The cellphone is the cigarette lighter of the new millenium. I discovered this at an outdoor pop concert in Tallinn back in September. The event was staged by local phone company Tele2. They gathered an army of popular Estonian bands to play all night for thousands of teens who danced and screamed and waved their mobiles in the air.
I felt hoplessly out of touch with my ancient Nokia that spontaneously switches itself off. These kids sported latest models with glowing keypads, turning the crowd into a sea of twinkling neon. The show was compered by a guy with a giant mohawk and outrageous manner. I asked Kristi who he was – she shrugged and said sagely, "It is very easy to be famous in Estonia".
Kristi translated proceedings for us. Mohawk Man was urging everyone to download a certain tune as part of an attempt at the world record for simultaneously playing a ringtone. I'm not sure if the Guinness Book people knew about this record, but Tele2 market executives must have cackled with glee when thousands of kiddies obediently tapped at their keypads. Right before the last act, Mohawk Man did a dramatic countdown. 3 – 2 – 1… doo doo doo doo!
The air filled with the tinny, hollow sound of digitised Estonian pop. It was all rather naff and disappointing for a world record, but the kiddies cheered anyway and thrust their phones to the sky.
Of all the things we saw in Estonia, that night most strongly illustrated how rapidly the country has changed. The show was held at the Sound Grounds, where in 1988 over 300,000 Estonians gathered to sing national songs in what is now known as the Singing Revolution. It was a huge outpouring of national identity and solidarity. Fifteen years on, Estonia has its independence and this hoarde of teens were as pimpled and lipsticked and mini-skirted as their Western kin. They would have been babies when everyone sang banned songs and flew national flags in defiance of the Soviets. You couldn't help wondering if they appreciated how different life was just a short time ago.
Having spent our Saturday morning picking wild mushrooms and wandering through country manors, it was surreal to end things with an evening of ROCK. Rhi and I were the only ones in the crowd unable to sing along with every word of Smilers, a "supercharismatic Finnish-Estonian rockband established in 1992" that seemed the local equivalent of Powderfinger. We also got to see the band who almost got to represent Estonia at the last Eurovision Song Contest!
In glaring contrast to the chirpy pop was Led R, the Estonian Led Zeppelin covers band. They were appropriately pompous but looked like crumbly high school maths teachers. The cameraman parked himself right under the lead singers crotch, but the trousers weren't quite tight enough and he looked more hungry for a cup of tea and a biscuit rather than a hot young babe to take backstage. When Robert Plant goes Oh yeah, ah huh in the middle of Black Dog, it's so primal one feels like humping the furniture, but the Estonian version was like the distracted Oh yeah… ah huh.. you mumble to your mother during her marathon phone calls.
It was fun to hear those classic tracks with fireworks blasting in the background. But it disturbed me how the kiddies didn't respond. Except for a dedicated pocket of headbangers to the right of the stage, the crowd went eerily still. The mad mobile twinkle faded to an occassion bleep in the darkness. It's like they didn't know what to make of this rock and roll business. There were no lip-synching divas or no hot-panted dancers.
A gaggle of girls in front of us sipped their illegal beverages and stared at the stage with bewildered frowns. Some were furiously texting, probably the Estonian equivalent of either "Mum pls come pick me up now" or "Like what is this shit?" to their friend standing 50 centimetres away.
It's one thing to worry about Estonian teenagers and their understanding of the history of Estonia, but perhaps it's time we started worrying about the teenagers OF THE WORLD and if they're ever going to understand the history OF ROCK? There's a whole generation being raised on Busted and Brittney who will be terrified and confused if ever confronted by the sound of a guitar or a relentless rhythm section. Education is essential. Maybe I will have to lobby the United Nations.