Fanu talked to us about his world and his label, Lightless. He sent us pics, stellar embeds and link to recent kmag mix, at end.
Damian Bennett: When I first heard you it was the early 2000s, from Bailey’s show. The sound was completely unique, not just re the choice of samples or priorities of sounds, but just that your whole approach was very fresh… so tell me what did you wanted to bring to D&B back then?
F: The old D&B aesthetic is what I wanted to bring… strong rhythms, varying drum patterns and breakbeats instead of the same 2-step beat I kept hearing a bit too much. A friend called Rob Brierly gave DJ Bailey a CD at an event and Bailey started playing loads of my stuff on his shows. He even called me and we had a chat on his show and I was nervous as heck, ha ha. I’m still indebted to Rob and Bailey for that one. Damn, that was eight years ago….time flies by so fast.
I think I was also super-frustrated by the domineering drum-machine-type of drum and bass with its the loud and growling midrange basslines; that was never for me so much. I was so madly in love with what I grew up listening to and, well, I simply stuck to what I had always liked. I was making a lot of music and finding my own voice while doing it.
DB: And what has developed or fallen away since, during your career trajectory?
F: Well, I still feel the same way about D&B so that hasn’t changed.
DB: What is your audio/studio setup? Are you digital or some outboard?
F: These days it’s very basic. Macbook Pro 17”, Ableton Suite 8, MOTU Ultralite, Soundcraft EFX12 mixer, Akai APC40, Adam A7 monitors, a Zoom recorder for recording whatever. And an old cassette tape deck for some dirt.
I went through a lot of hardware but when I decided I want to start working on a live set, I wanted to minimize the amount of gear I’d have to lug around. I used to think hardware was the shit, but later on I realized that it’s not what you’ve got, it’s how well you know what you’ve got. My sound is a lot better now than some years back and I’m almost 100% software now. I guess some years ago I kind of wanted for my sound to be quite old instead of sounding modern, but that’s changed. I miss using all the knobs and buttons.
DB: Do you sometimes find that you have a total song in your head and need to get it written? Or does the song evolve through the production process?
F: I usually have to have some kind of idea or a theme before I can or want to start properly. Sometimes it’s just a feeling. Today, I was going through some vocal soundbanks and they have these nice percussion-type sounds that are mainly done by using vocals, and I got a feeling that I’d like to do something very minimal yet heavy with them so I’ve gotta go back to that soon: I have this certain feeling going already which’ll help me to make a tune around it.
Sometimes the result has nothing to do with what you were going for when you started working on the idea, but I’d say that’s the beauty of it…and often, the best ideas are created by accident and not intentionally at all.
DB: And when do you prefer to produce?
F: I can work any time, really. It used to be night-time-oriented, but it’s almost reversed these days. Some years ago I used to stay up super-late working on stuff but these days I can get up at 8am and start working on something if I’ve got something good on the go already.
The only times when I find it difficult are in the summer: when it gets really bright, warm, and summery, the ‘lightlessness’ isn’t there and it kills some of my creativity. But then again, summers in here are so short that one should spend them outdoors, anyways.
DB: Has the actual atmosphere of Finland inspired you? If you moved to California would it change perhaps?
F: Having lived in Finnish countryside for 20 years before I moved to Helsinki in early 2000 did have a profound influence on my overall imagination and creativity. I got to experience many harsh winters and some of that Finnish winter darkness (hence the label name), which I always found fascinating in the sense that they leave a lot of room for interpretation and dreaming.
Had I grown up in Brazil, I’d sound totally different.
I recall lying on the bed when I was a kid and watching shooting stars and northern lights in the sky, that was awesome. We’ve also got so much snow up there then – it’s a bit different today – experiencing the winter wonderland as a kid was the best thing ever.
Today, if I moved somewhere else, I’m not sure if that’d affect me that much anymore as I suppose the main backbone of my taste for musicality has been formed already.
DB: Do you have a process for selecting samples… do you actively seek them out and if so what sort of things always yield? I mean it could be old soul sessions, hip hop, brass… what sort of sample fills you with desire to stay up all night delving into it and, of course your work in general?
F: Sampling is a lifestyle for me.
I used to go to libraries and come home with huge stacks of CDs, which I imported on my computer and went thru the audio files and picked out some stuff; that was kinda fun, but I’m not doing that anymore. And I used to do that with movies: I extracted the audio track and carefully went through it with my headphones on and picked up this and that. To be honest, I already have so much sample content on my HD, as well as synth plug-ins, that there’s enough for years. Either way, what I meant with a sampling lifestyle is that once I hear something great, I sample it right away or make a note about it to go back to it.
Around 7–8 years ago I used to buy vinyl, get samples and be so fascinated by them all that I stayed up till 5am or something, just making tunes around them. It is quite magical to be in the zone as the night turns into morning, making music and you see the sun come up and hear the birds sing, that’s magic.
And oh, I’ve never used any substances while working on music. I recall some people thinking I must be really high on something to do the atmospheres I do. Fuck that, you don’t need anything if you’ve got a good imagination!
DB: The substances fuck up more than they inspire over time I think. When do your non-beat atmospheres come about? The atmospheres behind the beats, the ambience. I feel like they’re sort of like a ‘light pollution’… they are like refracted bits of energy from the beats thrown up into the atmosphere.
F: I can’t really say exactly. I think it’s this ‘longing for otherness’ that’s the main driving force in terms of the atmospheres I create.
In music, I often want to create an emotion or a feeling that you don’t experience in your normal everyday life. I often find some dreamy soundscapes the best. Something that distances you from your mundane existence. Think of all the old Good Looking Records tunes. Music’s often a form of escapism for me.
DB: Are beats ever live, from a kit? Or is that unappealing?
F: No, it’s all arranged. As for live kits… that shit’s dope.
DB: I hear you’re doing an Amon Tobin remix? Must’ve been great to hear his original parts.
F: I got to pick a tune from the ISAM album, so I wanted to do ‘Journeyman’. I made it a little bit more straightforward, 100bpm breakbeat action with the lowest bassline I’ve ever done….you’ll need a sub to hear that one. Hearing the separate parts was crazy…so much stuff in there! You can hear he’s really been working on recording it all. It took me a while to digest ISAM as it’s so different and there’s simply so many sounds in there!
DB: Noisia described his stuff as ‘sound design heaven’… how does that statement sit with you, as someone who immerses themselves in sound to a huge, huge degree?
F: I think we all should do more hunting for original sounds… just listen to Amon Tobin stuff to get inspired. He works quite a bit to record everything these days instead of sampling, it seems.
I do sample stuff, and always will, but I do like recording things as well. I especially like recording some random atmospheres & I’m using a Zoom recorder, which really does the job.
Today we have all the technology to ourselves, so we should really be coming up with something pretty damn dope and original instead of churning out the same crap.
DB: So is it all just you? Do you have accomplices in the studio & would prefer/prefer not to?
F: I only have one accomplice. It’s called a ‘Phukhead’ and it’s been sitting on my gear for a few years. I got it in Jacksonville, Florida while on a tour. It’s been an essential studio mate ever since.
DB: Back to where you live, what’s the scene in Finland like? Music, food etc?
F: In terms of D&B, and for any kind of electronic music for that matter, it’s lively: there’s something going on all the time. It’s been quite healthy for the whole 12 years I’ve lived here. For a city so small of only about half a million it’s really good and there’s events all the time, new heads popping up, international names coming over, new nights starting, etc.
Last night, I was playing D&B at an event I hadn’t really heard much of before. There was new faces, new refreshing vibes, and new music I haven’t experienced before. They told me they’ve been doing that for 11 months now. Goes to show there’s fresh activity all the time.
As for food: if you came over, I know we’d go have these awesome meatballs at restaurant Tori and then wash it down with the most perfect coffee at Gran Delicato. Beer lovers could amaze the selection at Kaisla; they’ve got a huge selection there. There’s so many good places for everything here. It’s an expensive city, but you don’t have to buy the expensive stuff if you don’t want.
DB: I’m there. Which tune of yours over time are you the most proud? Why? Maybe there’s a few you wanna talk about.
F: Everyone’s going to say ‘Siren Song’ so I’m not going to pretend I’m ignoring it altogether; it was seven years ago, but it is timeless.
People still like it and I can admit it is a decent tune, still. However, there’s been many others. On the ‘Daylightless’ album (below), there’s a track called ‘Snow People’ that’s something I still like a lot; that’s one of the few tracks of mine I’ve gone back to actually listen to a few times and enjoyed it. I don’t really listen to my stuff once it’s done as I can only hear what’s shit about it.
The same album has ‘From Afterlife She Speaks’ which has this good ‘otherness’ vibe I’m pretty happy with.
The ‘Homefree’ album (below) has an interesting remix too: ‘Hangman’s Lullaby’.
Also there’s ‘Toshiro’ (up, above) and ‘Ninja Chicks’- which were released on Darkestral in 2006 – were pretty technical and they’ll stand the test of time. The former was a definite Photek tribute – I’m working on another at the moment, which should be getting a vinyl release, but watch this space.
I recently did a remix of an Ane Brun song called ‘Do You Remember’, and the outcome was something way more fresh than my stuff usually, so I’m pleased with that: I think that’s something that’s also going to appeal to people outside the usual Fan(u)base.
DB: Love it.
F: As for the rest, it’s all shit, haha! I feel like I’ve only just begun, to be honest. I’m super hungry for making new music at the moment.
DB: What sort of stuff in D&B did you love over time then, mentioning Photek?
F: The old Metalheadz stuff, Good Looking tunes, Seba, Paradox, Danny Breaks, Source Direct, Tek 9, Photek, Voyager, Peshay, all the greats. Now, there’s Fracture & Neptune, Greenleaf, LXC, Martsman, Double O, Equinox and the Sci Wax camp, Fistfunk, Resound, Naibu, Dak, and many more.
Still liking D&B with the same aesthetics and ingredients: good breaks.
DB: We mentioned Tobin, tell me about your work with Bill Laswell?
F: A friend of his, Robert Soares, dug my stuff and played it to Bill. He initiated a project called Inamorata that incorporated many of Laswell’s musician friends and D&B producers’ beats. That was quite successful so Rob wanted to start a similar project with my beats only and Laswell & co… Nils Petter Molvaer, Graham Haynes, Bernie Worrell doing the rest. The outcome was Lodge, a crazy d&b/jazz/fusion audio feast, released on Karl Records.
DB: Finally how would you sum up Lightless, your vision for it?
F: Lightless represents the jungle of today. The very same type of stuff I got so stoked about when I was in my teens. There’s definitely a big crowd for that kind of sound…there’s loads of diggers who still love their jungle like it used to be. The music has to make a difference, and I dare claim the stuff we’ve put out so far won’t sound very dated or embarrassing in ten years… just like the good old stuff from 15 years back.
Overall, I started the label with distributor S.T. Holdings in 2006 to channel all my productions onto one label instead of having it all released on so many others. In six years, Lightless has put out three Fanu albums, two EPs and five 12”s. The emphasis is on quality, not quantity, as you can tell. I recently switched to SRD (an indie distribution powerhouse), which I’m very stoked about. Big shouts to Paul ‘Darkestral’ Rico for taking me on.
In six years, Lightless has put out three Fanu albums, two EPs and five 12”s.We’ve got two killer new EPs coming out: one in February (see below) and the other in March.
I recently switched to distributor SRD, which I’m very stoked about. Big shouts to Paul ‘Darkestral’ Rico for taking me on. Currently I’m doing it all digital but I want to do vinyl again at some point.
I’ve got some pretty interesting releases coming out that are actually not on Lightless. It’s a bit too early to reveal any of those or tell you more, but all I can say is I’m pretty damn excited and I’ll make a guess and say bet the fans will be hyped.