The Twin Peaks of the festival season arrives this weekend in the Helsinki forests with Superwood. Nick Triani talks to Superwood and Ivana Helsinki founder Paola Suhonen.
It’s an understatement to suggest Paola Suhonen has broadened her creativity. Since building her fashion empire Ivana Helsinki – founded with sister Pirjo in 1998, Paola has been busy planting deep roots in design, film-making, photography, music and more. Music video is where I come in and first noticed Paola’s extra-curriculum activities (this generally says more about me and my overall lack of awareness than any lack of visibility on Paola’s part).
I’d noticed a few pop promos directed by Paola over the years and then heard about the first Superwood festival last year. This piqued my interest, the concept of Superwood – creating a Twin Peaks vibe for a music festival in the woodlands of outer Helsinki. Not just that – but Superwood serves as a timely reminder of the richness of music that can be found in Finland within the margins.
As well as established and not so established musical live sets – performed within and around the 1960s wood architecture aesthetics of the Hotel Rantapuisto – Dj sets, talks, films, vegetarian cuisine, art instillation’s and more can all be found under the Superwood covers, creating a unique experience, a cultural potpourri that promises to be memorable and special. At the heart of Superwood is Paola Suhonen’s curation. What I took from my short chat with Paola is that she is a doer, working outside of convention on her own personal road trip.
Nick: When did you become interested in playing music? Did the music come before the fashion designing?
Paola: My childhood was all about music. I actually have a background in classical music, I studied at the East-Helsinki Music school and played violin as my main instrument, piano as my secondary instrument. Many many years in orchestras, singing in choirs..
My childhood was all about music
I never had any art interest other than music. It’s funny then that later I got into Aalto University and started to study to become a Fashion Designer. The music was put aside for a longer time and I knew that something was missing. Like 12 years ago, I took my old guitar from the attic and started to compose some of my own music…so music was my first choice.
Nick: How influential has the music world and the look of the music world been on your work with Ivana Helsinki? Does the music world have similarities with the fashion world or do you think they are very different areas to be operating in?
Paola: I have always thought that pop culture is built around the square: fashion-music-poetry and film. They all reflect things, trends, aesthetics’s, storytelling – cool vibes to each other. I always want to add the poetry there as well, even if it’s not usually part of pop culture, I do think it is…its just a forgotten part, THE thing that lies underneath all these 3 other things. Pop culture is all about romanticism, longing of freedom and independence with wanting to be loved.
So music is all about the same vibes and it’s one of the crucial parts of my inspiration source in everything else I do.
Nick: Do you follow trends in a broader sense? How much does general culture influence what you do at Ivana? Or do you feel this is a personal vision – and your work at Ivana comes strictly from your own personal experience?
Paola: I hate the “trends”, I dislike trend fashion. Because of my work, I need to sense them. But I never read any style/ fashion blogs, they are the most boring things! They are too far from my own inner world. I think what matters is a personal style, being on the road, finding your own universe and doing things that are like “souvenirs of your own soul world”. This applies to my “fashion”, music, films…
I think what matters is a personal style, being on the road, finding your own universe and doing things that are like “souvenirs of your own soul world”
Nick: What inspired Superwood? Why do you think Finland needs a new festival in the Autumn? The concept behind the festival seems very ambitious (location, mood, time of year etc) – also down to the individual shows – was this an important ingredient when planning Superwood initially?
Paola: Superwood is like a Nordic-Twin Peaks weekend, like a childhood camp or an intense road-trip. I used to be a scout girl for over 20 years, so the forest is built inside me. I have been organising many many wood camps, scouting related adventures in the woods and later when coming to work with art, I started to dream about a festival that would have these same kinds of vibes than the best camps we had in the forests. There is something magical in the dark forest.
I have been organising many many wood camps, scouting related adventures in the woods and later when coming to work with art, I started to dream about a festival that would have these same kind of vibes…there is something magical in the dark forest
A place where you can sleep overnight (this year we also have an indoors camping place and of course the hotel rooms). Perfect music acts, visuals, lights, adventure, vegetarian food, fireplaces ( indoors and outdoors), very strange encounters…( a tree hugging workshop, Anja Snellman´s spelling sessions etc.), 24/7 gigs, films…what more can you ask for?
We wanted to create a totally unique festival, where you feel that you are part of a beautiful art cinema…a real experience to remember, like the best field trips and overnight adventures, when you were a kid…
Nick: I love the fact that Superwood features a lot of music I don’t really know. How do you find new Finnish music?
Paola: Thanks for noting this…that was part of the starting concept…that we bring new finds, people that are known from other fields of art and have been doing music on the side ( like Daniel Palillo and Sasu Kauppi last year), new collaborations between 2 artists etc…
I keep making notes about people I hear and meet, I’m picking up on the things that I just have a gut feeling for, that they have something deeper going on. I’m not afraid of “not being cool” when booking new acts. I think the fear of being not cool or the classic “what do other people think about this” is restricting too much of us and that leads to the situation that we have always the same lineups – because it’s “officially and correctly approved to be cool”.
Nick: You seemingly operate outside traditional Music environs (through your own steam) – how has the domestic music industry taken to your music activities? Does your name carry weight in the music scene here? Do you feel the music scene is more open to what you are doing abroad than in Finland?
Paola: Hah, this should be asked about the music scene in Finland…but well…I’ve gone through this path with the film industry before…and I just need to walk my own way.
Nick: You direct music videos, write songs, photograph, exhibit, perform music – as well as continuing to grow the Ivana empire. Are you the quintessential renaissance woman? And if you are – would you get credit for it from a male dominated environment like the music industry? Have you encountered any challenges along the way because of your gender and because of being known from a different creative field?
Paola: I only believe in individuals, no matter of gender! I’m interested about what people do, not what they are planning to do, or what they would do if “this and that.” Too much talk going on, too little work done. I know this is skirting around the question, but what I’m saying, I can only do where my passions live and there is nothing I could do another way. If that’s making some male (or female) feel bad, I would be happy to hug them and tell that this is life – right now – and the enemy we all have is time. So stop wasting your time, life and dreams and start living them for real…
I only believe in individuals, no matter of gender! I’m interested about what people do, not what they are planning to do, or what they would do if “this and that.”
Nick: Are there any more new projects you’re working on that you’d like to share with us?
Paola: Hmm… so my Lone Deer Laredo band is going to Nashville to record our first album in December…very excited about that. We are also planning to organise a little nordic festival in Japan, and we just moved to our new Ivana Helsinki house …and that house used to be my dream house, when I was a child. I was living just one block from that house.
Superwood festival runs this weekend from the 12th – 14th October. More details here.
A comprehensive playlist of the musical delights on offer at Superwood