Puuluup: Two men in midlife crisis who decided to start living rock & roll lifestyle

Puuluup was formed in 2014 by two talharpa enthusiasts Ramo Teder and Marko Veisson. Ramo Teder is a multi-instrumentalist and has been known for his long solo project Pastacas. He is also a looping pioneer in Estonia and has mastered these skills for twenty years already. Marko Veisson has a background in anthropology and his fieldwork in Northern Ghana as well as his love for West-African music have definitely influenced Puuluup’s style.

They play their own compositions on Talharpas – a traditional bowed lyre, popular in Northern Europe since the early Middle Ages and played on Western Estonian islands until the beginning of 20th century. Puuluup directs the vibrations of Talharpa’s horsehair strings through effect blocks and looper, uses alternative bowing and drumming techniques and sounds. The mellow sighs of talharpa are paired with electronically amplified echoes, knocks, creaks and crackles, while still maintaining the instrument’s natural sound.

They play with music as they play with words, sometimes creating their own language. As the band states: “We draw inspiration from Vormsi nights, trams in November, junkies in love, criminals from Odessa and Antonio Vivaldi”. As a side dish, when giving live concerts they also offer choreographic flittering which emerged on its own during the numerous days these two men spent in the rehearsal rooms.

In an email interview with the duo:

1. What can the audience expect from your set at the Ziro Festival?

Puuluup is most praised for their live shows, which are enriched with elements of absurdly lovely choreography and dry humour. We are bringing the same energy to Ziro!

2. Puuluup, your music is a fusion of various genres. Could you tell us about the influences that have shaped your unique sound?

We play traditional talharpas from Vormsi island, Estonia. And we wear traditional black suits. Everything else is a little less traditional: our music may have a dancing beat, flirt with hip-hop and reggae, resemble a dark film soundtrack and spy around in the chambers of ancient talharpa players. All kinds of random sources of inspiration are similarly important – heroes from Polish TV series, wind turbines, old Estonian punk and sweetbread from Vormsi island. And the uncomfortable feeling that your neighbour’s dog might try to bite you while you take out the trash.

3. Estonia is known for its rich musical heritage. How does your Estonian background influence your music, and do you incorporate any traditional elements into your performances? Can you tell us more about the unique instruments you play?

Talharpa was popular in Northern Europe since the early middle ages but it was replaced by more modern instruments everywhere except Western Estonia and Karelia, where the tradition lasted until the beginning of 20th century. In Estonia it was played most recently by the Swedish population and was especially popular on Vormsi island, where it remained the dominant musical instrument until the end of 19th century. However, in the heat of religious awakening initiated by Swedish missionary Lars Johan Österblom Vormsi locals decided that talharpa is an instrument of the devil. So, they made a pile of their talharpas and burned them. Few men kept their instruments and continued playing. During the Second World War most Vormsi population emigrated to Sweden and the talharpa tradition died out. It was reawakened by a few enthusiasts from Sweden, Finland and Estonia half a century later. Estonian Swedish talharpa and Finnish jouhikko have found new breathing rather recently in these countries and Puuluup plays an important part in Estonian talharpa revival by popularizing the instrument and inspiring new people to join the talharpa community. However – talharpa acts rather strangely in the hands of Puuluup. It is electrified, looped, and often played in experimental techniques. It reminds the old tradition but definitely has another agenda as well. What do you call a person, who has been reanimated from the dead and acts weirdly? A zombie, of course! Puuluup’s talharpas are like the reanimated undead who have been brought out from their graves and do their zombiewalk. Thus, Puuluup calls their music zombiefolk. Or neozombiepostfolk, to be more exact.

4. Many festivalgoers may not be familiar with Estonian music. What message or emotions do you hope to convey through your music to this diverse audience?

We definitely love it when the audience starts dancing. But there is also a possibility to enjoy the performance while sitting. All sorts of emotions are welcome, we try to mix humour and fun with a little bit of melancholy. But mostly it happens so that people laugh a lot during our show. We have no idea, why.

5. What’s next for Puuluup after Ziro Festival? Any upcoming projects or tours that your fans should be excited about?

Right after Ziro Festival we will perform in Kolkata and then we’ll be on a tour in France. We are also excited about our upcoming show at the WOMEX festival in Spain.

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6. Lastly, as a musical act with a global following, what advice do you have for aspiring musicians looking to break boundaries and create their own distinct sound?

You already have it in you, just let it out – tell your own story with your own voice.

Puuluup is performing at Ziro Festival today. Catch them at 4 pm.

Also Read | Arunachal: How Ziro Festival became a cultural phenomenon in NE

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