1. The Key is to be Fearless
Initially crippled by fear over missing one of my favourite artists, I settled into a more chilled demeanour when I realised everyone else who had access to more than one gig at TMW was wrestling with the festival goer's dilemma: namely, you cannot be in more than one venue at any one time. My plan of where to go and what to do was revised many times, based on the thoughts and words of friends. It's always worth keeping an open mind, especially at an event like TMW that is meant to promote eclecticism. Though I was sorry I missed Tenfold Rabbit playing at Cha Dao restaurant, I had the pleasure of some stimulating conversation, and an introduction to some great new Latvian sounds, at the Latvian showcase at NYC Piano Bar. It was kind of like that for the whole weekend.
2. Estonian Folk is Thriving
Maarja Nuut promised a new element to her act. She brought that and more - including a new instrument, which was named after her and built by her boyfriend. The folk reels and polkas sounded just as fresh as they did the first time I heard them, at TMW 2013 - but the loops and harmonies seemed to bring a fuller feel, and it was clear a lot of work had gone into her one-woman wall of sound. Maarja is touring Switzerland and Hungary at the moment, and deserves all the recognition and success she is getting. Later in Theater No.99, Sandra Sillamaa and Trad.Attack made substantial music that truly rocked, even employing Who-style power-chords in places where I would not have expected to hear them. Curly Strings, which, like Trad.Attack, boasted the guitar and vocal talents of Setod's Jalmar Vabarna, made sure everyone knew they were having a whale of a time on stage - the pace never let up, and the atmosphere was infectious.
3. So is Jazz
Carrot Lights were taking part in their first TMW, having played a number of gigs since their formation eighteen months ago. Laura Remmel and her husband Joel-Rasmus seemed pleased by the crowd reaction. The music seemed tighter and stronger than it had been before - and I felt more familiar with the free-jazz sound, because I'd heard the group before and knew what to expect. A really good performance from the jazz trio - and proof that pop stars can change their stripes and succeed, if they are good enough; Laura is a very talented singer, and her bandmates are fantastically accomplished musicians too, in what is a true collective.
4. Baltic Pop Doesn't Just Copy the West...
Wilhelm, on Saturday night in Soprus Kino, provided a personal highlight of TMW, gelling the Mumford & Sons indie-folk style with some very Estonian retro-hipsterism. Their music sounded like it could only have been made in Estonia, probably by a group that heard plenty of Fairport Convention growing up. They're best-known for the lyrically-opaque "Resignal" from Eesti Laul, but honestly, their repertoire was so much better than that, and will get a much wider audience in the next year or two, because these young Estonians are not going to disappear. The harmonies of the two female singers, along with the beautifully-controlled drumming and mandolin playing, stood out, although the whole sound carried you away on a wave.
Elina Born debuted tracks from her album, due out in the autumn. The sound was dance-orientated, and a little like Rihanna - not a bad template to follow. Elina also has a stellar cowriter in Traffic and Outloudz supremo Stig Rasta, who knows a killer chorus like no-one else. Põhja-Tallinn are often dismissed for having gone from angry young men rapping about the unpleasantness of growing up in the Estonian capital to being a kind of Baltic Black Eyed Peas, but Rock Cafe greeted them like returning heroes, their lyrics still meaning a lot to their young, and fanatical, followers.
5. Instrumenti - Bloody Hell...
Instrumenti came from Riga to bring an incongruous seriousness to proceedings in Rock Cafe on Friday, although they reminded me in their tenacity of Kate Bush - the clarity of vision, the sound quality, the yearning for a chance to push the boundaries of what a pop audience had hitherto experienced - it was such a cut above the rest (who were, themselves, of a good standard), that it was, in the end, not unlike if Radiohead did Eurovision.