Sami Heikkilä, The Mag 2/1996 (Winter 1996/97)
ARSENAL is one of those Finnish techno groups that have managed to gain some international success, and have proved their worth with their live appearances that must be of high quality even on an international scale. The debut of group will soon be released on German-Canadian JAKPOT label. Who are behind the group and how it came into being, that's what the next story is about...
Arsenal consists of Markus Jähi (17), Samuli Sipilä (18) and Antti Toivonen (18).
What gave you the initial spark to create techno music?
In the early 90s we used to visit all-night rave parties and got excited about the music. Initially our hobby was mostly to just listen to the music. Making music of our own got into it only later. Our first synth we bought a couple of years ago.
Have you done any DJ gigs?
MARKUS: Yes, some of those, since '94, both at the parties of our own and at those organised by some friends of ours. First and foremost, one should mention, among all, Communion at Tampere House, Endeavour at Tampere's Näsinneula Tower and, as the definite top party, the Elements warehouse party at Finlayson Factory.
SAMULI: Though the only party that all three members have been involved in organising has been Syy, an event of a small scale at Tampere's local Ahaa theatre in autumn '96. The show consisted, alongside of music, of poetry recitation.
Do you remember any good single track from the early days?
Well, not any single tracks, but let's say, those 20 first Harthouse UK releases were in heavy rotation those days, also the records of Rising High label. Some people are still into that stuff but our own taste of music has changed since then.
When was Arsenal formed?
Actually Arsenal is only one of our projects. In fact, the name has been used only once when we had a live PA at the Voyage rave. For example, the record that will come out now will be published under some other alias [Notebook Man - ER.]
Are there any artists or labels which have had influence on your sound?
We can't really give any particular names since there are so many of them. Detroit techno must have influenced our sound, too... On the other hand, it can't really be said what the greatest influences on our sound have been since our stuff is so varied. The styles of our music go from one end to the other, from intelligent listening rhythms to harder and more minimalistic Detroit tracks. Besides, we also produce lots of house music and we don't really depreciate some more alternative things, either. Our intention is not to make only one sort of music.
We think it's a totally wrong attitude to music-making to directly imitate some particular artist. Making music according to certain preset patterns won't create much anything, though one may fall to that temptation from time to time, because in the end, in music it's a question of combining different elements.
You have in your music, though, the dance "attitude" always involved?
No. At the gigs, however, our intention is to make people dance. Though we are not going to make many live gigs since the mere roading of equipment will really get on your mental health! When we play live, we want to do it properly, and the scarcity of equipment can't affect it. You can hear from a live act if not enough attention is put into it. For example, the live PA we made at Voyage we had been preparing for a long time, and for just rehearsing we spent many weeks. Hopefully it was rewarding for the listeners...
Though our music differs from Orbital, we take them as our example in what comes to the live performances. It's a pity you can't see those kinds of skills in Finland too often. Though some acclaimed international live acts have visited here, they haven't always been worth their reputation. As one example you could mention someone like Mijk van Dijk last winter in Tampere.
How do you start composing a track?
When we begin, we may plan to make, for example, some serene listening music. Then, when you've been creating a song for three hours, you'll start to notice that it will be far from the listening stuff (i.e., non-listenable?). The tracks will take shape as we compose them and are changing all the time. That's also another reason why we don't have any clear singular style. Usually we start to make tracks only by twiddling with our instruments and just trying what sounds will come out of them. You may get ideas for sounds even by only pushing wrong button in accident. Sometimes you may be hankering for a track for hours and it just won't work. Then you may suddenly find some sound which will put it all together.
In making music we favour live-orientated approach. As far as we are concerned, separate sequencing instruments have proven to be more practical than computers. In addition, they are also a class of their own in live situations because we can variate (and improvise) the tracks and shape sounds real-time.
What is the hardest thing in making techno/dance music?
Well, it must be MIDIng things up... heh heh... At Pakkahuone club (in Tampere) we had so much gear with us that the house roadies who had seen just everything in their days were shaking their heads when they saw that "sea of cords" of ours. They were sure that the system will never work. Well, even in all its simplicity it will take some figuring out. Let's admit that it took for awhile from us to get all the equipment to play in accordance with each other. You can create single good elements as much as you want to but it's hard to create an entirely working totality. It's easy to make a loop of few seconds but it doesn't create the whole song... except sometimes.
You've got here in your studio pretty much different kinds of equipment. What is your favourite instrument?
Coffee machine. As what comes to music, we favour old analogue gear. Lately we've been using SH-101 a lot. Though soundwise it's a bit worn out, it's just at home in creating a mood. Well, there are all those new machines imitating analogue equipment but they are expensive, and imitating "the original sound" won't always come out of them naturally. Anyway, we've got here quite a lot of some old machinery. Nowadays this stuff starts to get scarcer. If we had started even a bit later, you couldn't have known how much more money you should have invested in them. The prices of analogue equipment have risen considerably. Though you can always get something useful out of really any equipment.
How much making techno depends on the gear, and how much on the composers themselves?
You can't get anything sensible out of mere machinery. You have to have certain vision in what you do. It means that you have listened to the music and know something about it, before you can start to make it. But composing techno doesn't take any particular musical talent. Though that doesn't hurt. Many people who don't listen to techno themselves, and therefore don't understand anything about it, imagine that anyone can create it (every synthesizer does have that "compose a techno track" button there, doesn't it...?) Although playing and being able to control your equipment in real-time plays lesser role than in conventional music, it's important to know what one does. In electronic music the emphasis is more in creating the right kind of moods and soundscapes.
Is techno the kind of sports where the equipment of top-notch and highest quality is of utmost importance?
Yes and no. The basic needs for creating tracks is that you have the necessary amount of equipment. However, the basic needs for making techno is not that you have to own a perfect series of Roland gear and whatever before you can even start. For example, Jeff Mills, for whom buying new equipment must not be up to money, uses a lot of cheap samplers in creating music, anyway. The basic set you can get with quite a little money if you know what you're buying. Many people fall, especially in the beginning, to rash ideas with what comes to buying equipment, especially if one considers it in the long run. Even with just sampler you can create miracles.
How did you get the recording contract for Jakpot?
We got to know the manager of Jakpot, Oliver Bondzio of Hardfloor fame, when he was spinning records in Tampere at the Tribes party, spring '96, and he was willing to publish our music after he had once heard it.
When will the record, that is now released, come out exactly, and what will it include?
Actually, these days an EP should come out. We don't know what will happen in the future, but it's quite sure it won't be our last release... Releasing a record has taken quite a long time, in fact. The tracks that are now released have been written about a year ago. Stylistically they are quite jamming and minimal. Some people who have heard the tracks beforehand say they are quite unbiased and even funny.
So you don't pledge allegiance to only one style?
No, we don't, after all. The world of music around us is on the constant change and our taste of music changes with that. There are some things that will be worn out in music, and then you don't want to use them in your own stuff, either. We keep following our time.
What were the last records you bought?
ANTTI: Today I got a second-hand copy of Hardfloor's 'Funalogue'. The latest new record is the Red Planet I got from Stockholm, even though that one is not brand new, either. Those really new ones have been Burial Mix I bought some time ago and MUK CD by RA-X.
MARKUS: ... We are not techno people to the bone, as they say. When we talk about techno music, it's purely dance music. We listen to something else at home; lastly I bought Travelling Without Moving album by Jamiroquai.
SAMULI: I guess for me it must be on the Ferox/Peacefrog tip...
MARKUS: Unfortunately, it feels sometimes that too many good records just drift by because the lack of money.
We think that as long as it's about good music, it's totally impossible to pass by The Beatles.
What plans you have in store for the future?
Well, one can't afford to mention anything more about them, as it is. New songs are coming all the time and we don't hide them on purpose. We do have in plans several international projects.
Translation from Finnish by ER.
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