Kemppi may be Finland's most important and best-known techno artist. This is thanks to regular and usually well-received output and his role as one-half of Deep Space Helsinki, an FM radio show he co-hosts with fellow Helsinki resident Juho Kusti. The show spawned a label offshoot of the same name, which so far has released two split 12-inches from Kemppi and Kusti.
Kemppi grew up in Lahti, a city of 100,000 about 100km north of Helsinki. Like many techno producers in their late 30s, his introduction to genre came through illegal warehouse parties in the early '90s. He began buying records soon afterwards, collecting labels like Overdrive, Labworks, Rising High and R&S, all of which had a much harder sound than Kemppi has now.
The turning point was hearing the Basic Channel project Maurizio, which Kemppi discovered through radio and mixtapes. "It was mind-blowing," he says over Skype from Helsinki. "This music was so minimal, yet still had everything it needed. The stuff that wasn't on the track was more meaningful than what was on there. I couldn't believe that it was possible to do something this interesting with just a few elements. It really changed for me when I heard this music for the first time."
Along with minimalism, space is a recurring theme in Kemppi's work. He's been obsessed with space travel and science fiction since a young age, and this has a clear influence on his music. "I like to get new ideas from science fiction," he says. "I always consider deep techno as the music that would soundtrack space travel, and space fascinates me. I read about astronomy and science fiction a lot. Why I like techno is related to that."
Kemppi began dabbling in production not long after he started buying records. In 1996 he had a track played over FM radio, which he says was a big turning point. "It was overwhelming experience," he explains. "I was always a DJ, and never thought that I would become a producer. I don't remember if the track had a name. It was filter house with a big Herbie Hancock sample in it."
Kemppi met his wife around this time. Working together as Sam & Gigi, they dropped five 12-inches, debuting with Come & Dance on US label Siesta Music in 2002. Ovum Recordings and Still Music were among the other labels to host their work. These records sounded very different from the techno Kemppi would go on to release. "Gigi wasn't so much into techno," Kemppi says. "So we made deep house together. I would make more banging stuff when I was in the studio alone."
Kemppi moved to Helsinki with Gigi in the early '00s, chasing the increased cultural possibilities that the capital provided. Alongside his continued collaboration with Gigi, he began DJing and putting on parties, honing the deep techno sound he's now known for.
In 2006 Finnish label Pakkas-levyt released Superkaapo EP, Kemppi's first techno record. It was noticed abroad immediately. Marcel Dettmann was an early fan, and arranged for Kemppi to play live at Berghain. Dettmann also asked for music to release on his MDR label, but instead wound up using Kemppi's track "Vangel" on his lauded Berghain 02 mix CD in 2008. "I made the first version of that track on the flight to Berlin," Kemppi says. "I mixed it in the hotel, exported parts just before the sound check—boom."
"Vangel" was a highlight of Dettmann's mix. It combined stabs, big bass and a spacey aesthetic. The track is more chilled than much of what Kemppi has since released, but it cemented his name as a one to watch. He soon linked up with respected labels like Komisch, Prologue, Perc Trax and Mote-Evolver for well-received EPs.
Kemppi's music is deep, but different from what you get from most of his closest peers. Where artists like Donato Dozzy, Claudio PRC and Lucy use long, drawn out notes and dubby low-ends to immerse the listener, Kemppi likes bleeps, keys and short, lively bass notes. His catalogue has had enormous traction with DJs for these reasons.
Samuli Kemppi is obsessed with all things space, so we had him pick five of his favourite science-fiction novels.
Hannu Rajamäki - The Quantum Thief
A mind-blowing start for a trilogy that takes place in a post-human solar system. When memories become digital, they can be stolen and altered. There are really fascinating concepts and language here. The whole trilogy is an excellent read for sci-fi heads.
Stanislaw Lem - Solaris
This is a classic, and I've read this many times. It's about mankind's futile attempt to communicate with aliens, and through that also about understanding oneself. I don't like the cliché that aliens are humanoids with laser guns. Lem's theme in Solaris might be closer to the reality, if we ever find alien life forms in space.
Iain M Banks - Surface Detail
This is the latest that I've read from Banks, whose books I've read quite a lot. There's quite a lot of action, but also some deeper themes like endless greed and oppression in the future of mankind.
Peter Watts - Blindsight
Another attempt to communicate with an alien life form. This has a lot of same themes with Solaris. True essence of consciousness, it's advantages and disadvantages to living beings and identity are the main themes in this.
Ernest Cline - Ready Player One
This is a bit silly and the lightest read from my list, but it's really entertaining. Virtual reality, control of society and '80s video games.
Kemppi never sends out demos. Every release came about after being approached by a label. Kemppi would then start working on new tracks with the sound of that particular label in mind. Looking back, he feels as though this took something away from the personality of his music. "I feel like I didn't have a real direction in the music I was doing," he says. "After I received a request for a release from a label, I would look at what they'd released in the past, and then make sure my tracks fit in with that. I didn't realise that they wanted something from me, not something that was me trying to fit in with their sound."
Kemppi is also aware that the sheer number of labels he's released on might have some downsides. "It's a delicate subject," he says carefully. "After I did the first few records on Pakkas-levyt, and the record on Ostgut Ton, I started getting lots of emails from people asking me to release on their label. I thought, 'Excellent. Let's do this.' I then didn't think much more about it. I don't regret any of the releases, but I could've been a bit more picky about choosing where to release.
"It looks like I didn't know what I was doing," he continues. "It makes me feel that people think I just go where the wind blows. It was just fun to put out records."
But Kemppi's future plans are clearer than ever before. He's just dropped his debut album, The Observer Effect. It was released on M_REC Ltd, a label run by veteran Milan DJ and producer Max_M. Kemppi says his partnership with M_REC Ltd, which began 2011 with the release of Cyclic Model EP, has been one of the most important of his career. "I now feel like I've found my home label," he says. "Max is a great guy—a real gentleman."
Max_M is similarly complimentary of Kemppi. "He has a unique style that I fell in love with right away," he told me over email. "I've been following his career from the beginning, and have enjoyed seeing his sound develop. Samuli is also very humble and respectful."
The Observer Effect is Kemppi's most accomplished work to date. Its 12 tracks were chosen from a pool of around 60 that were crafted over one year. They coincided with a massive studio upgrade, as Kemppi converted from digital to analogue. You can hear the effect. Each track is colourful, bottom-heavy and tough without losing Kemppi's familiar cosmic sound.
The Observer Effect was performed, arranged and recorded live. In doing so, Kemppi was exercising one of his key philosophies: that music should have human element. Deep techno isn't a genre associated with mistakes and rawness, but Kemppi says that it's through the use of machines that this is possible. "The artist and crowd on the floor are always observing each other," Kemppi says, in reference to the album's title. "This has an effect on the performance and performance has an effect on the crowd. I always arrange all the tracks live when performing live, and the crowd reactions have an effect on where I go. So it's personal feeling that I get when performing live."
In addition to the album, Kemppi has a few tracks on other labels coming. Once they're out, though, he plans to take a more focussed approach to his release schedule. "I'm going to be much more picky," he says. "I have a really good relationship with M_REC Ltd, and I also want to take our Deep Space Helsinki label to the next level. So I'll just focus on my two favourites."