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Finnish punks at ESC

Outi Turunen / eg
March 31, 2015

From monsters to a bearded woman - the Eurovision Song Contest has crowned many extravagant performers. This year, Finland has selected an unusual punk band for the competition - and its members have Down syndrome.

Finnish Band Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät. Copyright: Pekka Elomaa/Sony Music Finnland
Image: Pekka Elomaa/Sony Music Finnland

Finland's Eurovision entry

The whole country is behind the punk rockers. The band "Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät," also known as PKN, won the preliminary round in Finland against eight opponents by getting 37.4 percent of the vote.

"People recognize me on the street and in the pub. They say they're proud that we are going to Austria," says singer Kari Aalto.

He and his bandmates Pertti Kurikka, Toni Välitalo and Sami Helle will first compete in the semi-final of the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) in Vienna on May 19. If everything goes well, they will go on to the final round on May 23.

Topics of everyday life

The song they will be performing, "Aina Mun Pitää" ("I always have to"), is only a minute and a half long. Like all their songs, it was written and composed by the band members themselves.

Finnish Band Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät. Copyright: Kalle Pajamaa/Sony Music Finland
A music workshop led the band to concerts around the worldImage: Kalle Pajamaa/Sony Music Finnland

Their lyrics describe the hardships of everyday life - shaving, washing, not getting drunk, going to bed early. It's basically their own take on the essential punk theme developed by the Sex Pistols: not being free.

"The songs tell the story of our lives. That's why people can recognize themselves in them, whether they are disabled or not. When you have a rotten day, you feel bad," says Sami Helle, the bassist in the band.

Finnish Band Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät. Copyright: Kalle Pajamaa/Sony Music Finland
Finland's hope at the ESCImage: Kalle Pajamaa/Sony Music Finnland

Fame in Finland and abroad

The punk rockers live in supervised housing and require assistance in many of their daily chores. They started playing together during a music workshop in 2009.

The guitarist wrote his first punk song on Pertti Kurikka's name day, which in Finnish is called Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät and became the name of the band. Since then, the band has been practicing every day.

They progressively built their reputation as a cult band in Finland by playing hundreds of times in rock clubs and festivals. They already released 10 EPs and an album of their greatest hits.

The 2012 documentary "Punk Syndrome" followed the band as it rose from total obscurity to become a small phenomenon which would allow them to travel outside of Finland. The film received several awards and can now be rented online. PKN has since performed in the United States, Great Britain and Germany.

Finnland Band Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät Teilnehmer ESC
Having fun with punk rockImage: Kalle Pajamaa/Sony Music Finnland

Fun with a serious message

PKN doesn't want to be defined by the band members' disability, but rather by the fun they have playing punk rock. Their international concerts nevertheless create an important symbol for inclusion.

Sami Helle says, "I hope we can encourage a debate on the conditions in which disabled people live throughout the world. I also hope many more punks will be performing at the Eurovision Song Contest after us!"

Finland won the competition once in 2006 with "Hardrock Hallelujah" by Lordi, a heavy metal band wearing monster costumes. PKN's drummer Toni Välitalo is convinced another unusual Finnish band can succeed against all odds: "We will win. There's no doubt about it."

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