Books Features Interviews

Interview with Matt Potter featuring his new book Outlaws Inc.

Outlaws Inc. is the new book by Matt Potter, a British journalist, editor and broadcaster. An exciting fun to read chronicle of his real adventures following the crews of ex-Soviet army men (especially “Mickey” and his gang) that fly monster planes like the Ilyushin-76 delivering all kind of legal and illegal goods around the world. If you are curious to discover more about the dark side of aviation, this book is a must to have!

FREE! Magazine contacted Matt and he kindly answered our questions where he explains with a great sense of humor more about his crazy adventures in some of the most dangerous areas of the planet and the tough lives of those mercenaries of the air.

Outlaws Inc.

Thanks for your answers Matt!!! How long did it take in total the research for Outlaws Inc.? Was it difficult to combine it while working in other articles-projects?

Was it difficult? It nearly killed me, haha! Actually, the sort of passive research had been going on for many years – not that I knew it. I’d happened to be in a lot of the right places at the right times (or wrong places, wrong times, depending on how you look at it) over the years – Russia in the anarchy of the collapsing USSR; Serbia under Milosevic, just before the NATO bombing; Central America in the months the cocaine drops by air intensified)… and I’d always been curious about the airmen who seemed to flit in and out of those trouble spots so easily, despite all the UN embargoes and no-fly zones you could throw at them. I hopped onboard as soon as I could (Afghanistan, 2003), but it wasn’t I decided to write the book – and chase those same airmen across the world – that the size of the task I’d set hit me. That phase – the detective work, forensic tracking etc, side by side with the international monitors chasing these crews – took about a year. And yes, everything else sort of fell by the wayside for that year. I sort of entered the Twilight Zone. I remember I even spent New Year’s Eve monitoring radio chatter in the skies over Africa! All my friends figured I was dead, I think. And boy, were they surprised when they got the launch party invite.

In approximately how many trips did you join Mickey and his crew all over the world?

Well, the book was made up of maybe eight major trips. But not all of them were with Mickey. And plenty of those where I met Mickey, he wasn’t exactly pleased to see me.

Was it easy to convince Mickey and his crew about joining them in their wanderings around the world? Were they not suspicious for having a journalist onboard asking questions? Did you try also to join some other crews before or after getting acquainted with them?

No, it wasn’t easy, though the fact that the first time we met I was on another assignment entirely – flying into Afghanistan with a mate, just to see how far we could get – sort of took the tension off. I pretended I didn’t speak or understand Russian too, at first, so they spoke more freely than perhaps they would otherwise. To be honest, I don’t think they cared what I wrote. They aren’t bookstore kinds of guys. And aside from being threatened with all manner of retribution if I ever revealed their identities or exact business, they were OK, really. That’s not to say they liked it. They just let me get on with it. The odd bribe helped.


Were there situations during your adventures narrated in the book when you felt your life was in a very real danger?

Yes, a few – but where life is different from movies is that in life you usually only realize it in retrospect – at the time you’re just thinking hmm, what to do now. The dive-bombing landing in Kabul was probably the moment where I thought my number had really been called with the most certainty. I mean, getting to the point where impact with the ground is so close you kick your legs out involuntarily is too close for comfort. But then again, there were incidents in Africa that were creepier – where you get followed and threatened by people you can only assume are government stooges or secret police. They could do what they wanted. I was lucky – and foreign, probably, which helped – so they didn’t. But there are African journalists and dissidents and ‘snoopers’ who disappear every month. The spooks don’t show as much caution around them. Oh yeah, and there was a point when I accidentally took a piss on an old landmine in Afghanistan. That could have been messy.

I notice when reading the book you cannot hide a lot of sympathy for these aviators. Do you think they are more “victims of a harsh” destiny than real part of a smuggling problem? How would you define them after your experiences with them for a person who would have never been in contact with such kind of aviators?

Yes, they are victims of a harsh destiny: anyone who condemns them should probably ask what they were supposed to do when they came home from fighting a war they never wanted, for a USSR that no longer existed, and got betrayed by an armed force that had promised them eternal security in exchange for their lives. I don’t think they’re good men, or bad men, but men. I’m a journalist. Some people work in advertising, or drive trucks, or make shoes, and plenty of them get up to no good too. Do they know there’s some bad stuff going in the hold occasionally? Sure. Then again, you and I know some pretty bad stuff goes into the sports trainers, hamburgers or whatever we buy, and we switch off to the big picture, just like they do.

“The truth about who pays the ransoms for the Somalian pirates was my personal WTF moment in the book”

All over the book, there are a lot of references to hidden powers from above that are pulling the ropes of the smuggling goods business all over the world, but did you get to know any specific information about what “those powers” would be?

Yes. Let me put it this way, without naming names: the trail never stops going upwards, and most of the time there’s state complicity – I’m not just talking about African mafia states, but the former Soviet countries these guys operate from. Just after the book was published in the UK, word reached me that three Ukrainian former gunrunners who’d been either lured or extradited back to Kiev to stand trial or testify, had been killed. Word is they could have tied the so-called illicit trade firmly to the very top of the government there. One was strangled with a towel, one knocked down in a hit-and-run in a pedestrian mall (!) and the other fell out of a building. You have to be careful not to talk too much, but you’d have to be blind not to see just enough.

Did you receive (apart from that phone call in Africa narrated in the book) any threat or pressure not to publish the book or parts of information in the book?

Well, yes, some – but really, not as much as I’d feared. I’m sure if I’d betrayed assurances of anonymity, or been an asshole and just laid into the guys in some holier-than-thou way, people would have been pissed off. But I’ve been so careful not to betray anyone’s trust – and I think, oddly, the book benefited as a result. It made me really think (and I think more journalists should) about consequences, not just to me, but to the sources who spoke to me. And that led me to a much more empathetic view of everyone, from Viktor Bout to Mickey.

You mentioned that your Russian language skills are not perfect, but can you manage to understand and hold a conversation in Russian?

Haha, yeah, it’s deteriorated like MAD since the 1990s though – I was pretty good then, at least good enough to write job applications in Russian etc. Now I’m good enough for the pub, I reckon, but not a great deal more than that. Oh well, it’ll come back when I’m next over there I hope. So yeah, the conversations with the crews were increasingly of the hybrid-English-Russian-German-drunken-bollocks variety.

In some stories narrated in the book, it seems like the crews would make a lot of money with some services they provide, but at the same time, many of them seem desperate for new jobs and patching old planes again and again. Is it really a profitable business for them? Are there cases where they could retire with a good sum of money earned, but they prefer to fly and take risks because is just the only style of life they know?

It depends what you mean by profit. Like all of us, they get the occasional fat one, and a lot of being jerked around and not paid by clients and minimum-paycheck stuff in the meantime. The answer, I think, lies in the fact that they really all wish they’d never had to leave the military. Let’s face it, if 1992 hadn’t happened, they’d still be airmen, or retired airmen, in the soviet air force. They didn’t plan to be freelance fliers, and most of them probably don’t thrive under those conditions. As one Russian guy I speak to in the book says: they grew up as military; they still think that way. An order comes, they do what needs to be done.

A tank being loaded in an Il-76.

After you saw the dark side about how easy is to pass borders and smuggle all kind of things all over the world, what is your opinion about the security restrictions most of the passengers have to face in their normal flights? Do you think that it is just for the governments to give a false sense of security, while at the same time the “dark” side of the aviation system also operates?

It’s a brilliant question. The answer is, I guess, that the governments know a lot more than you and I think about this ‘dark’ side. They don’t stop it because most of the time it’s the governments themselves who want to use them. (I mean, how do we think all those ‘extraordinary rendition’ suspects got spirited out of Afghanistan? How do we think arms get to rebels our governments would like to arm but can’t afford to politically? So yes, the very idea of a hermetically sealed border is a comforting fiction that some people like to buy into. Others accept there’ll never be a way to regulate he dark side of the global aviation trade, so use it to their advantage.

What are your current and future projects after this book?

Well, it’s out in the States in September, then I’m doing speaking trips there and in Europe through autumn. I guess by New Year’s Eve I’ll have become obsessed with the next topic and have to stay in writing up a new outline! Seriously though, a couple of things are in the pipeline – some stuff I stumbled upon while researching this book, though in a completely different world. You’ll be the first to know!

Is there anything else you want to add for the readers?

Just that the truth about the Somali pirate trade – and who really pays their ransoms – was my personal WTF moment in the book. Well, that and going fishing with a rod and line for 12kg sacks of cocaine. And if that doesn’t whet their appetite, nothing will! Thanks a lot!!!!

Ilyushin-76 using until the last inch of the runway to take off

Books Features

Review: Embassytown by China Miéville

Embassytown, the new novel (his 9th so far) by British fiction writer China Miéville, is not your stereotypical story where aliens, humans, good and bad characters, battles, lasers, swords… appear as in one million novels before and you guess what the next chapter will be about. Miéville´s fiction is fresh, discovering a new world, Arieka, home of the Ariekei and adopted home of the humans in a twisted colonization process.

The reader can feel a bit lost at first with the amount of new jargon and the rules of the “Immer” outside world where Avice, the main character, moves smoothly, apart from never catching a real description of how many characters or the Ariekei themselves look or behave. Here and there, it is brushed some certain behavior of a character that ends up forming a complex palette in a world advocated to destruction unless that old rules and habits get broken.

China Mieville

As I said, this is not the typical non-stop action story, but a very intelligently built up exercise where semiotics, propaganda, duality, freedom and politics get mixed masterfully by the hand of Miéville (no wonder that the author wrote his PhD thesis on Marxism and International Law).

Embassytown is not easy to swallow during the first pages, but it traps you in spiral where characters are not totally evil or good, where people have to take decisions for both their personal interests and the interest of their communities, and where sometimes, telling a lie is the only path to a new truth. A great book that also hides a great exercise of semiotics that would make probably proud to Umberto Eco himself!

Blogs Books Features FREE! Blog

We give away 5 copies of Peter James newest novel: Dead Man´s Grip

FREE! Magazine and Pam Mcmillan Publishing brings you the last amazing thriller from one of the most acclaimed British authors: Dead Man´s Grip by Peter James.

Peter James

To celebrate that summer is here, nothing better than relaxing with a good book in your hands while taking the sun on the beach or close to the pool. Answer correctly to the question below, sending an email with the right choice and “Peter James contest” written in the subject of your email to free(at), or to antonio.diaz(at), and get one of the 5 copies we have for our readers!!!


To what police force does detective superintendent Roy Grace belong?

1. London police force
2. Brighton police force
3. Sussex police force
4. Liverpool police force

Good luck!!!

Concerts Music

Review: Foo Fighters concert. Helsinki. Kalasatama. 26/06/2011

The first and only time I had seen Foo Fighters in concert, I was not pleased. It happened at Provinssirock in 2008. We had had a few too many beers during and after the interview with Black Lips before we headed to the main stage of Provinssi, that was totally crowded. So I am not sure if the beers were to blame, or having to leave before the end to catch the last train, but I noticed the concert there lacking spark and rythm.

So I was curious to see them again, and luckily, my opinion changed drastically.

But before the American band, there was a long evening of good rock at Kalasatama, in Helsinki. I arrived too late, and could see only the couple of final songs of Von Hertzen Brothers, one of the most reputed Finnish rock bands. At least, time enough to enjoy their superb song Let Thy Will Be Done.

Weather was nice, and although the date chosen for the concert was not the best, Sunday of Juhannus, with many potential fans still on holidays or on their way back to Helsinki from the summer cottages, still the assistance was great, with more than 25.000 souls gathered there.

Michael Monroe

After a break in the VIP area to have a cold beer, time to see Michael Monroe. The ex- Hanoi Rocks has rock in his veins, and a wide experience to please the audience. Showing his excellent physical state, he jumped and run all over the state, pleasing a surprisingly young crowd; many teeangers and new generations that still enjoy with good rock and rock, seconded in his band by another Finnish legend, Sami Yaffa.

Third band were the Scottish Biffy Clyro. An unknown band for me before the gig, but actually they left a great impression in the Finnish audience. Their mix of ballads and more powerful metal is an audience pleaser, and exactly the kind of shot that the crow needed to warm up while waiting for the big event of the night, Foo Fighters!!!

Biffy Clyro

Dave Grohl and his comrades really gave this time a solid perfomance. Even when the quality of the sound was not always the best, some reverberation problems on stage, and even when Dave´s voice was pretty damaged at the end of the show becasue of so many screams, he still looked relaxed and having fun on stage. They also had time to pay homage to Michael Monroe, who was not losing detail of the concert on one side of the stage, playing for him some riffs of Hanoi Rocks´classics.

Foo Fighters gave a well rounded tour to their discography, dropping like bombs one hit after another, like The Pretender, My Hero, Learn to Fly or Monkey Wrench, with an audience that did not stop jumping and cheering. the special wink to the Finnish came when Dave appared alone on stage to dedicate them Wheels (“I like to play this song here because you always sing it back to me” he said to the crowd), and continued on acoustic with the first halp of Times Like These, with the band joining him later for an apotheosic end of the song.

Dave Grohl

Maybe due to time constrictions, because in the centre of Helsinki there are very strict laws about noise at night, the band dedicated themselves less to talk to the audience and more to rock. Dave explained that they prefered not to come back for encores, and just to play straight while there was time. He politely thanked the people for supporting them all these years, while joking “We used to suck, but not anymore!” “As far as you come to the concerts, we will continue making albums!”, and headed to a mindblowing end of the setlist with Best of You, the cover of Queen´s classic Tie Your Mother Down, and the emotive and touching Everlong, a cherry on top of the cake.

A well rounded show, and a long slow walk from Kalasatama to Helsinki centre for the thousands of people who assisted. It was all worthy!

Photos: Antonio Díaz

Dave Grohl

Foo Fighters´setlist. Helsinki. 26/06/2011

Bridge Burning
The Pretender
My Hero
Learn to Fly
White Limo
Cold Day in the Sun (Taylor Hawkins on the vocals)
Long Road to Ruin
Stacked Actors
Monkey Wrench
Let It Die
Times Like These
Young Man Blues (Mose Allison cover)
All My Life
Skin and Bones
Best of You
Tie Your Mother Down (Queen cover)

Dave Grohl

Articles Misc

Finland Wold Champion 2011 In Ice Hockey

Believe me, there are not many sunday nights in Helsinki or any other Finnish city where you can hear people screaming all over the streets and cars honking. Tonight is one of those nights.

Finland has won the Ice Hockey World Cup 2011 a few minutes ago. And it has done it against their eternal rival and enemy: Sweden. The final score was an amazing 6-1 for the Finns!

There are not many things that Finns take totally serious, a country that is used to have their feet on the earth. Leaving the door of the sauna open is one. And Ice hockey, especially if it is a World Cup final against Sweden, is another.

Finland champion 2011

I put you an example, years ago I was in Madrid drinking with a group of Finnish friends, who invited a common friend, a player of the Finnish national team, Tommi Santala, who later went to play to USA and is nowadays playing in Switzerland. The evening went great until I mentioned the painful defeats of Finns agaisnt Sweden in ice hockey. A tense silence of 10 seconds took place, until my Finnish friend changed the topic of conversation and we made a brindis. Trust me, they were some of the longest 10 seconds of my life; you do not want to make angry a professional Finnish 120 kgs ice hockey player…

Although Russia is probably the most hated and feared country for the Finns for historical reasons, when it is about ice hockey, the public enemy is Sweden. Swedish are like those big brothers who dress better, get smarter grades at school and end up dating the girl you dream about. The exception to the rule was in 1995, when Finns were able to defeat the Swedes at home to be winners of the World Cup for first time in history… until now in 2011. 16 years in between with a long story of painful defeats against Sweden, to the point that most Finns had become totally fatalist when foreseeing a defeat against their Nordic neighbors.

This victory is a catharsis for the country. I know very well the feeling, last summer Spain experienced something similar being the winners of the football World Cup. I am sure that more than one worker is going to arrive late to the office tomorrow involved in deep celebrations at the local bars ;)

Congratulations Leijonat! You have finally showed that beating the Swedish at an ice hockey final is not just an exceptional event that happens once in the history!

Features Interviews Music

Interview with Michael Gira – Swans

Musical resurrections are possible, and if you do not believe it, just ask Michael Gira. After 14 years having parked the cult rock band Swans, he announced months ago in Internet that the band was alive again and ready to tour, releasing a new album My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky on September 2010.

For ecstasy of old and new Scandinavian and Baltic fans, Swans will be visiting Finland playing at Klubi the 10th of May and Tavastia one day later, the 11th of May, jumping later to the other side of the Baltic Sea to play in Tallinn, the Estonian capital, the 12th of May, and FREE! Magazine had the chance to hold an exclusive interview via Skype with Michael.

I was a bit scared, having listened and watched previous interviews, of the sharp mood of Gira, but actually I must say that during most of the interview, he was in an excellent mood, only partially worsened when mentioning the damage that illegal music downloading is doing to his record label. All in all, Gira is a fascinating character that, as a true genius, just builds his own path, do things the way he wants and says things just as he feels them. Enjoy the interview!:

Thanks for attending us Michael! The first question is the same that I suppose many people around are wondering themselves. After 14 years of hiatus, why to resurrect Swans?

Well, it was a very selfish artistic decision. I had been working with this other group, Angels of Light, for all that time releasing records, and then I did not know how to proceed with that, I got all the blood out of that. Along the way, I had wanted to experience with more total sonic music again, you know, like loud volume and overtones. So I decided to start again Swans, and as soon as this happened, the flow of ideas started to come over again. I am an artist, so I have to be doing something new and challenging to myself or else I feel like I am dying, so it turned out that this band I had had for so many years was the way to move forward again. And that is what I did!


The writing process was quite long wasn´t it? You were working on these songs for 2-3 years.

Yes, I presumed that many would be Angels of Light´s songs. But when I started thinking how to orchestrate them and record them, it was not exciting to me. As soon as I thought of them for Swans, it was a different mindset, everything opened up and I wrote a couple of songs specifically for The Swans then after that. The record you could say that it is kind of a transition between Angels of Light and going back to The Swans. It has my entire story in it, but it also has new players I started to work with again, so it added a tremendous amount to the whole process.

And actually for gathering the money to record this new record, you had the idea to sell a 1.000 copies limited edition of the album I am Insane. Did you gather enough funding to work as you wanted, or did you face constrictions?

Once I got the money after the great fans bought this special project, I started recording and of course I was over budged and I had to collect money again, hehehe! As usual the money run out and the time run out and then the record is finished because of that! Hehehe I found it difficult to stop once I got involved with the recording process and the mixing and the overdubs. All the possibilities are always endless. If I have an appetite for sound, is hard for me to say that something is finished. I would work on it forever if I would have limitless money, probably!

So you never see that the “new child” is totally ready to be born…

Of course. The way I see records now is that they are just one more stage in the whole process. It starts when I pick up my acoustic guitar and I start to play thinking about chores and songs and imaging all the people playing and how it would sound, how to make it electric, and finally becomes a song or a template for a song and I send that to my friends, and they have ideas, and we get in the studio. We start working and it changes totally again, and becomes something on its own.

And even during going on tour, there is an evolution with the songs, right?

Yeah, everything is changing. It is constantly changing, and it should. Otherwise we would just be another stupid pop band, and that is not what we are. We have a lot of new material now. I think we are going to record this summer, in July, in Berlin, a new album. As the tour is going on, we are developing new materials.

I have to be doing something new and challenging, or else I would feel like I am dying!

And what would be the direction of these future albums for Swans?

The band has been around for a long time, and it has evolved quite a lot. It is going more in the sonic direction. Less word oriented. There are some songs with words, right now I just got a song that I think it is going to be orchestrated in this “country psychedelic” way. Gentle and quiet, but other songs we have been doing are very propulsive rhythmically and very long, they go over 20 minutes and more sonic oriented. I think the new record will have a lot of variation on it, sometimes pretty and quiet, and some other times more sonic.

How has your attitude evolve through the years? Are you still the same wild young boy? For example, you still have “punch on your face” lyrics and titles for songs like “You Fucking People Make me Sick”?

Well, I have never complained about the world around. For example, that is a complicated song. It was written when I was making a big sonic piece out of loops, a kind of collage, and I went on with my acoustic guitar, playing while distractedly looking at internet, at a music website, and I started writing imaging myself as a murderer or a rapist, just stalking and killing fashionable young people wearing corporate clothing. I am not saying it is me, I was only writing from that point of view. Then, when I was singing it, I realized that I sounded like my good friend Devendra Banhart. So I called him and he accepted to sing it, so all the thing made sense.


So you had a good relation with Banhart beforehand?

I produced Devendra´s first 2 albums, and released 3 or 4 of his records on my label Young God Records.

And how was the experience of having your daughter collaborating there too?

Oh well, you know, she is 4.5 years old, so she did not really know what she was saying! hehehe.

You are visiting Finland soon. Have you visited here before? What are your expectations when visiting here?

Yeah, I played solo actually years ago, in Helsinki and in Tampere. I enjoyed it. The Finnish people are problematic, as you know! hehehe. They are much removed, reticent, they do not like to talk, so being American, and it was funny. Actually in the last Swans tour, this band Panasonic was opening for us. I liked them a lot, but there would be these moments when as an American you talk, and they were just dead silence. A funny story is that when we first met, they were waiting for us in Amsterdam, in the tour bus. They had been there for a couple of days, and when I arrived I just asked “Hey guys, how are you doing? Are you having fun?” and they just said “What do you mean “fun”?” Hehehe. That is my impression of Finland! It can be 50 men sitting in a bar, and they do not talk, just looking down.

Michael, this tour actually is planned to last pretty long, right, around one year and a half?

We started the tour in September last year, and looks like it is going to go till October this year, and maybe some short things after that. So we will record some material in Berlin in July and then some more material in September again. And then I will have to be working on the new album, mixing it, adding overdubs and all that. And then later, in 2012, the new album will come up and it will be a kind of a 30 year anniversary album. We are working on new material as we tour, so we almost have the whole record. In the set we are playing now, there are 2 new songs, one about 15 minutes long and one about 30 minutes long, and there is a couple of instrumental things which I think they are really good and they will be in the record. Now I am working on a couple more of acoustic songs. It will be a long album with a lot of sonic variation. Very intense, much different than the one we just did, more focused on the sonic side.

Being The Swans also a band well known for giving the best at live performances, have you thought of releasing a live album?

Yeah, we are recording every show, so for sure we will do a live album.


Many fans must be wonder also about your relation with the ex member Jarboed. Do you keep in touch with each other? Would there be any chance of a re-encounter with the band?

No. We keep in touch somehow, but you know, Jarboed was very important for the group, but the reason she was in the group is that she was my mate. It was not that I was looking for a keyboardist or someone to sing female vocals. It was that she was there and I started to think on ways of adding more dynamics and variations. Jarboed could sing, so we had this primitive keyboard, and she was playing these chunks of sounds, and then she started to sing. She added a lot, no question about that, but once the relation ended, there was no point for that anymore. These songs do not call for any female background vocals. This is a new thing and I am moving forward. Some people are not happy she is not in it, but fuck them! I do not care. This is my work!

How was in the past, being a couple and working together?

It was always an argument! hehehe She would not be in the mixing, she would be in the studio and she would do her parts, and then she will be gone and the record would go on after that. But we fought all the time! Ask anybody who was on tour with us, it was hell! I remember once we got upstate, I think somewhere in Sweden, and in the dressing room there were all these people from the press, from big publications because Swans was flying high at that time, and I was just telling about changing a part of a song when she walked into the dressing room, and she was went “You fucking bastard!” and picked up a big bottle of wine and threw it as hard as she could to me! It smashed all over the dressing room!

Romantic, eh!

Hehehe. All the journalists left, of course! That is how touring with us was. I do not want to go back to that. I mean, she is great, but it is like two pieces of sand paper rubbing against each other.

Some people are not happy that Jarboed is not in the band anymore, but fuck them!

For you, owning your own record company Young God Records, what is your view about piracy and illegal downloading nowadays?

Well, streaming is fine for me; I have no problem with that. It is like reviewing before buying. But downloading is a total different thing. Of course I have a problem with people stealing my music. I am a bit sick with the discussion. Many young people write in my Facebook page that it helps me, but it is the opposite, it damages me incredibly, in fact I don´t know if I can carry on with my record label because of it. I have brought great musicians to wider audiences; it takes great effort, time and money. And people the just fucking take it! So I am closing down the record label!

In the eighties people recorded cassettes and sent to each other, that is a total different story than now, when it is massive. When they say, “Oh I will buy it later”, yeah right… Maybe only one out of ten persons buys it later. Then people propose that I could tour more, but then, with all the artists touring more, the market is over flooded. There are only a couple of big artists who really make good money out of it. So I don´t know what is going to happen…

Well Michael. We can see you are going to be very busy for the rest of the year touring and working on the new album. Is there anything else that you want to add for the readers?

No, just looking forward to coming to Finland and seeing you all there!

Swans Myspace:

Review of Helsinki gig at Tavastia coming soon!!!

Blogs FREE! Blog

What the Finns need to know about Portugal

Interesting and educative video. And now that after the success of the True Finns has shaken the foundations of the political and social world in Finland, it is worthy for a sector of the Finnish population to watch…

What the Finns need to know about Portugal

Blogs Cover story FREE! Blog Misc

Helsinki Nightlife – Tips & Hints

When visiting a new city, apart from the offer of restaurants, museus or monuments that a new place can offer, the curiosity about the local nightlife scene is undoubtedly one of the most searched items in the net and forums. New bars and clubs to explore are double exciting to discover when the light of the day deems and let the night evolve us, although in Helsinki on summer, you can still feel pretty much daylight in your eyes due to their geographical location.

This is not of course an exhaustive tourist guide with all possibilities to explore in such a big city as Helsinki is, but more a collection of personal observation and hints about my favorite and not so favorite places after having lived, studied and worked for several years in the Finnish capital.

Party girls

The first important thing to take into account is that Finns drink a lot when going out. So do not be surprised if your perception of Helsinki and its habitants change drastically from daylight to nighttime. What during the day is a mass of quiet and shy people turn into a perfect machine of drinking when the party times of the night comes closer. Due to the price of alcoholic drinks being quite high all over the city (a pint of beer will cost between 5 -7.5 euro depending on the place you hang around), it is a normal tradition to gather with some friends in a house for a warming up drinking session before hitting the clubs and bars downtown.

Although most of the people go out reverently on Friday and Saturday nights, as in most big cities of Europe, actually Wednesdays and especially Thursdays are also days where you can find the bars pretty crowded. Remember that Helsinki is a University City, so during the scholar year, it is normal that many parties for University students take place on Thursday, because on Friday they come back to their hometowns for the weekend.

It is also recommended not to leave very late towards the nightclubs, partially because the neighbors can feel annoyed because of the noise, and partially because the unpleasant tradition of the queues in most of the popular Finnish nightclubs and bars. Even when the place can be half empty inside, for many Finnish clubs seem cool to make people wait outside in endless queues. This can be sometimes a good chance to make acquaintances and new friends while waiting, but believe me, on winter time, it is not so nice to wait half an hour queue with minus 25 degrees and a snowstorm over your heads.

On the other hand, dress code is usually pretty relaxed in most of the clubs in Finland. Just wearing jeans and sport shoes will allow you entrance with no problems, although of course for some more nose up luxury places, like Tiikkeri club, it is recommended to dress up accordingly

In basically all or most of the clubs and bars in Helsinki, you will have to pay for a service fee, using or not using the wardrobe, that is around 2.5 euro, and it is paid separately from the entrance fee. If you live your jacket, you will receive a ticket with the number, so try not to lose it, because getting your jacket back can turn into an odyssey if the bouncers and personnel are not friendly to trust on you.

Party Girls

Some of the easiest options for the visitors are located just in the heart of the city, like in Mannerheinmintie, the main avenue. There for example you can visit Apollo Live Club that seems pretty popular among Finns lately, but honestly, when I visited a couple of times, I got disappointed. The best part is that a count with live bands, but it is usually too crowded and customers are not the friendliest in Helsinki. Better options, also located close in Mannerheinmintie, is Cuba, a bar-club that counts with free entrance, and where it mixes a heterogeneous crowd of Finns who love Latino music and expatriates.

At this point, many of the readers will wonder how easy or difficult is to score and have some romantic fun with a Finn (let´s be honest, is that not the main reason why the single people go out ;) ).

Certain specific rules have to be followed in Finland that differ from other countries for example, it is normal that at the beginning of the night, the girls are the first ones “breaking the ice” on the dance floor. So it would not be uncommon in a club that you could go to the dance floor, and you would be surrounded by 40 women. But do not get mistaken, that does not necessarily mean that they are single. A bit later at night you will see how many of their boyfriends “pop out” magically out of nowhere. In Finland, the behavior of the people is much more independent than in other European countries, so a couple can be perfectly by their own with their common friends inside the same nightclub without having to be all the time sticked to each other´s back. So be sure that your target is single, if you do not want any unpleasant surprise when making your move.

All in all, mentality of Finnish people is quite open minded and relaxed about having some random fun and romance during the night. Although Finnish men are a bit shy by nature, alcohol makes them more open and friendly, although watch out, because sometimes, when they go off the hook, they can turn into a bit annoying or even agressive if a couple of too many vodka drinks were consumed.

As previously stated, Finnish ladies are quite independent and strong, so do not be surprised if some of them just make the first move on you. Nevertheless, this is the country of equality! Also, in some circumstances, small talk is not so needed like in other countries. It is normal that in the dance floor people start to rub and dance with each other quite flirtatiously without having exchanged a word, but once again, you have to read the signals correctly if you do not want to get anybody angry for miscalculating your attack…

Although gay scene is not as big as in other European capitals, there are also a couple of reference places to go. DTM (Don´t Tell Mamma) in Iso Roobertinkatu in Punavuori district is one of the most popular ones, but be ready to pay 8 euro entrance at weekends. Close to it there is the free entrance Lost & Found, which in later years has become more and more hetero friendly. Legend said that Ville Valo, the charismatic leader of the love metal band H.I.M. used to hang around there, but honestly, I have never seen him, and I have visited the place quite often, being very popular among students in Helsinki too.


Being Finland the country of heavy metal music, if you dig it, you cannot skip visiting the most legendary metal club in town, Tavastia, located in Kamppi district, where basically all the most famous bands play or have played at some point of their careers. It is not unusual that local artists hang around there, and the list of concerts through the year is pretty good. Not far from it, also in Kamppi, are located Bäkkäri and Heavy Corner, two good options for metalheads if you want to continue the party after watching a gig. If you prefer a bit more classic rock and alternative pop atmosphere, Bar Loose is your choice. The changed to a bigger venue a couple of years ago, and they offer also a great selection of live gigs at their down floor, while upstairs is always nice to have some beers or a coffee with friends. One of my favorites in town.

If you like Irish pubs and a very international atmosphere, your best choice is Molly Malone´s, near the Railway Station Square, that offers live concerts every night, and that recently had been enlarged, with a new dance floor. It is packed with the foreign community of Finland, but also the more international oriented Finns go there. If you like an atmosphere more 100% Finnish, try the very popular Kaarle XII nightclub, known commonly by natives as “Kalle”. In its 2 floors you can find very different atmospheres and kind of music, and a bunch of Finnish animal parties ready to give their best. The entrance is free on Thursday, a very good day to visit because many locals start their long weekend there.

All in all, Helsinki is a vibrant city with many more great venues offered to enjoy the night. Just go out, explore it, and probably after warming up your body with a couple of drinks, you will have a better view of an important side of Finnish culture. Or maybe you will find some Scandinavian romance and love…!




Antonio's blog Blogs Cinema Features

Riot On – A must see Finnish documentary!!!

Since long time ago I wanted to post an article about one of my favorite Finnish productions ever made, the documentary Riot On! (2004).

I would reccommend Riot On! for many reasons. It is not only because it is a Finnish documentary and easy to follow because most of the lenght is spoken in English language, but because it is probably one of the funniest and best edited that I have ever seen in my life.

Riot On!

Besides, it talks about IT and mobile industry in Finland, where I work. Being honest, probably 95% of the foreign population in Finland came here for studies or due to a partner being Finnish, and many of those 95% end up working, even if it was not their pure background as it is my case, in IT industry, because among other reasons, there are not many other chances for foreigners in Finland, as most of the expatriated who have lived here for a few years know very well.

But although it will make the experience more enjoyable if you have lived in Finland for a few years and you have worked or currently work in an IT company, it is a documentary that can be seen by everybody, and it is almost impossible that will not provoke you a few laughs.

Mixing reality with fiction, the story of this Finnish company that went to the top and burnt the money it is a tragicomical example of people who were at the right place, but not at the right time. The founders of Riot On! were pioneers at many levels, and although their way of handling business was crazy, sometimes you can see that the thin line between being a genius or being a loser us… very thin!

The rythm is amazing, you do not feel bored during the interviews, due to the funny anecdotes and the catchy characters, especially the CEO Jann Wellmann who exhales real charisma.

As I said, you cannot take seriously 100% of what it is narrated there, because the same people behind Riot On! are the ones directing the documentary. Take it more like an exercise where little doses of fiction ornate the reality, because Riot On! really existed, and the core of the story really happened (unfortunately, we have not been able to locate any copy of the spicy DVD that supposedly was recorded at some crazy mixed sauna parties as it is stated there…).

Riot On!

Riot On!, although taken to the extreme, gives a good example of how the Finnish society is. People who look very serious at the office space can be passing out on the floor a few hours later after a crazy sauna party, and people who seem the most serious in the universe can turn doing some amazing behaviors… As I said, working myself in IT for a few years, I know that once from the inside, you see that not everybody is so hard worker and responsible as it seems for the outer world. That your boss is dissappeared for a whole day with no explanation is nothing uncommon in Finnish offices, for just putting a small example, and that happens when people are not calling sick leave days to fight the hangover after a previous night with too much booze in the mix…

On the other hand, Finns have a special talent to connect with the needs of the people in the digital era. If nowadays is true that Nokia is not going through their best time, take a look at Angry Birds, the most popular mobile phone game created by a company called Rovio in… yeah, you guessed right, Finland!

If you like good and funny documentarios, Riot On! is for you. And if you have some connection with Finland and its strong IT industry, this is definitely something you cannot miss!

Riot On! – Trailer

Albums Blogs Features FREE! Blog Music

Napoleon Skullfukk contest – Get autographed Cds for FREE!!!

FREE! Magazine and Dynamic Arts Records bring you the best of the land of heavy metal: Suomi Perkele Finland!!!

Now you have the chance to get 1 of the 3 copies autographed by the members of the band of the new album from Napolen SkullFukk: Swollen & Torture Metal.

Napolen Skullfukk

Just answer correctly the question below and send it by email to , writing in the subject field “Napolen Skullfukk contest”. Good luck metal heads!

Question: What is the name of the vocalist of Napolen Skullfukk?

A) Jonne Nikula
B) John Holmes
C) R. Kurimus
D) Pentti Suomalainen

Albums Blogs FREE! Blog Music

Ladytron contest – Get a CD for FREE!!!

FREE! Magazine and EA Music want to celebrate with you the 10th anniversary of the legendary electronic music band Ladytron!


So just send us the correct answer to the question below to , writing “Ladytron contest” in the subject field of your email, and you can get 1 of the 3 CDs “Ladytron – Best of 00-10” that we have to give away to our lucky winners!

Question: In what city was Ladytron formed?

A) Manchester
B) Berlin
C) London
D) Liverpool

Good luck!!!

Ladytron – Best of 00 – 10

Features Interviews Music

Interview with Steafán Hanvey

Irish musician Steafán Hanvey feels in Finland like being at his second home. Nevertheless, during his bohemian life, he has spent a few years in the Scandinavian country making friends, playing gigs, and finding always new challenges. So when we sit with him minutes before his gig at Semifinal, he is just a relaxed easy going man transmitting the feeling that he enjoys what he is doing. As good Irish, he is holding a glass of whisky, and when more pints of beer join our table, it is about time to have a chat about his interesting life and musical career:

Thanks for your time Steafán! Basically, you were born being a musician. Your parents were also musicians, right?

Yes, my father was a banjo and guitar player and my mother is a singer and a plays also the bodhrán, the traditional Irish drum and stick, she taught me how to play that. My father interviewed a lot of famous musicians and took a lot of photographs of people visiting around; so it was normal to be around people who were involved in music.

And you happen to have been quite a nomad in your life, don´t you? You have lived in Seattle, then in 1995 moved to Helsinki… Why the decision to come here first time?

Yes, I have been some kind of a gypsy. I was in USA as exchange student, I chose Seattle because I was interested in the place, it was an opportunity to study American society; a good opportunity for me to be there so I studied at University.

Steafan Hanvey

And how did it happen to come to Finland?

I met a Finnish girl in 1993, actually she came to me like “hey, you are that Irish guy!”. I finished my degree and then came here. So I came to Finland to study and started to play in the bars and get to know people around in the Finnish-Irish community.

Sometimes, being Finland a small country, can be difficult to break through the right circles. Did you feel that at any point as a musician here?

I got you. The first year I was mainly singing in traditional bands, playing at the Irish pubs, parties, some art galleries and then I started writing my own stuff. I felt that if I stayed, I would have become a big fish in a small pond. I would have been known like that Irish guy singing in the bars in Finland. I am not saying that I would not have become a success, but I wanted to try in other places.

Many of our readers are interested in Finland as a possible destination to move in. What was your response when you arrived here?

I like Finland. When you make friends, you make true friends. I still keep some of the friends that I had when I first came here. I also hosted a radio show in Lahi radio. It was a kind of progression for me, it came naturally to do. I had a lot of things to do, but then I felt a bit stuck, and I needed to go and decide what music to play. But it has been a good journey, I had very interesting periods with very interesting people I had the chance to play with. I feel now that I am more ready to take my music in front of an audience than I have ever been, more mature.

And both nations, Ireland and Finland, have fame for their hardcore drinking habits…

Yeah, hehehe. Hard drinking here and in Ireland! I cannot keep up with it anymore, I used to do it for years, but now at my age, it is different. The same about smoking, I quit.

I feel now more ready to take my music in front of an audience than I have ever been

What can you tell us about your new incoming album, “Nuclear Family”? Are there differences with the previous one, “Free”?

It is an album that introduces more of a band, there is more upbeat. Overall, it is a more compact album. Maybe with the previous one, I felt like “let`s see what I can do and what I can´t”, because of course in the first album you want to show all the people what you can do. But with the second album, I just create the record I like. Much more relaxed. I learnt a lot from the first record, I worked with great people, but in this album I have got to work with Tore Johansson mixing the album (who worked with the Cardigans) or with Mandy Parnell mastering it (who has worked with Sigur Ros). It is great to have those people working on your music.

And you also have friends like Liam O’Maonlai collaborating on the piano and vocals, right?

Yes, Liam came to Paris! And also Bertrand Belin, who played lead guitar on one song.

You also have played in USA quite a lot…

Yes, I have played there a few times. And I have some gigs scheduled for March-April in Boston and maybe in Chicago too. Let´s see how long I can be there.

The presentation of your first album was also here at the same club, in Semifinal, some years ago. How do you feel coming back?

That day there was a terrible snow storm. Thanks god today we are luckier. That day some people got stuck in the buses, and had to walk to reach Semifinal! Let´s see how it goes today, I have no idea really! If I play during weekdays, people complain that I have to put it together at weekend. But if I play on Friday night at 11:30, they complain that it is too late! Hehehe

Anything you want to add for the readers?

I want to add that thanks to everybody and also special thanks to the musicians playing with me, great guys, Neff Irizarry on the guitar, Nicce Lindholm on the drums and Jukka Jylli on the bass.

Steafán Hanvey & The Honeymoon Junkies

Cinema DVD

Review: The Kids Are All Right

The Kids Are All Right is quite an entertaining movie, at least for the 3/4 of its total length. What could have been one of the highlights of past year gets darkened in the end by the hand of director Lisa Cholodenko, obliterating totally the role of one most than notable Mark Ruffalo.

Ruffalo is great in his role, laid back, relaxed, open minded, generous, flirtatious but loving, maybe with a bit of a peter pan complex not to grow up into responsabilities. But all in all, his character did not deserve that “end”? (because we certainly do not get to know much about what happens with him). Cholodenko was so focused on having to show to the audience that the love, even if it is in a disfunctional family, and the bonds, win over society, that she left the movie fall into a boring and annoying ending. Unforgivable…

The Kids Are All Right

All in all, the cast will make you enjoy the movie, with a Julianne Moore that continues in my humble opinion being one of the sexiest mature woman in Hollywood, with permission of Diane Lane, and Annette Bening, who maybe does not shine here like in other productions, but it is quite a good complement for Moore and Ruffalo`s perfomances.

Even been a heterosexual man, I do not care if a movie tells the story of love and a family composed by men, women, aliens or ants. But ruining the script like that in a kind of self masturbation for waving her ideals in front of the audience is something that Cholodenko should have avoided. Like probably I will avoid her future filmography if she continues like this.

Rating 3/5

The best: Mark Ruffalo and Julianne Moore sharing a post coital cigarette in bed.

The worst: The end, just letting the character of Paul fall into oblivion.

The detail: You can see at the beginning of the movie how Laser´s friend, Eddie, is wearing a t-shirt from the Finnish rock band 69 Eyes.

The Kids Are All Right- Trailer

Cinema DVD

Review: The Last Airbender

There was a time right after the great The Sixth Sense when I thought, and I was not alone, that M. Night Shyamalan was destined to be the next big director for thrillers in Hollywood. Nowadays, Shyamalan is just a bad parody of those times, seeming that every new one of his movies just gets worse and worse than the previous one. And once again I must not be alone in this, when he got a handful of Razzie Awards, the ones given to the worst of cinema industry every year, for this The Last Airbender.

Honestly, how is it possible that directors like Peter Weir need to wait almost a decade between project and project, and Shyamalan still counts with huge budgets and great stars for his movies? They say that sometimes you need luck in this life…

The Last Airbender

All in all, actually The Last Airbender, is not such a bad movie, at least if you compare it to the previous Shyamalan`s movie, The Happening, that must have been one of the most ridiculous and stupid movies I have ever seen in my life.

It is true that special effects and decoration suck, and the movie looks quite childish, but there are a couple of characters like Dev Patel as Prince Zuko and Shaun Toub as Uncle Iroh that make more than a decent role.

It will probably disappoint the followers of the original comics’ series, but it is certainly a movie that you can watch with the family, if you have children.

Rating 2/5

The best: Dev Patel as Zuko creates an interesting character where good and evil mixes perfectly.

The worst: It seems there are 3 more parts of the saga to come…

The detail: Maybe Dev Patel looks familiar, as you may have seen it in the previous Academy Award movie winner Slumdog Millionaire.

The Last Airbender – Trailer

Articles Misc

Looks matter in Scandinavia too!

Text by Sasha Raduntceva

“Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening”, – has Coco Chanel once said. And maybe that’s why fashionable clothes and accessories are always urgent. Actually vogue is something like a merry-go-round of life. But we always add to trousers from 70’s earrings from 80’s and so on. That’s why the social network, where fellows and ladies from all over the world have an opportunity to post their own looks, has great success.

If you open this site, you’ll see that the most popular partakers of it are Scandinavian youth because of their unique style with a bit snowy notes, cold charisma and smell of cinnamon. Three of them consent to talk about them, fashion and of course

1) Explain your motivation posting on
2) Describe your style.
3) What’s your profession?
4) Why fashion is always fashionable?


Gustav Marklund from Piteå (Sweden).

1) I think that lookbook is a fun and inspiring webpage. I love to see all the looks and I also like being a part of it.

2) I don’t really have a specific style. Sometimes I wear all black, boots and chains, but in some cases I wear a lot of color. I dress in the style I feel like. It also depends if it’s spring, summer, fall or winter. In winter I rarely wear color, but in summer I love wearing color.

3) I’m a student. I study economics and I’m also an aspiring stylist.

4) I don’t believe that fashion is always fashionable. You shouldn’t always count on the new trends. Find your own style but get inspiration from fashion.


Amanda Brohman from Umeå (Sweden).

1) Because it’s such an inspiring site for fashion bloggers like me, it’s almost like a working community for us. You can showcase your own looks and promote your own style as well as get inspired by other people; there are so many stylish girls and boys out there!

2) My style consists of a lot of vintage and layers. I guess it’s a combination of big city street style and Scandinavian nature.

3) I’m a high school student, in my freshman year. Right now I’m majoring in subjects such as drama, costume design and social sciences.

4) Because fashion always changes, it’s never the same and it’s endless. Fashion will always be and has always been a big part of our lives, because it’s something you wear. And fashion is not, at least not for me, just about the latest trends – I see fashion as art, the best kind of art because we it’s the only art form we can actually wear.


Jacob Julian Antonsson from Stockholm (Sweden).

1) Lookbook is a great way to make an expression through a picture showing a sense of style on an individual you actually perhaps never met, to make an impression and inspire, to get inspired and to get feedback of course. Clothing and style are more than just fabrics and hairdos, It says a lot about the human being as an individual.

2) My style’s spontaneous and quite personal, as I only dress up in options – that’s me.

A mix of expensive designer clothing and vintage stuff to get a fun balance between individuality and trends.

3) I work as a store manager on a well known multibrand store in Stockholm, photographer and model.

4) Fashion is always fashionable because it gets old and unfashionable in just a matter of weeks, months or hours. There will always be a chase for the latest item, fabric or color and that’s why it never tends to get boring,