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In common usage the Finnish word rautalanka (literally "iron wire", referring to the strings of the electric guitar) means instrumental rock in general. Some enthusiasts use the term more narrowly to refer to the somewhat distinct style of playing it that has developed in Finland over the years. This article is written from that more narrow point of view.
Rautalanka is typically played by a quartet consisting of a lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass guitar and drum kit. Rautalanka music can also include other instruments and vocals. The heyday of rautalanka was in the early 1960s, but it has enthusiasts even today. Typical features of rautalanka are sharp and clear melodies, fast tempos and extensive use of tape echo, but little or no overdrive or fuzz. What distinguishes rautalanka most clearly from other twangy guitar genres is that the melodies tend to be in minor keys and melancholic, based on folk tunes and schlager songs.
Rautalanka began in the early 1960s, when Yleisradio had a monopoly on radio in Finland and it played little in the way of pop music. Foreign radio stations played pop music around that time. Those stations were eagerly listened to in Finland, and the most popular was Radio Luxembourg. It aired guitar music, which prompted the Finnish youth to set up bands and play this music. Bands such as The Shadows and The Ventures served as examples for rautalanka bands.
Rautalanka was the first youth-oriented style of music, played by young people, to receive mass distribution in Finland. Before rautalanka, music recording and live performing had been more or less monopolized by (often older) professional musicians.
The golden age of rautalanka in Finland lasted from early 1961 to late 1963, at which point the interest of youth at large shifted away from the Finnish style to merseybeat, led by The Beatles. While instrumental rock music was popular all around Europe, the term rautalanka is used only in Finland, Sweden (taggtråd) and Norway (piggtråd). It refers to instrumental music which is too melodic and clean to be true rock music, but also too rhythmic to be folk music.
Worldwide, the best known representative of this style is the British band The Shadows, who have visited Finland several times, most recently in 2009. Their best known song is Apache. Their American counterparts are The Ventures, whose song Walk, Don't Run was a hit in Finland and used by Yleisradio as their theme melody. The first real Finnish rautalanka hit was "Emma" by The Sounds, which became the image of Finnish rautalanka music. Many bands employed folk music and other styles of popular music as ingredients of their musical pieces. While rock music eventually superseded both Merseybeat and rautalanka in Finnish youth culture, the style survived as background music for many Finnish popular music performers, and Hank Marvin has been the example for many modern Finnish rock musicians.
The essential hallmark of rautalanka sound is a strong lead guitar, usually a Fender Stratocaster (or its clone) with single coil pickups and tape echo guitar effect (in contrast to the reverb style spring echo used in surf music). Genuine tape echo devices are used often, and many bands do not use digital effects out of respect to the traditions.
The traditions of rautalanka music in Finland are strong, and some of the most persistent traditions are:
- Rautalanka is a highly do-it-yourself music. Many rautalanka artists build their own custom guitars and amplifiers
- The music is very melodic, and the rhythm section only supports the lead guitar.
- Melodies tend to be melancholic and in minor keys.
- The names of rautalanka bands usually are English language plurals ending in letter 's', although there are exceptions. This is inherited from foreign groups such as The Shadows and The Ventures.
- Many rautalanka bands use uniform stage costumes in 1960s style.
- The lead guitar is prominent, melodies are crisp and stark, and the guitar playing style can be almost virtuosic.
- Overdrive and distortion are avoided, but tape echo is employed extensively.
- If there is a singer, he or she almost always plays the bass or rhythm guitar.
While traditional rautalanka is today a marginal musical genre, followed by relatively small but enthusiastic circles, it didn't cease to exist in 1964. It has formed the basis for the whole of Finnish youth music, and the strong melodic heavy metal tradition in Finland has its roots in rautalanka guitar work. It is performed today not only as instrumental, but it has also been combined with popular and dance music, not the least because of the work of Topi Sorsakoski & Agents in the 1980s. The strong, echoing electric guitar in Finnish dance orchestras may today be more a rule than an exception.
- The Beatfox
- The Charades
- The Ironwire
- The Saints
- The Strangers
- The Steelers
- The Spectre
- The Sounds
- The Mutants
- Danny and the Islanders
- Laika & the Cosmonauts
- The Regents
- The Mustangs
- The Quiets
- The Twangers
- The Youngers
- The Scaffolds
- Rautalanka.org, Finnish rautalanka musicians' pages
- Rautalankamusiikin Ystävät RAMY r.y. Friends of Rautalanka Music