Interview: Jori Hulkkonen

We've always been a fan of Jori Hulkkonen's brand of electronic music. Shifting from deep techno to indie and acid, he's always redefining the boundaries of club music and what electronic music can achieve.

Plus, if that wasn't enough, he's also a huge studio nerd and that makes us like him even more. Here we catch up with him to talk about his new album, DJing, live and his favorite tracks at the moment.

"Sometimes you just hear a record you wish you had made and try to compensate for missing the chance by doing something different."

Talk us through the new album and how you approached making it. You have quite a gear-stuffed studio. Is making music still about exploring the gear?
"I record constantly. I've been producing and DJing full time now for over 15 years, and I don't think there's ever been even a week during that time I haven't been to the studio working on stuff if I've been in the country.

"There are so many approaches to writing stuff; sometimes it's very gear oriented approach - that's one reason I love modular synths, they force your brain to take a different path as opposed to staring at a computer screen - sometimes you just have the song in your head and you just sit down and nail it before you forget, sometimes you just hear a record you wish you had made and try to compensate for missing the chance by doing something different.

"This is my 13th album and the songs here were mainly recorded for this particualr album, but there's a couple of tracks that are based on loops I sampled from DAT tapes, some unreleased tracks I made in the mid 90s.

"But the actual writing of the main core tracks started after having decided with the MFR guys about doing a full album for the label. The original idea I had was slightly different how the album turned out, for one, Negative Time is a lot more vocal heavy than I initially intended. But as the writing and recording progressed during mid-winter '11-'12 the album started taking shape that had a vibe of its own."

What was the biggest challenge when making this record?
I've been writing songs for a long time, but I'm a horrible singer. So I always get other people in to re-sing my demos, which is fantastic, as I've ended up working with amazing people like John Foxx, Tiga, Jose Gonzales, Justine Electra, Chris Lowe of the Pet Shop Boys, Fred Ventura - just to name a few.

"But for this album I had done a couple of demos that for some reason I couldn't think of anyone to re-sing them. So the big challenge was to get my own vocals sound release worthy, but I think there's a certain voice, a certain range I can more or less pull off that just fits the production. Either way, it does make the tracks definitely more personal when you end upsingingyour own lyrics...

"The problem is that a live show is always a compromise, either technically or musically."

What single bit of gear couldn't you have made the album without?
"I don't think there's any one particular piece that I use on every track, apart from the computer, obviously. I've been using Cubase ever since the late 80's starting with the Atari, so I'd say that's the backbone of my productions; knowing your DAW inside out and not wasting time on getting things to work or getting the sounds you want.

"I think right now why my productions sound the way they do it's my old studer mixing desk, that I use a lot to run things through and my eurorack modular synth that I do most leads, bass and even pads with."

What would you say is the best produced track of your career and why?
Impossible to choose, but I say Sister Flo: Radon, the silent killer Sister Flo was a Finnish indie band who got bored in writing pop songs and wanted to try something different. Originally they asked me to produce their album, but I ended up joining the band, and co-writing the album as well as producing and mixing it.

"It probably isn't the best produced record I've done, but it definitely stands out as it was the first record that was mainly acoustic, so I had a chance to experiment with microphones and different recording techniques. A lot of the album was improvised in the studio where we would try different creative games, and switching instruments - I even play drums, guitar and bass on some tracks on that album. It a strange mix of filmic ambient kraut soundtrack. The album AU was released a couple of years ago, and since then the members have all gone to pursue careers as solo artists or in other in bands."

What is your favorite produced record by another artist and why?
"I guess I have to say Please by the Pet Shop Boys, 1986. On that record the songwriting and the production both have just so many levels, there's just so much depth to it all. Also, I've read a lot on the recording of the record and it all just coincides with the time in music technology that I still find interesting. The Emulators, The Fairlights, analogue synths, digital synths... it's a great mix of layers of sounds, yet it's just so clean and timeless."

You've been around long enough to remember the 90s version of the dance music explosion, how does it compare with the current trend for EDM and the US invasion? Will it ultimately have a negative effect on electronic music?
As always, if something becomes trendy, it's bound to become untrendy, usually sooner than later. That's one of the challenges I've personally faced as an artist/DJ... you don't want to become the hip new thing as that ultimately leads you to become something that was big last year.

"...the stuff that's big now in the EDM world is pretty horrible."

"Not for all, but for most big names it's all about maintaining the status they've gained and that's when you start second guessing your artistic choices and playing it safe - something I couldn't live with. So my plan has always been staying just below the waterline, but keeping consistently releasing new music... for me it's not about maintaining, it's about longevity and progress.

"Anyways, after a decade of hip-hop, r'n'b and rock rule, the kids feel they don't want to listen to the same music that their older siblings, let alone their parents, and the cycle starts again. I'm trying to isolate myself from this world, and live in my own little bubble, because the stuff that's big now in the EDM world is pretty horrible, and in a couple of years the cycle starts again, as people get bored with everybody sounding the same with no real musical content. That's another downward spiral I'm planning to survive."

Where does DJing / playing live fit in with your life at the moment?
DJing I still absolutely love, and play 1-3 weekends a month. It's just the perfect thing to balance the studio work, and you get the hear the tracks the way they are meant to be heard: on a big system infront of an audience.

"Live is more tricky, I've been playing live since '96 and I've tried every concept imaginable from full on analogue hardware madness and simple laptop set-ups, to more extreme things like playing with only sony PSP or iPad. The problem is that a liveshow is always a compromise, either technically or musically. If you go all hardware and try to replicate what you spent ages in getting together in the studio, you'll never get it done, but if you wanna be faithful to the recordings, then it's all about the boring computers on stage.

"My solution lately has been that when I play live it's an improvised set with a drummachine or two, some modular gear and an iPad, and there may be an element or two from records I've done but that's not the point; I want every show to be different and unique, and slightly more abstract and rougher than my records usually are."

Give us three of your favorite records at the moment.

  1. Untold: Change In Dynamic Envirnment III
  2. Leon Vynehall: Gold Language/Don't Know Why
  3. Gavin Friday: A Song That Hurts

All time musical hero and why?
Because I already name checked the Pet Shop Boys, I'm left with Scott Walker. I love how he has been able to move on decade after decade creating his own, totally unique universe

If you could purchase anything new for your studio what would it be and why?
I don't think it would be anything new. EMS VCS3 has been on the list quite a while..."