Interview: Natalie Mets Nighttime – Adviser for the City of Tallinn
So how did you get this job?
In 2021 I ran in the local elections in Tallinn aiming to become Night Mayor. My party was invited into the coalition, but the Mayor was very sceptical about the idea of having “another” Mayor, so my title is Advisor, but it really doesn’t matter to me.
So do you have a team or are you pretty much on your own?
I work with people from my party and with the Deputy Mayor for culture. But I don’t have a team. It’s a political position rather than administrative, but I do have a budget. I don’t think there are many other cities where the position is political, but the scepticism meant this was the only way to get started in Tallinn. Actually. I don’t think it should be political. Maybe in the future this will change.
What languages do you use most and what countries are you talking to most outside Estonia?
I’m using Estonian, then also English and nothing else because I can’t speak Russian and my German is very poor.
Lately I’ve been talking with the UK, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands. Mostly countries in the west.
What kind of music genres are popular in Tallinn?
Apart from mainstream pop, we have experimental, electronic, techno, house, club music, also bands playing indie music, metal, post punk, things like that. The biggest non-mainstream genre is probably hip-hop.
So how does your role in politics help local musicians? What kind of things can you do to help them?
Actually I get to do quite a lot because the situation is really grim right now in Estonia. There’s a tendency that people aged 30 to 40 have stopped participating in the scene, they sometimes go to concerts but they don’t go to parties any more. And young people, the “corona generation”, prefer to party at home or can’t afford to go out.
To support live music venues we have a fund so they can apply for up to 15,000 euros twice per year, for events programming. Tallinn is a UNESCO Music City and this actually helps a lot because music is the priority in culture spending. There is also a fund for music projects, and now we are piloting a scheme to allow young people to buy unsold tickets at the last minute at a discount price.
Also we have issues with the fire department and urban planning, so I’ve been talking a lot with them, trying to find ways to avoid closing down venues, giving the venues more time to get everything in order.
So what’s the most successful idea so far? What’s been the biggest hit?
Well, the night buses are a really big hit, funnily. And people don’t seem to get tired of them. Every time I mention night buses on my social media everyone just goes crazy. But they also think that this funding scheme for venues is really important as well.
You also have Tallinn Music Week. So how’s that helping local musicians?
It’s very helpful for some of the musicians to showcase their talent and I think overall it helps the local music industry to get more professional. And there are a lot of international visitors that are seeing our local musicians during that week.
What kind of knowledge and skills do you think your local musicians are lacking?
I think it’s mostly the financial knowledge that they’re missing. I see that in alternative music, amongst venues and promoters. The venues that are not doing well are all alternative ones but the mainstream ones are doing really good.
So I think that mainstream venues take it more as a business and alternative venues take it as like a labour of love. Business skills and an understanding of numbers is lacking, meaning also that, for example, Music Estonia is trying to collect data from them right now, but it’s really difficult. If they would really understand why it’s needed and how it will help them, then they would be more enthusiastic.
It’s interesting you mention that side of things, because that’s exactly the side that we’re trying to fix with our project. So you’re saying things in Tallinn are quite gloomy, is your scene struggling and shrinking?
It’s said that the average lifetime of a venue up to 400 people in Tallinn is six years. Two of them will be closing soon and they have been open for six years. So maybe it’s just evolution, but yeah, they’re closing. The live music venues are struggling at the moment.
And what do you think is the main thing that’s damaging them or holding them back?
I think the problem is habits and the priorities of people. The people who would go to venues for some reason currently decide not to go. I guess it’s inflation and simply a lack of money. One idea I am working on to boost the music economy is to give 50 Euros to people turning 18 to spend on whatever music events they want. I think we’re actually going to do it because it doesn’t cost a lot for the city, there are not many 18 year old people. It would be about 210,000 Euros for one year.
We want to get young people back to the venues, or maybe for the first time, and perhaps they like it and they get into the habit. It’ll be really interesting to see where they end up spending the money, we will collect interesting data. I mean, if they want to go to classical music shows then that’s fine, maybe that’s the new trend, we will find out.
How happy are you with equality of opportunity in your city? For example gender, orientation, ethnicity?
I would say there’s a lot to work on. Maybe gender equality is not such a problem now after years of work, but ethnic inequality is big. I’m actually writing my master’s thesis about the integration of Estonian and Russian-speaking people through club culture. Also there is unemployment and poverty which makes young people’s ability to go to parties very unequal.
So there’s one last question, and that is: What would you do if you had unlimited power and money?
I would definitely help the venues that are intermediate use. I would help those venues to fix themselves up and comply with regulations. So the fire department would be satisfied. Usually it takes around 100,000 Euros and that’s too much for a small venue to finance themselves in an old factory or something like that. Also I would help with sound isolation measures to make more places viable as venues.