FINNS AIN'T WHAT THEY USED TO BE
Rupert Howe, NME, 10 December 1994
Guesting recently at London's techno-ambient all-nighter Quirky, the team behind Finnish label SÄHKÖ RECORDINGS managed to blow the grimy club's power halfway through a set of the weirdest electronica this side of Scandinavia. It wasn't planned, but it suited the occasion perfectly.
Sähkö is all about the unexpected and unconventional. They release records in unmarked silver sleeves, full of tiny drilled holes, and hide CDs away in fiddly cardboard envelopes. They are one of those outfits that thrives on making people try and figure out what they're up to next.
It could be the eerie, minimal techno constructions of Mika Vainio, known simply as Ø, or the lounge-bar easy-listening soundtracks of the fabulous Jimi Tenor (check his truly amazing Sähkömies LP).
"Sähkö can put out anything really", says label boss Tommi Grönlund. "Not only techno, not only experimental, anything interesting... We don't really know yet where we are going."
During the day, Tommi works with a couple of friends as an architect. "Actually, we don't build very much," he confesses. "We make exhibitions and i nstallations. That kind of thing." But he still considers himself "more an architect than a label owner".
It was the music of Mika Vainio that inspired him to set up the label in the first place; that and the realisation that nobody else in Finland was interested in putting out experimental electronic music. Working through the 80's on everything from industrial noise to speed metal, the sparse sonic landscape of Vainio's recent album Metri (which contains almost as much silence as its does actual music), shows a unique approach to the techno craft.
"I just thought they were so much better than some other records I buy when I go abroad," says Tommi of his tracks. Then, realising that that might sound too arrogant, he adds, "Or, not better, but different."
Yet at home, Sähkö have faced a mountain of Scandinavian indiffererence.
"We are nobodies in Finland," says Tommi. "Nobody knows us. We sell maybe 20 records to our friends and we export everything else."
The records they have exported so far, though, have ended up in the right places, winning recognition and respect from the likes of Ritchie Hawtin, Mixmaster Morris and Mike Paradinas of µ-Ziq, all of whom were at the Vox to witness their circuit-blowing set. With a distribution deal for the UK and releases in the pipeline from artists as far a field as New York and Vienna, Sähkö could make an impact on the global techno scene way beyond their size.
Except that when Tommi says he wants the whole thing to stay small and centred, allowing him to lavish the same degree of care over every release, you get the sense he won't be giving up the day job just yet.
Tracks by Ø appear on the Pi compilation Out There - A Thread Through Time. Other forthcoming releases, to be distributed through Plastic Head, include EPs by Kirlian and SIL Electronics.
Copyright ©1995 NME
Tommi Grönlund with Jimi Tenor (photography: Jouko Lehtola).