Article Monoplex #4: the Punk Syndrome
June 8, 2012
Our headline documentary – the Punk Syndrome tells the story of four Finnish punks with learning difficulties and a band: Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät.
Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät are, by their own admission, ‘one of the best bands in Finland’. They make music with all the fundamentals of punk at its core: frank, gut-charged lyrics, highly notched amps, rough around the edges performances. Like any punks worthy of such self-definition, Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät have fun rebelling against the mainstream and sticking two fingers to the system. Only, in their case, ‘the system’ they’ve found themselves in encompasses social exclusion, institutionalised housing, and compulsory visits to the pedicurist (grounds for complaint for some members more than others). Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät’s members have mental difficulties ranging from speech defects to down syndrome; they are four men who have never had the chance to brush with mainstream acceptance.
Kari Aalto is in his mid thirties. He’s into Harley Davidsons, music and women, and recently got engaged to his partner Sirkka, who likes Judo. He loves the bustling bars and record stores of Helsinki’s Kallio district, but is stuck living in group housing in the respectable and quiet (read: dull) area of Töölö. Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät, translating for us as Pertti Kurikka’s Name Day, are so called to honour their formation in 2009 on the Finnish celebration day of Pertti, the forename shared by the band’s frontman and guitarist. Pertti is sensitive to the world in a way that at times brings him to tears. He has a huge record collection and, since childhood, has been fascinated by the seams on people’s clothing. Sometimes Kari has to ask Pertti to write less complex riffs so that he can play them without having to apologise for his mistakes. As well as Kari and Pertti, there’s bassist Sami Helle, who is a member of the Centre Party of Finland and enters amateur strongman contests, and on drums is the good-humoured but quietly stubborn Toni Välitalo, who lives with his parents in the nearby town of Espoo.
Their brand of punk is unique to their situation and its specific frustrations. Kari’s oppressors are a disparate bunch of MPs, ‘rulers who deceive’, friends, and pedicurists. Compulsory pedicures are no trifling nuisance; disrupting his freedom to spend the day on his own terms, he channels his anger through the band: ‘Motherf!!!ing pedicurists, they are all totally f!!!ed. They just treat your feet, they don’t understand. Why in hell do pedicurists exist?’ The seeds of Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät’s discontent scatter across a wider field of social disregard – one that affords Pertti so little dignity that he isn’t informed about his mother’s death – and poke out into lyrics based on Pertti’s diary entries and Kari’s off the cuff dictation. Nonetheless, they don’t let their anger rule them; the band also create songs about the unending joy of cups of coffee and reclaim terminologies of disorder by proudly asserting their ‘punk syndrome’.
Just as their music is direct and uncompromising, so the bandmates are in their relationships with one another and with their manager, Kalle Pajamaa. Kari and Sami spend so much time together that band rehearsals often end in yelled profanities and slammed doors. Toni talks about toilet trips and Pertti about how babies are made with none of the self-awareness or inhibitions of typical adulthood. The film’s directors Jukka Kärkkäinen and JP Passi don’t interfere by stringing together a commentary; they simply present a group of men who at times express emotions familiar to us all, though in manners entirely their own, and at others show us insight into feelings we’re almost entirely unaccustomed to seeing.