In a few short weeks, A Happening Festival is bringing together some some of our favorite contemporary electronic acts for an evening of sonic glee. Among this list of legends is Finnish hunk, Tatu Rönkkö, who you may recognize as one quarter of the otherwise Danish electro-pop sensation, Liima. Aside from being inexplicably well-tanned, Rönkkö has a laundry list of other talents. Just check out what he was able to do with this poor woman’s kitchen. Tatu will use next month’s festival to debut some of his experimental solo work. We caught up with him to see what he has in store for us, and just what he has against cooking wares.
Can you tell us a bit about how you got involved in A Happening?
I’ve known Kelly, who runs A Happening, for a long time. She’s seen what I’ve been doing with music and heard what I’ve been working on now, then asked if I would be interested in playing at her festival. Our schedules never lined up, until the 3rd edition of A Happening, when it finally HAPPENED! I’ll be doing an ambient performance where I’m playing a cymbal with a cello bow, and also some metallic bowls. Both the cymbals and bowls are actually pretty amazing, melodic instruments, if you play them with a bow. Using their natural harmonic overtones. I’ve been playing around with that by amplifying them, running through reverb, etc. I’ve been doing some solo shows last summer and spring and experimenting with this thing, and I figured A Happening would be a great place to do further investigation with this approach. There have been some small gallery shows, but this is the formal, festival debut.
By gallery shows, you mean playing in front of your cats, yes?
Your general music background is based in jazz and improvisation, but in Liima you’re primarily using a combination of drum pads and mic’d objects. Do you find this restrictive or more of a welcome challenge?
Up until this point with Liima, I’ve been using MPC 1000 sampler and some objects. Playing a sampler with finger drumming was definitely a challenge for me, but it was a welcome change having played on standard drum kits for more than 20 years. Having this alternative interface and figuring out how to play small pads meant getting out of my comfort zone. I’ve always liked new challenges. You see things from a new perspective. But on the upcoming Liima album and tour, I’ll be playing real drums again and kind of combing electronic sounds in other ways. I’m abandoning the MPC shit now. (laughs)
So you feel more at home on an acoustic kit?
I guess so. In a way, I feel more at home and relaxed, because it’s actually more dynamic. because it has this obvious physicality. I feel connected to the power of acoustic drums physically and sonically.
But after some years with drum pads and samplers, would you consider yourself a gear nerd?
I’ve never reached the level of being a gear nerd, with electronics or acoustic drums. I always seem to have whatever mismatched gear is around, cracked cymbals, and different sized sticks. So I guess I’m the opposite. It’s more like I’m decorating my room with whatever stuff I find at the flea market or trash bins, or parent’s house. In the case of music and sound, it’s about feel and what sounds good to my ears. That’s what makes my sound and personality. And it can be anything. It very often is from the trash.
So you’re saying you’re more hobo than gear nerd?
Yeah, unless you consider that I’m more of a gear nerd for customizing DIY instruments from acoustic objects. It all comes down to trying to find instruments that you feel connected to.
Speaking of being a hobo, at this point you’re a professional musician. What was that moment like when you realized you didn’t have to work anymore?
The last proper job I had was still related to music, as I was teaching drums. Eventually I realized it took up too much energy from actually performing and practicing, so I knew I had to quit. It’s been a dream to be able to customize my own rhythm of life.
You’ve lived for a while in Portugal, most recently Berlin, and you’ve now returned to Helsinki. Do you find the music you write is affected by your surroundings?
Definitely. There are many factors in life that affect this, not just physical surroundings, but everything in between. At the moment, I can feel that Helsinki as a city is much smaller and cozier, the social circles are smaller and I feel that it also is much more intense. The rhythm of life is more intense, because of the smallness. So you can’t avoid the fast pace of people’s lives. While in Berlin you have this dominating way of life, where people are just calmly drifting. You don’t feel this pressure to work. In Helsinki, particularly in the center, it’s the opposite. Everybody is running around, focusing on their careers, etc.
So you would say you’re more productive in Helsinki?
Yeah, I think one of the reasons I moved back here was to feel this pressure to work more when I’m not touring. Basically just to be able to practice and be more involved in a music scene. That has been fulfilled for me quickly. I found a studio 100 meters from my house, so I can play whenever I want! I definitely feel that right now, this is the perfect place for me to work and focus. Today I noticed for the first time that it’s finally autumn, the darkness and cold have started to affect me. This puts me in a different spot for creating music, but overall it’s good creative energy. I feel like I’m part of a nice family here in Helsinki.
Between your solo stuff and Liima, how does your writing process differ? What’s your recipe for a banger?
Heh, with Liima our recipe is to record our jam sessions, then listen back through them for the cool parts. “Let’s isolate this bit, and make it the ‘A part’, or whatever.” Then we’ll jam off that to try to make a ‘B part.’ Eventually we’ll have a B and then build from there. Maybe a week later we’ll have a version of that song, as well as countless other partial songs. This is all part of a sort of intensive residency, where at the end of 5 days we’ll have 5 songs. So yeah, there’s no real recipe. Just kind of following our intuition and passing the ball back and forth. We have a really good working chemistry and really trust each other, which is important.
Do you do trust falls?
And what can we expect from you at A Happening?
For this, I’ll be exploring alternative ways of presenting my music. For me, the way I record and perform are always entirely different. I want to experiment with the concept of concert duration. Like how long a concert lasts, and how the artist and audience are brought together. I want to break this traditional form of having a band on stage and having the audience segregated. I plan to challenge this.
So everyone will get their own maraca or drum stick?
Yes! And you’ll all get to spank me.
Before A Happening Festival, you’ll be coming to Berlin while supporting Grizzly Bear on their upcoming European tour. Is this your most high-profile tour?
Yeah, these will definitely be the biggest venues Liima has played in. I’m really looking forward to playing for this many people. It’s a great opportunity for us to perform our new material and also to play in some cool spaces. Like Olympia in Paris, for example, will be amazing.
I’ll wrap this up with our most pressing question: Have you ever considered collaborating with Russian pop sensation t.A.T.u.?
They haven’t returned my calls.
Photos and words by Gabriel Dunn for Schmutz.
A Happening Festival takes place on Saturday, November 4th. If you just can’t wait, you can catch Tatu with Liima, playing in Berlin Thursday, October 12th in support of Grizzly Bear.