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Station Narva 2023: Lost In Transition


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The Music Void attended the sixth edition of Station Narva, a pivotal cultural, business and music event in Eastern Estonia.

The geographical location of Narva makes it a unique venue where people with different mindsets come together to exchange ideas and enjoy music. The city’s central square Peetri Plats faces the massive iron gate marking the transitional zone between Estonian and Russian borders.

The business programme of the festival featured discussions and workshops conducted by experts from such companies as Wise and CM Games. Both were founded by Estonian entrepreneurs. Over the decades, technology and Estonia have become interchangeable words. With Wise launched in 2015, two other world-famous brands, Skype and Playtech, emerged in 2005 and 2007 respectively. Although Narva, with its 13th-century fortress and Soviet residential blocks, seems to exist in several temporal realms simultaneously, the festival and business programme in particular brings the future-oriented and tech-savvy attitude to the fore. Software engineers of Wise, Anna Sooniste and Anna Rannuste, explained the mechanism of fraud and how to prevent it. Representatives of CM Games, an independent video game developer and publisher, went into the nitty-gritty of games production with the help of Blender software.

Photo by Anna Markova.

Despite attracting visitors from afar, boutique Station Narva is first and foremost a celebration for the local community. The programme is split between two main venues – performing arts space Vaba Lava and club Ro-Ro. The former hosted shows of the Asian Dub Foundation, Gus Gus and Hatari at the festival’s editions previously. This time, the names on the headliners’ bill are UNKLE’s James Lavelle, Ivan Dorn and Acid Arab, from the UK, Ukraine and France respectively. The series of shows at Vaba Lava kicks off with two sets by Estonian artists displaying different facets of the country’s pop music. Tallinn-based Manna indulges in gloomy self-reflection placed in a minimalist trip-hop context, while IVI, a glamorous songwriter from Narva, sounds upbeat and looks as sparkling as if she was performing at the Eurovision contest. The attendees of different ages wear outfits, in their fanciness, matching the glittery costume of the performer.

Ivan Dorn (photo by Anastassia Volkova).

In Narva, connection with culture is essential. The festival is organised by Shiftworks, a parent company running one of the biggest showcase festivals in Scandinavia and the Baltics – Tallinn Music Week. Unlike the latter, displaying different facets of Estonian music, Station Narva zooms in on the predominantly Russian-speaking community with their needs and interests. The headliner of Friday evening, indie-pop performer Ivan Dorn has devotees aplenty both in Narva and the rest of the country. The Russian-born Ukrainian singer, who currently resides in France, uses different languages accordingly to communicate with his audience. His multilingual monologues and spoken word bits between the songs are accompanied by waves of applause and cheer. Bouncy beats and wacky keyboards match the stream-of-consciousness lyrics both raising eyebrows and causing uproar of laughter. Meanwhile, his songs quickly spark singalong among the fans. The bond between the singer and the audience is strong.

The same evening, the collective Tovarish Astronom (translates from Russian as Comrade Astronomer) plays at the dim hut-looking interior of the riverside art club Ro-Ro. Although their lyrics and melancholy-tinged vocals allude to Soviet counterculture songwriter Viktor Tsoi, the general sound balancing post-punk murkiness between rattling psychedelia conjures up New Zealand’s indie The Clean and The Chills. Were Kino (Tsoi’s band) signed to Flying Nun Records, that would be the sound.

Within two days at Vaba Lava, visitors are presented with strikingly different acts. The Saturday programme sees artists that add avant-garde tones to the upbeat sonic palette. Estonian producers Raul Saaremets and Mart Avi are a longstanding duo blending house and glam aesthetics. Finnish multi-instrumentalist Jimi Tenor continues the sci-fi trajectory, occasionally talking about the transcendental and using the magic of the Moog synthesiser. While the beginning is pretty much along the lines of Peter Kember and Noah Lennox aka Sonic Boom and Panda Bear, it gets more kaleidoscopic at a later point.

At Station Narva, it quickly becomes clear that contrast is what defines the image of Narva and makes it a unique and unforgettable place. Liminal if you wish, but ensuring the collaboration is possible.


  • Irina Shtreis

    Irina Shtreis is a music writer, researcher and musician. Her byline has appeared in British publications such as MOJO magazine, The Quietus and Louder Than War. Irina has been a news editor of the latter since 2020.


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