We all have penchants for listening to music we know, but Europe has so many unique and invigorating music genres to discover. From the underground clubs of Moscow to the summer festivals of Tallinn, we include a special-made playlist which is ready for you to explore.
In the 1990s, anybody who was “somebody” in the music business knew Europe was the place to get the best in pop music production. The Backstreet Boys might just be one of America’s biggest exports, but their first album was actually recorded and produced in Germany. You might say Europe created the Backstreet Boys.
European pop music has a long legacy of delivering tunes many of us grew up with. Whether the likes of Robyn and ABBA or Lou Bega and Eiffel 65, the continent’s artists have always found ways to spruce up the musical atmosphere. But as great as Europop is, there’s more to Europe’s musical genres.
Each region has its own unique spin on genres we may have mentally cordoned off. Hard rock bands like Krokus from Switzerland can be found following Gun ‘n’ Roses on “oldies” radio stations. Meanwhile, Russian cities nurture offshoots of electronica. Atmospheric, emotional EDM inspired by the vacuous atmosphere between the rare hotspots of this vast country.
And don’t worry, you can discover the ins and outs of these lesser-known genres in this specially made playlist! It includes all the artists from every city mentioned.
Go to the “Are We Music” playlist
Having so much music at our fingertips, we would imagine it to be easier to keep on top of new music. On the contrary, a lot of us get into ruts of listening to just a few artists over and over again. That much is certainly true for me. But last year, whilst curating playlists for the bleisure (business + leisure, in case you’re not up-to-date) app, Jack and Ferdi, my auditory world opened up. I discovered music I never knew existed from places that I have never been.
There are entire music scenes that may go unnoticed unless we’re lucky enough to stumble across them, which mirror the artists’ surroundings, regardless of where they are in the world. The scope of European music is so vast—there really is something for everyone, whether you’re into experimental lo-fi indie ballads or raving to hardcore, mind-numbing, palm-sweating house.
1) Moscow’s Ambient Electronica
Moscow is a city brimming with culture. And that doesn’t end with its architecture or history. Beneath the city’s surface, there’s a subculture of dimly-lit dancehalls and cocktail-crazed clubs where people dance their souls away. The clubs are places of solace, boasting warehouse-style venues that have overtaken former gasworks and former restaurants. However, the electronic music that fills these spaces is distinctly Russian; artistically cut off from the influences of the Calvin Harrises and the AVICIIs, but married with the sense of complacency it takes to mirror the world as we know it.
Artists to check out: Vtgnike, Low Tape, Julia Govor, ARTY
Recommended reading: The resilience of Russia’s dance music scene
2) Tallinn’s Experimental Folk
For a city with a population of just over 700,000, Tallinn’s music scene is as vast and broad as any of its larger contemporaries. Whether you’re into techno, experimental music, or folk, there are Estonian artists out there at the helm. For that, we have Tallinn Music Week to thank. Since 2009, the week-long festival, which usually takes place in August, has opened the floodgates to a stream of musical expression. Estonians are looking forward to their culture, set on reviving traditional music while also continuing to break the shackles of their Soviet-ruled history. As a result, folk bands like Duo Ruut are bringing traditional Estonian music into the mainstream armed with the instrument called a kannel and a lot of heart.
Artists to check out: Duo Ruut, Estbel, Maarja Nuut, Mari Kalkun
Recommended reading: Building a New World in the Face of Estonia’s Isolated Past
3) Warsaw’s Radical Alternative
From Tęskno at Primavera to Kamp! at SXSW, Polish indie music has taken over the world’s biggest festivals over the past few years. One city in particular encompasses a vast 23soundscape—Warsaw. Music thrives in big cities, but many visitors might look for reasons to visit outside of its history, and for this, the clubs and venues are host to plenty of captivating acts. As well as being a haven of small venues for Polish bands to showcase their catalogues and a radical haven for DIY club music that rose out of the remnants of Soviet rule, their alternative rock has a way of embracing outer influences, while staying true to the varied range of Polish sound.
Artists to check out: Artur Rojek, Sorry Boys, Coals, Micromusik
Recommended reading: Underground Out of Poland
4) Bratislava’s Melancholic Melodia
Bratislava is in a prime location for people to travel to; it’s also a hub for great music of various genres. In line with many central and Eastern European cities, the demise of communism brought in a fresh wave of inspired artists who started making their own sounds. With pop and rock roots, the Bratislavan music scene has grown into a tightly-knit yet multifaceted collection, that calls the Slovak capital home. As an indie-head, I’m always drawn to dreamy pop and synths, and artists in Bratislava have a way of doing this that’s as melancholic as it is optimistic.
Artists to check out: Nvmeri, Bulp, Tolstoys, FVLCRVM
Recommended reading: Bratislava According to Bulp
5) Budapest’s Magyar Music
Magyar music is the music of Hungary. It’s a name that’s come down through the centuries and is a term that Hungarians now use to refer to themselves—and to describe their music. What began as folk music has blossomed into everything from the alternative rock and hip-hop of the 90s to the dance and folk-inspired indie of the noughties. While most indie acts seem to inspire each other, there are elements to these Hungarian bands that I haven’t heard from anywhere else. These are elements that derive from traditional Hungarian folk, using wind and string instruments like the hurdy-gurdy and flute which are used in contemporary music to this day.
Artists to check out: Middlemist Red, Deep Glaze, Mary PopKids, Esti Kornel
Recommended reading: The Rough Guide to World Music: Hungary
6) Minsk’s Belarusian New Wave
Minsk and electronic, synth-driven indie music go hand in hand. In fact, there’s a whole subculture around this style of music. Breaking away from rock venues or dance clubs, what some Belarusian artists have managed to do is make music that could be played in both, but doesn’t belong in either. As opposed to the kind of indie vibes of Fleet Foxes and Mumford and Sons, there’s stuff in the vein of Fever Ray and the influence of other chill, Scandinavian electronic artists. Yet it is 100% Minsk, and experienced as such.
Artists to check out: Dlina Volny, Port Mone, Mustelie, NINAVI
Recommended reading: An insider’s cultural guide to Minsk: rocking in the ‘world’s cleanest city’
7) Istanbul’s Türkçe Pop
Unlike other genres of music inspired by artists in the US and UK, pop music tends to be the other way around. The bangers we hear on the radio recently for example, are heavily steeped in Latin influence. Who knows where songwriters will get their inspiration from next? In Turkey, pop is king. While tracks are often inspired by Western music, traditional Turkish sounds that might sound flat to our ears are featured prominently, as are instruments like the oud and lesser-known quanun. Even if the artists have been inspired by the Beatles or Jay-Z—yep, Turkish rap is a thing, too—it never feels formulaic.
Artists to check out: Zeynep Bastik, Sezen Aksu, Kalben, Reynmen
Recommended reading: From Saz to Jazz, a Guide to Istanbul’s Live Music Scene
8) Brussels’ Indie Magic
When it comes to indie rock, Belgium does it just right. Why we don’t hear more from Belgian artists unless we know where to look is, therefore, baffling. Although the city is alive with all kinds of music for all kinds of fans, the hints of French pop and equal amounts of DIY garage and rock are all too strong to avoid. Brussels has promising bands the likes of Pitchfork haven’t yet covered but pretty soon, they will.
Artists to check out: Balthazar, Absynthe Minded, The Bony King of Nowhere, Angèle
Recommended reading: Travel Through Time to the Heart of Belgium’s Underground Music Scene
Check out the custom-made “Are We Music” playlist on Spotify.