Every year, bit by bit, the world’s been getting smaller. Conversely, festival culture is no longer confined to the West, as world-class events emerge across the globe on what feels like a daily basis. Northern Africa, South Asia, Eastern Europe – nowhere is off limits anymore.  Enter Tallinn Music Week, an eclectic offering of Estonia’s very best in all shapes and forms.

Helen Sildna, founder of the festival – which is now in its eighth year – describes TMW as “a vibrant, music-focused citywide festival and an innovation-driven conference.” Sildna goes on to clarify that despite the name, Tallinn Music Week features a multilayered selection of arts, design, food, city spaces and innovation to complement its wide selection of music.

Straddling Northern and Eastern Europe, Tallinn has already secured a reputation as a global city with its own unique charm. The otherwise inhospitable tundra it is nestled in is mollified by its coastal location, establishing it as a sort of oasis of northeastern Europe. Its historic landmarks are some of the best-preserved in the world, as per its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s not too difficult to fathom, then, that Tallinn Music Week has been a cultural fixture for almost a decade.

“It feels like the whole city becomes an exciting playground for one long weekend,” Sildna explains, describing a wealth of experiences all within walking distance. “We don’t design our programming around headliners – it’s a free-flowing expedition of discovering new things. One moment you could be listening to a contemporary composer in a medieval church; the next you could end up at an underground rave or a sweaty hip-hop night.”

Tallinn Music Week takes full advantage of its storied location, too, transforming deserted buildings or emptier parts of town into sights to see thorough art projects and installations. Not to mention the veritable cultural tapestry of neighborhoods and locales that has put Tallinn on the map.

“There’s the bohemian Kalamaja district, with gorgeous well-preserved wooden architecture and lots of cool bars. There’s Kadriorg – a beautiful park area with a castle built during the early 18th century as well as our presidential palace and the Kumu art museum. A short uphill walk from there takes you to Lasnamäe, which is a big block of Soviet houses with lots of greenery, basement bars and graffiti…” And this is all within walking distance.

Last year’s iteration of TMW featured a DJ set from former Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who notoriously supported Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot when they were imprisoned in 2013. This year, incumbent president Kersti Kaljulaid will be opening up the Tallinn Music Week conference. What other music and arts festival invokes that level of engagement from government? It’s a microcosm of the cultural climate that has kept this festival running for so long, not to mention growing exponentially. Starting in 2009 with 67 local bands and 4000 attendees, 2017 is slated to be the biggest year yet – featuring 237 artists from 33 countries with over 35 000 people attending.

Sildna has fought hard to keep the festival growing every year; the guerilla rock ’n roll attitude that fuelled its birth still permeates it to this day, although 2017’s iteration is hallmarked by a little more structure and organization. “For the first seven years the festival was mainly run by volunteers and freelancers, but this year we have a core team of seven people working annually. As the date draws closer the team grows much bigger, up to several hundred including volunteers. It’s a huge endeavor for many like-minded people.”

And all that hard work continues to pay off. “The atmosphere of bringing together the rock scene, the classical music scene, the designers, innovators, scientists, entrepreneurs and policymakers – it’s a unique experience and vibe. We believe that bringing different people together is what creates innovation and change,” Sildna concludes. 

“Come over. It’s fun, and it has meaning.”

Tallinn Music Week runs from 27 March to 2 April 2017. For details, lineup, conferences and events, check out www.tmw.ee


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