote address at Tallinn Music Week, underlining how much his country values the event and also revealing how much he enjoys hanging out and talking about music.

Global examples of politicians trying to use music to gain cool points have often understandably been greeted with a healthy dose of cynicism.

Former UK Premier Tony Blair invited Oasis to 10 Downing Street and various U.S. hopefuls have had some of America’s great rock and country legends join them on their campaign trails.

In 2006 former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown claimed he regularly listened to Arctic Monkeys on his iPod, which may have sounded cool until GQ magazine asked him to name his favourite tracks.

During the evening before he made his speech, Ilves was spotted at Von Krahl – a club that can barely hold 300 – checking out the acts that played the opening night of TMW.

“The Scottish guy I have to admit was much more interesting than say David Gray, even though the chord progressions were sometimes quite similar. He is an exciting artist none the less,” was the presidential view on Glasgow-based singer-songwriter Alan McKim, one of the four acts showcased at Von Krahl March 24.

Describing himself as the head of “a small country with a language that nobody bothers to learn,” Ilves told delegates how he became involved with the conference and festival in the first place.

Apparently he read an article that TMW founder Helen Sildna, previously a talent buyer for Peeter Rebane’s Baltic Development Group, wrote about why top acts such as Arcade Fire wouldn’t come to Estonia.

“I’d heard Arcade Fire and had downloaded some of their songs and I sent her an e-mail because I just wanted to communicate with another Estonian who knew of the band,” Ilves explained.

It seems Sildna thought the president’s mail was a trick hatched up by friends, but it’s since become evident that TMW is a perfect fit with Ilves’ view of where Estonia should be going. It also affords him the opportunity to hang out and talk about music.

“In my Independence Day speech this year I said that we are sparse with our praise for our talented and diligent people unless they have already won recognition outside Estonia,” he said. “Let us change this attitude and recognise that many interesting things are happening in our music from classical music to rock music.

“It is only a question of time before the innovative inquisitiveness of our creative people attracts the attention of people in other parts of the world and Estonia will be rightfully considered a hot spot of creativity.”

It was the sort of speech that can be expected from a president when his country’s main city is this year’s European Capital Of Culture, but Ilves impressed many foreign delegates with the absolute sincerity of the delivery.

Later this year he’s up for reelection and the general consensus among the foreign delegates was that it’d be good for Estonia if he wins.

Ilves holds a simple belief that a small country that has a population of less than 1.5 million can still be whatever it wants to be.
In Tallinn Music Week he sees how Sildna and her team have embraced that notion by creating a gathering that’s attracting a growing number of music business people from all around Europe.

Compared with last year, the number of delegates was up 20 percent from 352 to 423, the number of international delegates increased 81 percent from 107 to 194, while the number of festival visitors increased 26 percent from 6,000 to 7,600.

The third staging of TMW also produced 52,483 unique homepage visits, 77.1 percent up on the 29,608 the website had last year.
Ilves, in open-necked shirt and Levis, stayed at TMW for at least an hour after his speech, talking to various organisers and delegates.

He appears to have only one bodyguard and his driver waited in a remarkably un-presidential car parked on the Nordic Forum Hotel forecourt.

It’s hard to imagine it could happen in the U.S. or the UK, but it was the sort of scene that gives Estonia an almost fairytale nature. The conference itself is easy-paced and there wasn’t a panel session that lasted longer than an hour.
Many of them looked like press conferences as scores of delegates, particularly those from the Baltic states, studiously took notes.

The gathering appears to be fulfilling Sildna’s hope that TMW will be a platform for the Estonian music business to expand its knowledge by listening to some arguably more experienced foreign visitors.

It also showed band manager and Popkomm booker Paul Cheetham, who recently formed a new company with Düsseldorf-based SSC Group, is a very good panel moderator.

In two back-to-back sessions on the opening day, he showed different techniques to produce a lively interview with Swedish artist manager Petri Lunden and then cajoled the best out of a panel discussing what it means to be a manager.

Lunden’s a naturally entertaining raconteur; the TMW newsletter described him as the “star act of the conference.” But Cheetham got the best out of him by asking him a question.

Perhaps Costa Pilavachi, Universal’s senior vice president of classical A&R, was an offbeat choice to talk about the role of managers, but Cheetham has a natural way of encouraging people to speak.

Pilavachi raised some points that probably wouldn’t have come up without his presence. Natasha Padabed, manager of Russian rock act Mujuice, who’d begun by looking baffled at why she was on the panel, eventually ended up looking surprised that she was contributing so much.

The other panel subjects included a discussion on whether investment in culture translates into growth of tourism and economy, which had Paulina Ahokas from the Finnish Music Export Office demonstrating a remarkable grasp of factual evidence to suggest that it does.

A panel on the roles played by managers, agents, publishers, record labels and promoters had Juha Kyyrö from Fullsteam in Finland, who could have been representing any one of them.

He said he’d speak as a promoter but – in the very best interests of the discussion – he later gave the impression of a man who was continually changing roles.

The evening showcases featured 147 artists from 10 countries; 123 were from Estonia.

Tallinn Music Week was at the city’s Nordic Forum Hotel and a dozen or so nearby venues March 24-26.