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Culture Reviews
News from Helsinki: LCMDF & Kira Lao
By Martin Richardson
Finnish music is not generally noted for its sunny side - making LCMDF possibly the least Finnish band ever to emerge from Helsinki. If Moscow audiences are familiar with the flamboyantly OTT operatic metal of Nightwish or the lo-fi indie of bands like Husky Rescue, an onslaught of shouty bubble gum pop from a vivacious pair of sisters came as something of a shock to the system. Far from the crystalline sounds of the frozen north, or the quirky ruminations of a society on the fringes of Europe's cultural mainstream, this was an all-out, in-yer-face assault of summery vibes. British readers of a certain age may recall the annual Radio 1 Roadshows, bringing a couple a big name broadcasters to seaside towns with an agenda to disperse perky pop music to fun-starved provincial audiences: LCMDF would have fitted that bill perfectly.

The music is mostly a blast of mouthy rap, hollered out over bombastic synth sequences, with lyrics about everything and nothing, in the finest pop traditions. Unkind critics might hear echoes of the notorious Spice Girls, although without the polished sheen of mass production; a more generous view might evoke rising Russian girl duo Obe Dve, fellow members of the vanguard of socially acceptable pop for people past school age. And yet there is also evidence of musicality in the mix - during one of the few less frenetic moments of a high-energy set, the two sisters close harmonize with real skill, albeit briefly.

Otherwise, though, it's up-and-at-'em stuff, with vocalist Emma Kempainnen taking every opportunity to leave the small stage in China Town and mingle with a crowd which was slightly too hipster-ish to be seen dancing. And on-stage energy was not without its pitfalls: barely halfway through the opening number a flailing mic stand took out one of the spotlights. "It's my first time in Russia, and I've broken something already," Emma mused.

Not only did LCMDF offer a stark contrast with many of the other artists brought here in the on-going "News from Helsinki" concert series, they also offered a stark contrast with Russian support act Kira Lao. The elfin vocalist has garnered a growing underground reputation after winning last year's Indyushata prize and earning high prize from influential local critic Artemy Troitsky. Meanwhile, over the course of the past year, her music has changed in emphasis, with her initial dark folk steadily making way for a heavier, rockier sound.

Naturally, 'rockier' is a rather relative term: the presence of a cello and a gusli (a Russian folk instrument similar to a zither) on stage is testament to a broadranging palette. But if Kira Lao's concert performances of a year ago were rather reflective, delicate affairs, the Dec. 2011 model is louder and more abrasive then before. Throw a few torch songs into the mix "Drunk Tango with a misanthrope", "Not your cup of tears" and the closest thing to a political statement of the evening, "He was a woman", introduced with an explanation that while "most people are protesting against Putin, we're protesting against guys who act like girls". For the moment, however, Kira Lao still seems to be better served by the recording studio than the live stage. Problems with the mix affected the start of the set, and while Kira herself is a powerful vocalist she still seems slightly awkward on stage at times. But there are already ample signs that the music deserves the buzz growing up around it.

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