For many techno fans, the name of Samuli Kemppi is synonym with Deep Space Helsinki: the radio show that the artist co-hosts with Juho Kusti is turning 10 years old next year and it’s a weekly established appointment for everyone wanting to discover new techno releases on FM frequencies.
Very rooted into the local scene, Kemppi is one of the best exports of Finnish techno, whose imprint made of deep, hypnotic and mesmerizing sounds immediately makes you think of Nordic landscapes. Although nature is not the only aspect influencing the productions of Samuli, who gets deeply inspired by “traveling and understanding different ways of being” as he told us in this interview.
After having released music on over 15 outlets, he started in 2016 his own label Power of Voltages, that still remains his “personal playground” from which we should expect a new release in 2019. The artist is now off to a very interested adventure called Blacklabel Distillery, project that he shares with Toronto-based producer Frederik Hatsav. As label owners, the two want to focus on “fresh ideas and a futuristic approach” that could redesign the contemporary techno scene.
With the aim of creating with music a point of contact between well-known artists and newcomers, Blacklabel Distillery also stands out for a very strong visual identity, thanks to the minimal artworks of Finnish painter Jaakko Mattila accompanying each release.
The first EP on the label is Pool Of Intuition by Finnish producer Latmos, featuring his material plus remixes by Kemppi, Hatsav and Mike Parker. Monument premieres Kemppi’s remix of the name track Pool of Intuition, released on November 5th.
Get lost in his magnetic ambiences and dark atmospheres, while enjoying our interview with Samuli Kemppi.
1) Let’s start with Blacklabel Distillery, your new project with Toronto-based producer Frederik Hatsav. How did you guys meet and had the idea of this label?
Frederik booked me to play in Toronto in August 2016. I spent some days with him and his family there: there were good vibes since the beginning. Pretty soon it was clear that we had a quite similar way of thinking about music. I encouraged him to start his own label, to put out his own music. Some weeks later Frederik asked me to start a label with him as partners. It took many hours on Skype and tons of emails to get things to this point, but I couldn’t be happier with what we have now.
I had heard Latmos’ demo tracks and thought that he clearly had his own thing going on. So, I booked him to play at the “Domestic Techno Inspection” a couple of years ago. DTI is an annual event showcasing newcomers and relevant names of the Finnish scene. I really enjoyed his minimalistic and super restrained set and thought his music needed to be released somewhere somehow.
Our plan is to release music from interesting newcomers and also from artists we admire: fresh ideas and futuristic approach, instead of copying something that has been done many times. We also want to build a bridge between more established artists and newcomers, for example on the first release we have a remix by Mike Parker. Let’s see if we will get more artist collaborations as well, like the one with Inigo. At the same time, I don’t want to narrow down our upcoming releases to just techno: I am thinking of something from electronic left-field or more experimental in the future. Let’s see what happens.
4) The label will have a very peculiar visual identity, featuring the work of Finnish painter Jaakko Mattila for example. Does the music come first for you or did you have a distinct idea about visuals in mind beforehand?
As a record label, music comes obviously first, but I want the full package to be special. Since we are putting so much effort into this, it would be almost stupid not to go all the way. I have been working in different areas of design for almost 20 years, so visual identity does play a big role for me. It was quite clear to me that I wanted to work with Jaakko somehow, since I felt his art fits really well with the minimal sound aesthetics that we were about to press on vinyl. Everything came together with Jaakko’s stunning work. The artwork is part of a continuous series.
5) You are one of the most known figures of the Finnish techno scene, thanks to your work as DJ, producer and radio host at Deep Space Helsinki. Can you describe to the ones who never had a chance of partying there, how does the scene look like in Finland?
I would say that the scene is divided into micro-scenes. There is a standard club scene, a bit more “popular” scene and then a strong underground scene. I am somewhere in between the club and the underground. Every weekend, there are many foreign names coming to play: I am not sure if this is necessarily the best thing, because I would like to see a more diverse selection of local names in the bookings. I suppose that this is also the reason for such a vibrant underground scene. You have to do it yourself, if there is no place for it. In general, crowds are quite well educated in the underground scene. There is one spot that I really love: last time I played a 10-hour set to a very open-minded crowd and dancefloor full of people.
6) Finnish techno seems to have a very peculiar imprint: it’s usually made of deep, hypnotic and mesmerizing sounds. It’s easy to imagine that nature might be a great source of inspiration for this type of techno. Do you agree? Do the surroundings inspire you when you produce?
We are a sum of our experiences. In that sense, my surroundings are part of what I am. If you live half of the year in a dark freezer, that might have an effect on your personality. Then summer is the opposite: 24/7 light and warm weather. I wouldn’t say that if I go to the forest, I get instant inspiration for a new track: I guess that is a bit too poetic stereotype of creativity. I get more inspiration from traveling and understanding different ways of being. My studio is my Tardis with improbability drive upgrade: I may have a starting point, but most likely I don’t know where I will end up. I guess we Finns don’t make much fuss about ourselves. Deep and no silly nonsense is aligned to that.
7) You are known for having a great passion for space and you said in a previous interview “deep techno should be the soundtrack of space travel”. Can you explain your fascination for the topic? Do you study or read about astronomy?
I’ve always been fascinated about the idea of infinite amount of possibilities in the infinite universe. The structure of space and time are my favourite subjects when it comes to serious reading. I had an Encyclopedia series called “Top in the early eighties”: the first part was about space, the solar system and the planet Earth with very detailed illustrations. I was reading it over and over. After that came science fiction and I still read a lot about that. The futurism of electronic sounds were alien and new, in comparison to the standards of that time. It was quite natural to connect the dots.
8) Deep Space Helsinki was born as an evolution of Basso Radio, where both you and Juho Kusti had your own show. Then you decided to join forces and together start this project. How did you choose the name of the show? Is it in any way related to the famous album by Juan Atkins “Deep Space” (1995)? Juho Kusti is currently living in Berlin, how do you guys manage to keep up with having a weekly show, living in different places?
We played quite deep techno and our common space was Helsinki. Deep Space Helsinki isn’t really a very original name, but we weren’t expecting that it would be still used 10 years after and that we would have listeners around the world. We both played “Starlight” from that Model 500 album quite a lot. Now we do shows in turns: Juho records his shows in Berlin and I do live broadcast in Helsinki. Of course we follow what each other does on the show, so we don’t end up playing the same tracks. For the “Curated by DSH” series, we make a bit more structured plan and programming.
9) Part of the global success of DSH is due to the fact that it focuses on new releases. Can you name any newcomers on the scene that particularly caught your attention this year?
There is so much music coming out and I get roughly 150-200 promos every week. There seems to be an on-going trend of newcomers putting up their own labels. Record sales are not what they used to be 10 years ago, so there is always a risk of losing money. Because of this risk, it’s quite hard for newcomers to get signed to established labels. So, you have to do it yourself. There is one newcomer I would name, but I won’t do that. I want it to be a surprise when the vinyl hits the stores. Trust me, it’s something worth waiting for!
10) Your first steps into the scene were with your wife, as Sam & Gigi, do you still play together?
Those weren’t exactly my first steps. I was organising warehouse parties with friends already in the early 90’s. I met Laura in 1998 and somewhere around 2000 we ended up in the studio together. We released five EPs and played together until 2006 when our son was born. Last summer we did one surprise gig in Helsinki, which was great fun. We have been to the studio together a couple of times lately. The outcome is nothing like we did in the past for sure. I think we are onto something right here…
11) You have released music on over 15 labels, which is quite peculiar for someone with a specific type of sound as you. Is there a reason for this? Why didn’t you think about having your own label earlier?
I was sending demos to the labels I liked and was getting requests from other labels. I have never made any tailor-made track, you know, like writing something that I think would fit a certain label. I was just sending stuff that I thought it was the best music I had ever done. I wasn’t paying attention to the number of labels that much: it was just cool to get music released. Then, I ended up working with Max and M_REC Ltd, everything came together nicely and I felt I had found a home label. Sadly Max passed away before his time. It was a wake up call for me. Life is too short to just wait things to happen! So, I decided to start my own label.
12) In a previous interview you did for Monument, you mentioned your then-newly born label Power of Voltages. What happened to that project and how Blacklabel Distillery is different from Power of Voltages?
POV is still active. I have just been way too busy to put anything out on it for some time now. POV004 is in the plans for 2019. POV will continue as my own personal playground also in the future.
13) You said in a previous interview that “music should always have a human element”. Can you explain this idea and how this applies to your music?
People make interesting mistakes and that should be embraced. If everything is programmed, there is no soul. For me the human element is that I always arrange and record everything live. I don’t do overdubs or multi track recording, just one stereo track. I like the idea of something happening only once and there is no way of changing anything afterwards.
14) Upcoming projects of yours, BLD or DSH that you want to share with us?
DSH is turning 10 years on 1st Jan 2019 and we’re planning to do a little tour: a couple of dates are already lined up. Maybe we will do another DSH release at some point. With BLD, we plan to put out 4-5 releases in 2019.
15) As a DJ, is there a country/city where you never played and would love to?
I haven’t had the privilege to travel or play in Japan yet. I would really like to go there one day. If not playing, then as a tourist.