In funny old Finland, everyone drinks Woodpecker cider. Even old grannies use mobile phones.
The most fervent dance craze is not techno, but tango. So what the hell is Mixmag doing wearing
a towel and listening to techno in a sauna? A- ha...
Writer: Dave Rimmer
Photographer: Daniel Newman
THE Finnish for "Let's have sex. Your place or mine?" is "Mennäänkö meille vai teille?" And the even more crucial phrase "Nokiastani loppui virta" means, of course, "My mobile phone has just run out of electricity." It's part of Helsinki's charm, this maddeningly difficult language. But there is one Finnish word that is common cosmopolitan currency. The word for a Finnish custom that has spread worldwide. A word that clubbers might mutter metaphorically when crammed into some ill- ventilated dive. That word is 'sauna'. So what else would you call a new Finnish dance label? And how else to launch it but with a party in a sauna? This has to be the very definition of a 'hot ticket', which is how I came to be sitting at 3am in the Helsinki room of one Rafael Rybczynski, 'Director Of International Repertoire' at the fledgling Sauna Connections label. The following night's sauna party will celebrate the release of an inaugural nine- track compilation, but tonight there's a party in Rafael's flat.
Somewhere. The flat's enormous, with long corridors disappearing murkily into the distance - so big that party noises don't penetrate as far as Rafael's chamber. The pair of us sit there talking shop, me having just arrived in this very strange town. Rafael looks like a down- at- heel sociology lecturer and seems incapable of giving a direct answer to a direct question. Any enquiry - about music, about Helsinki, about what manner of grass this is we are smoking - sends him meandering off into a labyrinth of vagueness. Before coming to Finland he worked with Dimitri From Paris and DJ Cam, but I can never get him to explain in precisely what capacity. Sure, official- looking photos of these very artists are sitting on the table between us. But then so is a Bonnie Tyler alarm clock.
The flat's apparently belongs to one Sami Hyrskylahti, a writer who spends most of his time in Russia. Sami met Rafael at the Love Parade in Berlin and gave him a copy of the CD which is now playing - 'Astra' by St Petersburg duo New Composers. Rafael waves at the speakers, currently emanating a lush and cheerful species of techno laced with some very odd Russian samples. "This," he declares, "is what brought me to Helsinki. And the women too, of course." A little laugh. "Also the architecture." Now Rafael's in partnership with a publisher called Eeropekka Rislakki and the New Composers are one of the acts on their 'Sauna Connections' compilation. As are Koneveljet, a Finnish group whose name means "brothers in machine". Rafael plays a CD by another group called RinneRadio, explaining that Koneveljet are two of this lot, plus a fellow called DJ Borzin. The RinneRadio album is called 'Finnish Ambient Techno Chant' and features a 'Joik' singer from Lapland doing weird vocal undulations. Last year RinneRadio won Finland's Best Jazz Band award. From what I've heard of Koneveljet, they play either jazzy jungle or bouncy trip hop. It all seems terribly improbable.
As we talk, stoned Finnish youth wander in and out. A woman curls up on Rafael's mattress
to relax with a philosophy book. Later, a guy in a suit stumbles in and collapses face- first
in her place. Then along comes a blonde clad only in her underwear. She cuddles up next to
the unconscious guy. Soon a kind of critical mass is achieved, with a dozen or so people
milling about. Sharing a joint with a Finn called Tommi, I become aware of a commotion
on the mattress. The scantily- clad blonde is fighting off a second male form in a tangle of
legs and arms. There's a lot of pushing and kicking before I realise the second guy is Rafael,
at whom the girl in the underwear is shouting: "Pervert! Get away from me, you pervert!"
Rafael, now on his feet, is shouting back: "Well, you asked for it!"
Half the room dissolves into a hubbub of angry recrimination. The other half takes
absolutely no notice at all.
"You know," says Tommi, gesturing approvingly at the scene around us, "Last year this apartment was voted Community Of The Year in Helsinki's City magazine."
The Towelling Inferno continues...