After dropping an A-bomb on the dancefloor at Monument in Oslo last August, we thought we would catch up with the Finish techno head as the news of him releasing his own label spreads. Samuli Kemppi is an artist with a long and successful career as a DJ and producer, with releases on some of the most influential record labels in  the techno music scene. We were lucky to book an interview with him the following week after what seemed to be a pretty busy weekend. We spoke about how Deep Space Helsinki started, the scene in Helsinki and of course his latest plans for releasing his own label. Enjoy the read, and listen to the recording: 

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You had a pretty busy weekend with two major gigs…

Yes that is true, the first was at an event called Domestic Techno Inspection. This was now the 8th time, it’s an event that I have been organizing for eight years now. It started out as a small gathering with a couple of friends having beers and good laughs, and now it’s a mini festival with 14 live sets in one night.
It turned out good once again, I did a live a set with another Finish producer called Ilkka Saastamoinen and our project is called S.I… Well, which comes from Samuli and Ilkka. We’re not that good with names so this was an easy one. And on Saturday I played my new live set debut in Paris [Concrete]. So musically there were a lot of new things going for me this past weekend.

How long did you prepare producing your latest live set?

Um… it’s kind of difficult to say, because it’s kind of a parallel process to the existing one. I started off trying out new things, and at some point I realized  that “Ok, now I have quite a lot of new material”. So then I started thinking about how I could make it into a live set. The oldest tracks are probably from January, so only a couple of months perhaps.
Live set is always a testing ground or a playground for me in the line of making new tracks. If something works out well in the live set, I would probably make it into a complete track. That’s how it works for me.

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How was the gig at Concrete, was it a good audience?

[BIG THUMBS UP] It’s pretty crazy in Paris and Concrete is such a great place, it was fully packed! Starting from the pick-up at the airport everything works really professional with them it was really a pleasure to play there and they loved the set, so no complaints. Also, Steve Bicknell played after me and I have been playing his records for so many years. I have never seen him play live before so that was pretty cool.

Are you in any way inspired by Steve Bicknell?

Um.. yeah, probably I am. But I wouldn’t mention him as a big influence. Of course I love his records, but everything you hear and everything you see somehow has an effect on you. It’s like a sum of your experiences. In that sense I suppose Steve Bicknell also has some kind of influence on what I do. Not to mention all the other artists as well.

How did the concept Deep Space Helsinki startup?

Both me and Juho were on Basso Radio pretty much from the start. It started as a really small underground station that was only broadcasting to internet. Juho was doing a show called ”mbar” which was named after a bar in Helsinki [which unfortunately had to close last year], and I was doing my own show. We were already friends at that time and we had both our weekly show, so it was just an idea to combine our forces. We had already been playing a lot of gigs together so we figured we could do a radio show together.
I don’t know where the name came from, but I released an EP on Komisch Records around that time and it was “Deep Space Helsinki EP”. I think that was before we started the Deep Space Helsinki radio show.

Basically it’s a parallel show with radio and internet broadcasting?

Well yes now it is, Basso Radio is over ten years old now. It has grown to cover about half the nation on FM plus the web listeners worldwide

So, were the any techno shows on FM radio previously to Deep Space Helsinki?

Yes, but that was a long time ago. I think when Basso Radio started, there were some other guys who were playing techno there also. I don’t know, somehow they moved over to some other sound and suddenly we had a situation where it was only me and Juho who were doing a techno show. Luckily, now there are some new techno shows on Basso Radio.
But on FM radio, only Yle (Finnish national radio) had a couple of programs but they were all categorized under the marginal music shows on this one radio station. One of the legendary radio DJs called Leena Lehtinen was in charge of all the marginal music on these Yle channels. I remembered she once told that the weekly frame for marginal music has been once again cut down to just few hours per week. Management started favoriting playlists and stuff like that. I have to point out that under the marginal music they had heavy-metal, indie rock, house, techno, drum’n’bass and rap. It became quite a difficult task to distribute those few hours to so many genres. There wasn’t really any proper techno shows after her show on national radio.

It’s like FM radio going back to it’s roots, where the DJs have the power to play new stuff

I guess that’s just the way FM radio operates…

Yeah, I mean it’s business of course and if you want mainstream listeners you have to go where the mainstream is. That’s a no-brainer…  There are no more people who are working for the music, they are working for business. They are people with ties, probably listening to Nickelback on their spare time deciding what kind of music should be played to people… That’s fucked up!
The thing about Basso Radio is that music comes first. There is about 150 DJs doing special shows. Of course there is the morning-show, day show and an afternoon show but the special shows start around six in the evening. Every show is done by DJs who know their game. So if you want to hear really good jazz, hip-hop or D&B, techno or everything but the commercial shit then Basso Radio is your choice… It’s like FM radio going back to it’s roots, where the DJs have the power to play new stuff. Thats pretty cool.

So, for you to upkeep the radio show on Bossa Radio there must be a substantial underground scene in Finland?

Yeah there is, especially in Helsinki of course. This is the capital and the biggest city so this is where the scene is probably most alive. But there are also other cities where there are some nice things going on. I would say that culturally there are good scenes in Helsinki both underground and commercial. I would say that our Deep Space Helsinki nights are underground, then there is the “underground underground”. They are pretty small, but very active. So, I would say that there are three scenes in Helsinki.

I guess it’s comparable to Oslo where culture on the whole is somewhat subsidised but not necessarily techno

It is kind of similar here, but it’s kind of interesting because techno isn’t anymore a new thing here. For example in the media in the early nineties, when someone spoke about techno it was always connected to drugs or illegal activities.

Techno is more accepted as an artform rather than some rebellious group of kids taking drugs

Now it has become different, now they are doing documentaries about techno! There are now people working for the government or for the city in higher positions who attended rave parties in the late eighties, so now there are people with power that knows what the culture is about. And same goes for some of the reporters in the media, so it’s not anymore a new thing.

You could say that techno in Helsinki isn’t connected with the taboo of drug use any more?

Yes, now techno is more accepted as an art form rather than some rebellious group of kids taking drugs. I mean, Pan Sonic won the Jussi award (our Oscar award) for best soundtrack in a movie last week. That’s pretty cool.

You mentioned the early nineties, did you start DJing around then?

I started DJing in the late eighties. My first paid gig was in 1989. It’s a long time ago and it was a different kind of thing back then. It wasn’t so genre specific back then in the places I played. It was eclectic before the term eclectic was invented. Now I play techno and that’s pretty much it.

You started off as a DJ and later moved on the becoming a producer?

I bought my first PC in the early nineties. I did some stuff while playing around with Cubase or some other software that eventually became tracks. My turning point came after one of my tracks got played on the national radio by Leena Lehtinen. I thought; “someone is playing my music on the radio… This is fucking huge!”. Then I started to think about investing more time into producing.
I started to work more on tracks probably around the late nineties or two-thousands. I met my wife to be around this time, and we ended up in the studio together. We were writing the tracks together and she was singing too. When I was working with Laura, it was deep house. We ended up doing five EPs together. After this we had our kid, and I went back to my techno roots.

You seem to be a very productive producer, is this a strategy or is this just how you work?

Yes and yes… You know, living here in Finland which is far away from anywhere; it was necessary for me to put out releases so people would notice me. It doesn’t matter how great of a DJ you are if you live here in Finland. Nobody is going to pick you up from here. It’s absolutely impossible to get gigs outside unless you get some kind of connection to the outside world. For me it was making releases.
I had releases on many different labels which might look somewhat random but they were asking for releases…

Well… looking at the names of these labels, it’s pretty substantial stuff!

[Humble gaze into the room]Well… yes that is true. But finally when I met Max and started working with M_Rec, I felt immediately like I had found home. This was the first label where I felt really comfortable about releasing my album; and then the unfortunate happened to Max.
Of course I am really happy for all of the label connections that I made, most of them were professional. I was privileged to work with really professional people, but I felt that I had the artistic freedom to do what I wanted on M_Rec and we had a mutual trust and plans for future

What about Deep Space Helsinki, do you have any plans to release an album on  this label?

Well… Probably not an album on DSH. We’re probably going to do another EP later this year. Deep Space Helsinki is a project between me and Juho you know; and we have different way on working with tracks. But I started my own label. I started Power of Voltages, the first release is coming out in may. This is purely my own label, there is nobody else so I have full freedom.

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This is something that I have been planning to do for a long time. Since what happened to Max and M_Rec, I kind of lost my home so now I have to build the next one on my own. I am only planning to do a couple of releases per year, but yes probably I will put out my next album on POV as well.

You have previously spoken about your fascination with space, have you allways been interested in science fiction?

Yes, science fiction, but not just fiction, also hard science. I’m fascinated about how the universe works. But of course all the possibilities presented to you in well written science fiction book is always a thrill.

Musically, does science influence you?

Well, this is one of  the biggest myths in techno. The Mythbusters should do an episode about the connection between techno and space [laughing].

Sometimes I think of techno as a language that aliens use to communicate with…

That could be true. I suppose the aspect that in techno anything is possible soundwise, is somewhat related to all the possibilities in science fiction, and in infinite space anything is possible… Always when you speak about space, it’s futuristic on some level and techno is kind of the soundtrack of the future. Techno is also linked with technology, having in mind how the music came about. Well, now many producers are going back to analog gear (including me) but that’s another story.

How many hours per week or day do you spend in your studio?

For now I have Monday’s as my studio day, which isn’t enough. So that is why I have resigned from my day job at Creuna. I’m working there until mid summer, and after that I will focus on music full time.
The thing is that I’m 40 now, and I don’t want to end up in a situation where I am 50 years old and bitter, because I never had the guts to try making a living from music. I am not stepping into new territory, I already have a long career. It’s not like I am going to start a new business from scratch… I just feel that I have to do this move now!

Well, you mentioned earlier that you started Power of Voltages because you want to create your new home. It seems to me that you need that kind creative freedom to evolve as an artist?

Yes definitely! Also, doing the album on M_REC was kind of a discovery for me. You think about the concept of an album on a totally different level than just putting out a four track EP for the floor. It was like discovering myself. Learned a lot during the process. This is something that I just have to do, there are no other options. If  I don’t get the chance to go to the studio, listen to music or write music, it drives me mad.

What kind of music do you listen to when you’re just relaxing?

Jazz, or I really like Ryuichi Sakamoto and more abstract sounds. A week ago I was playing in the south of Italy and my hotel was just 50 meters away from Grotto de Castellana, which is one of the largest caves in Europe. It was like a three kilometers long walk inside the cave. I went there on this two hour long tour, and since it’s not tourist season the tour was in Italian. So, I was walking along while listening to Alva Noto on my headphones while picking up my jaw from the ground admiring the dripstones. I thought to myself; This is fucking brilliant! [Laughs]
So, I don’t listen to techno that much at home. Of course when it comes work and doing the radio show I do, but I enjoy listening to old school soul, funk, experimental, ambient, kraut rock, punk; you know… Good music!

Finally, have you acquired any new gear in your studio lately?  

The latest gear that I bought was a Juno 106. It’s a synth that I’ve always wanted, so I used the opportunity to buy one. I should be getting my Korg DS-8 back soon. I haven’t used it for years because it was broken and I was about to throw it on the junkyard. But I have a friend of a friend that is real good with fixing stuff. Now it’s fixed and I should be getting it back next week, so that’s the latest acquirement. There is always the “want to have list”, but at the moment I don’t think I need anything new.

Monument would like to thank you Samuli for taking the time to do this interview with us!

Thanks for having me! 🙂

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