Finland in the '90s: A decade bookended by the worst recession in history at one end, and the global domination of the Nokia-led mobile industry at the other.
Meanwhile, the jungle / drum & bass scene grew from the underground to occupy national airwaves, TV shows, and magazines with local producers getting their debut releases on labels such as Moving Shadow, Formation, Urban Takeover, and eventually the biggest of them all - Metalheadz, RAM & Hospital.
To celebrate the release of NORTHSIDE - The First Wave of Drum & Bass in Finland we’ve compiled an oral history covering the early years of the scene in our country, roughly from mid '90s to the turn of the Millennium.
This is by no means the full story, but it nevertheless comes directly from some of the key people involved in the scene's creation and those who laid the foundation for the next generation.
Big Sound at Tavastia (Helsinki, 2000)
Photo: Antton Miettinen
Nightlife in Finland entered a new era at the end of the '80s. Restrictive social policies and the cold war era gave way to the colorful images of MTV and music & fashion magazines. For years the Nordics were the first international stop for the hottest new indie acts from the UK. Acid house reached Finland in almost real time in 1988 and the following years saw a constant stream of big rave events there.
Turku had been an early hotbed for warehouse parties and soon other cities followed suit, especially Tampere and the west coast. In Helsinki semi-illegal parties were often held in the Cable Factory, Lepakko and warehouses of Sörnäinen, Katajanokka and Herttoniemi.
Through rapidly evolving technology new trends were absorbed with increasing speed. By the early '90s, techno and club culture was approaching mainstream. In addition to major rave events, smaller club nights drew hundreds even on weekdays. For those in the know Sunday was the best night out. Finland was recovering from a deep recession and high youth employment coupled with loosened restrictions on opening hours meant an extra boost for the nightlife.
Due to a very small black population at the time, the first traces of a proto-jungle sound filtered through via rave DJs such as Mr. Kirk and H2 mixing house and European techno sounds with early Reinforced and Formation releases. The climax of Elliot Ness's classic ’89 DMC set hit the same spots as say DJ Hype's first Suburban Base releases.
Many Finns are, in the true sense of the word "metalheads", and those who spent their mid 80s in the suburbs could hardly find more exciting music than thrash metal. But when rap, house and techno arrived things changed permanently. The early jungle DJs had experienced most of these genres and shared a very diverse musical background.
Temple 2, Helsinki 1993
BOKE (DJ, resident at Freeform)
Music was all around our house and I listened to my big brothers’ and dad’s collections of ‘60s and ‘70s rock, reggae and disco. I played drums in a thrash metal band and smoothly switched over to hip hop in the early '90s, gigged and recorded with a group called T.O.A. In '92 I got pirate radio mixes from London – think it was called breakbeat then. I went to a rave set up by Elliot Ness and at the next event was already there playing drums on top of DJ sets. After that I sold my drum set and bought a pair of Technics.
ALIMO (DJ/producer, promoter with Big Sound)
In junior high I got way into hip hop, Public Enemy, Ultramagnetic MCs, Stetsasonic and the like. For me, all music worked - progressive rock, gospel, reggae, house, ambient, techno, M.A. Numminen! Later a friend of mine brought some mixtapes from London: DJ SS, Cool Hand Flex and Tom & Jerry all featured. The energy & sound hit hard, it was punk like Dead Kennedys crossed with the techno world and combined all the stuff that I liked…dub, soul, jazz, hip hop.
DIZZY (DJ, label owner Straight Up Breakbeat)
Over the years I was checking out anything from disco to Bowie to metal in various forms. Later, indie, jazz, soul and eventually the stuff I started to DJ – jazz funk and hip hop. I visited London regularly in the early ‘90s, buying records and going to Gilles Peterson’s nights. When I started to hear UK hardcore and jungle on the pirates I got hooked.
DICE (DJ/producer, in Breakwater Crew with Dharma & Bluez, Mangofunk label co-owner with Pinball. Later known as Tes La Rok)
My biggest influence as a kid was Commodore 64 soundtracks, they just blew my mind! Later, Jean-Michel Jarre, James Brown and stuff like that…Michael Jackson, or actually Quincy Jones – didn’t realize back then that there was another guy behind all the music. I first heard jungle style music in ’91, it was a tracker mod. After that there was no turning back, I got my first PC and wrote my first track.
Night Trip, 1995
By the mid '90s, Helsinki DJs Ken One, Njassa, Borzin and Mekaanikko were playing drum & bass in their sets while Ezza mixed ragga jungle & dancehall. One of the original house heads Esko Routamaa, together with Pasmando, Ricardo and others showcased the sound in Turku.
After a series of underground parties featuring Boke, Alimo and others in 1996 things really started happening. In Helsinki the dedicated nights Straight Up Breakbeat and Fresh were launched at the legendary club Nylon opposite the main railway station. Tampere quickly became the scene’s second city, with Samuel & Nasley, Adder and especially Infekto pioneering the music.
INFEKTO (DJ/producer, later known as Rico Tubbs, label co-owner Bass=Win)
It must have been ‘94, I’d been going raving for a year or so and started buying records. By accident I picked up a Moving Shadow single and got into that sound. Little by little I started to DJ at clubs and also slipped some drum & bass into my sets to see how it goes down. In the beginning it didn’t! But the combination of sound system culture and rave was irresistible and led me to start the Beatformers night with Karri K.
SAMUEL (producers & live act Samuel & Nasley, also appearing as Prime Time and General Compact)
In the '80s I was digging synth pop and disco, then later The KLF, Altern 8 and The Prodigy. I started to get into breakbeat through The House Crew, Acen, D'Cruze and the likes. Tampere had a vibrant underground rave scene until around ‘96 when the police started to shut down almost every single party and things moved to clubs. I always loved the warehouse scene more.
KEN ONE (DJ, OG)
Most people my age were into Iron Maiden, AC/DC, and what have you, but I carried Jarre and Kraftwerk tapes in my pockets. Around the time my family moved to Oulunkylä in Helsinki I heard THAT General Njassa track on the radio ["I'm Young, Beautiful & Natural", often credited as the first Finnish rap song]. And maybe "The Message". That was it for me. Then came funk, and through that, I got later into acid jazz, trip hop, and of course jungle and drum & bass. [As told in Viidakkorumpu magazine].
I was DJing at a popular venue with a good but pretty mainstream music policy and thought I just can’t do this anymore. I’d rather play for one person who’s into the music than to a room full of people who just don’t care and launched Straight Up Breakbeat [clubnight].
Straight Up Breakbeat, 1996
Around the same time specialist dance music shows were introduced by Leena Lehtinen on public broadcaster YLE’s Radiomafia channel.
LEENA LEHTINEN (Broadcast Producer, Radiomafia & YLEX)
I had lived in London and witnessed the punk & post punk scenes. For me drum & bass sparked the same feelings as techno, that we’re on to something completely new. The radio staff regularly attended BBC’s Sound City events, in Bristol ’95 I ended up to a club that had Roni Size, Krust, Randall and others on the bill. I didn’t really ask anyone if I could start the shows, I just did it and hoped none of the bosses would notice.
The drum & bass show went on for over a decade. For a long, long time, radio was often the only way to hear new underground music if you lived outside of bigger cities. It's only afterwards that I’ve started to understand the impact. John Peel, Tim Westwood, Gilles Peterson… the shows on Radiomafia were not syndicated but specifically recorded for the Finnish radio. They also broadcast live sets by Krust, Zinc, Goldie and others. Unbelievable if you think of it now.
CHAMPAGNE (Producer, co-founder Midnight Sun Recordings)
[Before the radioshows] My friend was big into satellites, he was able to record all kinds of shows, we even ordered a radio transmitter and were broadcasting mixtapes from the UK for a little while.
MUFFLER (DJ/producer, Muffler Music / Unique Music)
I had first heard the music in mid-90s on Jungle Hits or Jungle Mania compilations. After that, I tried to do something similar with an Amiga and ProTracker. [As told here:] Growing up seven hours away from Helsinki and no such thing as internet back then, the radio shows were a gamechanger. You’d never heard anything like it.
FANU (DJ/producer, Lightless Recordings)
I had been making music since I was 12, just ripping sounds off of others’ housey and dancey stuff. Around mid-90s things started getting syncopated. Radio shows played a huge role, I taped them and kept re-playing all the shows. I always felt I didn’t pick jungle - jungle picked me.
Soon the visits of LTJ Bukem and Krust inspired a new generation of ravers. Events by Big Sound crew drew hundreds, even thousands, and the likes of DJ SS, Shy FX, Fabio, Grooverider, Goldie and London Elektricity visited major cities. Friends from Sweden (Krazy & Seba among others) and Estonia also appeared regularly. A couple of years later a fresh crop of DJs — often doubling as promoters or producers — entered the scene as the sound spread all the way to Rovaniemi in Lapland.
My first major drum & bass event was a Big Sound night in ‘99, I took the night train from my hometown and managed to sneak in with false ID. After that me and a few friends staged a few events back home.
ESC (DJ/producer, promoter with Kongo Crew)
As I started to go raving, buy mixtapes etc. production and especially DJing became more and more interesting. In Tampere around that time, Infekto was pretty much the only one promoting events. In 2000 we founded our own night, Kongo, with DJ Beyond. It was the first weekly night for drum & bass in our city.
RESOUND (DJ/producer, co-owner ILR Studios with Loxy & Ink)
In the mid-90s I was into the heavier stuff, Rage Against the Machine and the likes, and playing in a band sharing lineups with The Rasmus and others. I was also active in tracker and demo scenes, that’s where I first heard jungle. I wanted to be a part of creating this completely new kind of music and I’m still fascinated by the diversity today. Collaboration and sociability is built in to the tracker culture and it has stayed with me to this day - I still like to work a lot with other producers.
Even though I lived in the countryside, I had some friends who were heavily into the electronic sound back then. There were even raves in my hometown, Haapavesi, which was ridiculous! What was great back then was the celebration of music - not the “stars” behind it.
Helsinki Connection, 1997
The best thing about the scene around that time was the sense of unity. I started out by myself but soon Ivo, Nenis and Control came along. In just a couple of years we brought over a number of big names.
IVO CORDA (Promoter, Big Sound)
We had a small office back then close to our record store. We tried using emails but there was no point, when we booked Doc Scott the contract they faxed over was 5 meters long.
MARVIN (DJ, promoter Stealth Unit)
What was really cool in the early days was how you got to know people when shopping for records. You knew which days Spinefarm, Dis & Data, and Lifesaver would have the new drop coming in and that's where you met everyone. I was maybe 15 when I started to work at the Big Sound’s U5 record store together with Delete. My dad had lights and other equipment so I borrowed those for their events and worked with flyer distribution. We would have 10,000 made for just one event.
DELETE (DJ, record store co-owner Double F)
I DJ'd a lot with Marvin and at some point also got to know Teddie. He'd been working in a record store and we started our own shop. We moved between Helsinki locations but the online store served the whole country. We also set up a few events but it was crazy - selling 500 tickets but still making a loss. You really had to have sponsorship sorted out if you wanted to survive.
NICK FURY (aka Skinfasst, DJ, promoter Children of Dub & Motion)
Moving to Helsinki in 1997, I think the first drum & bass party I went to was one of the Big Sound’s nights. Then I started putting on nights myself. It was a small scene and back then there often wasn’t a big audience anyway so you’d try and organize parties in different days or even weeks, to make sure you had an audience. It didn’t take too many people to get a good atmosphere. There was smoke, a strobe, and a red light. That was pretty much it for visuals.
PHYSICS (DJ/producer, promoter, owner Midnight Sun)
For me promoting is a way to give something back to the culture that has brought me so much. Many great nights with Burma, Switch and Nick Fury, and the Back2Bass nights with Dice & Pinball were legendary. On sold out nights the people left out tried to climb in through the windows. It did sometimes suck sticking posters around the city in -10⁰C but that’s how nights were promoted back then.
At the turn of the millennium popularity peaked. In addition to Radiomafia and later YleX, drum&bass shows appeared on the commercial NRJ with Alimo and on X3M with Physics. A devoted but short-lived Viidakkorumpu magazine was born and the Beats and Styles TV gave the underground heads something to rant about.
With NRJ we were pretty free to do whatever we wanted thanks to our sponsors. The other one, a weekly show for local radio in Kajaani, we had it pre-recorded and delivered on a C-cassette. A bus driver took it there, we never even got to see the studio. We had the radio covered so I told [Christian] Moustgaard that I have a show for his ATV. He asked when can we start and I said "today". Me & Control [DJ and production partner in Beats & Styles, co-presenter of the TV show ] thought we can’t just keep on doing the same thing all over. In the end we did something no one had ever done before - drum & bass in Finnish.
Most importantly though, the rise of the internet paved way for the biggest media of them all. Coded from the scratch by Jones and residing unannounced on an ex-employer's server, Stealth Unit online forum emerged as the key destination for all things drum & bass - and life in general. Some of the biggest events at the turn of the millenium were also run under the same brand.
I knew that if I wanted to get to DJ I’d have to have my own events so I started to promote parties, still underaged. Then I met Roshi & Belmont (Koe), they had Stealth Unit all planned. The online forum was very special, you could discuss anything from social issues to pick-up lines. Jones, Mute, Genki, Kublay, Jasse (of Stealth Unit). I didn't know any of them before. There weren't too many parties after the site launch though, because in the end we always made a loss!
Stealth, Helsinki 2001
Photo: John Kavaleff
Around the same time another Finnish drum & bass institution was born. For nearly five years on Wednesday nights monthly, global DJs graced the decks with the best of local talent at Freeform. The club had an open music policy introducing broken beat, breaks and dub and also offered plenty of slots for female DJs.
NENIS (also known as Sharkslayer or Shark-E, co-founder Top Billin Music & My Techno Weighs A Ton)
I was more interested in setting up a label and the style Alimo & Control were going after (as Beats & Styles) was really not for me. I went on to do promo for Kerma (top Helsinki venue at the time) and at the same time started to DJ as well, playing rap, funk etc. At that point, we already had nine2five recordings running with Dizzy & Goose. With Dharma, Infekto and Koe releasing with us there was a natural connection with the drum & bass scene all the time. Kerma was basically running empty on Wednesday nights so I set up a series of events there. When I moved out of Finland it all naturally fell on Anna, Juha & others to continue.
ANNA ANTTILA (Promoter, Freeform)
Wednesday was a perfect night for us as most of the DJs had free slots midweek. We made sure they enjoyed the whole visit, took them to our summer house for a bit of chill & swim & sauna. Many became almost like residents, in the end you could just call a week before the night and ask if they’d fancy a gig and some reindeer stew.
Freeform @ Kerma, Helsinki ca. 2001
Also around the millenium, the first wave of producers such as Dharma, Dice, Muffler, Bluez & Bronco, Champagne, Fanu, Resound, Physics, Kaleb and Contour got their breakthroughs on key UK labels including Moving Shadow, Formation, Good Looking, Metalheadz and Hospital. Eventually also local labels Straight Up Breakbeat, Mangofunk, Midnight Sun and Lightless were born, marking a new chapter for the music in Finland.
Everything was so much simpler back then. I remember still living with my parents and one day the landline phone rings. My mom tells me there’s someone from abroad - it was Rob Playford wanting to sign our tracks. I ran all the way from the suburb to our downtown studio to break the news to Dharma & Bluez.
Today you would just send a message.
Moving Shadow / Audio Couture 1999
Straight Up Breakbeat 2000
Moving Shadow / Audio Couture 1999
The First Wave Of Drum & Bass In Finland
Unreleased material by Fanu, Resound, Muffler and many more on tracks dating back to late '90s / early '00s.
Double vinyl - gatefold sleeve - 9 tracks (LTD edition of 300)
Digital album - 16 tracks
Dubplate Selection - Cassette mixtape - more dubs
Compiled by ODJ Dizzy.
Mastered by Fanu.
Vinyl mastered by Beau @ Ten Eight Seven.