Thomas Hessler & Samuli Kemppi: A Passionate Catharsis

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This past weekend Paris had the chance to experience some fresh talent from the underground that has never touched foot in this city. One seasoned soldier hailing from Helsinki reflected his intuitive ability to give the crowd what they want, while one of Berlin’s budding talents confirmed that his heavy sound will continue to flourish. Ascension sat down for a chat with the artists of BLOC’s third installment, Samuli Kemppi and Thomas Hessler. We delved deep into their influences, their life besides techno, and what we can look forward to in 2013.

At what point in your lives did you decide to become a DJ and what propelled you to do so?

Samuli Kemppi (SK): In the mid 80’s I saw a videotape that my father recorded of a Herbie Hancock live gig on TV where DJ DST was scratching with the track Rockit and I was 10 years old back then. I was puzzled, how can somebody do something like that with turntables and I was hooked from then. It was really one moment when I felt this revelation… This is what I have to do. I bought my first pair of Technics in 1988.   (Watch DJ DST scratching Herbie Hancock’s Rockit)

And it’s been ever since?

SK: Yeah, pretty much.

Thomas Hessler (TH): For me becoming a DJ took a bit longer because first my friends and I were into hip-hop music. We were making beats doing some rap and I started to watch these videos from DMC DJ Contests and, we watched them all the time, we were totally hooked. A friend of mine bought turntables and we started spinning hip-hop records at this time. In 1999, I went to Tresor in Berlin for the first time and I was totally a hip-hop guy at the time. Jeff Mills was playing so I was quite lucky. I had a few friends already who were into house and techno and they said you have to come with us and check it out. That was basically the moment when I started to think, ok well this is really interesting, it’s much better than the hip-hop music in Germany, and I really liked the energy of the music and then I started buying records myself, that was 1999.

It’s interesting because a lot of DJs have been influenced by hip-hop and a lot of genres before that. Do you still listen to other genres a lot and do they still affect what you produce, how you play, and what you decide to give to a crowd?

SK: I don’t listen to much techno myself personally when I am home. I listen to totally different kinds of stuff. Like jazz, funk, soul, and reggae lately, some punk, like early Joy Division, and classical. I don’t copy things but of course it broadens the perspective of how you hear music, so I suppose it does have an influence on what I do on some level.

TH: I only listen to techno. (everyone laughs) At the moment totally, only techno.

So when you wake up in the morning its techno?

TH: Yea, it’s always techno for me. I totally love to listen to techno but sometimes I listen to classical. Basically, before the whole hip-hop phase I played piano for like ten years. I started when I was six years old, so I am very into classical music. Sometimes I listen to the old hip-hop stuff but the new stuff doesn’t really have it for me.

What do you use to produce?

TH: I use Ableton Live and lots of plug-ins, also Propellerhead Reason, that’s basically everything I use.

SK: Logic Audio and some additional stuff. Mainly just Logic.

So where do you feel like you find your influences for producing?

SK: Well it’s the things I do in my daily life. For example I mean, if I had a shitty day at the office, then I come home, have some proper good food and then I go to the studio, well that has an influence on me. Then it just basically happens.

TH: I think it’s like this for everyone. When I produce basically I never think about I want to sound like this or that, I just find a sound for myself, it just comes out of me. There’ not really a concept behind how I want to sound whether it be Detroit or Berlin, but I think you can hear a bit of Detroit and a bit of deepness from Berlin in my tracks, but I never really think about it.

SK: And sometimes you have a shitty day at the studio and nothing happens, and sometimes you get this really good flow.

Do you learn from your mistakes if you have a shitty day?

SK: Yea….. You know this is a really good way to get to know each other! (laughs)

Well we’re glad we can bring you guys together. Well thanks to BLOC actually! So one question that I‘m always curious about in relation to DJs, to what extent do you guys prepare for your DJ sets and what influence does the crowd have? How do you choose your vinyl?

SK: It is challenging. Yesterday I was going through my records for 5-6 hours. It’s always a bit more difficult when you’re playing for just two hours, so it’s basically the same as if we are on the radio. If I do the radio show for two hours that’s like 25 up to 30 tracks so it’s not much but of course when I am playing at the club it’s quicker. But I don’t know, it is some kind of intuition. The hardest part is to find the first track, and when I get connected to the floor then it’s easy, and it’s pretty nice to go from that point. I heard that BLOC should be really into techno so…

Yea, not to worry everyone in there will love some techno so…

TH: Mostly for me I check how the crowd is reacting to the DJ before me a bit and then I say ok, they want it a bit deeper, or really banging or they want more because the DJ before me didn’t really get their attention on another level. I always know my intro or the first track and I never change this. I always know this is what I want to do for this gig and then I just go with the flow. I just see what happens, I have some deep stuff, some banging stuff, I feel what comes back from the crowd, and that’s how I do it, I just go with the flow.

I don’t know if you know much about the Parisian scene, if you do have any insight, has that been taken into account when preparing to come here?

SK: Absolutely…. Not. (everyone laughs) Because I have no idea how the Paris underground techno scene is. It is my first time playing in France, so it’s interesting to see how it works out.

TH: I have a few friends here like Percyl and I had a few chats with Julian from Dement3d, so I know a bit about what they’re into. I think they like it straight but I think we are booked for our style so they get what we normally do.

SK: We are always playing as warm-ups at our Deep Space Helsinki parties. As a guest DJ you get here and the floor is already warmed up. It’s always an easier situation and that’s why I like to see the residents before me.

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Has your experience at parties changed after becoming a DJ? Can you party in the same way, or do you party as often?

TH: Well I very rarely go to a party, when I go I really look who is playing. I check and then I know okay this is a party that will enjoy. I’m not a person who forces myself to go out just to meet people and show my face. I really just go when I like the line-up and that’s basically it. Since two years I don’t go so much out anymore, before I was going out a lot, but for me it’s also it’s a bit dangerous because I get influenced by things that I don’t want to get influenced by. I’d rather stay in the studio.

SK: Well I am 37 now and I have a wife and a son and I really don’t go out that much myself. I do play a lot but I think there’s a good balance between the normal life and the club life. I’ve never been a real party animal so to say; it’s always been about the music for me. If there’s something interesting happening in Helsinki, it’s always music first.

What are the interesting things happening in Helsinki right now?

SK: Actually there’s quite a lot happening in Helsinki these days. Pretty much every weekend there are interesting names. Fred P was playing last night but I didn’t go there. I would have wanted to go but since I had quite an early wake up today I skipped that.

What about Berlin? I mean there has been a lot more attention on Berlin now. Has the scene changed at all?

TH: Well I think it’s gotten to be more and more a trend now, the Berlin thing. It has been like this the last 15 years for sure, it is always rocking.

SK: What I like about Berlin is that it’s nice to see the smaller venues like Suicide Circus getting attention. Of course I do love Tresor, I love playing in Berghain but they are so different than the smaller clubs.

TH: It’s nice, you can always find a nice party. It never stops.

So what is in store for Kemppi and Hessler fans in 2013?

TH: There’s actually one really nice French thing coming. It’s a remix for Ben Gibson on CLFT Lyon. I am really looking forward to that. That will be released in February/March. Then we just keep going with Graphene, Solenoid and I will be releasing more stuff. Just producing, doing records, try to play more gigs… And then, yea that’s it. Some surprises that I cant talk about.

SK: Well I’ve been quite busy in the studio and I have an EP coming out on Darko Esser’s label Balance, with two tracks from me and remixes from ROD and Tripeo. There’s an EP coming from Chronicle, a sub-label of THEMA. Then an EP on M_REC, an Italian label. We have Deep Space Helsinki 2 coming out in February, couple V/A releases, lots of remixes that I did at the end of last year, like 6-7 remixes coming out.

Looks like we have some stuff to look forward to then.

SK: There’ll be lots of stuff in the shops, hopefully somebody likes that stuff.

That’s a problem for us. We pay our rent and our dues and then all our money goes to vinyl. For us it’s a pleasure. All three of us find that there is just something so special about vinyl.

SK: I still love the feeling when you go to a proper record shop and drop the needle down.

Aright, we have just some fun questions to ask too… If you weren’t a DJ what would you be doing?

SK: I would be a chef, definitely.

TH: That’s funny because I’m a chef; I worked as a chef for 5 years. We could cook together (laughs).

SK: I have to say that I am not a full-time DJ. I have a day job. I am an Art Director at an Advertising company, but if I had to change everything then I would be a Chef.

What kind of food do you like to cook?

TH: All the Mediterranean stuff for sure. It’s the easiest but also very creative, it’s basically what I like to do the most. Asian stuff as well.

SK: Pretty much the same (laughs). My wife’s family is from Italy so we get to know the Italian cuisine quite well.

TH: We should do a cooking session in Helsinki when I come.

SK: Definitely. Of course Asian, Japanese, Thai but most recently I’m trying to get into traditional Finnish dishes, which I really like. It’s so popular to do something like Thai so all the local stuff gets ignored.

What is traditional Finnish food?

SK: Lots of meat, lots of fish, potatoes, carrots, turnips, stuff like that.

OK, last but not least. If you decided to shift your sound in the future, would you DJ wearing a mask?

Everyone laughs

TH: Yeah it’s a new trend. It started first in the hip-hop scene with the masks and now it’s in the techno scene. I don’t believe in it so, If I change my sound a bit I’ll just use an alias, I don’t need a mask for it.

SK: It’s funny for me because I play with my own name. My name is Samuli Kemppi so that would be kind of stupid (laughs). I mean I understand that you want to keep anonymous and I’m fine with that but its just underlining it.

TH: It’s a good promotion tool too I think. People think because it’s a mask it’s a bit mystical.

What’s the first record you ever bought?

SK: Well, Herbie Hancock’s Rocket as I mentioned but the first record that I bought was probably…

TH: Be honest, be honest!

SK: It was Dire Strait’s album, Brothers in Arms.

TH: And for me it was Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

It was a true pleasure to have the opportunity to sit down with such talented producers and DJs for a quick insightful chat over some beers before they headed over to local vinyl hotspot Techno Import. Their responses not only allowed us to gain a higher understanding of their craft but shines some light on a few of their personal motives that affect and inspire their own specific sound.  Ascension would like to thank Samuli Kemppi, Thomas Hessler and BLOC for making this become a reality. 

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