In 2000, a strange, compelling creature was brought to life in Finland: Fiasko Records. You could hear its first stirrings on Gnomus , the self-titled release from the electric free-improvisation trio. This surreal live recording of completely improvised material was befitting as the beginning of a label dedicated to maintaining artistic integrity and freedom. After speaking with three of Fiasko's most active board members and recording artists -guitarist/composer Esa Onttonen, pianist/composer Kari Ikonen and saxophonist/composer Mikko Innanen-one clearly sees that Fiasko stems from a stubborn, yet artistically fruitful, desire to write, play and release music that contains no compromises.
In a world obsessed with categories, Fiasko finds themselves producing music that defies them. Further compounding their challenge, Fiasko's home base is Helsinki, Finland: not the first city one thinks of when listing the creative music hotbeds of the world. Against these odds however, in its two years of existence Fiasko has created a growing international reputation and released six albums that all live up to a high standard of production, musicianship and most importantly, artistry.
Fiasko came into being in 2000 as a collaboration between a group of Finnish jazz musicians who were all getting ready to release albums. Instead of shopping the major labels or releasing their records individually, the musicians joined forces in order to increase their visibility. Innanen believes being part of a label catalogue helps an album to survive, keeping it from "disappearing" in the ocean of recordings released every year.
And being a part of the Fiasko catalogue also means the musicians do not have to make the usual concessions to major-label tastemakers. In fact, the opposite is true. There is no definite Fiasko "sound" or "visual identity". No set criteria has been established by the label for what makes a Fiasko record. All potential projects are considered by the eight-member board of directors (all musicians) on their own artistic merits. Innanen sees the only commonality of Fiasko Records as being that they are outside the mainstream. Kari Ikonen expands further, saying they listen for records that "make no artistic compromises to commerciality" and that Fiasko prefers records made up of original compositions. The only packaging standard they have is that each album is released in digi-pak format. Aside from those criteria, they want each album to express, without limitations, the individual artists' creative vision.
Onttonen speaks for all the Fiasko artists when he states, "We don't like anyone telling us what to do", a comment that could serve as Fiasko's mission statement. Bands on Fiasko have full control of their music until the time it goes to pressing. Every group pays their own expenses (something they hope to change eventually) and every group is responsible for getting recording time, producing, designing their cover art and marketing.
> Fiasko of course has faced the usual up-hill battle of an independent label that releases decidedly non-commercial music. "It is hard to sell music you cannot categorize" says Innanen. 2001's Gourmet is a surreal blend of popular music styles, free jazz and ethnic music; in other words a nightmare for record store owners trying to figure out which section to file it under. Or take a record like Ahava , by vocalist Mia Simanainen. Sure, it is jazz with vocals but the all original repertoire, playing style and instrumentation stand miles away from any album you are likely to find under "vocal jazz." In true independent spirit, they pondered aloud the possibility of creating their own categories to help in marketing, but they stop short of making promises for any "commercial" albums. You will not see any producer-induced concept albums (i.e. no Gourmet plays the music of Barry White ) from Fiasko any time soon.
> To conquer the vast distance between its home base and the rest of the world, Fiasko has made the Internet an integral part of its organization. The Fiasko web-site, maintained by Onttonen, not only sells records, but presents artist bios, reviews of Fiasko records, links to artist home pages and photos, with more being planned for the future. In September of this year, they will launch a redesigned web-site with a stronger visual presence and more content, including writings by the label members. They have also made available mp3s of selected Fiasko recordings at www.mp3.com. For now the files are only available in streaming format, but Onttonen plans to make them downloadable in the near future. However, Onttonen maintains that the best place to get your hands on a Fiasko album is by ordering through their homepage, because then you are most directly supporting the artists.