Interview + Stream: Desto

Desto has been bringing Finland's ice-cold breeze to the dance ever since his 12" collab 'Low' with Tes La Rok back in 2007. Check the stream of 'No Sleep' from his EP dropping 17 March on Rwina if you need proof. We ventured into that shadowy, neurotic corner of the club, and discovered Desto's world of crusty effects, mid-90s skateboard tapes, and kalimba-laced acid with Jimi Tenor.



RBMA: I see you played a show in Amsterdam this month… tell us about Rwina, how did you guys link?

Desto: I think we initially linked up on AIM, Akkachar sent me some Terror Danjah tunes forthcoming on the label at the time. I liked the grimey hip hop flavoured sound that they were coming out with. We spoke about doing a 12" at some stage and the time was right in spring 2011. The thing with Rwina is that they're really good to work with from individual graphics to scheduling releases, I was impressed at how fast everything came together being used to 9-12 month waiting periods after signing tracks. I like it dynamic like that. Amsterdam was sick, it was good to meet other Rwina soldiers.

RBMA: What's the story behind No Sleep? How long has that been in the making? Did you make most of it at home in Helsinki?

Desto: It was all made in my kitchen/studio. I made 'No Sleep' right after 'Makowrap' which went on the first Rwina 12". It was one of those tunes I made the night before a dance just to have something fresh in the bag and that came together effortlessly. You know, when everything really falls into place. I'd just bought a cheap vintage synth from eBay and made the main melody when trying it out straight out of the box and the rest was done in a couple of hours. With all the warm minor 7th chord pad tunes around a year ago, I started missing the darker and subtly paranoia-inducing vibes that were about in the mid 2000s in grime and dubstep. The feeling that was also there in RZA's production on Mr. Meth's 'Tical' for instance. VHS tapes of Berlin train yard footage or mid-90s skateboard tapes. Sound with soul but a warped kind of soul. So I decided to try and sculpt my version of that feeling.


Raw, stripped down rhythms laden with bass.

The oldest track on the EP is 'Can't Take It' which I made early 2009. 'Shadow Sole' is - and I feel I'm stating the obvious here - a sonic study of the molecular structure of a shadow's flip side. I was listening to Hiihtopipo's 90s gangsta mixtapes when I made 'Monsters About'.

RBMA: What kind of equipment are you using to make your tracks? Did I hear mention of a Commodore 64?

Desto: I mostly use outboard for sound sources nowadays and put it together on Cubase. I love how certain lo-fi FX units sound combined with the 606 or analog synths. For instance early digital reverb can't be replicated with the polite sounds of VSTs, beauty comes in these crusty 90s boxes. I like to record things in with FX included or just program patches, record them and not save them so I'm left to deal with the results and next time I have to program a new patch. It's a kind of combination of synth programming and sample manipulation. That said I do have some favourite sounds saved that I'll put in now and again. With synths and FX, less hyped units tend to make more interesting sounds. I was using the midi-rigged Commodore 64 heavily in 2009 but right now it's waiting for me to solder in a second SID-chip to double up the polyphony.

RBMA: So you've started your own label Signal Life? What's the philosophy behind that?

Desto: I love the warm sound of vinyl so the format came naturally. We'd discussed making things from the grassroots DIY level with Teeth. We're not only releasing exactly the music that we want to, but we're also presenting it, packaging it and distributing it in the same way. Like we say, Signal Life is dedicated to upfront bass excursions and will focus on releasing a wide spectrum of music with the common denominator in the low end. Raw, stripped down rhythms laden with bass.

RBMA: Also you've been releasing on a few labels such as Rwina, Noppa, 502 Recordings… is there a strategy there? How do you choose which labels to work with?

Desto: There hasn't been much of a strategy. Tes La Rok/Trusta is an old friend and we do a radio show and a night together so it was natural. Oneman was playing a lot of my tracks before 502 kicked off, so it was through that communication that the 502 12" was born. I think it's all been down to meeting good people that I like to work with and going with that rather than sending out demos to big labels. I've always been crap at that and it's not necessarily what I want to aim at.

RBMA: Are you cutting many dubs? Can you see a middle ground between dubs and the digital music world these days?

Desto: I still cut plates at Timmion Cutting here in Helsinki. For me it's a ritual, it's just as much a sound thing as it is a feeling thing. Dubplates sound great on a big system and cutting motivates finishing a track as you don't want to spend €40 on something that's half-way there. The feeling of having new dubs ready for a dance is special and I'd like to make every chance I get to DJ special. I've been lucky to have been invited to play on a number of nights where they've invested in sound and taken care of their decks so dubplates feel right. If I finish a tune the night before a dance, or get one from someone that'll come out in three weeks time, I'll spin it off of CD, but I prefer to have dubplates and vinyl. There's good things and bad things in digitalization, for instance Bandcamp is good for giving a possibility to do things on a grassroots level. I don't mean to downplay the digital, it's just that doing things the way I do feels best for me.

RBMA: How did you link with Jimi Tenor, and how did those tracks come about? I love that combination of the oriental flute vibes and your beats.

Desto: I met Jimi in Shanghai playing on the same night for Finland's day of the Shanghai world expo. Jimi did his amazing electronic solo thing and I played records later in the night. Me and Clouds had another show in the Shelter in Shanghai and Jimi came to see us play. We hooked up with Cha Cha and had a studio session while there, and me and Jimi started having studio sessions in Helsinki after that. We've recorded a bunch of experimental stuff and are still sessioning. We've recorded Jimi's giant wooden kalimbas, run acid lines through Fender spring verb amps and whatnot. What comes out of it we'll have to wait and see, loads of stuff still waits editing.

RBMA: Did I hear a bit of Nas chopped up in one of your tracks? Is there a connection for you between hip hop and breaks with 2-step and dubstep?

Desto: It was something I added to that 'Skyline' track when it was nearly finished but still needed something. I think all the sounds you mentioned can ideally have a similar street aesthetic when done right. I grew up with hardcore, electro, hip hop, soul drum breaks, jungle and all of that so I see a lot of parallels in there.

RBMA: Are there any producers who you look to for inspiration, or do you think it's better to try and ignore whatever's happening in the current bass music climate and hone your own sound?

Desto: As a DJ I try to check out as much of the new stuff that I can (and that I can stand) and filter out the bits that fit my sets. I'll still listen to a Bok Bok, Oneman, Ben UFO or Dusk+Blackdown set on Rinse and get inspired by that one beat that you hear that is mixed in and out quickly but has that edge. It might just be a synth sound, a groove or an echo that inspires me and I'll fuse the vibe into my own production. A lot of inspiration comes from old records too. Rather than traditional sampling, I try to 'sample' musical ideas and fuse a bunch of them together to create new mutants. For instance, I feel 'Can't Take It' still sounds fresh in 2012 due to the fact that it was inspired by things that were far apart in the musical world.

RBMA: Who are the producers to watch in Helsinki right now?

Desto: Nation states are so 20th century. I've been playing Logos, Trusta, Ftct, Krampfhaft, LAS and Kowton lately for instance.

RBMA: And what's in the pipeline for you this year?

Desto: Going forward with Signal Life and keeping a constant flow of quality records coming out. Doing live sets by myself as well as with Jimi Tenor. Finding new sounds.

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