Finland's Fringe Music on Forgotten Formats: A Survey of Independent Releases
In its march to the digital future the sound recording industry has left for dead a variety of formats. The mainstream recording industry long ago abandoned the 7” vinyl single, the 45 rpm, and the cassette. But when the mainstream abandons one technology as obsolete, the underground waits to claim it as a possibility. As the recording industry consolidates its hold on technology and distribution, a growing number of musicians are using the old formats, and a new one, the CD-R (the digital version of the blank cassette) to democratize music making.
In Finland, many musicians are utilizing these formats to spread their ideas, and in the process they are showing how false are genre boundaries. A handful of independent labels are releasing recordings with a decidedly DIY spirit. The recordings are usually lo-fi and mono, covers often hand drawn and labeled, and then sold over the Internet. All these qualities bring the listener closer to the musician, letting one see, almost literally, the hand of the creator.
Many associate DIY with 70s punk, but other genres offer precedents. Sun Ra and his Arkestra often made and attached their own LP labels. The 70s loft scene produced a slew of homemade recordings, reggae started as, and in some cases continues to be, a cottage industry, and the 80s No Wave scene took delight in ignoring rules of any kind. All these provide the musicians and labels in Finland with musical and organizational inspiration. Turku-based Lal lal lal Records has produced a steady stream of cassettes, vinyl singles and CD-Rs, the music leaning towards esoteric noise experiments, improvisation and surrealistic folk atmospheres. Another Turku label, Pohjoisten kukaisten äänet (Northern Flower Sounds) specializes in improvised fusions of jazz and global musics. Outa and Rikos Records are two Jyväskylä-based labels. The former releases intense free jazz, while the latter was established to document the city’s electro scene.
So we should not fear technological progress or globalization, for those forces make it possible to hear these strangely wonderful sounds. These recordings take us into intimate spaces - some contemplative, some mystical, some inspiring and others downright disturbing. They knock at the doors of our musical preconceptions, then crash through them with maniacal glee.
Lauhkeat Lampat (POK)
The brothers Tolvi, Antti and Jaako, from Rauhan Orkesteri , weave a meditative tapestry that blends their passions: free jazz and Eastern musics. On the B-side Jaako first lays down a bubbling tabla groove while Antti uses the deep tones of his bass recorder as both rhythm and melody, until they culminate in a free, cluttered dialogue of vocal spasms, shakers and tiny tabla bursts. They stay reflective on the A-side, Anti blowing long, vocalized tones over bells, slides on the tabla’s bass drum and rapid comments from the treble. LL refracts world music through the brothers’ own ecstatic, idiosyncratic communication.
Rikos started by documenting Jyväskylä’s electro scene, but this single breaks that mold with a bold combination of psychedelia and agit-pop. Their name means “Freedom Question,” and they weld the metaphysical freedom so vividly expressed in the 60s with the more political freedom endorsed in the 70s by the artists from Helsinki’s KOM-Theater. “Köyhät” (The Poor) rides a cyclical bass line buried deep in the mix of swinging ride, horns and wavering, filtered male voices. When the singer declares (in Finnish) “The Poor Win!” applause breaks out and guitar explodes to the foreground. “Marttyyrit” (Martyrs) sways in 6/8, letting a tenor sax ride freely until an abrupt break, where a cassette is heard flipping, and acoustic guitars take over. A thick booklet full of collages and free verse perfectly reflects this dense, intriguing patchwork.
The Demars (Lal lal lal)
OK, so this is demented hardcore and not jazz. The mythologizing liner notes speak of “the joy of improvisation and making a racket,” but that’s what Albert Ayler did so well, and Yakastuma Eye has made a damn fine career out of making a racket. Supposedly made by two adolescent cousins, the eight-year old lead singer spews tantrum-like stream of consciousness lyrics over speed metal drum machine beats and flailing feedback punk riffs. The Demars is kind of record that culture mavens point to and say, “See how our children are being corrupted!” They should instead be happy that the little rugrats have a hobby. I say it’s all good, demented fun.
Maniacs Dream/Muniaissymposium 1960 (Lal lal lal)
Seven inches of pure sonic weirdness. MS 1960’s side consists of five short pieces that sound like a lullaby gone evil. The voice pulled out of shape – dry, tortured screams, strangled moans, unsettling mewing, labored exhaling, – combines with strangled instruments – an accordion and a violin – to make a debauched study in wind and string textures, like music made by primates. On the flipside Maniacs Dream spews a poisonous cloud of crunching feedback, needling guitar and lumbering percussion. Their boozy swagger induces a state of drunken nirvana, without the hangover.
Mother Goose (If Society)
Mother Goose’s power trio format is classic, but their prismatic view of pop is anything but, leaning more towards perverted, clever fun. The lurid girl-watching of “Schizoid Ladies” has the lyrical bite and sonic roughness of On the Beach -era Neil Young, while “Rondo Fennoscandia” lurches like the best of Sonic Youth’s dissonant pop riffing. After three albums and one forthcoming, Mother Goose’s subversive vision of tight song structures laced with discordance remains a sinful pleasure.