CHAT SESSION 002: VESA-MATTI
It’s another cold and windy day in the city of Vaasa. But not for us. After long time of facebooking with one of the few underground legends of Ostrobothnian suburbs — DJ and producer Vesa-Matti, we finally have the chance to meet him in person. He is not a stranger to the scene — being in business for more than a decade, he earned his name as hardworking, dedicated and open-minded person. Maintaining two label imprints of his own — Snakesynk Records and Ostrobothnian Power Discs, as well as getting released on such labels as Ljudverket, Subself and Labrynth, he is not planning to stop anytime soon. From first approach to local Meltdown Crew in his early teens to playing at infamous spot Kuudes Linja with Samuli Kemppi in Helsinki, from listening to hip-hop and painting graffiti as a teenager to launching his own label and several projects, it was tough but fascinating journey to become a man who he is today.
A studio building where he spends his time creating is not an ordinary place. What once was a strategic point — an old barracks used by Finnish Army back in 50’s to 90’s — is now a place for all things artistic. Although it was renovated, you can definitely feel the unsettling, yet so calm atmosphere of the war inside. Probably because what once was associated with the word “violence”, becomes something what is associated with “beautiful”.
This place looks much bigger inside than it is outside. There is a lot — and I mean it! — of room to do your things. You can just rent a room and turn it into whatever you’d like. But this place is not for everyone — if you want to get your own spot here, you have to prove your experience. Only then you might or you might not get your application approved. Anyway, as we take some time to look around and check this place out, we stumble upon white door with Ljudverket sticker on it — a label of the duo Rasmus Hedlund & Tuomo Väänänen who cooperate with Vesa-Matti.
As we enter the studio we hear a loop playing a background — probably one of the sketches for future projects. A studio itself is exactly what you are a thinking about — a tidy, organized and yet chaotic place. There’s a bike leaning on a wall, a monitor from old console, lots of boxes, graffiti cans, projectors, a pile of cigarette packs, wires, a picture of Berghain… Everything is in here. The gear that Vesa is using is almost all analog. Elektron Analog Four & Octatrack, microKorg, Korg ER-1, Korg FM Volca, Strymon El Capistan, Strymon Deco and Electroharmonix Holy Stain. Ah, these wonderful machines! As he offers us some drinks, we sit down on a couch to have a chat.
Do you remember your first party as a visitor? What was it like?
One of the first parties I’ve ever been to was an event in an Irish Pub in Vaasa. This is where I have met these guys who call themselves Meltdown Crew. They were the ones responsible for underground events in the city, as well as doing the performances. From them I got to know about an underground party being hosted in the basement of the city mall Rewell Center in 2005. It was my first proper underground techno I’ve been at — there were these dudes, J-P Parikka and Kalle-M, from Tampere playing. I was talking with them and this is how I ended up being at the same afterparty with those guys.
And as a performer?
Meltdown Crew I mentioned about earlier organized some of my gigs. I have been attending parties they organized for years. We stayed in touch for a long time, and I’ve been able to play some gigs here and there. I got to play in weird places such as jazz club, city library, lots of cafes, forests and art exhibitions. First gig which was a proper party was an event on Night of the Arts here in Vaasa which was ironically called “Fuck Art Let’s Dance”. It was next to the campus of Åbo Akademi, a school of Business and Economics. That was on year 2005 I. I played also in two other events that night, one with a drum machine and sampler and the other strictly roots, new and old dub vinyls, so it was a busy night for me. Actually my very first gig as DJ was in the spring of 2004 at Club 25, a club that burned down in 2013. I’ve been involved in a few band projects also, as a “effect man” and synth and drum machine player. We also toured some gigs in the underground of Sweden and Denmark. My first solo performance, a hybrid DJ & live set was in the city library of Vaasa, Night of the arts 2007. First proper “techno only”-live as solo artist was in Samuli Kemppi’s Domestic Techno Inspection in 2011.
I remember you mentioned your love for hip-hop and the lifestyle. What was it about?
When I was something like 13 years old I was hanging with my friends. We were listening to rap and breakbeats, and we also went to breakdance classes together. We did some graffiti on the walls under the bridges, rooftops and moving things and all that. I remember one of my friends got caught. We all managed to run away and hide, except him. Luckily, nothing serious happened to him. I was also doing some rap beats, which you probably wouldn’t want to listen (chuckles). However, I have put some old beats and demos in my soundcloud page. There are four elements of what makes a lifestyle of a “street guy”: graffiti, deejaying, rapping and breakdance. And we had it all!
What made you interested in underground genres?
My older sister, who is eight years older than me, was really into The Prodigy and other electronic music. I was something like 10 years old, and their sound was something new and fresh. So, I would borrow these cassettes from her and listen to them on my Walkman almost all day long. It was such a raw and aggressive type of sound that I never heard of before. After that I was going to the city library to borrow some CDs with similar kind of music, always discovering something new. I would then discover Aphex Twin, who also blew my mind for the second time. But these guys [The Prodigy] were the ones who got me interested in sampling based production. Downtempo and house were the first genres I started to produce. Then, moved on to drum and bass and techno after that. I would record a small sample off my vinyl player from some disco, jazz or funk track, put it on my sampler and just play around with effects. I still do this kind of production nowadays, it will never get old.
How and when did you get into music production?
A long time ago I really wanted to get drums, but my parents won’t buy me one. That didn’t leave me much options, so I’ve started to write music using FastTracker on PC and Music 2000 on PlayStation 1. Before that I saw what my friend did on his Amiga computer, with software called Octamed. After I bought faster PC it was about trying new software, like Fruity Loops, Reason and Renoise until I stopped on Ableton Live. Version 4 was the first I could get my hands on. It has developed a lot since early 00’s, Around that time I’ve also got my first turntables and started to learn beatmatching. First hardware sampler, Boss SP-303, around 2004. But it wasn’t without the help of my sister who opened me the world of electronic music. She had some DJ friends and I was curious about it. She took me to DJ Genetic’s home and that’s when I saw turntables for the first time and I just knew I had to buy them! They were quite expensive, and I had to earn my own money to buy those, because my parents refused to buy those for me. I worked all summer to get them. I bought cheaper Stanton’s and after few years the classic Technics 1200’s.
Deep Space Helsinki is the biggest “techno thing” in Finland. Ever had a chance to play for them?
I haven’t played on Deep Space Helsinki event, but I have played at the same club [Kuudes-Linja] arranged by Samuli Kemppi on the event called Domestic Techno Inspection. There were 10 different performances, as well as 10 Video Jockey artists and groups, who combine music and video. It’s an annual event and almost each time you can see new faces in there as Samuli is always checking out on new artists. It stays fresh that way. First time in 2011 I was playing there only with my laptop and controller, and second time in 2013 was a hardware only performance.
Deep Space Helsinki — what exactly is it? I heard that they do a lot of things.
It’s a label, a radio show, a promotion company and a lot more. It’s ran by Samuli Kemppi and Juho Kusti. While Samuli stays in Helsinki, Juho moved to Berlin — I heard he sold all his records, and just moved away. Can you believe that? They have this radio program, and I sent some of my demos to them and they played some of my tunes. I think I’ve met Samuli on Myspace for the first time. I sent him a friend request and he liked some of my productions and he actually asked me to send some of my music because he wanted to play one of them on the radio. Fun fact, Juho and Samuli used to do things separately before, they even had separate radio shows. But it wasn’t too long until they combined forces.
Helsinki techno scene is quite a monopoly. I heard about that guy Lil Tony and how he runs every major techno club there, what can you say about him?
I don’t really know him in person. He has been very active from early 90’s or late 80’s. He is one of the guys who is putting Finland on the map of techno and house music industry. There is also a guy named Lauri Soini, a main booking agent and also a DJ in the club Kaiku. He brings all those awesome artists to Helsinki. A recent Boiler Room event was happening there thanks to him. Besides, there is also many underground techno events in Helsinki, almost every weekend there is something happening.
Vinyl or wav/mp3?
When you buy a real record, which is not even released in digital, you really have to concentrate on what exactly you are getting. You appreciate your record collection much more that way. I listen to a lot of music online, including podcasts and mixes, but analog is the way to go for me. Although, digital way is much more mobile, so I don’t mind playing from my memory stick sometimes. One time I was forced to play from my memory sticks because the turntables were broken. You can never know what to expect, so you have to be prepared for everything.
What defies a great artist in your opinion?
Probably the most important thing for me is that the artist is not doing it for the money. Purity of the production. I like to keep my productions underground, and I am fine with this. I don’t want to be a superstar. I don’t make a lot of money from my gigs, and I don’t really care about that. I have a daytime job, like a lot of my colleagues from Meltdown Crew. I like it that way.
What inspires you?
Everyday life — what’s happening around me and my emotions I go through. Obviously, a lot of influences come from the music I listen to. However, sometimes I would just pick a record, cut a short sample out of it and give it a twist with my sampler and inspiration would come in the middle of process. You can never know what can come out of it.
What came first — chicken or the egg?
Definitely the egg.
Thank you very much for your time, Vesa.
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