Before meeting Junk Riot I didn’t know much about them. I found out that they had won the competition Noortebänd in 2009.The first thing that the local media emphasizes about the group is that they are Russians making indie music which is rare in Estonia. Vadim (vox, guitar), Viktor (guitar), Julian (bass) and Kirill (drums) confirm the fact and say that usually the local Russian music scene is mostly rap or metal and they certainly do not fit into either of these categories. For a while this didn’t stop them from performing together with some Russian metal acts but they soon realized that a more welcoming audience might wait for them on the other side of the “language barrier“.
Actually there is no barrier, all the members of the band speak good Estonian, which is surprising as none of them went to an Estonian school. I am not able to joke around in Russian but Junk Riot know how to make an Estonian girl laugh. For example they tell me how misfortune is always haunting them: when their first video came out, Estonian MTV went bankrupt and the video was shown only once, there were also rumours that Noortebänd will be cancelled. Will Tallinn Music Week be next? I tell them that probably it doesn’t have anything to do with Junk Riot but with the recession; still the idea of endless bad luck is amusing and what I like the most is Junk Riot’s self-irony.
And ambition. Kirill says that of course they would like to give a concert at Wembley Stadium. And that every Estonian musician who claims that he is not interested in breaking out, is lying. But again, Junk Riot is not embarrassed to tell me how the first and so far the only gig that they have had abroad was a huge failure. It was Liverpool, in November so it was cold outside, there was only a very small number of people watching them although the sound-guy later said that he had enjoyed the show and added them as friends on Myspace… Just after Junk Riot had finished, people started gathering, the whole thing was probably just badly organized but I cannot sense any bitterness in their voice, on the contrary, the whole farce now seems to be very funny. What happens in Liverpool stays in Liverpool? I tell them that it is kind of significant that they happened to give a concert there, in a city that has an important role to play in the history of rock music and the chaps confirm that they did go to see one of the five thousand Beatles tribute bands and overall it was a fun trip. I guess this is the right attitude to have and the next time Junk Riot goes to Britain, Britain better watch out!
This rock outfit has had its ups and downs. For example, after the misfortunes in the UK, for a while Junk Riot didn’t know what to do next, the disappointment was great and I guess it must be very hard to maintain a high level of motivation all the time. And find time to get together, rehearse, when everyone has other duties. Vadim is the person who has taken upon his shoulders the hard job of being a bandleader, Kirill says with a very funny face that Vadim is their dictator and tyrant and that sometimes Vadim calls him at 10AM on a Sunday morning asking whether they should meet up later for practice. And that they have conflicts all the time, but still the band has managed to continue on and it doesn’t surprise me as I can feel that all the members of the band have a good sense of humour and making music is their priority.
Vadim, Julian, Viktor and Kirill haven’t always known each other. Viktor and Kirill were working together when Viktor saw an ad in the Internet posted by Vadim. Vadim was looking for people to form a rock group with and somehow it happened that the four guys found each other. Which is kind of surprising because I’ve always thought that it is impossible to find the right people through an ad. But probably this doesn’t apply to M(musicians) seeking M(musicians), I don’t know. Anyway, Viktor came from Tartu to Tallinn to study English philology but quit because he found it boring, Kirill is actually a cook, Julian and Vadim have studied at the Tallinn University of Technology. Passion for music somehow managed to bring them together and Junk Riot has been active for the last three years.
Junk Riot has been called an “Integration band” the band’s attitude towards this description is ambivalent. Maybe it would be more adequate if they sang in Estonian but this is not the case. The term was coined by Estonian music legend Riho Baumann who described Junk Riot as “geniuses from Lasnamäe“. The guys laugh and say that they agree with the genius-part but only Viktor has lived in Lasnamäe and I guess this is another example of Junk Riot as a group that actually breaks the cliches we tend to have when it comes to the local Russian community or Russian music. All Russians don’t come from Lasnamäe and don’t do metal. Kirill tells me that someone (who also thought that they must originate from a 9-storey high block building located in some crappy residental area) described Junk Riot as ghetto rock and we try to figure out what it might mean.
The band has been compared to the Arctic Monkeys but that’s not definitely all there is to say about their music. Junk Riot’s trademark are the high-pitched vocals and heavy usage of pitch-shifting/delay effects on guitar. All their tracks sound great even on Myspace which is a compliment because usually the stuff you upload there sounds weirdly compressed and lo-fi… I ask the band why they don’t have any power ballads to win the hearts of the girls, the guys just laugh and tell me that they want to do music you could dance and jump to. Fair enough. To my great surprise Junk Riot is surprised when I tell them that I actually like the last track on their Myspace called “The Choo Choo Song“ that combines train sounds and guitars, sounding rather experimental and noisy. Kirill tells me that this was just a joke or an experiment and that it is much more difficult to do normal tracks.
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I don’t know which is more difficult but I am rather sure that Junk Riot’s sound will evolve over the years and soon we won’t have to say that they sound like this or that but maybe comment on another emerging band and claim that they sound like Junk Riot…
I very much enjoy Vadim’s vocals but when I quoted what internet commentators had to say about that, all the guys burst out laughing. What did the commentators say then? That Vadim is a fag, of course. But Kirill concludes that probably they say something like this, something negative about everyone and everything and this is certainly true. 50 per cent of the anonymous opinion leaders haven’t probably listened to their music but when an article about Junk Riot was titled “We don’t know if anyone would even buy our record“ I would have said yes. Junk Riot says they are not ready for an album yet because they are perfectionists and this is rare in Estonia – a promising band usually gets a record deal very quickly and then out comes the album that is born more out of hype than inner drive and need. Junk Riot have released an EP instead and I am sure that when the album finally comes it will be an important event on the local rock music scene.
To return to the concept of the “Integration band“ I would just like to say that one thing is for sure: any kind of integration politics is nothing compared to music that brings together different communities. All in all, integration has never sounded so great and Junk Riot is not about riotting in the streets and smashing windows but rather about an energetic sound and a riot in your ears.
Maria is a writer based in Tallinn, Estonia. Her background is in art history but prefers Mutant Discos to museums and sees herself in the space between art and music culture. In 2008 Maria made her debut as a lecturer in the Estonian Academy of Arts.