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Splendid Isolationists

Olimpia Splendid [1] transcend Finland’s tight-knit free folk scene with giddy punk recklessness. This year they released their debut album and with their 2014 video clip «Jukka-Pekka» they are part of the current Norient book and exhibition Seismographic Sounds [2].

Olimpia Splendid (left to right): Katri Sipiläinen, Jonna Karanka and Heta Bilaletdin
(Foto: Antti Ahonen [3], out of a series for «Seismographic Sounds»)

The Fonal Records [4] family tree has always prided itself on insularity. The line-ups of its groups overlap so frequently that, to an outsider, the label can seem like a series of masks hiding the same faces. Stylistically, too, such a longstanding Finnish-centric agenda can foster a level of intimacy verging on the incestuous. But Heta Bilaletdin, singer and second guitarist for garage trio Olimpia Splendid, attributes this quality to her country itself: «Finland is so small. Almost all people interested in experimental music know each other and the gap between scenes is not wide: free jazz people hang around with punk people, guys who make electronic music start bands with stoner rockers and influences go back and forth.»

In Olimpia Splendid’s case, these influences seem as much social as aesthetic. Bassist Katri Sipiläinen’s background is in visual art, aside from moonlighting in junk-folk ensemble Avarus. Bilaletdin has been active in music since high school, in squat-rocking performance art/hardcore troupes as well as short-lived Improv unit Pasilian Savut. Multi-instrumentalist Jonna Karanka has the most fully realised solo project, Kuupuu [5]; her records are dreamy soups of loops, toys and deconstructed folk. What’s striking about Olimpia Splendid’s stark, wiry sound is how little it relates to anything else they’ve had a hand in before. The break was apparently unintentional.

«There wasn’t any agenda [as to what] we wanted to sound like», Karanka states. When pressed to mutual inspirations, she quips, «Me and Heta are said to have Joy Division haircuts. And me and Katri both like [New Zealand group] Dadamah a lot.» Neither group is a useful reference point – aside from a certain casual minimalism – so one can only attribute their alchemy to a renegade streak nurtured by the unique conditions of their partnership.

Olimpia Splendid: Nuttu Nurin (Fonal Records, Finland 2013)

Despite playing together off and on for roughly five years, Olimpia Splendid’s first official release (2013) is a three-song 7” that lasts all of 12 minutes [editors note: this year they released their self titled debut album]. Entitled Nuttu Nurin (Jacket Inside Out), the EP strains post-punk, the 1960s surf nuggets, angular no Wave and mangled guitar through a filter of Finnish bedroom anarchy, birthing a sound so ludicrously punk it verges on parody. Bilaletdin’s vocals range from feral coos to crusty screams. The only percussion is a pitiful Casio preset over which Sipiläinen lays down sluggish, off-kilter basslines borrowed from forgotten Motor City 45s. The twin guitar attack is stereo panned with scratchy plucking on the right channel and surfy twangs on the left. Bilaletdin says simply that their songs emerge from «long concentrated hypnotic jams» and that «the structure usually stays very open».

Nevertheless, unlike so many of Olimpia Splendid’s compatriots and labelmates, theirs is not improvised music. These songs may have a ungainly wobble, but they are designed as such, and the seesawing sensation provides a giddy rush, like sledging down a muddy hillside in the rain. In a world of overly conceived music, such impulsive pleasures can be rare commodities. Bilaletdin speaks of the creative lessons gleaned from her more formless projects, the thrill of «the danger when music is extremely on the edge and near collapsing all the time» – though she could just as easily be referring to her new group.

This article originally appeared in The Wire [6] 356 October 2013.

Olimpia Splendid (Foto: Antti Ahonen)

Read More on Norient

> Antti Ahonen: «Lonely Helsinki» [7]
> Giacomo Bottà: «The One-Dimensional Cashier» [8]
> Jonna Karanka & Katri Sipiläinen: «Fighting Unity through Sound» [9]
> Antti-Ville Kärjä: «Finland ‹Lo›, and ‹Fi›» [10]