A little background history first: from 1973 to 1991 a festival called Kuusrock was held in Kuusisaari, Oulu. The festival was one of the most important ones of its' era, and when it went under, the rock fans of northern Finland suffered a severe blow. Finally in 2003 a new festival called Qstock took its' first steps, and those steps were taken in the same location.
The sixth Qstock festival took place in Kuusisaari again, and we decided it was something we'd like to check out this year. Our schedule didn't allow us to attend both days, which meant that we missed seeing Manic Street Preachers and some other acts on Friday. However, on Saturday we made a full day of it, and arrived to the festival area quite early. Mira's 16-year old cousin Marika was our "local guide" and he explained that we could expect to see more people outside the festival area than inside. Apparently does usually sell out all the tickets, but it's not uncommon at all that some ticket holders never see any bands, as they prefer to hang out in the surrounding area. At two in the afternoon we bypassed hundreds of people having picnics, mostly of the liquid kind, on our way to the festival. When we popped out from the festival area for a walk some hours later, indeed there seemed to be more people outside the area than inside.
We picked up our press passes and headed to the "press centre", a place organized for us writers and photographers to rest our feet and work on our articles. This place became a bit of a haven for us, as outside it was quite warm and the sun was ruthlessly trying to burn our skin. I must send a big Thank You to the organizers for having arranged a place like this, very nice indeed. Just throw in a free meal for us journos next year and everything would be perfect! :)
STURM UND DRANG
Now, to the "biz"... the first band highlighted in our festival calender was the Finnish teen metal sensation STURM UND DRANG. Their debut album was a big success, thanks to the hits "Rising Son" and "Indian", which both recieved a lot of airplay. They are now working on the follow-up album inbetween the summer gigs and promotional work.
The frontrows of the mainstage were populated by young girls, who made a lot of squeling sounds as the band entered the stage. Their eyes were on André Linman, the band's vocalist/guitarist and the obvious "star" in the band. He seems like a natural performer, which is something that cannot be said for the other members of the band. I'm sure that they'll get better with age, but in Qstock I got the feeling that they weren't totally comfortable on stage. The obligatory headbanging, the devil's horns... all seemed a bit like learned routines, done because "that's what metal bands do". Musically the band were quite tight, so no complaints in that aspect.
The two aforementioned singles got the biggest cheers from the audience, which is no surpise I guess. The band also played a couple of covers, Judas Priest's "Breaking The Law" and Iron Maiden's "Fear Of The Dark", both quite well recieved. The latter was perhaps a bit too big a song for them, and their version was merely "ok", not a great one. The band had chosen to include a solo section to the set, which I thought was quite pointless. What the hell was that eurodance-section that was supposedly the keyboard "solo" anyway?
André Linman - vocals, guitar
Jeppe Welroos - keyboards
Calle Fahllund - drums
Alexander Ivars - guitar
Henkka Kurkiala - bass, vocals
Learning To Rock
Breaking The Law
Talking To Silence
Fear Of The Dark
The highly acclaimed LAPKO were playing right after SuD on the beachstage, and we had to go and see what the hype was all about. Apparently the band is tipped to be the next major musical export from Finland, but I didn't really warm up to them. The few songs we listened reminded me of an alternative-tinged, less progressive Rush. I didn't hate them, but they didn't leave a lasting impression either. Not my cup of tea.
Leverage were next up, on the Kooma-stage. The stage was actually a traditional Finnish dance hall, divided by a fence to keep the youngsters out of the bar area. Five minutes before the showtime the hall was still quite empty, but as soon as the band started, people rushed in and filled the place quite nicely. The negative side of this was that the damn hall soon turned into a sauna... I just hope that the stage didn't live up to its' name and no-one fell into a coma!
Even though Leverage have been gigging quite a lot during the last two years, this was the first gig of theirs we've seen, and they lived up to the expectations. Vocalist Pekka Heino oozes of positive energy, and he had the audience in the palm of his hand from the start. Some technical problems plagued the set, and the tiny stage was a bit crowded with six guys and their instruments there. Like true troopers, the boys just soldiered on and didn't let those things affect the show.
If Pekka was the MC, guitarists Tuomas Heikkinen and Torsti Spoof were his wingmen in the frontline, Tuomas providing blistering solos and Torsti adding strong background vocals to the songs. Bassist Pekka Lampinen stayed in the background, probably due to the size of the stage, while drummer Valtteri Revonkorpi and keyboard player Marko Niskala impressed with their musical abilities.
The setlist was excellent, with selected highlights from both of the band's two albums. It says something about the strength of the band's material when they can leave out such gems as "Heart Of Darkness", "Sails" and "Stranger" from the setlist! I hope that someday soon we'll get to witness a full-length set from the band, but for the time being, this set was everything we hoped it would be. Okay, the overtly red lightshow made it near impossible to get decent photos, but I guess that's something only the photographers noticed!
Pekka Heino - vocals
Tuomas Heikkinen - guitar
Torsti Spoof - guitar
Marko Niskala - keyboards
Pekka Lampinen - bass
Valtteri Revonkorpi - drums
Shadow In The Rain
Follow Down That River
After the hotter-than-hell sauna show of Leverage, we decided to take a break, especially when there weren't any interesting bands playing during the next couple of hours. We took a walk in downtown Oulu, and I have to say that the town seems like a very nice place during summertime.
Kotiteollisuus are an extremely popular band in Finland. The band's leader Jouni Hynynen has become a "media personality", thanks to his role in the TV series "Äijät" and his tendency to give controversial comments on things. Some see him as an archetypical Finnish man - heavy drinker, outspoken and not too fussy about his appearance. He might be all that, but he's also an entertaining character. Many might disagree but I think that if he only concentrated on playing and singing, the band's shows would be damn boring. At least in Oulu, his snide remarks and constant piss-taking of the other two members of the band, the crowd and most of all himself was more interesting than the monotonous one-riff songs they played.
I don't know whether I was the only one wondering why the band chose to leave out some of their biggest hits from the set, concentrating on the less memorable, heavy songs. The die-hard fans were probably happy to hear less-known songs live, but for us "common folks" the gig was saved by the fooling around and between-songs-banter.
Jouni Hynynen - vocals, guitar
Jari Sinkkonen - drums
Janne Hongisto - bass
Lots of heavy, pounding songs based on one riff. And a cover of "Musti Sotakoira", originally recorded by a Finnish punk band Kollaa Kestää. No "Helvetistä Itään" or "Minä Olen" (unless they were played as the last two songs - we were on our way to see the next band by then).
The new generation of local bands got their chance to shine on the small Rockpolis stage. We saw Oulu-based Reflexion on that stage, and were actually quite impressed with their melodic, goth-flavoured hard rock. The band aren't exactly newcomers with two albums under their belt, but this was the first time we heard of them.
Reflexion are obviously influenced by HIM and the other goth rockers of Finland, mixing moody keyboard parts with crunching guitars and melancholic vocals. They'd be easy to dismiss as another HIM copycat, but somehow they have a sound of their own too, at least to some degree. Vocalist Juha Kylmänen has a good voice and the moves of a frontman, and the other members aren't no slouches either. The band's drummer Reiska had broken his arm a few days before the gig, but his temporary replacement Olli Estola did a good job behind the kit.
If there's one thing I might question it would be the excessive use of backing tapes. All keys, backing vocals and some guitars came from the "magic box". It's somehow a bit awkward when a song kicks off with a guitar riff yet nobody moves a finger, or when a "ghost vocalist" duets with the band's vocalist. Still, the songs were good and had lots of melody and hooks, and that's the way I like 'em...
Juha Kylmänen - Vocals
Mikko Uusimaa - Bass
Olli Estola - Drums (filling in for Raymond Pohjola)
Juhani Heikka - Guitar
Ilkka Jolma - Guitar
(thanks to the members of Reflexion forum, from where I found this!)
Dancing In The Air
Weak And Tired
Dead Without You
Embrace Of Wrath
The One With No Name
1000 Nails In My Heart
As the sun went down, the athmosphere became more suitable for the dramatic sound of the headliner WITHIN TEMPTATION. I've really liked their two latest albums, and I was looking forward to seeing them live. I'm glad to say that they didn't disappoint.
Unsurprisingly, the show started with a big, dramatic intro and the guys entering the stage one by one. Sharon kept the crowd waiting for a while, only to make her grand entrance as the first vocal lines of "Jillian (I'd Give My Heart)" were due. And then it was hit after hit - "The Howling", "Stand My Ground", "What Have You Done"... I was a bit suprised that the band played their biggest hits quite early in the set, but they do have a lot of strong songs to choose from. The intensity of the show did fall a bit towards the end, when the band dug up some early material, but nevertheless the show was very good. Apart from the big hits, a highlight for me was the beautiful rendition of "Forgiven", featuring only the piano and Sharon's vocal.
Vocalist Sharon den Adel is the band's "star attraction", and it was her that the fans were mostly watching. The other members were doing their best to get their share of the attention, and while they were actively moving around, there was only one shining star on stage. I'm not saying this to belittle their role in the band, they are all great musicians, but from a visual point of view Sharon did overshadow them somewhat. It doesn't help that guitarist Robert Westerholt and bassist Jeroen van Veen look a bit alike with their bald heads... it'd be spooky if the rest of the guys would shave their heads too - It'd be like Snow White and the five bald tall guys!
One might think that this kind of dramatic gothic metal would require the lead vocalist to be a bit of a diva, a real "Ice Queen" perhaps, but Sharon didn't seem like one. She seemed geniunely happy about the response they got, and quite down-to-earth. She even bounced along in her wedding dress-like outfi with the band (and the crowd) during the mid-set "aerobics" session... kind of surreal but entertaining.
Just like Reflexion, Within Temptation had to rely on backing tapes to fill in the sound. I didn't mind the taped choirs and orchestrations, but "What Have You Done" was quite weird, as the song's co-vocalist Keith Caputo's vocals were played from a tape. Don't know about you, but for me it just looked wrong. I'm well aware that they couldn't possibly drag Caputo to each one of their shows, but maybe Sharon or one of the guys could have taken care of his lines... or even some local "temp"?
Sharon den Adel – vocals
Robert Westerholt – guitar
Ruud Jolie – guitar
Martijn Spierenburg – keyboards
Jeroen van Veen – bass
Stephen van Haestregt – drums
Jillian (I'd Give My Heart)
Stand My Ground
What Have You Done
Hand Of Sorrow
The Heart Of Everything
Our Solemn Hour
Deceiver Of Fools
All in all, we enjoyed our time at Qstock. The festival was well-organized, the location was nice and even the weather was favourable. If the line-up of 2009 contains enough interesting bands, we'll try to make it there again.
Review by Kimmo Toivonen
Photos by Mira Suutari-Toivonen, additional photography by Kimmo Toivonen
4 August 2008
Festival website: www.qstock.org