Interview with Finnish synth group STRAKTOBEAM
DK: So tell me now you all met and got started as a group?
STRAKTOBEAM: All of us attended the same high school in Helsinki. We played together in various bands, most of us in a ska/pop band called Simbad. Like often with new bands, the idea came while Ville, Otto, Veijo and Saara were intoxicated at a Finnish rock festival (Ilosaari 2009). Veijo had been a big synth music and synthesizer lover for a long time, and Ville and Otto were avid video game players, so it came together quite naturally.
Also, we were pretty tired of carrying heavy instruments from rehearsal space to gig to studio, so we thought electronic music would involve less carrying heavy things. With our current set up of live drums and 8-10 vintage synths, that turned out not to be the case…
After a few years of thinking and talking about it, we first started to actually play STRAKTOBEAM tunes together in 2011 and also had our first shows then, adding Ville’s brother Timo on the drums.
DK: As a synth group you mention being influenced by Jarre (who is a big influence of mine) and others. Can you talk about the songs that had the most impact on you?
STRAKTOBEAM: For all of us, the whole Oxygene LP has probably been the biggest influence. The simplicity and beauty of it and the melodic flow really touches us. From that LP, the opening track (Part I) has probably been the biggest favorite.
Also Jarre and other early synth pioneers (Kraftwerk, Space, YMO etc.) have been a big influence in the way that they also played all of the stuff live. That’s something we aspire to do as well, skipping backing tracks and using samples only minimally. Doing something visual and different with the songs (like Jarre’s sax solos in space and laser controlled synths) is something we also yearn to do.
DK: I notice a lot of sci-fi and video game influences as well, can you talk about how you incorporate these ideas into your music?
STRAKTOBEAM: When we first started to play, we were very heavily influenced by retro gaming music from titles (like Megaman, Mortal Kombat, Sonic series and those old Mac games – Crystal Quest and the original Sim City). Not only did those inspire the sounds and melodies we used but also the atmosphere and very much the visuals we employ in our songs. Every gig we play (unless it’s outdoors and there is simply too much sun) we have self-made (mostly self-cut) visuals, who a friend of ours (Sampo) VJs for gigs. Since our music is mostly instrumental and occasional singing and vocoder is more like an additional instrument the visuals play quite an important role in our output.
Later on, we decided to mix space and sci-fi elements to our music. Early and Next Generation Star Trek, 60s scifi classics (Space Odyssey, Plan 9 From Outer Space, the awesome animation film La Planete Sauvage) have been major influences. We’re also quite fascinated by all kinds of conspiracy theories and the idea that maybe life came to Earth from the stars. We find these concepts interesting and inspiring, although it’s not something we necessary think is the truth. In the videos for Melange https://youtu.be/CrvWZ4rXGWk and Moai Motheship https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QnlTrL-H8hY we explore these ideas in some depth. Whether these ideas are clear in the actual songs, probably not, but they may come across in the atmosphere.
DK: How do you go about composing your music? Do you all meet and decide the harmonic/melodic material beforehand or do you improvise somewhat to find what works?
STRAKTOBEAM: All members in our band participate in composing coming up with concepts. Most songs are born at jams at the rehersal space, though the riffs and chords may be thought up beforehand. Nowadays, however, since we are scattered around Finland, living in three quite distant cities, most tunes are composed at smaller jams when a few of us happen to be in the same city at the same time. The whole band then gets together (usually before a gig) to finalize the tracks.
DK: What type of synths do you guys play?
STRAKTOBEAM: We love vintage synths (who doesn’t?), especially old analog gear, but unfortunately can’t afford all the stuff we like. Currently our setup (for both live and studio recordings) is Siel Korg MS-10, Logan String Melody II, MicroKORG, Nord Lead 2, Roland Juno-106, Roland Juno-G & Siel DK70 (w/ Moogslayer mod) and Roland SVC-350 vocoder.
DK: When you perform live, what type of venues do you usually find yourself playing in?
We’ve played in all sorts of venues: from the weirdest of UG parties to some quite nice outdoor festivals. Generally, due to the visuals, we prefer indoor dark dusty places, where we can fully deploy our audiovisual spectacle… but anything goes, really.
Yesterday, for example, we played at a small all-age no-alcohol venue in Helsinki and it was absolutely awesome. A great atmosphere, easy-going people and interesting acts (Sekret Teknik, Kaamosmasennus) playing with us. Again, some people in the audience were probably a little baffled, but some certainly got a smile on their face.
DK: How has the Finnish music scene responded to your music? Is there a large electronic music presence there?
STRAKTOBEAM: This is a difficult question. For most people, I guess our music might be a little bit too much “out there”. Some people might not “get it” although there is nothing special really to get, it’s just vintage synths and cosmic fun. On the other hand, some people really seem to dig what we do
So far, we’ve played more in rock/pop venues/festivals than at pure electronica events, possibly partly because our set up (a LOT of gear and live drums) is a little different than the usual set up of laptops and a few synths.
Have to say, there seems to be quite a cool and large underground techno scene in Finland, but we’re not really a part of that so far. We’d love to play some cool rave-type events (maybe as early opening acts or late-night setcloser), but so far that has not happened. There are also some really cool retro revivalist electro acts in Finland (such as Freeweights, Beverly Girl, Libla and a whole bunch of others) and recently we’ve been playing with them – and it’s been great fun!
Also, on a global scale, have to put a word out for the synthwave scene! A lot of absolutely awesome artists (both music makers and visualists), people and blogs! While our music merely flirts with this genre, it’s definitely something worth checking out, perhaps by dropping by at the Synthetix.fm blog (http://www.synthetix.fm/).
DK: What do you want people to think or feel when they listen to your music?
STRAKTOBEAM: Another difficult one. To some extent, our music is about taking an adventure (be it in space, or in old 8 bit world or just in your living room) so if people get those vibes from our songs – superb! Also, we are very much an anti-“scene” band, ie it’s okay to laugh/be amused by our stuff and/or not take us totally seriously. The element of cosmic fun is something we yearn for!
One of our previous tracks, Monsters https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=teF05L2a96Y was an adventure into the world of timelapsing, while an upcoming song, still at the quasi-demo phase (i.e. not played live) is an underwater trip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7IeATpBShU
Furthermore, we think that the best songs are still to come. Something huge, awesome, triangular, spectacularly synthtastic will yet be made by us.
DK: As an electronic composer myself I sometimes worry about the state of our genre. It seems like more people care about dubstep and EDM instead of Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk (at least where I live in the United States). What do you think we can do as electronic artists to change this?
STRAKTOBEAM: The situation might be a little better in Finland, but we totally understand what you mean. Music is a matter of opinion, and EDM and dubstep appeals to a lot of people, which is fine. The best way is to make stuff you enjoy making and just put it out there. If you start a band with four synthesizer players and no lead singer and you’re not doing exactly EDM, you know you probably won’t be on the Top of the Pops anytime soon, but that luckily doesn’t prevent you from making 3D-printed astronaut space exploration videos and enjoying it.
So in short: electronic artists should keep making what they do and enjoy it, you’ll never in the end be happy if you change your genre/style/whatever just to please the masses.
DK: Is there anything else you would like to say before we conclude this interview?
STRAKTOBEAM: We’d like to thank you for giving us this opportunity to share our thoughts! It’s these cool independent blogs that make the modern (global) music scene so much fun.
Also, we encourage anybody reading to (naturally) check out our stuff on Soundcloud or YouTube. Also, any kind of feedback is much appreciated!
May the Force be with you