Recent times have seen a spring of techno in the small Baltic state of Estonia. Hosting a small but prolific rotation of parties, Estonia’s promoters have earned themselves a global reputation for quality and quantity. We talked to Hugo Murutar, founder of MÜRK, which is one of Estonia’s most prominent promoting organizations for techno.
Walk me through your personal history. How did you get yourself involved in the Estonian techno scene?
When I was 14 or 15, I was a die-hard punk and metal fan until one of my friends sent me a link to Aphex Twin’s “Come To Daddy”. That one video really resonated with me: I eventually sold my drum-kit to buy a laptop in order to start making electronic music, and I started to go to raves on a regular basis. I met a lot of cool people who were creating some amazing music, but didn’t have an outlet to reach a wider audience. So when I was 18, I started organizing my first parties in order to get these people heard.
My first real techno encounter I think was with StereoÖÖ. Even though I associate many good memories with the event, I was not so much into techno at that time. But the vibe and setting of these parties were always good.
So what were the factors that drove you to found MÜRK?
After a good chunk of years partying, I started to get really tired of these parties (not only mine, but other events as well). The main reason why I got tired was because I didn’t feel that the people weren’t there for the music, through my eyes – they wanted just to party somewhere and that’s it. The music didn’t matter basically.
I wanted to create a party, where people come just for the music. So I tried to make this concept a reality. At that time I also met Artur Lääts (an Estonian DJ and producer), who eventually became my partner in organizing and curating our MÜRK parties. People came, there were about ~300+ people at my first party in over 2 years, and i felt “this is good shit”. The crowd that came included a lot of foreigners, some of the older techno crowd, and the young one as well… and they all connected. Everybody was clapping and whistling constantly. I was like “holy shit”. It was truly beautiful to watch.
There was a hole and I filled it – since this genre is and was truly a niche, especially in Estonia – the people who came, they came for techno. And after the second or third party you would start to see the same faces, and the community started to grow. At the beginning I also acquainted myself with Ergo Teekivi, who organizes a regular drum and bass event called Bassiõhtu (bass night). And we made some parties together, one stage Bassiõhtu and other MÜRK. This genre combination works surprisingly well. Then one party, when dnb room was already dead, but techno stage kept going full steam until 7-8AM, I felt safe to start doing only one stage techno parties.
The word “MÜRK” means “poison” in Estonian. Why did you choose this name and what significance does it hold?
MÜRK was originally a clothing brand that I wanted to start (this is also one of the reasons why Facebook still says it is clothing) but never went through with. So after I while I decided that this would be a cool name to use for a party also. I was really skeptical at first, because it’s quite an intense name for a party, but the whole theme/concept of the party eventually became “the dance of death” (all the flyers feature a skull mask, skull theme etc.), and that’s the way it’s been ever since.
On a global stage, where did you see Estonia’s techno scene back then, and where do you see it now? How has it evolved?
When I was 16 I didn’t think about the scene in that sense at all. So I can’t really tell you unfortunately. One thing that bugged me when I look back though is that there was always the same names playing, there wasn’t any fresh blood/DJ’s that would spice things up. Come to think of it, that was also maybe one of the reasons why I got tired of those parties. And when I look at [the scene] now, there are so many local talented DJ’s. It definitely has evolved for better, the underground is really thriving currently. People are producing more, playing more, connecting more.
We always try to rotate the local DJ’s as best as we can, to keep the lineup always fresh. The DJ’s — all of them, have also their own handwriting/vision of techno. That is amazing. The people have more awareness with this genre, most of the Estonians who like techno, go to Berghain/Berlin regularly – cheap flights. I think the Estonian techno scene has great potential to grow and stay, but it will take a lot of time.
Tell me about the parties that MÜRK throws. What makes you different from other similar organizations in Estonia?
It has taken me 4 years to maintain a somewhat steady flow of people. The last party (4th year birthday) brought out around 450 people (which isn’t our record actually). Our record was 500 attendees with Thomas Hessler (first year birthday). And in between those two events it has fluctuated between 150 and 300 people. We also organize a side event called “MÜRK LIMITED”, which is an invitation only party and takes place in secret locations.
What makes us special is that we don’t have a home. MÜRK takes place in various locations, we are not affiliated with any club. About difference, there aren’t many parties that I can compare MÜRK with, unfortunately. The main difference what I can point out I think is the size of our event. There are a lot of good parties in Estonia (for example Supatek) that pop into my mind, but MÜRK itself has become more of a mix of mainstream and underground, because of the amount of the attendees. But one thing that I like, is that we have always stayed in the lines of techno what we like, and we haven’t compromised our musical vision in order to attract a wider audience. It truly is 4 years of hard work and consistency that has helped us grow. I would like to think, we have inspired a lot of people to make their own events, play and produce music – get involved. Because in the end, we are all together in the same boat. We share the same love for this music and culture.
You guys have released a couple of records on your label in the past year. How would you describe what kind of sound you’re trying to curate, and what are you eventually hoping to do with the label?
MÜRK Records is still in its baby shoes, there isn’t any specific sound that we are trying to curate. We would like to release music that we like, hoping that someday this label and its artists will also be noticed globally.
What are the next steps for MÜRK as an organization? What should we be excited about?
It is hard to tell, because we are really slow growers [careful planners] and tend to take small risks. There are some dreams with MÜRK that still need to be accomplished [and in the works], but I would prefer not to shout out those plans just yet. I wouldn’t want to jinx it! One thing is certain, we always want to evolve.
Are there any crazy stories about MÜRK that you’d like to share?
MÜRK is always crazy, in a good way. If you want to know more about it, you have to visit and become a part of it.
The doors are open!
Any last things to say?
Currently we are co-organizing a party called “ISOLA with Abdulla Rashim”, it takes place in a secret location — and if anyone who is reading this is in Tallinn, Estonia at that time, I urge them to register. I honestly guarantee that you will not regret it.