Helsinki Rising: Interview with Samuli Kemppi and Juho Kusti of Deep Space Helsinki radio

It is unclear exactly when the Finnish radio show Deep Space Helsinki became my Tuesday mid-morning ritual, which starts at 10 am US West Coast time (8pm Helsinki time). Each week I look forward to the two-hour show where I can listen to a wide range of well selected Techno (and House occasionally) from classic to yet-to-be-released, not to mention in between chatting and odd commercials in Finnish. I enjoy it so much that I loathe when my work meetings send me away from my desk, disrupting my weekly consumption of fresh techno – though the show is recorded and available later. After three and a half years of being on the air, the show is now launching a spin off record label that bears the same name. The two hosts of DSH however have spent much longer years in Helsinki techno scene – Samuli Kemppi has been producing and releasing records since as early as 2004 on the labels like Prologue and Ostgut Ton, while Juho Kusti has been DJing over a decade. On the eve of DSH’s first EP Signal One’s arrival, NTD had a nice chat with Samuli and Juho, the two stewards of DSH – aptly named for two Helsinkians, one who has a penchant for space and the other who loves deep techno sound.

NTD: Hello Samuli and Juho, finally here we are – how about we start with a little history behind the weekly radio show Deep Space Helsinki? How long DSH has been on air and what was the motivation behind the radio show? And how did you two first meet and become friends?

Juho Kusti: We did our first show as DSH on January 1, 2009. We had our own separate radio shows on the same spot bi-weekly on Basso Radio for quite some time and decided to combine our forces since we were close friends and shared the same views about house and techno anyway. The important thing for us is to give people a chance to have an alternative to mainstream radio and to have an opportunity to hear great techno music they’d otherwise never hear and maybe to get involved in it in one way or another.

Samuli Kemppi: I always think that if we can broaden the musical perspectives of our listeners, then we’ve done our job well. Basso radio is a quite unique station and there is no playlists, only DJs who know their games. I don’t think that DSH would be possible on any other station in Finland. I’m not sure if our international listeners know the fact that Basso is on FM in 5 biggest cities of Finland and covers over half of the population. Well, that’s only 3.2 million, so, you get the picture of the scale, which makes it even more meaningful for such a small country that we are.

JK: As for how we became friends – now that’s another story but to put it in short I booked Samuli to play in Helsinki in 2000 after hearing his mix which I liked a lot. After the gig I asked him for a new mixtape and he agreed but never delivered. When he moved to Helsinki in 2003, we bumped into each other. And maybe because he was feeling bad about not delivering the mixtape, he gave me a CD of his music instead. I liked the stuff a lot and played it all the time and since we lived near to each other we started to hang out a bit and our friendship slowly evolved from that.

SK: I had Juho’s address for the mixtape in my wallet for many years…..I remember he asked me to do a bit more leftfield/chill out kind of mix. Then later on we both played a lot in mbar, which was a nice spot back then. All our friends were there. We actually did one live PA together in mbar as Dirty Group back then. Juho played guitar, I was on the machines. Both drunk. Good times.

JK: Oh, that was something else. Let’s not go into any further please, haha!

NTD: Tell us little bit about the techno scene in Helsinki. What are some of the good parties there? And what makes the Helsinki scene unique?

JK: Helsinki as a city is a great place to live and there’s always something going on. The techno scene here is quite small but very enthusiastic. The crowds in Helsinki definitely know their stuff and you can’t bullshit them around with flashy moves. We get a good amount of foreign DJs come over be it someone like Marcel Dettmann or DVS1 and other scenes alongside techno are they’re doing well too. We have two great festivals still coming up, Kuudes Aisti and Flow Festival, both with spectacular line ups. Lil Tony has been working in the scene for a long time hauling cool artists from abroad to play here and great sound systems are always a big deal in his clubs. HYTKY and Entropy organizations are always up for putting on a great underground party at some secret location. Lauri Soini is trying to do his thing adding to the nightlife here with his adventurous bookings at Adams. Homotekno crew are giving everybody the opportunity to enjoy quality techno in alternate surroundings and always delivering. And of course we are throwing DSH parties with our guests at Kuudes Linja, the best place for techno in Helsinki for me personally. Artists like Roberto Rodriguez, Trevor Deep JR, Morphology, Juho Kahilainen, Ender, Rasmus Hedlund to name a few are each doing their own thing and making it work. And then there are the young enthusiastic DJs/producers coming up as well that are already kicking the shit out of the old guard which I think is very important for a scene that wants to stay vibrant. It’s really all quite good here in Helsinki.

SK: I’m really happy to have our home base for DSH nights at Kuudes Linja. In my opinion it is the best venue in Helsinki. It’s a bit out of center, so people go there for the music and you can feel that when you play there. I’m not so keen to go out myself, unless there is something really special going on. You know, I’m a family man with 9-to-5 work and also traveling on the weekends to play. So, if there is a free weekend, I really want to spend it with my wife and son. But, when I go out, I’d like to hear longer sets from local jocks. All the residents who end up doing warm up sets for big names deserve more attention in my opinion. Unfortunately the opening hours of clubs are regulated here by law; all clubs close latest at 4 am. There’s not much space for marathon sets here because of that.

JK: But that’s where the magic of real underground parties kicks in, they can close whenever they want but then again you really need to know when and where to go as underground parties are not organized on a regular basis.

NTD: Each week DSH spends a good amount out of its two-hour airtime on new or upcoming releases. Has new music always been more or less the focus of the show? How important is it to promote or share new releases for DSH?

JK: The main focus of DSH is good, quality music, be it old or new. The new releases and upcoming stuff is just an addition to the show in a positive way because I think it makes the show that much more interesting to people who follow the techno scene more closely or who are eager to find the new sounds. I think promoting the music of upcoming artists and artists you never heard before is more of an agenda for Samuli than for myself but if I think the music’s good then I’ll play it. Good music always deserves to be heard. That being said, what we play on the show reflects what we like personally so if someone sends a promo to the show and it doesn’t get aired, they shouldn’t feel too bad about it. We can be quite specific about what kind of music we like.

SK: We do get a lot of promos and demos from people and labels from all around the world and I really do appreciate that. I always try to go through all of them, although that is getting more and more challenging time wise. There’s no urge to play only new music; to me techno is timeless. But, as Juho said it already; if it’s good, we’ll play it. Kotimaan Teknokatsaus aka Domestic Techno Inspection is a good example of something that started as small part of the show. I was getting a lot of unreleased tracks from friends and other producers in Finland, so I thought it would be great to give more attention to the local stuff. I got more and more good feedback on KTK/DTI part of the show, not just from Finland. After a couple of years, the first KTK/DTI event with 10 live PAs on the same stage saw the daylight and it’s been going on once a year for four years now. I feel that it’s important to give a chance or possibility for the newcomers, especially if they are up to it with their productions. I got help back in the days, so from my side it’s only right to help others.

JK: Yeah those KTK events have been very successful and that kind of enthusiasm has been great to see but that’s more of Samuli’s thing. We brainstorm on it and then I just help out with whatever I can and let Samuli pretty much organize it.

NTD: What would be the most enjoyable aspects of doing the radio show, and if there could be anything not so enjoyable?

JK: I most enjoy getting feedback from the listeners. That always keeps me going if I hear someone was touched or influenced by something they heard on our show or when I meet random people who really like what we are doing. To me that’s the most gratifying thing ever – to actually have a positive influence over any number of people, even one. I can’t really think of any unenjoyable aspects of doing the show. Maybe the fact that our record bags need to be filled with new music constantly can be a bit heavy on our wallets because we are both vinyl enthusiasts and buying loads of records is not cheap. But in the end, even that is not really a bad thing. Our radio show pushes us to purchase new interesting sounds so that really can’t be bad.

SK: It’s my private two hours of the week, hehe. I like the flow I get into after the first couple of records. It’s really not that much different from my gigs except the talking part – building it slowly from easier sounds towards proper mayhem. The setup and atmosphere are great in the studio, and that gives us the feeling of total control over what we are doing. When we do the show together, it’s usually a good laugh and lots of proper music. The least enjoyable aspect to me is when Juho plays a track that I have slept over or missed and I go like ‘Hmm, what’s this one..?’ hehe. Seriously, it’s pretty much always only enjoyable to do the show.

NTD: Let’s talk about Deep Space Helsinki, the record label. When did you first think of launching a label and why? And how would you describe the kind of sound or concept DSH aspires and distinguishes itself with?

JK: I remember Samuli talking about wanting to run his own label as far back as in 2004 – that it would be his dream to one day release his own music through his own label and have control over everything. But DSH as a label only ever came into our minds maybe start of this year after I had come up with some music of my own that we both felt were good enough to try to release. As for the sound concepts and how the label differs from other labels I really don’t know. I think it’s a bit too early to say because these things take some time to develop. But most importantly it is a platform for our own music and not having to send demos to labels who won’t even listen to them because they get sent a million demos a day. I don’t think that’s a problem so much for Samuli as he’s quite well established but for me especially as a debut artist having our own outlet for the music is very important. To have control over when something gets released or not is a major deal with DSH for me.

SK: Yeah, running my own label has been there as an idea for ages. I was already talking with Jussi-Pekka about continuing his Pakkas Levyt label after he discontinued the series. That was about 5 years ago. Time wasn’t right for me. After hearing Juho’s tracks last year, I felt that now it is the right time. I told him after hearing ‘They Drive By Night’ that this is the hit track of the record. And so it seems now we’re seeing many DJs charting that track. We feel that DSH as a label is a playground and a platform for our own music.

NTD: Oh yes, ‘They Drive By Night’ is my favourite track of the EP as well! Tell us little bit about Signal One, the launching EP of DSH. You both are contributing two tracks, right?

JK: Signal One is a hand-stamped split 12″ release of about 250 pressed on beautiful black vinyl. It all started to come together after I had finished my track ‘They Drive By Night’ which Samuli thought was good enough for a release and we just half-jokingly said to each other that this track was going to be on the first DSH 12″. I don’t even know if Samuli took it all so seriously before I got 2 tracks ready to go but I understand he’s a busy man and has other engagements concerning his releases on other labels too. The best thing about DSH as a label is that we actually see what goes into running a label, or more so, what goes into the music getting pressed on vinyl and getting all the coversheets and stamps for the label and such. Cutting reference dubplates and listening to them in different clubs and getting the test pressings and playing them out. It’s all been very exciting. Now we are finally seeing the release which should be a couple of weeks from now but we’re still lacking a distributor and that brings other concerns into how we are going to get our release available in the first place. But I’m not too concerned. I just hope it will all go well.

SK: We’re certainly a bit lacking in business thinking. Hopefully we get it on a couple of good shops. After so many years it feels most satisfying to see the release and to control its process myself. Seeing the cutting done, mastering and all that. Bloody brilliant! It was a bit of a surprise to see myself tweaking sounds over and over and over again. I feel I learned a lot about quality control during the process and I’m sure that it will have a strong impact on my future productions.

EP Signal One Preview:

NTD: Who are some of the artists you would like to have on DSH label in the future?

JK: Since DSH is going to be first and foremost a platform for our own music I don’t necessarily see the need for other artists on the label. But I wouldn’t want to go as far as to say we would never have “a guest” on DSH either. I can easily see that happening in the form of remixes perhaps, but right now it’s not really a concern. As for who I’d like to see remixing my tracks or releasing on the label, well, there’s just too many great artists out there to mention but perhaps the most natural would be the guys that we have invited to play at our parties over the last 3 years; Delta Funktionen, Donato Dozzy, Shifted, Mike Parker, Sendai, Peter Van Hoesen, Giorgio Gigli, Cio D’or, Inigo Kennedy, Rasmus Hedlund or Morphology.

SK: DSH is us. At the moment, I don’t see any point or reason to release other people’s music on the label. I feel there is some kind of a loose family in the specific corner of techno we represent. All our guests share same ideas about music and life. Nice people who we find it easy to work with.

NTD: How are the taste and preference in techno of you two different or similar? As partners in crime, how do you sort things out when there’s a difference in opinion?

SK: There is difference, I reckon. I have my roots in warehouse parties in the dawn of 90′s. I used to play quite hard stuff back then – Overdrive, Labworks, Rising High, R&S etc. But, the club scene, or at least those clubs I played, was not so genre specific as clubs are these days. I could play De La Soul and end up somewhere over 130 bpm later on. And go back. It was way before British media invented the term eclectic, hehe. So, knowing my background, bit harder stuff appeals to me much more. But I think our combination is just great; Juho keeps the brake on and I’m on the gas pedal. There is tension and that is quite important element in techno.

JK: People need to understand that when Samuli says I’m the one pulling the brakes, it doesn’t mean I want to go 120bpm. I think Samuli’s sound can definitely go a bit further into the harder end of techno compared to mine so that’s why I need to make sure we don’t pass the 135bpm mark, because after that I don’t have anything to play, haha! I only started playing records in 2001 so Samuli’s been around for techno more than double the amount of time I have, and that reflects directly into the different styles or stances on techno we might have. I come from a solid rock/punk/alternative background where as Samuli was hooked on DJing and electronic music from day one pretty much. So there’s that which makes a big difference in how we approach making and playing music. I’m not into sci-fi specifically or space travel or mathematics/physics as much as Samuli, I suppose, so my approach is more on the feel-side of things. I’m the emotional dude, hahaha! I’m also very easy going so whenever there’s something to be decided on and there’s a difference of opinion I usually just give in. But that’s normally because Samuli was right in the first place.

SK: Louder voice doesn’t necessary mean that I’m right in the first place, hehe. I think I’m more stubborn and Juho is definitely more on the feel-good side of things. To be honest, we don’t argue that much. We’re both quite easy dudes after all.

NTD: What are the things each of you are looking forward to for the rest of the year – whether it’s about DSH the radio show, the label, gigs, releases, etc?

JK: Well, I’m just really looking forward to getting our first 12″ out there so people can get it and see how far it will go. After all, it’s my debut release so it will be very interesting to see what kind of feedback my tracks get. I’ve got some unfinished tracks that I’m working on all the time so I’m just trying to finish some of them and see where they will end up. Other than that the DSH show will go on and possibly some new DSH events later in the year with guest artists we have been on the lookout for a while. Those parties are always great and our local crowd really knows how to make them into massive nights. Big up to all the DSH heads!

SK: There are a lot of things happening this year. I finally get to build my own studio in September, just 100 meters away from my home. There are also lots of things happening on the release front. I say this every year, but this time it really looks like the big wheel has started to spin. Also looking forward to play and check out ADE (The Amsterdam Dance Event) for the first time this year. It would be cool to play abroad with Juho as DSH too, let’s see if we can do something about that remaining this year. And most of all, to continue delivering the goods for all DSH heads on radio and Kuudes Linja floor.

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