“I would say that a lot of these songs have been written in a tent somewhere,” says Eeva Rajakangas, the lead singer of Vimma. She laughs, but her blue eyes stare out piercingly and defiantly. “Each song is like a different tent, or a different protest. Being in different climate actions, these are deeply touching emotional situations and I’m like the monkey who is saying ‘Hey, let’s do this!’”
In Finnish ‘vimma’ means ‘frenzy’ and those staring blue eyes convey a frenzy for what we are doing to the environment and for protesting about it. The new album (their second) is called Tornadon silmässä (In the Eye of the Tornado) and the title track is “about the feeling of peace when being in action”. Rajakangas’ voice is small and vulnerable against a musical background that builds up and up into a rock guitar break, but then subsides. Vulnerability is also power. “A lot of these songs are like little lullabies for the ‘little me’ who is terrified of the state of the world and maybe for the other ‘little me’s’ in other people who are also terrified.” Rajakangas refers to her ‘little me’ several times during our conversation as if her ‘little me’ is an alter ego who needs protecting.
“Recently we made one of the first slow walk demonstrations in Finland. It’s like a blockade, but in the realm of law because you are just moving very slowly. In the city centre it makes people very angry, but we were just like a music ball rolling in the city. And that was really like the eye of the tornado feeling, because the morning traffic was stopped and the music had space to exist and to echo from the walls of the buildings.”
One of Rajakangas’ tents was at Koverhar in southwest Finland. This is when, in April 2022, activists from Greenpeace and Elokapina (the Finnish equivalent of Extinction Rebellion) blocked a Russian coal train from entering the port of Hanko for 10 days. ‘Antrasiitille’ (For Anthracite), the song linked to this action is the most powerful on the album with a striking video. At the heart of the lyrics are the words Kun vuosii palaa (Decades burning) repeated again and again over tight folk fiddling – Kolmesataa miljoonaa (300 million years burning). In Finnish, Rajkangas tells me, “there’s an ambiguity here because ‘palaa’ means ‘burning', but also ‘coming back’, so it can be decades burning or decades returning.”
It was the start of the Ukrainian war in February 2022 which suddenly turned attention to the Russian coal trains. EU imports of coal from Russia were stopped, but deliveries set up earlier continued – hence the blockade of the continuing trains. “We were sitting on the trucks and on the tracks. Blocking railroads is quite easy because if you are just a few the train just can’t go. But blocking highways is a bit more demanding. We were also filming some silly tutorial videos of how to stop a Russian coal train that were next day on the Ukrainian news,” says Rajakangas. “And a lot of people came and said ‘Okay, I hadn’t understood what you were doing, but now the war has started I woke up and realised the world is going in a crazy direction’. Here in Finland, in Moominland, everything is so peaceful, you go to sauna and don’t care about politics because you are so privileged. But the people said it woke them up and that was really inspiring at that moment.”
Vimma started in 2014-15 when many of the musicians were in Tampere, which is about a one-and-a-half-hour train ride from Helsinki, but now their base is in the capital. They released their first album Meri ja avaruus (The Sea and Space) in 2019, which speaks of a dying planet and floods and oceans despoiled. Rajakangas is sometimes singing in a clear, luminous voice, but often speaking or narrating rhythmically.
They describe their music as ‘progressive folk’, but none of the band come directly from a folk background and they draw on rock, jazz, experimental as well as folk techniques. In the sound palette there’s rock guitar, piano, keyboards, electric bass and drums. The main composer is violinist Pessi Jouste who started in a classical Suzuki violin school, but also learned folk fiddling from Alina Järvelä and has played with several Sámi artists – he has a Sámi maternal grandmother. “I think in Vimma the meaning of the word folk is very wide,” says Jouste. “This is just the music that comes naturally out of us, or out of me. I’m not trying to compose any specific type of music.”
For Eeva Rajakangas the word ‘folk’ refers more to the function of the music than its sound. “The meaning of folk is just to bring communities together, as the fuel of love and making sense of this world. We can say that this is folk, but actually it sounds pretty new, but it has that function.”
Many of the lyrics of Vimma’s songs are pretty clear and direct, like ‘For Anthracite’, ‘In the Eye of the Tornado’ and ‘For Plants’ which tries to turn attention to these things which are living and breathing, but so often ignored on the fringe of our consciousness. But there are other songs where the meaning is opaquer. For example, the opening song of the new album Maailmanloppu (The End of the World). The message is clear perhaps, but the words enigmatic. In English: All I have left is time / And sand where my bed once was / When breaks the dawn, alone in my memory / Your bones still haunt my mind.
At times the music is anthemic with a driving guitar solo, but Rajakangas’ vocal line is calm, crisp and clearly articulating an earworm of a melody. It’s perhaps coming from her ‘inner me’. “The lyrics refer to a hopeless happiness,” she explains. “Like a situation where you wake up in the night, as if in a horror movie, feeling that I have zero hope. But you can in a way be in the moment and feel happy about what you have. It’s not a solution to anything, but like being in a bubble of your own.” On the album Rajakangas also sings the song in German and in English and it come across very well.
It was Pessi Jouste who was behind the music for the song. “I was kind of anxious and went to a forest and there I felt some kind of clarity,” he says, “and I tried to remember that feeling and came back home and, on the piano, tried to come up with as beautiful melody as I could imagine of that emotion.”
It sounds idyllic, but he then goes on to say that “actually it is quite a shitty forest, it’s called the Central Park of Helsinki and it’s not in a very good condition. The trees and the smell is so different from the forests in the north of the country.” Still, Jouste was protesting in Helsinki in October this year against the destruction of a very old forest and was detained by the police for several hours.
Jouste’s Sámiland home is in Kuttura, a village west of Saariselkä. “It’s a place where our family gather us every year in the summer, and we stay there and it’s our last connection to the land.” None of Vimma’s songs talk about Sámi culture or Sámi rights, but obviously that indigenous feel for nature and the environment is something that is close to Vimma’s world view.
Another of their super catchy songs is ‘Sateenkaari ja ilmapallo’ (A Rainbow and a Balloon) which Rajakangas associates with two tents, one in central Helsinki on her first climate action and the other up north in the forest of Aalistunturi where they were trying to stop logging. The song is a kind of lullaby to the forests and the singer’s name seems strangely appropriate: Rajakangas literally means ‘a field on the edge of the forest’.
“We are talking about our national Finnish narrative here. We came from poor to rich by selling the wood and the wood has saved us. And now it’s a little bit tricky because it’s way too much and way too badly done, but the myths are very difficult to break.”
The right-wing coalition government that came to power in June 2023, led by the National Coalition Party (Kokoomus), is less committed to environmental policies, although the previous government led by Sanna Marin was also criticised for over-logging.
“When you do an action in a city environment, it’s always symbolic,” says Rajakangas. “You just raise awareness of something and awaken the discussion about something really important. But if you’re concretely stopping logging you are surrounded, fed and nourished directly by the forest in which you yourself are protecting the trees. I felt okay, I am here with my body protecting those hundreds of tree bodies that have lived for hundreds of years. It’s me as a part of Mother Earth supporting the ‘little me’ who was trying to sleep.”
Vimma are clearly one of the most dynamic and driven young Finnish bands. But how much can that work internationally?
Much of the music is infectious and compelling, and including versions of the opening track in German and English on Tornadon silmässä clearly suggests an ambition beyond the Nordic countries. Finland perhaps has fertile conditions for a group like this, but Vimma are certainly one of the most interesting bands fighting for our planet’s survival right now.
“Maybe one of our biggest aims for this record is fighting the partial denial that all of us are in because the situation has been going on so long,” says Pessi Jouste. “People have come up with these strategies how not to think about climate change and there is a disconnection between the knowledge and how people feel emotionally. And I think one of the coolest things that maybe we can do with this record is to help people deal with the emotion that this is all completely hopeless.”
Featured photo: Vimma