Interview with Tommi Grönlund from Sähkö Recordings published in Alien Underground 0.0 in 1994.
In the short time of their existence Sähkö Recordings from Helsinki have made their name in the international underground, and are standing for a sound of electronic minimalism and purity, proving once more that some of the most interesting techno comes from places that are far removed from the hype and scenes of the various ‘techno capitals’.
Also this year they are running a project called Ambient City on local radio featuring material from all over the world, about half being exclusively recorded, the other half being DJ mixes of ‘ambient music’ in the broadest sense of the word, supported by a local radio station and the Finnish Museum of Contemporary Art. Walkmen locked to the frequency are available!
We spoke to Tommi, who runs the label, works as an architect and also designs the wonderfully minimalistic covers for the records, when he visited London for a few days recently. After going through the London record shops for those hard to find tunes and after some food at Wong Key we wanted to find out about the artistic background and intentions of Sähkö…
Sähkö: There are 3 guys involved with these records, most important Mika Vainio, he has made numbers 1 and 2, and also the CD, number 6, and he also played the other half of number 3, quite a different record. Then there’s Sami Salo who made number 4.
Mika Vainio is a bit older than I, he’s been into industrial, noisy stuff since the beginning of the eighties. The other guys are much younger, they’ve got a totally different background. Mika is the most important for the label however, his music and philosophy has very much affected myself.
ALIEN UNDERGROUND: How would you characterise this musical philosophy?
Sähkö: Important is there’s a very wide variety, he’s very much into all kinds of music, very important. Classic minimalistic composers, some pop, Hammond tracks from the sixties and seventies. He loves very much Michael Jackson and Elvis. Very much. But for what he’s doing the most important are early eighties groups, like Psychic TV, Chris and Cosey, Throbbing Gristle, maybe some Einstürzende Neubauten.
He’s made music for a long time, but it’s not high tech (he doesn’t even have a telephone). He could live anywhere without any connection to anyone and he’d still produce the same music.
ALIEN UNDERGROUND: Sähkö transcends boundaries, you could play tracks in an ambient set, or in a harder set…
Sähkö: Mika doesn’t think like that, of course DJs when they buy records they put them into some context. Mika just does different pieces, different types of music and then we together choose some tracks which might become a record. Maybe house music and the noise stuff can’t really come together, I don’t know. Maybe. We never thought that our records could be dance music. It’s quite difficult to imagine somebody dancing to it! They’re more for listening.
ALIEN UNDERGROUND: What reactions do you get in Finland. What’s your position there?
Sähkö: Actually we don’t have any position in Finland. Nobody knows about us.
ALIEN UNDERGROUND: So it’s very isolated?
Sähkö: Yes, very very much… it’s very hard. There are maybe 20 people who are into music anyway. I mean real music… serious music…in that sense. We’re not very much in contact with other people in Finland. If we run a club it’s very very small. Basically people don’t know us.
I think it’s good.
ALIEN UNDERGROUND: What’s popular techno-wise in Finland then.
Sähkö: It’s actually quite funny. There are very few people living in the north, those guys, in the middle of the forest, they are very much into the hardest stuff. All the hard records go up north… as many as they can get. The young people in the south who go to clubs they’re more into trance. I don’t think that’s important at all. I don’t like trance.
ALIEN UNDERGROUND But you organise small clubs sometimes…
Sähkö: Yes, last autumn we used to run a very very small club called Mugwump. The name comes from the William Burroughs novel Naked Lunch. It was very small, only one room. If there were 20 people it was full. It was very nice, we were able to play very strange music… mix different stuff together, not only techno, some Hafler Trio and Zoviet France, and mix it together with some Godflesh, very hard stuff. It was very nice.
Now I’m very busy with that Ambient City radio project, so we can’t run the club. Mika is making a lot of music.
ALIEN UNDERGROUND: What’s William Burroughs doing on Sähkö 5 (he is pictured on the label and the cover)?
Sähkö: Nothing actually. He’s so incredible… Years ago Mika made some (unreleased) tracks based on the sound of his voice. His voice…is great. But actually he hasn’t anything special to do with this particular record. We just wanted to use his picture as a symbol. Maybe that’s the message behind this record. I don’t know.
ALIEN UNDERGROUND: Let’s hear what your impression of London is, even though you didn’t have time to go out this time.
Sähkö: I’ve been here a few times, last time we also went to a couple of so-called raves, but I quickly realised that the scene I’m into is very very small even here. Those people all know each other; that’s quite embarrassing really. I thought it would be much more popular in London. But it’s nice that way.
ALIEN UNDERGROUND: What is DUM Records? Are you involved with that?
Sähkö: No, it’s my friend called Mono Junk, he’s running that label. He’s put out quite a few now, getting better all the time. I’m not sure which one will be next, they’re very interesting tracks. He’s mostly making the music himself, but there’s one other person who has produced a record called Aural Expansion.
ALIEN UNDERGROUND: Do you sell enough to do the next release or do you have to subsidise the label?
Sähkö: That’s a problem of course. Normally we do 300 records as a first pressing. The pressing plant in Helsinki, the only one in Finland, is very small, and they can produce very small series. So we do 300, and if shops or distributors want more, we do like 50 more every time. Of the first release we pressed up about 800 so far gradually. It’s going to be difficult, they’re stopping the pressing.
ALIEN UNDERGROUND: They don’t do vinyl anymore? What will you do?
Sähkö: We’ll have to find another place, maybe in England. I heard some german labels press up in Prague…
ALIEN UNDERGROUND: How do you see the wider cultural and also political implications of electronic music?
Sähkö: I don’t know… it has such a long history – from the 50’s onwards, or even the 40’s… in the 80’s it became a new style…or what do you mean?
ALIEN UNDERGROUND: It’s two questions really. Culturally, the history – a lot of people think it started with house music in the mid 80’s, while of course it started much much earlier, but maybe what happened with house music and what followed, that what used to be considered avant garde and what used to be considered pop music started coming together. Like, you can hear things on the dancefloor now, no DJ would have played before.
On the other side… maybe England has a special situation, we have this situation where the state is trying to outlaw parties, so the whole thing gets politicised and is seen in another context than music as such.
Sähkö: I guess it’s not just England, it’s the same in Finland. We used to get some penalties for organising parties.
House will soon have been around for ten years, it has established itself, people are getting bored with some things, so they’re looking for new ways and things. You can see that even here in London.
ALIEN UNDERGROUND: Definitely. It has been commercialised, like the trance thing, it’s become commercial music, people are realising this and seek out new things.
Sähkö: Even though it seems that… the most interesting never have that much success, they are staying small anyway… They’re going to stay small. That’s very interesting. That gives us strength to make those things.
I believe in that.
Sähkö 001 ø Röntgen
Sähkö 002 ø Kvantti
Sähkö 003 Saab 69
Sähkö 004 Kohina
Sähkö 005 Philus pH
Sähkö 006 ø Metri (CD)
Sähkö 007 Panasonic
Sähkö 008 Mike Ink
PUU-1 Jimi Tenor Sähkömies
Röntgen and Kvantti both came in silver covers, in fact a very limited number had 29 holes drilled through them, and through the records as well, not where you play them of course, but still the mysterious packaging grabbed the imagination, and so did the sounds: Extremely minimalistic drummachine patterns and bleepy synths, but especially in the case of Kvantti they were very clear, but not clean, being disturbed by sampled scratches, reminding the listener of the medium, the 12″ single. Saab 69 was a surprise in the sense of offering a much more commercial, housy sound, but Kohina went into a completely different direction again, oriented more towards early industrial music, its two tracks were dark pulsating ambience of the disturbing kind. Philus went back to the more typical finnish sound of drummachine minimalism with a leaning towards sparse acid,before the ø album explored what was begun with the first Sähkö releases in depth, adding dark ambience along with the minimal rhythmic tracks and ultimately living up to the difficult task of presenting a masterpiece of a techno album, not to forget the nice packaging and design,as always reflecting the pure electronics of the beats, bleeps and soundscapes. Panasonic (the logo of the company rubberstamped on the white sleeve, offering no other information) is two long distorted drummachine tracks, remotely reminiscent of the last couple of Cirquit Breaker releases, though not as hard, but still with a nice edge to it. Mike Ink’s 12″ is the first by a non finnish artist on Sähkö, but adopts the same extreme minimalism as ø, or even surpasses it in some respect on the two tracks on side a. Is this the Dadafunk he’s promising for his own new label Profan? If yes, I can’t wait to hear the records… On the flip there’s a remix by Mono Junk and one by Mono Junk and ø, that are excellent as well.
If you expect the same minimal avant-electronic or pure-techno sound on the Jimi Tenor LP, then you’re in for a surprise: Dominant here is the Hammond organ and the saxophone, two rather un-techno instruments, and there are even a couple of tracks with vocals! Strictly for after hours Helsinki style.
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