FINNS AND 'SONIC
Stephen Dalton, NME 4 November 1995
Welcome to Finland, kingdom of extremity. Nearly twice as big as Britain but with fewer inhabitants than London, Europe's most northerly outpost is a land of deep-freeze winters and 24-hour daylight, of century-long wars with Sweden on one border and Russia on the other. No wonder their pop charts creak with rubbish rockabilly bands and their clubs throb to the screamingly extreme techno of PANASONIC.
According to the Lonely Planet Guide to Finland, natives of ancient city of Turku are proud, cool and fond of scrap. It's anyone's guess if Turku residents Panasonic are useful with their fists, but they're certainly cooler than Lappland at Christmas time. Huddled into a grubby East End pub, wringing an interview out of Mika Vainio, Ilpo Väisänen and Sami Salo is like squeezing vodka from three particularly stubborn stones. At a funeral.
So why these reckless brothers grim name themselves after a famous electronics giant?
"The word describes our music well," growls Ilpo, a strapping ice warrior with a voice so fathomlessly deep he sounds like his batteries are running flat. "It means 'sound everything'."
Have Panasonic's corporate lawyers been in contact yet?
"Not yet, but we are waiting," deadpans Mika. "Something's going to happen. If we are lucky, maybe they will want to support us..."
Yeah, right. Jointly released on hip Finnish label Sähkö and Paul Smith's uncompromising Blast First imprint, Panasonic's fantastic first album 'Vakio' mixes ultra-minimal electronic fuzz with brainmelting distortion overload. Its scarily extreme edge fuels sinister rumours that the trio once discovered a frequency which empties human bowels by sheer force.
"I don't know where that rumour came from," scowls Mika. "Maybe it has happened to someone, but it is nothing what we do for purpose."
So, no messy trouser-related accidents in the studio?
"No," barks Ilpo. Although they make a point of naming their tunes in Finnish, Panasonic reckon their music offers few clues to their nationality. A typical Finn, claims Mika, is a "drunken redneck, likes ice hockey, gets drunk every weekend". Finnish humour, Ilpo adds, is "like for a very small group, joking for themselves, and also a little bit ironic."
Are Panasonic perhaps some complex private joke at the expense of non-Finnish techno fans everywhere.
"I wouldn't say it's a joke, but there's a lot of humour in the music," nods Mika sternly.
"But we don't tell it's humour or not, of course," grunts Ilpo. "It's private."
Bloody hell. When was the last time Panasonic collapsed in bowel-flushing mirth at one of their own jokes?
"I don't remember," sighs Ilpo after an arctic silence lasting several centuries.
"Oh, when we had this self-made big subtone thing which is seven metres long, a big plastic tube and inside it a big box with many loudspeakers on it which makes the tube vibrate at very low frequencies. Our studio is connected to a sauna, and we all went in the small sauna room and it was shaking. We were laughing like mad, it was really crazy... "
Ahem. Obviously, Finnish humour loses a lot in translation. Fortunately, the music doesn't.
* Panasonic play Sheffield University with Autechre on Wednesday, November 1. Plus! Watch out for their planned FREE outdoor show in central London later this week. For details call 0181 960 9529.
Copyright © 1995 NME
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