One might be forgiven for thinking of Lithuania as a musical wasteland. Yes, we're still waiting for the first major international breakthrough of a Lithuanian pop artist. And yes, Lithuania's main contribution to rock encyclopaedias so far has been the fact that one can find a monument to Frank Zappa in its capital city of Vilnius.
Five decades of Soviet occupation (one government-controlled record label, obligatory patriotic Soviet songs in every notable artist's live repertoire until the perestroika) mean that the Lithuanian music business, as we know it, exists for only 17 years. The country's music entrepreneurs are on the learning path, and the craft of getting your music heard/promoted outside the boundaries of your own country still is, in many cases, an uncharted territory. However, what the musicians of this small Baltic country lack in practical means, they make up for with their creative ideas, enthusiasm and ambition.
Take Alina Orlova, for example. Several years ago, she was just a girl from a small town who mesmerized poetic souls with her demos published on obscure poetry sites. Now she has two internationally released albums under her belt, regularly tours places as diverse as Ukraine and France, gets her records reviewed by Q and Mojo magazines, pulls big crowds abroad despite mostly singing in Lithuanian. She achieved it all without big budget or marketing tricks – just the warmth and originality of her work.
Or Andrius Mamontovas – a rock icon for 25 years, constantly reinventing himself and playing to audiences all over the world, this singer has recorded around 30 albums, secured a publishing deal with a Hollywood-based company, won a Best Composer award at Shanghai film festival (for composing the soundtrack for Loss, a movie he starred in) and invented LT United – a Lithuanian supergroup that gave one of Eurovision's most controversial performances of all times. And that's just a small part of his achievements – you'll struggle to find another character that's as diverse and colourful as he is.
This list of ambitious performers is a long one. Sel is a dance music act which manages to sell out biggest arenas in the country (with ticket prices similar to those of visiting international superstars). KeyMono won a Peoples Music Award (a ceremony for unsigned acts) in London for he Best dance/electronic music act. More and more often, the artists choose to go abroad and collaborate on projects with foreign colleagues. Jurga (MTV Best Baltic Act winner) did it in Moscow, writing a series of songs inspired by the city and creating a theatre spectacle to go with the music. Or Rasa Bubulytė – she went to Liverpool to study music and came back with Rasabasa, a band she formed with Norwegians she met there (it had already won the Best Alternative award at M.A.M.A., a Lithuanian version of Grammy).
Local bands increasingly get a chance to support the touring international stars which is another great way to learn and establish contacts. A new outburst of fresh talent was provoked by MTV starting operation in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia in 2006 and introduction of Best Baltic Act award at EMA's. Three Lithuanian acts in a row won it (a round of applause, Jurga, Happyendless and Leon Somov & Jazzu). The recession killed it (local MTV, not Lithuanian music) but the channel certainly inspired local artists to think big.
What's interesting is that instead of choosing the path of trying to conquer the pop oriented Russian market, more and more local acts perform in English and make a strong effort to keep in touch with current music trends of the Western world, while managing to keep that special Baltic element, quite often influenced by the long tradition of Lithuanian folk music.
And even declining sales of legal music recordings does nothing to stop Lithuanian artists. New ways to distribute music are introduced – Andrius Mamontovas and The Ball & Chain put their latest albums online for free in collaboration with sponsors. They sold CDs during the concerts and found out there are still plenty of people who prefer physical format. And that's just one of many ways to move forward.
2012 brought a return of televised Lithuanian music awards ceremony – something musicians had to do without for several years. M.A.M.A. awards extravaganza not only introduced a healthy mix of established acts and new artists. Against all odds, it took place in Lithuania's biggest arena. All of the 10 thousand tickets were sold.
Keeping this in mind, the future seems bright for Lithuanian pop/rock. We have no doubts some of Lithuanian artists could stand on the same level with music from some of Europe's biggest names. Time will tell if any of these artists here will make it really big. Meanwhile, this is your „who's who“ guide of Lithuanian pop and we hope you'll take some time to explore works of the performers featured. You might actually find a journey through Lithuania's pop and rock music landscape quite rewarding.