Claire Sawers

Freelance Writer

Month: February 2015

Interview: Jimi Tenor recalls making techno documentary Sähkö The Movie

Ahead of a rare screening in Glasgow, the director shares his memories of filming the 90s techno documentary

Jimi Tenor

The List
18 Feb 2015

Only the few will have seen Sähkö The Movie – regarded among certain technoheads as the ‘Holy Grail of electronic music documentaries’. Rarely screened live, besides the odd special event like Sonar festival, or a night at MoMA in New York, it’s coming to Glasgow for its 20th anniversary, and a special event in the Glasgow Short Film Festival. Although many won’t have laid eyes on it, there’s a chance some Scottish readers (especially clubbers of a certain vintage) could be in the film.

Jimi Tenor, director of the 44-minute documentary, and semi-legendary Finnish techno producer turned pop/jazz musician, remembers the mid-nineties trip to Glasgow where some of the film was made.

‘Keith [McIvor, aka JD Twitch) had his club at the Barrowlands – Pure. He invited me over for that which was a lot of fun. They liked a track of mine, ‘Take Me Baby’. It reminded him of Suicide and we all liked Suicide. Anyway, they liked it and released a 12” on their label [T&B] in 1995.’ (Warp Records later re-released it, and Hudson Mohawke covered it.)

‘After that Keith and I have stayed in touch, and worked on other events like Optimo and the Venice Biennale since.’

Two decades on, Tenor’s been invited back to screen his documentary at Glasgow’s Glue Factory, and play a live set, with support from the inimitable Golden Teacher.

‘It might be quite weird for Glasgow audiences to watch,’ says Tenor of his film, shot in 16mm and newly restored digitally. ‘Some of the clothes are quite funny, and it’s interesting to see the streets, the Barrowlands, a pool hall; how the city has changed since then.’

‘It’s a bit like a road movie, or a music video; there’s very little dialogue,’ explains Tenor, who was a key player on Finnish ultra-minimalist techno label, Sähkö Recordings (sähkö means ‘electricity’), founded by Tommi Grönlund in 1993. The film follows Tenor and labelmates, the excellent Mika Vainio and Ilpo Väisänen (solo artists who performed together as Pan(a)sonic), as they share their ultra-sparse techno, weird noise music and self-made instruments with the world.

‘The quality is rough, but I think the Super 8 format is lovely. It was always supposed to be like that, but it’s not like, I don’t know … Harry Potter quality.’

‘It’s a piece of history now,’ he laughs. ‘It’s about those times, and the completely weird outfits we wore, those big plastic glasses I wore – and still wear now. The main idea behind what we were doing was to make something simple, nothing fancy. But we wanted it to be something hopefully a bit strange, and surprising.’

‘In those days the laptop thing hadn’t happened,’ he goes on. ‘We were using really heavy hardware back then. Sometimes my kit would weigh about 20 kilos. These days, flight luggage restrictions don’t even let you travel with that anymore! Back then they’d allow much more but I’d still board planes wearing three jackets, and all the pockets were stuffed with cables.’

Although Sähkö has earned cult status in some electronic music circles, Tenor stresses that a lot of the elements that fans love about the label’s sound sometimes came about through necessity, as much as design.

‘The equipment we were using wasn’t rare at the time – we just used what was cheap. Nowadays some of the bits have become really expensive, but it certainly wasn’t back then. We used unfashionable, second-hand, analogue stuff. It was a good moment for us to get hold of it – just as it was becoming out of step and they were switching gradually to new, digital equipment.

‘The main idea was that it was very simple, not complicated, so the audience could understand the system going on, and how roughly it had been made. I find often when people do stuff with laptops now, using a lot of samplers, the whole thing gets quite complicated. You listen, and it’s like, “what exactly is going on here?”. You can’t tell what was done at home, what’s happening live, when they are just pressing play … With our stuff, when something happened, you could see it happening. There was a live, improvised, noise side to what we did onstage, for sure.’

‘Obviously we wanted it to provide entertainment. It was always supposed to be enjoyable, just not in a predictable way. Now I may be a hippie with long hair, but I won’t be having an early night. I still hope to have a good party on the dancefloor in Glasgow. Of course I do – I’m still alive!’

Strange Electricity, The Glue Factory, Glasgow, Sat 14 Mar, part of Glasgow Short Film Festival.
jimitenor.com; sahkorecordings.com.

Read the interview at The List here.  View photos from the anniversary screening here.

Interview: Gazelle Twin

Behind the angst-ridden mask of musician-producer Elizabeth Bernholz

gazelle-twin

The List
12 Feb 2015

Elizabeth Bernholz, aka Gazelle Twin, is a Brighton musician making ink-black, intoxicating experimental pop. Her droning, bleeping, pitch-shifting electronic tracks are nightmarish, unsettling takes on everything from mental health issues, societal angst and body horror. She was The Quietus’s 2014 Album of the Year winner, and recently made music for the London Short Film Festival. Claire Sawers got a brief peek behind the mask…

As someone who’s been racked with anxieties, self-loathing and neuroses since childhood, how did you deal with the praise piled on you, particularly for your last album, Unflesh?
That’s the first time anyone has asked me that and it’s a great question. I’m not very good at taking praise normally, especially in person. It sometimes makes me want to cry, or feel sick and want to hide. It’s not that I am ungrateful – quite the opposite.

It’s an odd thing. I guess in this sense, being praised for making work about various traumas is also a very uncomfortable thing if I think about it too much. I try to focus on the fact that it’s maybe just my ability to communicate and construct something out of an experience, rather than the experience itself. Good press is like a drug though. I try to distance myself from it as much as I can as it’s easy to become addicted to that rush of reading good press, or receiving praise, and then the drop is a long one whenever the criticism is negative, or things just peter out and no one talks about it anymore. I’ve been incredibly lucky with this record that people are still interested!

What three things might people find surprising about you?
Behind closed doors I am pretty juvenile when I’m not totally stressed out from work or other things. I love watching comedies and getting far too addicted to TV dramas. People might also be surprised that I am quite shy, self-deprecating and easily embarrassed… that is, if they have seen me onstage lunging or barking at them.

Your videos and music seem to reflect deep-rooted, societal angst. Are we all fucked?
Hmm, yeah I think we are really. I can’t lie. It’s just a gradual demise from now I think, until total collapse. Until we start all over again, if we are that lucky.

What role can music play in making things less fucked?
I think it’s important that people have a way to purge their frustrations, anger, experience, no matter how personal or how political. The more that leftfield music is heard in the mainstream, the more creativity might be inspired, the more free-thinking might be adopted by younger generations. I don’t know, that’s a utopia of course, but young people need that. The world needs that. It probably can’t help war, famine, disease or natural disasters though sadly. Sorry Bob Geldof.

Is life getting more or less terrifying for you?
People terrify me. The idea of having children, which will be my next big event in life, terrifies me. But healthy fear is a pretty good motivator most of the time.

Who or what makes you laugh?
French and Saunders. Arrested Development. Mulligan and O’Hare.

What’s your idea of hell?
Probably too dark for your readers, so I’ll go with something less graphic like being stranded at sea with my legs underwater.

What are you working on now/ next?
I have been working on a few side-projects and other music work, but have made a start on album three. It’ll take me a lot of work to get some of the ideas I have into shape. But I am excited to start something new.

Gazelle Twin plays the Art School, Glasgow, Fri 27 Feb, with Zamilska, hausfrau & Dick-50. Read the interview at The List here.
gazelletwin.com

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