Musical Road Trip, Part 3 - Winter, romance and chewing tobacco in Northern Europe

, by Juuso Järviniemi

Musical Road Trip, Part 3 - Winter, romance and chewing tobacco in Northern Europe
A street musician performing in Poland. Source: Pikist.

In The New Federalist’s summer series, Juuso Järviniemi tours across Europe by entering European capitals’ names in the Spotify search box. After coming across chart-topping artists like The Chainsmokers and Imagine Dragons in Western Europe, he turns towards the north.

We have published two parts of the series so far. You can discover Mediterranean capitals here and visit Western European capitals here.

Vienna: Billy Joel – Vienna (1977)

Billy Joel’s cabaret-style classic is essential listening for those who feel guilty about having wasted precious hours, days or weeks doing nothing during the coronavirus lockdown: It’s all right, you can afford to lose a day or two / When will you realize, Vienna waits for you? In the story, Vienna serves as a reminder that there is life after youth. Those whose chosen method of time-wasting during lockdown has been Netflix may know the song from The Politician – fans will be delighted to discover that Ben Platt’s version from the show’s official soundtrack is also available on Spotify.

Bratislava: Ultradiox – Bratislava (2019)

Earlier in our series, Athens offered us a rap artist who has risen to fame thanks to TikTok. Bratislava joins the club of Europe’s TikTok capitals with a rap track from Ultradiox whose song Walked In has been trending as background music for dance videos this year – not that I knew any of this before googling. Much like the artist’s biggest hit, Bratislava stays faithful to the classic rap themes of marijuana, partying, girls and sports cars. The pentagram on the album cover made me expect metal music, but I clearly got this one wrong. Conclusion: if you want to know Slovakia better, you should start by going on TikTok more often.

Prague: Blaenavon – Prague (2013)

Itself apparently named after a small town in Wales, the Blaenavon band brings us to the Czech capital with reliably catchy British rock. Since this song was made during the members’ teenage years, the band has released three albums, two of which from last year. By the way, Muse, another rock band from the southern coast of England, has also dedicated a song to Prague. I bet Blaenavon wouldn’t mind doing a joint gig between the two bands in the city.

Berlin: RY X – Berlin (2016)

Berlin might be known for its wild rave scene and other underground culture, but the Spotify trip leaves us on the bedroom floor in a snowy city, with “silence in my blood”. The Australian indie artist RY X is left longing for the sun, and in the end flies back home. The song may be powerful in the quiet emotion and sense of emptiness it channels, but the Berlin tourism board would be unlikely to use it for their next ad campaign. If you’re in Berlin and want the song in your earphones, my recommended locations would be the city’s different memorial sites.

Copenhagen: Chris LeDoux & Toby Keith – Copenhagen (1995)

This one’s unexpected. According to the American country stars Chris LeDoux and Toby Keith, Copenhagen “cures fits, warts, freckles, coughs”, and somewhat disturbingly, even “makes conception a wonder and childbirth a pleasure”. As you might guess, we’re not talking about the Little Mermaid becoming one of those statues that magically heal tourists who touch it, but instead about an American brand of chewing tobacco. Despite the alleged positives, the first line, “If you don’t use this nasty stuff, don’t start” is the one I’d follow. Though if you just hum “Copenhagen, it makes me feel so good” in the streets of the city, most people around you probably won’t know what the song is actually about.

Oslo: Anna of the North – Oslo (2017)

The Norwegian electro-pop singer Anna Lotterlund is singing about her home city, and that shows. While the wintry Berlin sounded uninviting, Anna of the North makes Oslo on a stormy winter’s night sound joyfully magical. The lyrics tell us about young people enjoying the night outside, while the rousing electronic beats evoke snow glistening in the dark under the shining city lights. Sorry Germany, Norway wins this round.

Stockholm: One Direction – Stockholm Syndrome (2014)

Copenhagen had chewing tobacco named after it, the Swedish capital has a syndrome. One Direction delivers just another one of their trademark cheesy teenage pop songs with Stockholm Syndrome, a story about being captive in a girl’s bedroom and enjoying it. Sweden is a global giant when it comes to producing light but hollow radio-friendly pop music, so it’s only right that the country would end up getting represented by a song that is as easily forgotten as it is consumed. In all fairness, Sweden makes some great music, too – and they’re free to keep doing so as far as I’m concerned, as long as they don’t win the Eurovision Song Contest with it.

Helsinki: Dinos – Helsinki (2018)

Which takes us to the inferiority complex that Finland has historically harboured towards its successful and infuriatingly cheerful Western neighbour. Thanks to the ice hockey triumphs of the past few years, only two traditional sources of envy are left: Finland’s poor showing at Eurovision, and the fact that Finland seems colder, darker and rainier than Sweden. The Cameroonian-born French rapper Dinos hits at the latter insecurity with his song Helsinki.

Finland may have invented Nokia phones and Angry Birds, but the mere name of its capital suffices as a metaphor to describe the feeling of apathy you experience after ending a relationship that had run out of steam: “Les lumières s’éteignent en plein après-midi / L’impression d’être une ville sans soleil / Helsinki, Helsinki, Helsinki…” (Lights dim in the middle of the afternoon / Like being in a city without sun / Helsinki, Helsinki, Helsinki…)

As a Finn, I must sadly admit Dinos is not wrong.

Tallinn: Tuomas Kauhanen feat. Mikko – Pummilla Tallinnaan (2014)

The Finnish melancholy and feeling of inadequacy also gets exported to Estonia, with the Finnish rapper Tuomas Kauhanen’s hit Pummilla Tallinnaan (Stow Away to Tallinn). The narrator of the story is a poor artist who would like to take his partner to see the world, but cannot afford flights to faraway places like Las Vegas. Instead, the couple resorts to travelling to Tallinn without paying the fare. When it comes to weekend holiday destinations, Tallinn is better than its reputation, though. The charming old town is worth a visit, even if you have to pay for your travel.

Riga: Chuck Johnson – Riga Black (2017)

Going down to Latvia, we’re accompanied by the American musician Chuck Johnson’s slow pedal steel guitar sounds. My recommendation is to play Riga Black as you stand outside the National Library, between the modern triangular building and the Daugava river. Take a moment to view the Two Rainis sculpture from different angles while the music blocks off any distractions, and try to contemplate the meaning of the installation. A moment of relaxation and quiet reflection before crossing the river towards the old town and busier touristic areas!

Vilnius: Sinickis – Vilnius (2017)

This stage of the tour finishes in Lithuania, with the pop-rock singer Tomas Sinickis’s tribute to his home city. The next time a European film director makes a romantic film set in Vilnius, they should put this song on the soundtrack, to be played when the main characters walk towards the sunset hand in hand and the scene develops into a montage of their blissful first few weeks dating. Or if you plan for a visit to Lithuania with your partner, you can bring dual earphones with you and create the cinematic moment for yourselves. When you do, post a comment to share how it went!

In the fourth part of the series, we will continue towards Central Europe and the Balkans. Before that, tell us which of today’s tracks was your favourite by writing a comment on our Facebook page or tagging us on Twitter!

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