We've known for years that the dust clouds would fly when Helsinki's Tes La Rok (Jani Niiranen) eventually dropped a debut album. Boomkat's review of Them hails him as one of dubstep's most "persistently prolific producers". No misnomer. The man is tireless, and so is his signature style. The alternately haunting and rugged DMZ-esque flavour still lingers muskily on even the techiest of moments on the album. But unlike some of his more playful early remixes, the fully developed Tes La Rok sound as exhibited on Them is as beautiful and heartless as deep space. Tes has just returned from a nice post-album release holiday, so we hounded him with boring interview questions to welcome him back to the workplace.
What brought about the decision to produce electronic music in the first place?
I've been into music most of my life. I got my first acoustic guitar around at the age of seven or eight. Around the same time my parents got me a Commodore C64. I was really interested in the sounds the C64 was able to produce. I never quite learned to program SID music, I was few years too young, but I was well interested in it. So I kept teaching myself to play guitar for the next few years.
It was in 1992 when I got my first PC that things really changed. Overnight my guitar got replaced by tracker programs. The options you had with these proto-tracker programs in the early 90s were really limited. I suppose that is one reason why my music still is sort of minimal. I learned to play with just a few short samples and manipulated them as much as possible. Nowadays just one sound can be 40mb, at that time full tune with all the sounds couldn't be bigger than 200kb! I know, nerd talk, but I do think that working in such a limited environment helped me to discover my potential better.
At that time I was really interested in anything from FSOL to Jamiroquai. I could sit front of the record player and listen to Kraftwerk's Autobahn 40 times and wonder how it was made. In 1995 / 1996 I first discovered jungle and that was the first time in my life when I knew exactly what I wanted to do. It took me by storm. LTJ Bukem, Peshay, Foul Play, Blame, Adam F - those guys defined what I wanted to create. Music that had the soul of jazz and deep atmospheres of ambient and beats stronger than hip hop and faster than funk on warp speed nine! So I started getting my hands on any jungle tunes I was able to get. A few years went by learning the secrets of jungle production. In 1998 me and my mates Dharma & Bluez sent our first demo CD to labels such as Moving Shadow & Formation. A few weeks later we got the phone call from Moving Shadow saying they want to sign our 12" on Audio Couture.
Are you a full time musician and record label manager, or do you have any other projects and jobs on the side?
For the last 12 years I've been working in the music industry. Nowadays I mostly focus on producing and DJing but I still find time to organise my bi-monthly night Slam It, which is doing really well right now. It's been running six years and I see no reason why there couldn't be another six years ahead. I also host my radio show on premium Finnish station Basso with my co-host Desto and I run the Noppa record label.
What's been going down at Noppa of late, and where do you want the label to go? And what does the word Noppa mean incidentally?
I used to produce dnb under the Dice moniker and when I kinda quit producing tunes as Dice I thought it would be cool thing to bring in something from my past. So when I launched my label in 2007 I decided to name my label Noppa because it means dice in Finnish. The label is doing well, I just released a 12" from Teeth which did really well. Them is the first LP, so it was a massive step from the single releases I've previously released. From promotion to production it was a long learning process. I'm going to expand Noppa from just dubstep to anything that has bass and soul.
I've felt that your previous productions have been quite DJ friendly. Is this deliberate?
I never really think too much of a DJ aspect but since I've been DJing 12 years now I suppose I automatically add that DJ-friendly aspect. Which is what I've kinda lately tried to get rid of! I reckon if you're a skilled DJ with vision then no song structure should hold you down but when playing records in a club environment it's natural that you tend to play tracks that are easier to mix and blend. That's why DJs like Oneman or Loefah are excellent because they are not afraid to cross the borders and mix different styles and tempos too!
How do your two musical personas Tes La Rok and Trusta relate to one another?
I don't know if there is difference in Tes La Rok and Trusta. Musically, so far, Tes La Rok has been just dubstep. With Trusta I'm not going to lockdown into one genre. Anyway, I try not to think too much about what I should or should not do. I just do what feels good, but one thing that separates them is hardware. With Trusta I try to produce tunes mostly by using hardware and analog gear.
Loefah's affinity with your music makes perfect sense, and it's great that you're now working together. Was he someone you'd admired from afar or is your relationship more personal?
Loefah was one of the artists back in the day who got me hooked into dubstep in the first place. Artists such as Loefah, Mala & Coki, Benny Ill, El-B, Distance, Youngsta, Shackleton, Burial & Kode9 still inspire me a lot. I suppose over the years my relationship with Loefah has become more personal, but I still see him as an innovator as much as I did six years ago. Not just as a producer, but also as a DJ and a label manager. It takes a big cohones to progress from the environment that everyone knows you for to totally new. It's no accident that labels he has been related to over the years are some of the most innovative and talked about.
What do you think has been the most significant moment in your career to date?
From winning the Estonian Music Awards with my debut dnb album (Play It Again) to getting booked to DJ at DMZ or FWD. Hard to choose but I still hope the most significant moment is coming!
What's been your biggest mistake?
Trusting people I should have not. I try to look forward and not think about mistakes in the past. As long you learn from those mistakes.
How did you learn English and how many languages do you speak? Most of your track titles are English, are they translations from the Finnish? Do you think the music business demands that you operate in multiple languages?
I learned most of my English from computer games! And by watching TV and listening to music. I've also got a lot English speaking friends. So overall I'd say whatever language you want to learn to speak the best way is just to get involved. Naming tunes in English just comes naturally. The music business doesn't necessarily demand you to operate in multiple languages but same time it doesn't hurt if you do speak more than one language. Besides Finnish and English I understand some Swedish and a bit of Estonian. I'm kinda thinking about learning Spanish at some point.
Can you see yourself ever moving to the UK?
You never know! I did think about it a lot in 2006 and 2007 because it does help your music career to be at the centre of all the action but it's only two hours flight to the UK so it's not that difficult to travel whenever needed.
Who's up-and-coming from the Helsinki scene that we should keep an eye out for?
A lot of new talent coming through, I try to support the up-and-coming talent a lot. People like Kfka, Las, Teeth and Nonperson are making moves.
Who do you most admire in the UK at the moment?
Hmmm, I can't really pick anyone particular. I do have a lot of respect for the DMZ fam, as mentioned earlier. Same goes with the labels such as Hyperdub, Tectonic, Swamp81, 502, Punch Drunk, Hessle and Deep Medi to name some.
What are the most important things to you right now, in music and also in life generally?
Them makes me think of dystopian landscapes like in Bladerunner and it sounds like power getting batted around. Is this reflective of anything political? A projection of our future? Or am I reading too far into something which is intended as abstract? It's just the title Them is such a loaded word, even political and you do mention the government in your description of its aesthetic... Are you trying to say anything with your music or this album particularly?
I'm totally X-Files generation and it's funny you mention Bladerunner as that was kinda the theme I was really aiming for. From artwork to music. I love all these secret government plan theories, aka conspiracy theories movies and books, but it's just an imaginary world I'm playing with my album. I don't really see humankind's future as that dark! Them refers to anything you think it should refer. It could refer to governments, it could refer to extraterrestrial lifeforms, it could refer to secret groups of government officials. You tell me.
Words: Rosie McLean
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