Big Sound at Tavastia (Helsinki, 2000)
Photo: Antton Miettinen
DRAFT - more material forthcoming
Finland in the '90s: A decade bookended at one end by the worst recession in history and the global domination of Nokia led mobile industry (and Darude’s “Sandstorm”) at the other.
Meanwhile, the jungle / drum&bass scene grew from the underground to occupy airwaves, TV shows and magazines with local producers getting their debut releases on labels such as Moving Shadow, Formation and Urban Takeover.
To celebrate the release of NORTHSIDE - The First Wave of Drum & Bass in Finland we’ve compiled a history covering the early years of the scene in our country, roughly from mid-90s to the turn of the millenium. By no means the full story, but nevertheless coming directly from the key people involved in the beginning and those who later formed an essential part of the scene.
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 (club & radio DJ, 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 (aka Tes La Rok, DJ/producer, co-owner Mangofunk and later, owner Noppa Recordings)
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), DJs Boke, Alimo etc.
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 in 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 (aka Rico Tubbs, DJ/producer, 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.
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 [club].
The best thing about the scene around that time was the sense of unity. I started out [clubs Fresh and Basement] by myself but later Ivo, Nenis and Control came along. In just a couple of years we brought over a number of big names.
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.
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, owner 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. [**] 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.
The drum & bass show we started [Futura] 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.
FANU (DJ/producer, owner 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.
Helsinki Connection (1997)
Flyers 1994 - 2002 (click image to expand - more here)
Photos 1996 - 2002 (click image to expand)
PHYSICS (DJ/producer, promoter, owner Midnight Sun)
For me promoting nights was a way to give something back to the culture that has brought me so much. Back2Bass nights 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.
NICK FURY (aka Skinnfast, 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] Basement nights. 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 weeks or at least take others into consideration. I later staged several nights in Helsinki at Semifinal, Nylon and Soda, for example. Semifinal was a great little venue, and it didn’t take too many people to get a good atmosphere. I’m pretty sure there was smoke, a strobe, and a red light. That was pretty much it for visuals.
MARVIN (DJ, promoter Stealth Unit)
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 & worked with flyer distribution. We would have 10,000 made for just one event.
My first major drum & bass event was a Big Sound Family 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 Kongo)
Kun alettiin käydä reiveissä ja mixtapet alkoi kiertää alkoi tuottaminen ja etenkin dj-hommat kiinnostaa pikkuhiljaa enemmän ja enemmän. Junkka tuntui jotenkin freshiltä. Tampereella ei vielä siihen aikaan kuitenkaan ihan kauheesti kuulut junglea. Se oli aikalailla yksin Infekton harteilla. Bileiden järkkäily alkoi omalta osalta melkolailla samoihin aikoihin kuin dj-hommatkin eli ’98. Vuonna 2000 perustettiin sitten DJ Beyondin kanssa eka oma junkkaklubi, Kongo, joka muuten oli myös Suomen ensimmäinen viikottainen junkkaklubi.
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.
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.
At the turn of the millennium popularity peaked. In addition to Radiomafia and later YleX, drum&bass shows appeared on the commercial NRJ and on X3M. A devoted but short-lived Viidakkorumpu magazine was born and the Beats and Styles TV gave the underground heads something to rant about.
Big Sound at Tavastia (Helsinki, 2000)
Photo: Antton Miettinen
Viidakkorumpu magazine (click image for samples)
Releases 1999 - 2002 (click image to expand)
ALIMO with IVO CORDA (Promoter, Big Sound)
With the NRJ show 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 a small office back then close to our record store. Even if we tried there was no point using emails, when we booked Doc Scott the contract they faxed over was 5 meters long!
Chrisseen (Moustgaard, legendaarinen kulttuurivaikuttaja ja tuolloin mm. ATV:n omistajia) me törmättiin Töölössä Motin edessä jossa pidettiin Uprising -klubia. https://fi.wikipedia.org/wiki/ATV. Meillä oli jo radiossa slotti niin nyt aattelin kysyä viel kerran ja kerroin että mulla ois nyt TV -ohjelma-idea. Se kysyi koska voitas aloittaa, mä sanoin että tänään.
After a while me & Control [dj / production partner] thought we can’t just keep on doing the same thing all over. Why not try 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, they had Stealth Unit all planned. The online forum was very special, you could discuss anything from social issues to pick-up lines.
Stealth @ Gloria (Helsinki, 2001)
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.
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. 2000
Finally, the first wave of producers such as Dharma, Dice, Muffler, Bluez & Bronco, Fanu, Resound and Physics got their breakthroughs on key UK labels including Moving Shadow, Metalheadz, Formation 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.
The First Wave Of Drum & Bass In Finland
Featuring previously unreleased material by Fanu, Resound, Muffler & Physics and unsung pioneers such as Samuel & Nasley, Breakwater Crew and Champagne, the tracks are picked from over 1000 original demo tapes and date back to late '90s / early '00s.
Double vinyl gatefold sleeve 9 tracks (limited to 300 copies)
Digital album 16 tracks
Dubplate Selection cassette mixtape - more unreleased dubs
Compiled by ODJ Dizzy
Mastered by Fanu. Vinyl mastered by Beau @ Ten Eight Seven
[*] interviewed by Pertti Grönholm
[**] as told to Dave Jenkins here