Estonia is no exception in the spread of festivals throughout the summer season in Europe. Whilst Estonia boasts other more mainstream festivals, The Kukemuru Ambient Festival is one of the more interesting, and has been taking place since 2013 in different locations, always outdoors.
This year it was in a village called Laupa, in the Järva County in central Estonia at the Laupa Manor and its surroundings. It’s a lovely neo-Baroque building considered one of the most beautiful manors in Estonia. There were 2 stages prepared, but the event happened entirely in the main hall. Also, there was a designated camping area outside, next to a chill out space with proper decorations and some bars where in addition to draft beer and cider you could get some veggie delights. The energy from the forrest nearby and the flow of the Pärnu River being next to the event acted as the perfect scenario for the festival experience. The event had 10 performances between both days, 4 on Friday and 6 on Saturday.
Woldemare started the festival with his live performance that had the sampled sounds of a piano as its main theme, but also featured him playing the guitar with a bow. An introspective and looped session that worked perfect to initiate the journey. The second artist Kirikmäe turned into our first pick of the day with his mostly improvised session featuring different sound samples, including one that was taken live before the set. Someone from the audience had a stuffed animal toy with a bell, and Kaido Kirikmäe decided that he could start off from that sound, so he basically recorded it, and went through a session without presets that was an experimental and refreshing delight for our ears.
Exit Safe Mode presented his new EP entitled Immerse with a live session that also let us know that he comes from a techno background, not because of any beats in particular, but because of his in-detail bass patterns. A constant contrast between shades that could be felt on the chest. The main dish of the evening was the closing set of Icelandic reference Yagya, well known for his releases on Sending Orbs. As he’s working on a new piece, mastered by Rafael Anton Irisarri, he delivered a profound session that reminded us a lot of GAS finest moments, without being a copy of it. His ambient side has a pulsating and profound beat that served as a background for ethereal melodies and hints of processed vocals to float around. The longest performance on Friday, he played almost an hour and a half. After the ovation that he got, he stepped back on stage to do an encore. Sublime.
Lauri-Dag Tüür started the day and became our first pick from Saturday. His session featured him playing the guitar and it was an oneiric narrative consisting of varied elements that formed a wide musical landscape. Coming from a family of musicians, he proved having enough roots to grow himself as a distinctive reference in the local scene. Finnish Juha-Matti Rautiainen was our main dish from Saturday, with his distinctive performance orbiting around himself exploring all the possibilities of his bass guitar. With several pedals and effects, he moved around a more dronish side of the musical spectrum, with superb results. This session really blew our ears out, with harmonic elements dissociating ourselves and working on our own perception of sound, going through very emotional passages, and ending in an almost non-human sonic adventure. It was a standing ovation for us.
The Swedish-Finnish musician Marja Ahti provided a field recording dissection that also featured percussive elements such as bells performed live on stage, and delivered an in-detail ride of many distinctive sonic elements. Reminding us of Taylor Deupreé at times, or works on the prestigious label Touch, she also became a gem that night. Local artist Galaktlan played his own compositions moving around from a different approach than the rest, it was the first distinctive beat that we heard at the festival, and luckily it was the one that our taste enjoys more. His background seems to be somewhere closer to the so-called IDM genre, but also acid, downtempo and perhaps a 90s vibe. Totally enjoyable. Argo Vals was probably the show that generated the biggest hype on the event, due to his successful present. The musician performed his session accompanied by light effects by Oliver Kulpsoo, and it was the only session with visuals held at the festival. Perhaps closer to the song format, he went on a journey with his guitar, drum machines and pedals that was loaded with anxiety and imagination. UK’s duo JayetAl closed the festival with their powerful and intense session of live electronics + drums, with an approach that would remind us of something a bit more indie, but perhaps more intense and less mellow. It was a good way of saying goodbye to a 2-day journey full of introspection. A good way to wake up.
Kukemuru Ambient 2018 proved that the experimental scene in the Baltics is very active, and that very good and fruitful events can still happen with enough amount of dedication and effort. All details were very well taken care of, and they provided the perfect environment for these type of sounds to be heard, and the best context (outdoors, next to the forest, by the river) for the body and mind to rest. Nothing like listening to mellow tunes from Brian Eno or Boards Of Canada while chilling under the trees, preparing for another session of live electronics going to happen in the next few minutes. While Estonia is growing and their mainstream festivals are reaching new levels, Kukemuru is also following their steps but not getting away from their main focus, which in their own words is “ambient culture, in a natural environment and thereby to create organic coherence between modern culture and nature.”