Punk group with disabilities breaks boundaries

mentaMusic can rise over everything. Soaring violins can lift us up and grinding guitar riffs can make us think. For a punk group in Helsinki, music has helped break all kinds of barriers.

Helsinki punk group Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät recently made history by becoming the first punk band to qualify for the European song contest Eurovision.

While creating high quality music, the group, whose four members all have either autism or Down’s syndrome, have also proved to many that mental illness cannot hold you back.

“This is really funny,” said bassist Sami Helle in an interview with Consequence of Sound. “When we started everyone took us as part of the family. It never mattered that we were handicapped.”

“We can do everything in punk rock. No one discriminates against us at all, and we have fun with everybody.”

The group came together in Helsinki in 2009 with the help of a disability focused nonprofit called Lyhty.

Based in Helsinki, Lyhty focuses on housing and education as well as workshops for adults with mental disabilities. By working with PKN, the nonprofit hoped to effectively make use of music as a learning tool.

“Because learning disabilities affect individuals’ ability to acquire and use information, listening to and playing music can be a very valuable tool for the alternative acquisition of information and building neurological strengths,” said Learning Commons Director Melissa Frink.

“Music education and/or therapy early in life (has) been proven to enhance language, fine motor, social skills and emotional development.”

PKN’s formation gave the band members a great opportunity and their decision to play punk music reflected their independence.

“Punk is all about doing it yourself ” said Jonathan Mclean, the former owner of Greensboro punk club The Miracle House. “It was about kids not wanting to go to school and write songs … instead, (but) they were writings songs about social issues.”

PKN has certainly created their own success. After crafting their demo tape, the group was singed to Finnish record label Airiston Punk-levyt and released a compilation titled Kuus kuppia kahvia ja yks kokis that peaked at number seventeen on the Finnish music charts.

“I am not at all surprised by their success,” said Frink. “Alternative learners have many strengths, including creativity and tenacity, so they are showcasing their strengths beautifully.

“Many very successful artists, musicians and entrepreneurs have learning differences. In those areas, thinking alternatively is a great asset.”

The band’s participation and success in Eurovision has garnered a lot of attention. The group is now one of the favorites to win the entire competition.

“It’s time for them to go out and win,” said the front man of local punk group The Raving Knaves David Mclean. “Not because they have learning differences, but because they play great music.”

Through all of the coverage, the group themselves have tried to keep their music the primary concern. Others think it foolish to forget the group’s differences.

“I believe that we need to be open about our differences,” said Frink. “By making learning disabilities visible, we can work against of the many negative beliefs that are held in our society about those who learn and express themselves differently.”

PKN will take the stage at the Eurovision semifinal on May 19 in Vienna. If they are chosen to move on, they will take part in the Grand Finals on May 23.