How Kontula Electronic helped transform an unloved Helsinki suburb from “slum” to cool

Jimi Tenor playing the saxophone at Kontula Electronic 2016

This weekend, April 21-23, cultural norms in Helsinki are shaken as the place to be shift towards the oft forgotten eastern suburb, Kontula, for a partially free festival.


   

Kontula Electronic gathers an interesting lineup of electronic music to the open-air shopping center in the Kontula district. Established in 2016, the festival is already seen as a major vitalizing force in Kontula.

The scope of Kontula Electronic 2017 is multifaceted and includes a great variety of styles in both music and media art. Among the first announced international artists are LCC (Las Casi Casiotones) (ES), Felix Kubin (DE) and Lipelis (RUS). From Finland the festival will feature Tähtiportti, Samuli Kemppi, Draama-Helmi and Jimi Tenor among others.

 

Kontula Electronic 2017 partial lineup

 

A comprehensive background story (in Finnish) on the festival in the Nordics’ largest newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, paints a fascinating portrait of Kontula. Long despised as one of the worst places to live in Helsinki, based on more or less substantiated claims that the place embodied the 90s recession, inhabitants have long been able to shock people by saying where they live.

   

This kind of postcode indignation is elitist drivel, especially considering the actual lack of “slums” in Helsinki. These days, Kontula is even seen as “the new Kallio“, as Helsinki’s hip inner city district moves towards gentrification. Kontula remains an affordable haven, suitable for creative types.

Kontula Electronic founders, Pertti Ylikojola and electronic music legend Jimi Tenor, who both live in Kontula, have won over local restaurant owners and cultural workers to support the festival. The fairly exotic music at the festival is seen as refreshing.

Kontula Metro station, at the shopping center where Kontula Electronic mostly takes place. Photo by Aapo Haapanen.

 

Since Helsinki’s modest Metro system arrived in Kontula in 1986, the district, part of Mellunmäki, went through a decline in services. The shopping center transformed into a low-end pub district. Today, the pub rich environment is mixed with a multicultural sphere, where over 25% of the population speaks other native languages than Finnish or Swedish, Finland’s official languages.

The only problem with assuming that Kontula is set to become “the new Kallio” is infrastructural. Kontula is, as exaggerated as its bad reputation may be, a modernist suburb. The quality of the urban space, the streetscape remains piss poor and sprawling. This writer grew up in the district of Vuosaari and has a hard time imagining suburbs as particularly vital or stimulating, but hopes to be proven wrong.

 

 

On the other hand, redeeming features of Helsinki suburbs like Kontula include close proximity to lush, green nature during summer. However, as of late April, that’s still weeks off.

 

If you’re an urban type, don’t let any nightmare visions of Le Corbusier-like suburban hellscapes scare you away from Kontula Electronic. The festival takes place in a densely built shopping center, rich on pubs and multi-ethnic cuisine. For small fees, attendants gain access to, among other things, local indoor swimming pools, where certain parts of the program are arranged.

 

 

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Alernative title photo by Juha Mattsson.

4 replies
  1. Marty
    Marty says:

    The idea that Kontula is a slum is ludicrous. Tell that to a slum dwellers from Mumbai or Bangkok or even London or Paris or New York.

    Reply

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