In the Spotlight

Cultural archetypes 101

The Scenes

© Aki Roukala

A band plays rock music and comes from Oulu. This is not by any stretch of the imagination a unique situation for a group of young men to find themselves in. One of rock’s archetypal urban environs is the cold and dark city where the weather and lack of external stimuli drive kids into starting bands and creating a scene.

Or The Scenes.

So there we have it − archetype number one. There’s more to come.

The Scenes is a band comprised of young men and as such they have opinions. They talk about how most bands are posing, and being dishonest to themselves and their audience. They talk about how they were in a bar and realised that rock is dead. They talk about their own honesty and how they strive for abandon, absolution and transcendence.

Wait a minute… They talk like a gang, like it’s them against the world. 

Remember when being in a band was, probably for a very short period of time, an act of social transgression? It was long enough for an archetype to take. Lately, these sorts of bands have been thin on the ground. People have projects. They work on their careers as musicians.

It’s archetype number two – the band as a gang.

They also talk about hysteria and how they are influenced by the visual arts, movies and literature. Their singer Konsta Koivisto is a painter and guitarist Miki Liukkonen an award-winning poet and author.

Which brings us to yet another cultural archetype.

Everyone loves a young poet, no matter what the genre. For centuries now, we’ve collectively lavished inordinate amounts of attention on this archetype. Writers like Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud were the rock stars of their day and emanated an intoxicating and paradoxical sense of both virility and doom.

Rimbaud was done with writing by the time he was 20 and embarked on a new career as a gunrunner in Ethiopia. Verlaine spent his last years addicted to drugs and alcohol, living in slums and public hospitals. Baudelaire, who was an influence on both, died broke and sick at the age of 46.

Not everyone dies young or broke.

Approximately one hundred years later we had Jim Carroll – a teenage poet, a high-school basketball player, 13-year old heroin addict and a real rock star, who was eventually played by Leonardo DiCaprio in a movie based on his autobiographical novel The Basketball Diaries. He died aged 60, at his desk, while working.

In an increasingly careerist and conservative sphere of Finnish rock music and literature, the very vocal Liukkonen is a real breath of fresh air. Based on interviews, he drinks too much. Based on interviews, his behaviour verges on the obsessive-compulsive. Based on interviews, I’d say he has no filters and is obviously not afraid to say things just to see what happens.

Even accounting for the fact that he, too, will age, it’s very hard to imagine him as a certain kind of authoritative quote machine on things concerning the world at large that many Finnish male authors seem to become.

As is customary, and probably true, Miki says that his writing and music feed off each other.

Did you notice how long it’s taken me to get to the actual music the band makes? I don’t know about you, but to me the fact that band offers a platform for talking about many things besides the music they make is a good sign.

The Scenes recently released their second album and it’s called Beige. The music is anything but.

The Scenes is what in olden times might have been called art rock.

The idea and attitude would work in the 1970s just as it does in the 2010s, but a lot of sounds have flowed under the bridge since then, so the brew The Scenes comes up with draws from hardcore punk, noiserock, that first wave of emo from the Washington DC area (before the word became a curse), big 1980s music...

The band’s first album hinted at an ability to take their noisier impulses and offset them with aggressive hooks, but they really come into their own on Beige. For every gnarled slab of noise, there’s an emotionally cathartic and Brobdingnagian chorus that could, given the right circumstances and a lot of luck, have the multitudes in a stadium singing their heads off in unison. A squall of feedback might be followed by a melody that could hold its own on a Simple Minds record from the mid-1980s.

Leonard Cohen once said: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

So there’s a crack in everything The Scenes do: a crack in the noise that lets the melodies in, a crack in the melancholy that lets you feel a glimmer of uplifting hope, a crack in the outsider stance that lets you relate to them…

There’s a crack in the artistic abandon of The Scenes, too. When Miki Liukkonen was asked by Soundi, a Finnish music magazine, why they sing in English even though he is an award-winning writer in his native Finnish, the answer was: “We want to make it abroad. It has been our ambition from the very start.”

The Scenes are coming for you.

Arttu Tolonen lives in Kallio, just bought a baglama saz and is prone to poetic outbursts verging on the embarrassing. 

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