Fear & Loathing in Ostrobothnia: A Savage Journey to the Heart of Punk/HC Festivities

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March 28th 2016
Published: March 28th 2016
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Our crusted and dusty delegation visited Oulu last summer to rock out with our c*cks out and meet up with local DIY activists and event organisers. This is roughly what happened according to my carefully crafted notes and the one with the hat 's recollections.

Hässäkkäpäivät , - or Hassle Days in English - is a small-scale hardcore/punk rock festival that took place for the 8th time in 2015. Several local arts & culture organisations (Paskakaupunni ry, Tilaa Kulttuurille and Rotos) are behind the festival and based year round at the same spot putting up smaller gigs and alternative events and what not. On Sunday, after the two-day punk shenanigans, we discovered more on all this and what happens at Tukikohta on the 363 days when Hässäkkäpäivät isn't happening. But let us begin from the starting point of this road trip.

None of us are that familiar with Oulu prior to our journey. Self-appointed smartphone master of our group takes care of maps and such necessary details. Information superhighway, rescuer of all humanity, provides us with tidbits and general knowledge facts on our destination. Oulu is the oldest city in Northern Finland and the fifth most populous city of the whole country plus the capital of northern Scandinavia. Somehow I thought it'd be a backwards village in the middle of nowhere, established to serve as a grey Soviet-esque place to live for the unfortunate - factories and fog everywhere. This imagery is based on first-hand accounts and artistic impressions of other people so I'm not entirely the prejudiced and ignorant snob I seem to be. I just haven seen the city myself, not until now. The name of the city derives from Sami language and it means floodwater, thaw or melted snow. Quite interesting and quite apparent why. Water dominates the landscape everywhere in this seaside town. A river runs through and the rapids are breath-taking. There are islands and idyllic beaches between the shore and the high seas. We make the most out of what little time we have here and wander around the protected old town and admire the wooden, picturesque houses built at the turn of the 20th century. By the market square and the sea we find shacks that used to serve fishermen in one form or another. These beautiful buildings from days of yonder are now mainly cafés and boutiques. We sit down and indulge in traditional Karelia pies, doughnuts and oven-baked pancake. Shame we are not staying longer as there is a lot to explore and history to take in. This city that up until now was a one horse town of no real character in my head suddenly turns out to be full of places of interest, particularly if you're obsessed in darker side of historical events. The Greater Wrath is a horrendous genocide that happened in the beginning of 18th Century here and in the county of Ostrobothnia. Soldiers of Russian Empire gathered Finnish children who were then transported away from their families to Vyborg. Brutalities in Oulu included a bloodbath in Hailuoto, which is an island in Gulf of Bothnia. More than 800 people, refugees on their way to neighbouring Sweden, were slaughtered and everything on the island burnt down. Russian Cossacks showed no mercy. This night of execution was just one in the horrendous chain of events. Next time I come I'll have time to get absorbed thoroughly and visit islands. Right now we have a fine collection of artists from a subversive musical genre commenting on the political, social and economic issues and injustices of the present day.

The one with the hat really wanted to arrive by the time Räjäyttäjät begins. We're not too late: they are still playing on the outdoor stage when we get to the festival area. J. Nousiainen's guitar solos soothe our lonely souls and cold lager - finally - makes the worries go away. Alcohol is being served in a fenced and covered beer garden as required by law. You can't just go wandering anywhere with your pint, for Jesus's sake. Holy heavens, you might get lost and drunk and in a worst-case scenario you'll end up having fun. We feel safe in this current controlled climate. You can see the stage from here, which makes us slightly anxious. I wonder if the authorities have considered this through. We may have missed most of the first band but the night is still young and the weekend just started. We move indoors to Tukikohta's year round facilities. This building reminds me of a military base, barrack of some sorts and an empty aircraft workshop. There's more than meets the eye, we learn on Sunday. Right now we are in a fairly small room, decorated in your usual underground venue way - murals, graffiti and makeshift furniture. Bonehunter plays speed/trash metal and has a blast on stage. There are denim vests and buffy hair everywhere. You almost suffocate because of the hairspray aroma. Can't complain of the atmosphere amongst the audience, though. However, we escape. It is still raining outside as it will up until Sunday afternoon when we go back home. Crowds shove themselves into the beer garden. We drink Jägermeister to drown our sorrows . Down goes the fairly cheap lager as well and we become intoxicated which is solely our fault. Suicidas from Spain/Austria gets on stage and this is the main attraction for the better part of us. We've been promised melodic punk rock with Spanish lyrics and they deliver. M.O.R.A. indoors convinces only half of us. Differing opinions are never too far from sudden, violent outbursts. Nevertheless, our delegation is stronger than that. United we stand, divided we fall.

Our smartphone master (still self-appointed) has done extensive research on karaoke bars well in advance and found a karaoke bar that is open until four o’clock in the morning. That’s were we are headed. Our arduous quest begins and soon things start going wrong. Our downfall is the largest park known to humanity, which happens to be quite beautiful as well. It’s not all doom and gloom. Unfortunately afterwards it doesn’t exist on any maps of Oulu so we can never return. We do have pictures, though. Once we manage to get ourselves out of the said magical fairy-tale park we end up in the heaving night-life district. This part of town is second to only Las Vegas, Nevada when it comes to bright lights and deranged people. We step into a karaoke bar that isn’t the one we had in mind and certainly not our cup of tea. This is a night club with pumping electronic dance music straight off the charts. Hell, there’s no chance of turning back now. We steal everything in sight - bar equipment, mainly, not people’s personal possessions.

We return to our hotel. We got a suite for five people for 80 euros a night. It’s clean, it’s convenient and located right next to the railway station. Forenom Aparthotel also has strangely translated guidelines plastered on walls. Beware of the silent time at night.

Morning comes but death keeps us waiting for itself. Rain has ceased at least for the afternoon. We get breakfast items and a little side dish of nostalgia from a local grocery store, or kyläkauppa. Once slightly recuperated, we head to the old town for a burger and a microbrewery ale. This perfect combination is served at Kauppuri 5 . Craft ale selection leaves nothing to desire for but we wonder why there isn’t any mayonnaise in the vegan burger as there are vegan mayos and sauces available absolutely anywhere from Manhattan to Borneo jungle. Veggie burgers are delicious, though.

We approach Välivainio, the festival area and sweet, sweet ska sounds greet us. Not all of us are too keen on ska so we compromise and sit outside the gates finishing our beers until hardcore and punk sounds fill the air once again. Local people and the festival goers here are easier to approach than strangers in our ends. Regional differences are not too far off from UK if we make crude generalisations. Northern people are more easy going and sociable: not that southerners can’t be talkative and warm-hearted. Stereotyping aside, atmosphere is great. People’s attires consist of studded leather jackets and pins attached to lapels; denim vests with million patches sewed on; band T-shirts cut and transformed into back patches; band T-shirts in their original form and purpose; boots and Converse All Stars; dreadlocks in the back of the head and long, messy hair. As with any subculture, styles and looks happen to form. Of course one of the purposes of distinct, uniform styles is to be able to recognise like-minded and more importantly to create a sense of identity and belonging. This sense of community is evident here. Cassette tapes exchange owners and memories of past gigs are being shared. Mellow milieu takes over our minds and our sense of reality is vanishing. Is there life outside this festival area? Do we have homes? Will we go back there? Hero Dishonest begins to play and mosh pit begins. The one with the ponytail and the one with the hat enter. Other one invents a new dance style called Oulu shuffle and throws up. The other hurts his ankle. Nobody knows where all the cabs are in this town. For future reference, the taxi number is +358 600 30081.

And all of a sudden it’s Sunday.

As I mentioned we’ve been invited to meet up with northern event organisers and general work force in the subculture field. We arrive to the festival area. The public is gone. It’s quiet everywhere. Few people with bin bags are getting rid of rubbish and evidence. Back to normal life, I suppose. City of Oulu rents this space to Rotos (Return of the Oulu Sound), Tilaa Kulttuurille (Space for Culture) and Kulttuuriyhdistys Paskakaupunni . We find out that the rent is dirt cheap and all the details sound too good to be true. It feels shocking coming from a city where authorities are deliberately worsening conditions for subculture and DIY scene to function. Ironically running down small-scale events and projects began in 2011 when Turku was the European Capital of Culture. Strange. Just recently our beloved home town decided to tear down an old bicycle factory to make room for expensive, modern apartment buildings. This means a loss of rehearsal spaces for many bands. A charity organisation lost its second-hand shop that was an institution in its own right. Two underground event spaces had to close down.

But this is not the case in Oulu and that makes us happy. Here in this cultural base camp many activists work side by side. Here you can pop in for a gig or plant flowers in the guerilla garden and play a round of table football while at it. Indoors there’s also rehearsal space for bands and office cubes for the organisations to do their admin in. There’s plenty of room to accommodate bands from abroad or other parts of Finland. We discuss future prospects of inviting northern bands to southern Finland and vice versa as well as sorting out travel and accommodation and such necessary details together. Distances here are bigger and in most cases it’s senseless to tour anywhere too far from home unless you’re prepared to risk your personal finances. Sharing is caring and looking after one another is mega caring.

We also find common ground when it comes to dealing with authorities and strict laws. This is a world where money makes everything possible. Luckily money is not the only currency in our little world. We get gifts and hand out our contact details, zines and brochures.

Back in the car and the return journey south begins. We wonder why there isn’t a similar centre or concentration of grass roots culture activists. There is co-operation, of course, but everyone more or less focuses on what they’re doing and that’s as far as it goes. Should we come together and attack the obstacles armed an angry pack of wolverines? Maybe not. Maybe a state of Oulu Zen would simply do: this is what we have and let us do our best. Driving down the west coast - the scenic route - soothes our hungover bodies and suffering souls. Maybe it’s the high seas as far as the eye can see that does the trick.


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