The music doesn’t force you to dance, but invites you to join in, says Mikael. While the latter is certainly true, I have to disagree with the former when it comes to his music. Those already acquainted with his work will know what I’m talking about. The natural mystique underpinning Mikael’s sound derives from the same rootical palette that has made melancholic soundsystem music a global phenomenon. Murky soundscapes, sweeping grooves and hypnotic dread basslines resonate the early foundation sound yet are the building blocks upon which the Finnish native delivers his skank-enthralling rhythms. Subsequently, Mikael captures the soundsystem philosophy by respecting the fundamentals of space and groove, while applying personal textures to reflect his own environment and sonic outlook. With Finland’s outdoors at his disposal and a close friend like LAS at hand, Mikael is surrounded by positive stimulating inspiration. I discovered Mikael when Panu Posti (Dullatron), owner of Mean Seed Records, sent me an advanced copy of Mean Seed Vol. 1 earlier in March this year. The compilation was full of promising new talent emerging from the heart of Helsinki. The tracks were refreshing, and engaging clearly confirming that Finland’s scene was in good health. While domestic pioneers such as Tes La Rok, Desto, Dead-O have made their mark, the next wave are eager to do so too. Scene favourite LAS has already made a huge impression, and I believe Mikael is not far behind. Captivated by his sound, I was passionate about including Mikael to our portfolio of exclusive features and show some support of our own. Along with an insightful interview, he’s contributed a stellar mix featuring a host of unreleased dubplates by himself, LAS, and Gantz as well as a few personal favourites. We’re really excited to share this one with you.
TRUSIK: For the readers who are not familiar, what is your name, where are you from, and how would you describe your sound?
MIKAEL: My birth name is Sam Mikael. Born in a small city of Porvoo, 50km east from the capital Helsinki.
TRUSIK: When was your first contact with electronic music, and how has it shaped you as the person you are today?
MIKAEL: My first contact with electronic music was in my childhood when dad played some Jean-Michel Jarre and told me ”this is some very weird music”. I of course didn’t really understand. My first real self controlled listening of electronic music came later when I was 11 years old, Bomfunk Mc’s happened, their ”In Stereo” album was the first thing that I copied on a cassette and listened over and over again. Before ”In Stereo” I really didn’t listen to _any_ music. After that there was long break in EDM, I listened and deejayed a lot of rap, funk, soul, reggae and dub. Then somehow I found dnb and jungle, and then one day heard some grime and dubstep beats at a party. I wouldn’t say that electronic music shaped me as a person, but it had a big impact trough meeting inspiring people that were also fascinated about soundsystem music. Sometimes it felt like having a big secret that I could only share with very few people. Everything that happens is linked to the the future and that way also shapes personality, maybe I would still be b-boying if not finding this music scene, who knows?
TRUSIK: Although your music has only really started to emerge this year, how long have you been building beats, and what motivated you to start getting into production?
MIKAEL: I opened a DAW for the first time around 2007, and have made music kind of seriously since then. I started making very simple downtempo instrumental beats, stuff that I listened a lot at that time. I tried to emit big feelings, the same kind that I experienced while listening music like Bonobo or Blockhead (laughs). I made my first 140bpm tracks in 2009 when I really started to get into playing dubstep sets. I guess the biggest motivation, besides to get some unheard stuff to play, was to reproduce the surreal and powerful feeling that hearing really bassy tunes on big soundsystem gave me. I also find that programming low frequencies on a track and then using a big soundsystem as a slave is fascinating.
TRUSIK: Having watched domestic forces such as Tes La Rok, Desto, Dead-O ascend the ranks and place Finland firmly on the map, to what extent have they been instrumental in your inception and involvement with underground dance music, and how encouraging has it been to have a close friend like LAS supported by the biggest names in the industry?
MIKAEL: That trio named is to be thanked about what the bass music scene is in Finland today, they were the pioneers to bring the new sound to the people in the days. Slam it! nights they organised and internet forum called ‘stepahead’ were critical to bring together the people interested in this new music called dubstep. Slam it! club nights were like a second home for me, I met likeminded strangers that later I became good friends with. When they asked if I would plays as a resident in Slam it! there was only one answer to give. Tes, Desto and Dead-O have given me a lot of support in these years. Tes and Desto played my stuff on radio at the time when I felt terribly uncomfortable about my own music and blushed at home listening to the stream, good times. Dead-O was working at that time in local record store Lifesaver, and dubstep 12” that found its way to the shelves were chosen by him, so he actually had an big impact on my music taste. Of course everybody ordered stuff online, but online store is not the same thing for me. It makes me very happy to see LAS getting there, he if somebody really deserves it. Once when we were driving to play a gig in nearby town he picked up a phone to talk with one of my big time idols in the bass music scene, these things really happen. Of course it’s encouraging.
TRUSIK: As your beats vary from dancefloor-based steppers to stripped-back melodic chillers, when you set out to build a track, do you always have a clear direction of what you want to achieve, or do you begin with one element and let the process organically take form itself?
MIKAEL: I varies a lot naturally. Usually I sit down with some kind of unshaped idea of a certain feeling I want to put out on a track, but it might change drastically when I start going trough samples. That’s why I love sampling stuff, you never know what there is to be found! It’s very hard to me to pass by a sample I really like, even if it wouldn’t fit my idea, one sample might change everything. Some years ago I used mad amounts of time just to mutilate samples, to pitch them down, chop, pitch again and then this and then that, and in the end didn’t even use the sound I was working with.
TRUSIK: There’s a strong sense of your music rooted in the original DMZ aesthetic. With an ear for space and attention to groove, your beats melodically flow under invigorating drum patterns, ethereal vocals, and aerophonic instruments. When it comes to influences, who are you notably influenced by, and what other sources of inspiration do you draw from?
MIKAEL: The ones mentioned before, Blockhead and Bonobo for example are big influences to me. Bonobos ”Animal Magic” is still one of my favourite albums. Goosebumps stuff in general, music that makes me feel surreal and excited. As so many others I was sold almost immediately when I heard early DMZ stuff for the first time, and still somewhere in the back of my head I try to capture same kind of feel. I’m also big fan of dub and steppers music (laughs) and still get really inspired when listening some simple melodica flavoured dub music, check out Lightman if you haven’t, he’s a genius. Also music from North Africa, South America, Middle East and Asia that have the kind of feel that I’m looking for is a big inspiration, I don’t understand shit about the vocals, but the grooves man, the grooves!
TRUSIK: Your tracks ‘Nightbird’ and ‘Archery’ appeared on the recently released Mean Seed Vol. 1 compilation, which also featured seven other ‘up and coming’ artists from Helsinki. With the emerging talent breaking through, are you confident that the underground scene is in good hands? Is there anyone in particular we should be keeping an eye on?
MIKAEL: The scene has always been in good hands, there are many soundsystem enthusiasts organising raves and club nights. Right now we just need a place to share ideas, stepahead internet forum has been down for…. don’t even know. The bass music scene itself isn’t too big, but collective acts make it. Keep an eye on Mean Seed, another label to watch for is a Tampere based label, Meditation Steps. Mad stuff coming out!
TRUSIK: What kind of mood do you try to capture when playing out at the dance? How does a typical Mikael set go down?
MIKAEL: I try to balance my sets with bass heavy surreal stuff and haunting goosebump tunes that make me feel like sharing a treasure when I play them at a dance. I try to capture the same kind of feel that I remember from the times I started to go to dances in 2008, the same aesthetics. The setting is important, I try to feel the space I’m playing at and select tunes that I think fit the feeling. As the only guideline for myself is that the first and last tune has to be special.
TRUSIK: Outside of production, what other interests or hobbies do you dabble in? Do any of these activities inspire you creatively when returning to the studio?
MIKAEL: I love nature and mountains. I enjoy trekking and skiing in wilderness in company or alone. Complete silence is something that is very rare to come by when living in a city, how I wish to be able to find it more easily. Sitting down in pitch black and looking up and seeing so many stars and the milky way, that is something. Nature inspires me a lot and gives me energy, but if it inspires me creatively to make music I don’t know, but it’s essential for my sanity. I also do rock / indoor climbing (bouldering) it’s fascinating to challenge itself physically to the very limit.
TRUSIK: What else can we expect from Mikael in 2013, is there any forthcoming material, or other interesting projects you can inform the readers on?
MIKAEL: 2013 is soon running short, but 2014 some things will happen, watch out for Mean Seed Rec. for a release. Also something else forthcoming but let’s keep it as a mystery for now (laughs). Looking forward to organising some bass music events next year also, so many talented producers that I would like to bring to play in Finland!
TRUSIK: Take us through the mix you put together for us.
MIKAEL: Besides the tracks that I’ve involved making, I tried to select tunes that I have been playing and find special, some long time favourites are in there. I hope people will enjoy the mix as much as I did recording it.
TRUSIK: Finally, your five favourite tracks at the moment…?
Karma – How Ya Feel
Killawatt & Ipman – Warehouse Dub
LAS & Twinkle – Totem
Glen Brown – No More Slavery
Mirel Wagner – Lean
Mean Seed Records Vol. 1 is out now and available from Juno Download.