When Finnish band Quintessence released their album ‘Talk Less Listen More’ in 2002 it broke the borders of the often forgotten country Finland, and subsequently gave birth to Finnish soul. It awoke Soul connoisseurs and in its wake arose the Soul singer Tuomo, who continues to produce quality music although he’s now moved away from his original soul sound.
However, it would take a further 12 years before the next generation of soul artists would decide to express themselves through soul music, and once again remind us that the ‘finns’ have got soul.
In the back streets of Helsinki, at a small venue called Semifinal, we were about to witness the trio of bands at the forefront of the rebirth.
The new Finnish Soul collective.
Oaklyn, Dolla Lova & The Man.
UK DJ Rich Chocolate (Soulvation Universoulove) from TropicalFM had made the journey especially to see Dolla Lova.
“Oh yeah, without a shadow of a doubt Dolla Lova’s album Fall for You was THE Album for 2013,’
It was Rich who was the first DJ to play Dolla Lova in the UK, which ultimately led to them reaching #16 in the UK soul charts. He continued ‘I’ve also heard that Sweet Soul Records in Japan are ordering reprints of their CD, having sold 300 in three months!’
Fall for You was indeed a stunning debut that combined brilliant lyrical hooks and soulful grooves that flowed throughout the complete album. Marked as Highly Recommended by us, we were keen to see if Dolla Lova, led by lead singer Heini Ikonen, could replicate this same brilliance onstage.
Tonight sees the full Dolla Lova band onstage. Eliel Vitala (drums), Tatu Santaniemi (bass), Pasi Jääskeläien (guitar), Iimari Aitoaho (the forever young keyboard pianist), complete with backing vocals by the bubbly Jepa Lambert and Tuuli Ikonen.
Interestingly enough, tonight’s triple-bill line up began with Dolla Lova, followed by Oaklyn and finishing with a debut performance by The Man.
And what a start!
Just like Dolla Lovas plain red album cover, Heini was equally understated, dressed in a loose shirt, leggings, and trainers. The young blonde Finnish singer bounced and expressed every track with full her heart, soul and devotion. Outstanding!
Somehow, you get the feeling that Dolla Lova don’t realize just how good they are!
Lovers of the album like myself know every word and even from the opening bars of ‘Hopeless Dreamer’, it feels like everyone in the room does too as each song is delivered with an intense passion, complete with a truly charismatic smile. It wasn’t until later that evening that I heard she’d cried during the performance too.
For me, Semifinal is a perfect venue. Square in shape, the dark wall features the main stage at the front, and a bar at the back. With a capacity of around 150 persons, the layout means that only the stage is the focus. The sound was tight, but it could have had a touch of more bass. As I edge around with the camera the place really begins to fill up and tonight’s crowd is best described as hipsters. Coolly dressed but also not overstated.
The new Finnish soul wave all started with Oaklyn. When Sami Tammela (Oaklyn, Dolla Lova and The Man) and Linda Ilves unveiled their brilliant debut album, Chasing the Sun, its balanced, soulful and smooth groove drew high praise internationally, and it was no surprise to see them at the Scandinavian Soul Festival back in 2013.
Tonight the duo performed without a band, and Linda didn’t let the tempo drop. Linda is one of Finland’s top dancers and while she grooved bare-foot on stage many of her fellow dancers from the Cleva Crew bust some funky shapes too. In some ways it was a shame they weren’t on stage with her, as they were all dressed to impress.
Oaklyn’s set included new and remixed tracks like Hold On (see video below) with another track in particular proving truly irresistibly as you move your hips to Linda’s commands. Full credit to Linda as it was a tough ask for the duo to follow the full band set-up of Dolla Lova, but when Linda asked people to go down in their knees and the room followed it was clear she had full control of the audience.
And then came The Man.
The man is Ilmo Ylinärä and he is, quite simply… the man.
No other name would be right even if it isn’t Googles best keyword title.
Lead singer Ilmo is physically a quite muscular man, with an open shirt revealing a tattooed chest and a silver medallion. As he came on stage you’d think he was at the wrong venue, on the wrong night – but you’d be so mistaken.
Never judge a book by its cover.
Dolla Lovas’ plain album cover had already told us that, and the rock motive adorning the cover of The Mans EP should have reminded us of that fact too.
The Man is a soul man who rocks!
From soulful melodies with Prince type vocals to deeper rock notes, The Man goes between them all before ramping it up with talented Ben Rodgers and Sami Tammela on guitar, and even Heini returning amongst the trio of backing singers. There’s some similarity to Danish singer Lukas Graham, but for me The Man has more rock and well… more soul!
He did almost start to lose me though in one slightly disjointed track with a heavy rock chorus however, mid-set he took the tempo down to sing a soulful solo before powering it up again with the brilliant track Rhythm.
The Man is a MUST SEE LIVE performer. He exudes an air of arrogant macho feel, with a sexy soul groove, but it’s not crass or sexist. This is really something fun and exciting! A superb DEBUT performance.
‘He Smashed it’ Rich Chocolate said afterwards. ‘Totally smashed it!’
I for one couldn’t agree more.
There is simply no excuse not to listen to the soul that Finland is currently producing. This new generation of grooves has something for everyone (not forgetting the band Humus!), and I’m seriously, seriously loving it all.
Photos: Sandra Stadelmann & Andy Collins