Olimpia Splendid (left to right): Jonna Karanka, Heta Bilaletdin and Katri Sipiläinen (photo: Antti Ahonen)

Finland «Lo», and «Fi»

Finnish scholar Antti-Ville Kärjä asks whether the music video «Jukka-Pekka» by the Finnish underground punk band Olimpia Splendid could be read as a reinforcement of outmoded and stereotypical ideas about Finnish-ness, without the slightest hints towards nostalgic irony. From the Norient book Seismographic Sounds (see and order here).

For some, life is a rollercoaster, but for Finns, it is a grocery store conveyor belt. Its steadfast movement is interrupted only by a cigarette break, or maybe by the bittersweet sugar rush from soft drinks, snacks and sweets, if one happens to be on the buying side of the belt. The conveyor-belt life of Finns is also replete with monotonous, repetitive sounds and screaming, low-fidelity vocal utterances that provide absolutely no help in fathoming what actually is happening. But there are no pretentious smiles or deceptive gestures either; everything is as straightforward as, well, a conveyor belt. Life, despite its harshness and occasional lack of clarity, is sincere. In Finland.

For the fans of Aki Kaurismäki and his films, the video «Jukka-Pekka» by Olimpia Splendid may come across as homage, capturing the Finnish mentality in its mundane melancholia and minimalism. Also musically the clip resembles Kaurismäki’s cinematic style as well, mainly due to the indie rock qualities; Kaurismäki is well known for his musical choices that sometimes take the form of a meta-textual documentary within the fiction, and he tends to favor the «sincere» expression of Finnish-language schlager music and rock, imbued with nostalgia. For many viewers, furthermore, the protagonist of the clip shares a resemblance with the late Matti Pellonpää, one of Kaurismäki’s most trusted actors.

But conversely there may be those more inclined to interpret «Jukka-Pekka» as a reinforcement of outmoded and stereotypical ideas about Finnish-ness, viewing the clip as void of even the slightest hints toward nostalgic irony. While there are not many explicit markers of national identity in the video, it suggests a presence of working-class conditions, which in turn conforms to the most traditional idea of Finnish-ness as an identity category: backward, slow, taciturn yokels, who lack the cultural capital and will to ascend socio-economically. The monotonous repetition constructs the situation as excessive and absurd, and by extension Finnish-ness yet again as an example of northern quirkiness.

Filmstill: Olimpia Splendid (Music), Tuomo Tuovinen (Video): «Jukka-Pekka» (Finland 2013)

But then again, to think otherwise would be to succumb to the equally exceptionalist illusion that Finland, and Finns, of course, are something other than marginal in the wider cultural scheme of things. And the fact remains also that what is visualized in the video could happen in Finland – though based on my experience, the amount of marshmallows seems literally incredible.

This video is part of the Norient exhibition «Seismographic Sounds» and this commentary was published first in the correspondent Norient book.

Published on November 20, 2015

Last updated on January 16, 2020

Biography

Academy Research Fellow Antti-Ville Kärjä is heading a project at the Finnish Jazz & Pop Archive (JAPA) on «Music, Multiculturalism and Finland». The project centres on how the musical practices of migrant communities challenge conventional conceptualisations of Finnish music.

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