May 1st, 2013
A Warm Hand For Mister Fisto's Entry: The Best Eurovision Acts
The Quietus takes a tour around Europe to find some of the finest Eurovision national runners-up in recent years. Here's what could have been!
A month or so back, a video of a gang of fur-faced men in wrestling leotards shouting out a hectic song about a man with a broken leg walking to Latvia went viral globally. In itself that would have been enough of a recommendation, but what really surprised and delighted the people who were excitedly sharing and forwarding it was that it came from the final of the Estonian Eurovision qualifier.
It appeared, at face value, as some glorious anomaly in what's usually considered to be a saccharine-sweet parade of Pop Idol contestants, old timers having one last shot at fame and obscure folk acts playing instruments that you'd be hard pushed to spell. But to those in the know, Winny Puhh were just the latest in a long line of unusual and challenging acts who litter the early stages of Eurovision's qualifying tournaments. Forget the big show in May, this is where the true heroes are to be found – the art punks, the jazz rappers, the techno goths and a whole array of other incredibly original and creative acts that are destined never to get onto the big glittery stage and a TV audience of many millions.
Here are ten of the most interesting, inventive and at times elegantly deranged Eurovision hopefuls from the past few years. And if it's in any way piqued your interest, the qualifiers for next year start this November…
Already a well-loved underground act at home, this gang of metallic art-filth punkers caused an international stir when a clip of their fabulously unhinged Estonian national final performance started to drip out onto the internet. And it so very nearly made it to this year's Eurovision, too, taking the narrowest of third places, just a single frustrating point behind the eventual winner. But all is not lost… they're already planning another attempt for next year.
The Estonian qualifiers are such a rich source of interesting and challenging acts that we could have easily filled this list from that one nation alone. But we especially admire the work of Chalice, who describes himself as a rapper, but here offers up some especially difficult jazz folk. It is to Estonia's credit that this came a commendable seventh place in their 2009 final, beating a number of established pop acts along the way.
Iceland, as we know, is home to an endless stream of fascinating left-field performers. But this song's near-success surprised even the most ardent fans of the North Atlantic island's music scene. A jarring fusion of complicated lounge jazz and blistering hardcore, it fought its way through a complicated semi-final process before coming third in a nationwide televote on the night of the final. Shame, because we'd have loved to have seen how Wogan explained this one to the viewers back home.
Albania's Festivali i Këngës has a long and impressive history that pre-dates its status as their Eurovision qualifiers by some years. As such, its performers are usually a three way split between sombre ballads, pumping turbo disco and an array of folksy throat singers. But over the last five years there's also been a regular incongruous appearance by Bojken Lako, a towering growler of a man, who gives the Sisters Of Mercy's techno goth schtick a sinister minor key upgrade.
Germany has always been known for its ultra safe schlager sounds in the contest. But back in the late 80s, this alien-faced electropop outfit proved that they were years ahead of their time with their Daft Punk/Kraftwerk/Smash martian aggregation. This clip is also home to some of the finest dance moves you'll ever see. The song itself begins at around 55 seconds. It's worth the wait.
Back in 2008, Spanish broadcaster TVE thought they'd get with the times and open their selection process up to all comers via their official website. And although they had the best of intentions, a mischievous internet campaign put this unnerving piece of minimal techno at the top of the pile. To save their blushes, the broadcaster had to change the rules of the contest part way through to ensure that it didn't make it to Eurovision proper. Which is a real shame, because its hypnotic wail and skittish beats would have sounded terrific coming out of a giant arena sound system.
For the last five years, this big-eyed gothic wastrel has tried to get a song into the Moldovan national final, and each time he falls at the final hurdle. But he's a fascinating character. He first entry turned heads with his 2008 debut, 'I Love The Girls Of 13 Years Old', a hauntingly annunciated pean to the beauty of youth, and every year his songs get bigger, stranger and just that bit more unsettling. Witness this appearance from Moldovan breakfast TV singing one of his later efforts for the full evidence.
Elio e le Storie Tese
Considered every bit as important as Zappa or the Bonzos around their way, EELST surprised many when they entered the marathon five day singing contest Sanremo earlier in 2013. The show now doubles up as Italy's Eurovision selection show, so you can imagine how relieved the producers must have been when this complex piece of funtime musicology was beaten into a narrow second place by a handsome balladeer at a piano. And if you don't like the start, don't worry, a bit that you do enjoy will be along before too long.
There are some songs that defy description, even from the most seasoned Eurovision campaigners. Quite why this pair of angry Russian teens decided that having an argument in French over an accordion would be a good idea, we'll never know. But it's a darned sight more avant garde than even they'd know, and rolled in to an amazing fourth place finish in the massive 25 song Moscow final last year.
Fruit Eating Bears
For as long as any of us can remember the UK have played it safe at Eurovision, with an endless parade of Saturday night showbiz-friendly pop confections. But back in 1978, during the height of the punk rock explosion, the BBC took a risk and invited this high octane bunch of Croydon pub rockers to bounce about on the giant Albert Hall stage in the Song For Europe final. It came well down the pile in the final reckoning, and the BBC would never be so with adventurous with Eurovision again.
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