Alt Party

Ian Smith reports from Helsinki


I was woken at 04:30 of Friday 9th January. My dad would be taking me to the airport, where I would be flying to Helsinki for my first ever Alternative Party. My flight was at 07:30 so I had plenty of time to double check that I had my passport and everything I needed.

We got to Heathrow at about 05:15 ,as my dad's place is only a stone's throw from the airport. It was so early that passport control and the security checks weren't even open. I checked in my luggage and ticket at the British Airways Euro Traveller desk. Then outside for a much needed cigarette break.

Going through departures was painless, which is one good thing about travelling so early in the morning. It was now about 06:00 so I had some time to kill. I didn't bother to look in the duty-free as you can no longer buy cheap cigarettes. Apparently if you are a member of the European Parliament, one of the perks is that you can still buy duty-free, not fair!

I listened to Pink Floyd's The Division Bell while on the plane. It took just two and a half hours to get to Helsinki. The flight was only about a quarter full so I had three seats to myself. It was a very smooth landing, which along with taking off is something I'm a bit apprehensive about. My uncle would be picking me up from the airport. He lives about half an hour by bus from the city centre.

The party itself
After something to eat at my uncle's bungalow he gave me a lift to Helsinki's centre. One thing I love about Helsinki is the accessibility of everything. Coupled with a very good public transport system it's the complete opposite to crowded London. Plus it's a seaside city so the air is clean and in summer it's great to go swimming at the beach.

The party was being held in an old cinema called Gloria. Nowadays the venue is used for gigs and stuff like that. I arrived at about 15:00, went down the stairs and paid my 25. I was very early as the show proper didn't start until 18:30. I decided to listen to my Walkman and wait in the smoking area until Felice arrived. There were a few people setting up their computers in the balcony area and some also downstairs.

The computers I immediately noticed were: an Oric complete with a programming manual, a couple of Amigas, a couple of Commodore 64s, an Apple iBook, plenty of PC laptops and my own Apple PowerBook. I didn't bring any of my Ataris as it wasn't really practical coming from England. Some of the people I spoke to at the show thought the same way, so they just had laptops.

By 18:30 a lot more people had arrived, Felice and his friend Chris had, too. Felice had a laptop equipped with a WLAN card. So he would be able to take advantage of the free wireless networking. Chris had brought his Atari Falcon with him.

So came the opening speech by the organizer. He thanked Apple, Sun Microsystems and Epson for help with the show. These companies had all provided practical help.

The first act to appear was an electronic orchestra, about 12 of them sitting on a circular table with their computers. Standing in the middle of the table was the conductor. Just like a conventional orchestra, he waved his baton when they were to make their sound and how long they were to hold it. The sounds they made were very interesting, space age and techno-like. At the end of their set they got a very loud applause.

Meanwhile many people where getting into their coding for the competitions. I was going through some CD-ROMs on my laptop. Unfortunately I didn't have a wireless card in my Apple so I couldn't browse the web. Felice got his working after playing about with the settings on his PC. Chris was showing some quite amazing demos on his Falcon, most of which I hadn't seen before. He also had a demo which he was entering into one of the competitions.

The next act on stage was a three-piece band. The music they played was kind of black metal combined with techno. On the projector next to where they played were black and white films of atomic bombs going off, the Third Reich and soldiers going off to war. I think most of the footage was from the second world war. I couldn't work out if the soldiers were Germans on the Eastern Front or Finnish soldiers from the 1939 war of independence with Stalin's Russia. The lead singer of the band had one half of his face painted white and one half black.

[Photo: CiH and Felice]

Many people were busy on their computers during the acts. But, it being an old cinema, you could be on the balcony or downstairs, and watch the entertainment at the same time. I thought it was a brilliant venue for such a party. It had atmosphere as well because it was dark, just like at the cinema, but for some red lights and disco lights.

In the upstairs corridor which was the smoking area there was a guy with a double bass connected to his computer. He was making all sorts of experimental music and pulsing sounds. Being a smoker I was in and out of this corridor a lot. I spoke to one Finnish guy here who did demos on his Commodore 64. He spoke very good English. I asked him is it hard to learn programming when many of the books are in English. He said that it was easier as all the keywords and function commands are in English. Can you imagine an English person learning programming in another language, very few and far between I imagine!

While we were speaking another act came on downstairs. I think he was kind of a comedian who played guitar and the harmonica. With him was a guy who played the sitar and  didgeridoo. I couldn't understand him as his songs and speaking were in Finnish. I was told he had some kind of ethical or political message. The way he was dressed and his short hair reminded me of the nutty boys themselves, the band "Madness".

During this party there were plenty of people taking photos and filming. I think maybe the Helsinki papers were there. I know last year's event got into the papers.

Towards the end of the night there was a DJ in the smoking corridor. He started just towards the end of the comedian guy's set. He played some brilliant house and techno records, some that I even recognized. I thoroughly enjoyed this night. The DJ was great and it was a brilliant way to unwind from all the computing.

I left at about 01:00 and got back to my uncle's at about 02:00. I was absolutely knackered as it had been a very long day .I slept like a log that night!

[Photo: Band on stage]

Day two
The second day was Saturday, I got to Gloria at about 13:00, I had slept in. I didn't bring my computer this day as I thought I'd see what everyone else was doing. Many of the people had spent the night there.

Two guys with Commodore 64s downstairs were still beavering away at their demos. I wondered if they had slept or taken a break at all, as I hadn't seen them pause once. Chris of Maggie fame was writing about the event for his disk mag. Felice, I don't think had much sleep, but was alert as anything. My eyes were still very bloodshot from the first night.

This was the day when there were all sorts of competitions. There was a poetry competition, cartoon drawing and the demos were judged. I stayed about three hours this day but found myself falling asleep listening to computer generated music. A lot of people were still there and I was talking to a French demo writer and Felice's friend Martin, whom I had met the night before. Martin's a French Canadian who lives in Helsinki with quite a story to tell.

All in all it was a very good and interesting event. A wide variety of computers were on show both old and new. People were very friendly and I definitely hope to come to next year's event. Hopefully I'll find a way to bring my Atari next time. Maybe I'll have a Stacy by then and the load won't be so heavy, hope so!

I didn't make the finishing party with the sauna and beer. I got an invite from my cousin who I hadn't seen for a long time, so I went there. Next year maybe the sauna, if I've lost weight!

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MyAtari magazine - Feature #4, January 2004

Copyright 2004 MyAtari magazine