Jori Hulkkonen: Finland, Vocals... and Science

Words by: Stephen Flynn
Posted: 18/9/12 7:17

Jori Hulkkonen: Finland, Vocals... and ScienceFinnish producer Jori Hulkkonen has a long and chequered history in electronic music. Alongside contemporaries such as Sasse, he was among the first Finnish DJ/producers to gain recognition outside of his native Finland.

His many monikers (from Zyntherius to Bobby Forester) have seen him embrace a number of contrasting styles too, while he’s also a prominent remixer, having delivered over 100 remixes for a diverse cast that includes Chromeo, Kid Cudi and Robyn.

2012 though, could well prove his most pivotal year yet, as he returns to the album format for the first time since 2009’s Man from Earth.  With the latter a diverse collection of tracks that earned great fanfare on Tiga’s much renowned Turbo imprint, Hulkkonen’s latest long-player, Negative Time arrives on the increasingly prominent My Favorite Robot imprint, while it also marks the label’s first steps into the album domain - proof if needed that the brains behind the project is as current and as in-demand as ever.

I Voice caught up with Jori recently, as he talked us through his Finnish upbringing, his plans for the new album, and why he released this one through his latest guise, Third Culture

Do you remember when you were first introduced to electronic music?
Not really actually, because as far back as I can remember, the music has always been there. Growing up, I lived very close to the Swedish border, so I had access to all their radio and TV stations too.

At the time, they were pretty much ahead of everything in Finland. That was in the late 70s and early 80s, and I remember hearing stuff like Kraftwerk records at the time.

I think it was around 1982 or 1983 when I started buying records. I had an older brother so it was just really the logical thing to do, and soon I was picking up EPs by the likes of Depeche Mode, and Human League, so it just kind of went from there really, as I found myself very attached to electronic music…

What was your first big break in the music scene then?
I started making music in 1988 and that was a huge thing for me, as I explored all these synths and drum machines. I had a summer job back then, and I was spending all my money on equipment and I soon became hooked at producing.

In the 80s, techno & house were always played in the same set – you could switch between old Juan Atkins with New York techno etc. But you could make it work, & that’s something that stuck in my head, so I always strived to explore a number of different styles...In 1993 I started my own label in Northern Finland. We did a couple of 12’’s, and having my music on vinyl for the first time was a huge deal. Then, in 1995, I realised I wanted to focus on producing music rather than running a label. So that’s how I hooked up with Laurent Garnier’s label, F Communications. And those three things combined kind of showed me the way I guess…

And how did you first ended up signing to F Communications?
It was a very classically 90s way of doing things actually! [laughs] I sent Laurent (Garnier) a demo CD and a cassette because that, alongside the likes of Peacefrog, ACV and Planet E, it was one of the labels I was really interested in back then.

The week after I sent a demo to all those labels, I got a phone call. I was still a student and was living in my student digs at the time. It was a late Thursday night and the phone rang, and the guy on the line said “this is Carl Craig, do you speak English?!” Then, the next day, Laurent Garnier called, and I suppose then, that I knew I was on to something with the music thing…

As well as techno, you’ve also released house and electro records too…
Yeah, I mean I guess it’s because of my age! I come from a background where electronic music was just that, and it wasn’t split into all these other genres like it is now. It wasn’t really until the early 90s that these sounds started separating from each other.

I mean, in the 80s, techno and house were always played in the same set – you could switch between old Juan Atkins with New York techno etc. But you could make it work, and that’s something that stuck in my head, so I always strived to explore a number of different styles. So it’s always been natural for me to not focus on one particular style.

I know you did the record (‘Sunglasses at Night’) with Tiga as Zyntherius. Do you have a number of different guises for different sounds?
Yes, that was especially true in the 90s when I was exploring with so many different types of electronic music. I was coming up with different pseudonyms for different labels, and that was always the logical thing to do.

When I did that record with Tiga I didn’t want to use my own name because it was so different to what I’d done before compared to the Jori Hulkonnen stuff I was doing at the time with F Communications that was very jazzy house-type stuff.

So yeah, I didn’t want to mix things up too much and confuse people. I guess when I use pseudonyms it’s kind of like a fresh start.

Is that the idea behind your latest guise, Third Culture, too?
Yes, exactly. I was fascinated by this concept, so I then came up with a soundtrack that I felt fitted the concept. I came across the term some years ago.

In the 1950’s there was a school of thought in American universities that revolved around hard sciences like mathematics, physics and chemistry; basically all these natural sciences.

But then you had the humanistics and the literary sciences like philosophy, literature and all this kind of stuff. As opposed to them being separate, there was then this idea that there were two cultures whereby you could combine them and come up with a sort of ‘third culture’ where you took a poetic approach to hard sciences and vice-versa. So for me, that was a fun idea to think about musically.

I mean, from a scientific perspective, we’re always told that negative time cannot exist. So my idea was that I’d make it exist by making an album with that title!...!Do the sciences influence you a lot then?
Well yeah. As a kid I was very interested in science fiction, but then the older I got, he more intrigued I became by the sciences. I still read a lot of popular science books, yeah. I guess it neatly fits the classic techno genre too, because it’s all about futurism and outer space and all that kind of stuff.

There’s such a wealth of ideas there, that it’s great to just sort of adopt them to music. I mean, I work a lot with old 70s and 80s hardware that has flashing lights etc., so it sometimes feels like I’m in my own sort of laboratory! [laughs]

So what’s the thinking behind the album title, Negative Time?
Well it’s kid of like a two-fold thing. I mean, from a scientific perspective, we’re always told that negative time cannot exist. So my idea was that I’d make it exist by making an album with that title!

Also, with all the bad stuff going on in the world right now, it sort of felt like the right time to make an album with that title too!

How did the album end up being signed to My Favorite Robot?
Well I started receiving their promos when they started the label. I get a lot of music sent to me all the time, and I always naturally, try to separate the good from the bad. And I noticed that this label from Toronto, well all their records were consistently good. Also, they were releasing music that was really individual and different to everything else out there at the time.

I mean 4 years ago I was doing my album for Turbo, but what they were doing kind of reminded me in a way of what I was doing in the late 90s/early 00s, with this deeper, house approach, and I was noticing that it was beginning to sound really fresh again.  So I had an idea that I could do something for the label. Then, last year, when I was DJing in Toronto, I started talking with the guys. So we talked about the possibility of me doing an album and seeing where it goes. In October of last year I started working on the album, and I worked through the winter and it was finished by the end of April.

Third Culture... Negative TimeDid you take the label’s sound into consideration when you were producing the album then?
Maybe at the start, but overall, no, not really. When you’re in the studio, it rarely works out like that, and I was thinking more about how the album was going to work conceptually rather than the audience. It’s turned out quite different from the original idea too. There are a few tracks that are really spot on and what I envisaged originally, such as ‘Technowater’ and ‘Spatial Needs’. The album also features a lot of vocals, which again, I probably didn’t think about at the start. As I was writing the tracks, new ideas came to me all the time, especially as regards how and when to use vocals…

There seems to be a lot of vocal records on the LP alright…
Well it wasn’t the original idea, but the album just started to take shape like that. After a while it just felt natural to do these vocal tracks. I discovered this new vocalist called Harri Falck who’s now done two tracks for me on the album. He’s in a band in Finland but he’s never featured on anything like this before so I thought it’d be interesting. I saw a YouTube video of him covering a Radiohead record and realised he had an amazing voice so I was really keen to get him on board. I wrote the tracks that he sings on with his voice in mind.

Jori Hulkkonen's StudioYou sing on the album too right?
Yeah, on two tracks actually. I did the singing under my JiiHoo moniker. Usually when I write a record I usually do a demo vocal myself before somebody else just sings what I’ve written. But on the tracks in question I didn’t know who could sing them in a way I had planned. The more I listened to the demo the more I was convinced more I could do it.

Have you always had such confidence in your abilities?
Well it’s always been a learning process. I mean when I started making music, I’d no formal training, and I’m almost completely self-taught. There always needs to be an aspect to a record that I’ve never done before, and that’s the same with albums. So I always try to push myself musically so that two albums are never the same. It feels like progress that way.

How and where was the album produced by the way?
I have a really cool studio in Finland that I’ve been assembling for over 20 years now. It’s a great set up with loads of different analogue gear and my collection of over 15,000 12’’s too. I do everything there from the beginning to the end…

And how are things in the Finnish scene right now?
For a while it was a bit stagnant and there was nobody under my age making music and putting on parties, but now it seems a whole new generation are starting to embrace electronic music again, which is obviously great to see. At the same time, it’s a lot of the same guys, such as Freestyle Man aka Sasse, Roberto Rodriguez and Vladoslav Delay who are still throwing all the major parties. I’m definitely optimistic for the future though…

Finally, are you going to be touring the new album live too?
Well yeah, I have plans to, but I’ve pretty much been touring non-stop for the past 20 years anyway. So not much will change apart from the music being presented! [laughs]

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