From the Soul with Mono Junk

Google, Imatra Finland. The screen projects a mural of picturesque views, snow-capped furs, bavarian-style castles, billowing rivers in autumn and scenic forest landscapes. Like something from a Grimm Brothers fairy tale, there’s something incredibly surreal and yet completely tangible about the Finnish hamlet from the computer screen. It’s the kind of place you’d associate with acoustic music about ancient folklore while rosy cheeked women step through ritual dances in unflattering bulky dresses. It’s not the place you’d associate with Techno, but one particular individual in Imatra’s small 30 000 population has changed that forever. Kimmo Rapatti (Mono Junk, Melody Boy 2000) is from Imatra.

He’s recently made the move back to the town where he was born and raised after a short stint in Berlin and twenty years in the Finnish city of Turku. “You get real winters in Imatra”, he says during a moment of silence during soundcheck at Kafe Hærverk where he is due to play live later that evening. He talks of Imatra and its relative size, the surrounding forest and natural splendour of the region in a matter-of-fact tone. “Do you find inspiration in your surroundings?“ I ask him when we sit down for an interview after the soundcheck. “Yeah, you could say that,” he says like the thought had only just occurred to him and then falls back into a contemplative silence.

Kimmo’s fifty years has only accentuated and honed his pragmatic Finnish demeanour. He talks in austere, succinct sentences between gulps of beer and often falls into a quiet thoughtful daze like he’s trying to conjure a particular memory, but comes up short. Whenever he returns to the questions, he answers in monosyllabic, short bursts, constructed in sentences from some metaphysical process and delivered in his heavy accent.

Kimmo has been making music as Mono Junk since the ninety nineties. In 1990 he released his first record, and two years later he established Dum records with the same solitary attitude to making music. He’s been an enduring figure, not only in Finland, but everywhere in the furtive margins of Techno and Electro for the past thirty years and has continually staked his claim throughout his career. A very reserved output, mostly on Dum records, Mono Junk’s music, much like the man behind the music, make succinct impressions on record collections, with a singular musical voice that has remained largely unchanged. With a penchant for melodic themes and robotic precision, Mono Junk’s music continues to make intense imprints on the electronic music landscape for labels like Forbidden Planet and Skudge.

Kimmo’s journey on this path begins back in Imatra, in the ninety eighties. He had “been a fan” of synth pop from a young age, citing groups like “Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode and Howard Jones” as early luminaries, but he never thought for a moment “there was anything special in that (style) of music”. There had been no early inclination or sign that Kimmo would eventually turn to a career in music, but that all changed during the second summer of love in the late ninety eighties when the UK Rave scene bursts forth and electronic dance music from Chicago and Detroit found its way into the rest of Europe, even to small hamlets on the southeast of Finland.

There were a “small group of guys who started to make Techno, influenced of Chicago and Detroit Techno” in Imatra according to Kimmo. In an interview with Digital Tsunami, he distinctly remembers “that I heard Rhythim Is Rhythim’s Nude Photo and Phuture’s Acid tracks when they were brand new”  through a local DJ acquaintance. Although the UK Rave scene had made its presence felt in Finland as soon as it arrived and the music from Chicago and Detroit had already started proliferating the airwaves, there was one significant issue with Imatra; There was no place to hear the music. Warehouse party culture had taken up in parts of Finland, but they were still 400km away, and although there were “a few DJ gigs at local bars” available to a burgeoning DJ like Kimmo, “you couldn’t really play underground stuff.”

In 1990 Kimmo made the move to Helsinki. It was in the Finnish capital that he “got to know Finnish scratch DJ” and “DMC scratch champion, DJ Kari Kaivola” and the two struck up a friendship. Kimmo and Kari hat met at a DMC scratch championship in 1989, and when he moved to Helsinki the older and more established Kari took Kimmo under his wing, giving him access to his studio, to start making his own records.

“I didn’t know anything” Kimmo says with the advantage of hindsight. It was inconsequential however, because it was the “time of sampling” and armed with handful of records he made his first bold steps into production with Kari. “Maybe we can make something out of this”, he remembers telling Kari as he handed over the records and by 1990 Kimmo had made his first record as B-Rock. “My Mind is goin’” was released on Kari’s Dancebeat Records and it was a collage of off-beat samples, synth lines and a repetitive vocal hook brought together in an unmistakably Electro fashion. “I think I’m both the Electro and Techno godfather of Finland”, says Kimmo with a gratifying smile.

 

Considering this was most likely the first Electro record ever produced in Finland where acts like Morphology, Mesak and Freestyle Man continue to pursue this style of music today, there’s a lot of salient logic to this bold claim. It would be through Techno however where Kimmo Rapatti would etch his name in the annals of electronic music as Mono Junk. After releasing his first record in 1990, he got his first synthesiser, “a Roland JX 3P”, and started making what he considered his “own music” as Mono Junk shortly after. As Mono Junk he released his first record in 1992 and simultaneously established Dum Records as an offshoot of Kari Kaivola’s Dancebeat records.

The ninety nineties to many like Kimmo is still the pinnacle era of Techno, where it was first constructed as the obelisk in electronic music it was today. The genre was far less austere and functional during that period, with serene synthesisers assuaging the robotic rhythms of drum machines for hedonistic delights. Mono Junk’s music is probably the best European example of that time. Whether it’s “a generational thing” for Kimmo or just a result of the fact that he started making and listening to that music during that period, it still remains the best decade for Techno in his opinion. There were “so many good records in the nineties” he recalls today and he was responsible for a fair few of them. Tracks from Mono Junk’s discography during that period, reveal an unconformity in approach to electronic music and Techno that sounds like no other artist from that era and a fair few of them have become outright Techno classics.

Listening to “Another Acid” from 1993, a lysergic acid-loop plays like the sequential patter of rain drops on a zinc roof for 32 bars before any semblance of percussion presents itself. For his live show at Hærverk, he takes the essence of that track and channels it into an extemporised diatribe on the machine, completely doing away with the essential percussive arrangement on this occasion. The bass-line warbles on like an irrational computer stuck in time, before Kimmo eventually moves onto the next track in his live show. His music has remained fairly constant throughout his career, only developing in soundscape as technology evolved, but retaining the core essence of his musical identity that’s been there since the ninety nineties.

There’s always a sincere melodic essence to any Mono Junk track which you can trace from those first Dum records (even the Dancebeat record) to the present and records like his most Forbidden Planet releases. It stems from from being “a big fan of arpeggio”, he tells me. “Most of my melodies are out of some arpeggio.” This is the crucial ingredient to any Mono Junk track he insists, and he won’t even consider working further on a track if this “first part is not perfect.” For Kimmo every track “needs to have some melody, bass-line or some perfect loop” for him to proceed with the arrangement of it, and this has been a significant factor in why he favours a reserved output.

It’s only when he knows “it’s good” that he’ll even consider putting out a track. He keeps the best of these for his own label Dum Records and sends the rest to others for release. It’s perhaps part of the reason his music has always divided opinion. Mono Junk’s music is very secure in itself, hardly making concessions to outside influences and always standing very much on its own within the the Techno denomination. It’s very bold music for discernible tastes.

Throughout his career, Kimmo would often leave Mono Junk on the back burner while he pursued projects like Melody Boy 2000 and New York City Survivors with Irwin Berg, but even after a long hiatus he would always return to Mono Junk. There was a period in the last decade where he believed he would completely leave Techno behind according to his interview with Digital Tsunami, but that all changed in 2014 when he released new music via Forbidden Planet and the “passion” returned. FP004 and FP008 contain some of Mono Junk’s best works with tracks like “With You”, “Prince of the Night” and “Channel B RMX” dotted throughout those two releases. These records came just at the right time, when Techno had become straight jacketed into very restrictive, unforgiving moulds. Mono Junk showed there could still be some more accessible, soulful aspect to this music that lives beyond the dominating kick and brooding atmosphere.

 

Today Kimmo still “feels like I’m in the nineties and a little bit out of the scene, even though I have played in recent years,” but things like trend and scenes have never really affected Kimmo’s music. His music always seems to live beyond time and the only thing that ever keeps him motivated is: “I just wanted to make good records.” I ask Kimmo where he finds his inspiration and his voice, buried deep from somewhere beyond his diaphragm, says “from my soul.”

The impression I get from Kimmo through our brief conversation is that of an old soul. He was twenty two when he first started making music, an age that already “felt old” in a very youthful movement. Almost thirty years on from that moment he might have aged somewhat physically, but his music hasn’t. He still makes Techno and Electro with the same essential proclivity for music that transcends borders, scenes and trends that have outlasted the artists, producers and DJs that pivot around their surroundings. In his stubborn and arduous pursuit to make music from his soul with an apprehension for anything less than perfection he has established a lasting musical legacy that continues to make a significant impression on music.

 

*Special thanks to Kafé Hærverk and Jokke for facilitating this interview. 

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