by Peter Lindén
Helsinki is often ruled out when big name pop artists embark on tours of Nordic capitals. A city on the outskirts of Scandinavia, on the other side of the Baltic sea, it just isn’t worth it for many artists to make the trip out East to Finnish lands. While this exclusion from global tours has become less and less of a problem as word of lively Helsinki crowds has reached music agents, the city’s nightlife still operates in remarkable isolation from the other Nordic capitals.
Many Swedish friends of mine describe Stockholm clubbers as going out “to show off their clothes more so than to have fun.” Similarly, in Oslo clubs Moët flows freely to the rhythm of clean and crisp House tunes. Helsinki, on the other hand, takes pride in its overwhelming absence of dress codes, its simple yet outrageous drinking culture, and its club music trends which might have more in common with its neighbors to the East and South than Scandinavia. Jungle and Drum & Bass have had a significant presence in the city for years, and even the most populist student nights are now characterized by heavy basslines and snare hits on the 3rd beat at a pumping 140 beats per minute. Indeed, thanks to globally acknowledged producers such as Tes La Rok, Desto and Teeth, dubstep, whether in its disputed ‘brostep’ form or in trendier, newer strands, has found its permanent place in the city. Other key figures to look out for are the Top Billin record label, as well the Basso media empire.
It is easy to mistakenly venture into one of the big clubs found in the city’s immediate centre. Many of these are owned by the same Helsinki clubbing oligopoly and, simply put, aren’t worth your time. A local may well start off her night in a choice of chilled out, yet impeccably trendy bars – mBar in Lasipalatsi, Roba 10 on Iso Robertinkatu, Siltanen on Hämeentie, and Nolla on Pohjoinentie come to mind. While there are a lot of quality bars on offer, many Finns choose to start off their nights at an ‘etkot’ at someone’s house, drinking ‘pohjat’ (pre-drinking beer or cider, with wine increasingly a legitimate third alternative). It’s useful to think of the city in terms of districts; Kallio and Vallila will work for those looking for cheap beer and bohemian antics, while Punavuori caters more to blog house fanatics with ironic beanies. Both of these areas house some of the heavyweight staples of Helsinki clubbing, such as Kuudes Linja and Playground, respectively. Both are also former blue-collar residential neighborhoods that, thanks in part to processes of urban gentrification, have now become the focal points of Helsinki after hours. However, it’s worth your while to explore clubs in other areas as well – Bassment regularly hosts some of the finest DJs in the world, Roska features student-priced Youtube discos and has an interior crafted entirely out of recycled furniture, and Dubrovnik plays host to intense Balkan Fever parties, just to mention a few. Regular electronic festivals and events will fill up your calendar and in summertime you’re bound to come across one of the many free psytrance raves organized in forests around the capital area.
Like the city itself, Helsinki’s nightlife is a hidden gem filled with unique venues and a distinct clubbing culture. While Finns are notorious for their low-key mannerisms and quiet nature, give them a decent sound system and freely flowing alcohol and they’ll be the last to call it a night. Indeed, Helsinki nowadays offers a unique (and very gay-friendly, if that’s your thing) nightlife culture where, if need be, you can stay out for pints until 4am every night (I’m looking at you, London pubs) and, on weekends, continue the party from 5am to noon at one of several club after parties. Leave your preconceptions at home, put on your party sneakers, and give Helsinki after hours a try.
Peter Lindén is the creative director of Crossing the Baltic and he is a regular contributor in the field of culture and politics.