Baker's Dozen

Artists discuss the 13 records that shaped their lives

Pan Sonics: Mika Vainio’s Favourite Albums

Our series of articles curated by Kevin 'The Bug' Martin continues with a Baker's Dozen from Mika Vainio, solo artist and former member of Pansonic. He tells us about how the likes of Suicide, Neubauten, the Alex Harvey Band, King Crimson and more soundtracked a life of working in slaughterhouses and vegetarian restaurants

Sat in a Prenzlauer Berg café, Mika Vainio exudes the kind of intensity and inward focus that also characterizes the music he has made over his two decade career. Our conversation winds through and around the list of records, discussing his musical history and his wanderings around Europe that began long before his later fame with Pansonic and his solo work. Finland is an out-of-the-way place and is linguistically and culturally isolated from most of its surrounding countries, so it is indeed surprising that an innovator of such power as Vainio would arise from such environs. When his first Ø and Philus releases emerged on Sähkö Recordings in 1993, there was precious little on the map from his home country related to the growing European dance culture, and indeed his work as a member of Corporate 09 before his solo career began stands as some of Finland’s first recorded contributions to the techno legacy of Europe. Labelmate and occasional collaborator Jimi Tenor was for years the only other Finnish electronic musician who accrued significant fame outside of Finland, and Sähkö’s artist roster, which featured American and German artists in the mid-1990s, provides further evidence of the formative stages of the scene at this time.

If there was someone to make the break, Vainio certainly had the background and experience to do so. He had been interested in music since the mid-1970s, and his early fascination with avant-garde figures like Kraftwerk and Brian Eno led him naturally to the beginnings of industrial music. Vainio was active in Finland’s small grindcore, hardcore, and industrial scenes in the 1980s, but the increasing accessibility of electronics naturally led him back to EBM, and a deep interest in free jazz, improvisation, modern composition, and various experimental musics meant when he found his way into techno in the early 1990s, the results were never going to be the same as for those who followed a more conventional path. Parallels could be drawn to Mick Harris’ Scorn and Lull projects and his techno explorations under his Monrella alias, but Vainio’s work arrived essentially fully formed, and his sound remains instantaneously recognizable to this day. Based mostly on the strength of his work, Sähkö became a feted name in techno, and after meeting Ilpo Väisänen in 1993, their work together as Pansonic quickly moved past techno to influence generations of experimental and electronic musicians.

Since these early days, there has been little looking back, and the music has continued to evolve while remaining distinctively his work. Either as member of Pansonic or solo, Vainio collaborated with many of the most influential musicians working in electronic and improvised music today, including Alan Vega of Suicide, Merzbow, FM Einheit, Charlemagne Palestine, Christian Fennesz, Keiji Haino, Kevin Drumm, and others. His more recent work has charted an increasing interest in drone and modern composition, something he has long been attracted to but which has blossomed in the past five years, and his work has moved away from the sometimes-clinical minimalism of the early solo records towards more emotive territories. Early warnings of this emerged in 2007 on Pansonic’s Katodivaihe album, which featured two tracks recorded with a cellist, and the steady shift of his music towards greater abstraction has allowed these influences to express themselves quite naturally without losing the ferocity that has defined his work since the beginning.

Kilo and Ø’s ‘Konstellaatio’, his two most recent solo efforts, provide a good idea of the range of his recent work, with the former being rooted in slow, lurching power electronics but still subsumed in atmosphere, while the latter compiles recordings of sublime ambience made between 2006 and 2013 to form one of the definitive expressions of the more subdued side of Vainio’s music. His recent collaborative albums with Stephen O’Malley, Joachim Nordwall, and Belgian cello virtuoso Arne Deforce have shown increasing interest in drone and have also seen Vainio bring out his own guitar playing, first seen on his 2011 solo record Life… It Eats You Up. As he moves further and further into improvised music and modern composition, there’s little indication that Vainio will return to the techno that initially brought him notice. His music is, like this list of albums, diverse and continually evolving; it is also extremely personal and rooted in a collection of unique life experiences that has brought him to where he stands today.

Click the photo of Mika Vainio to begin reading the list of favourite albums. Thanks to Kevin Martin for coming up with the idea and for Paul Smith for arranging the interview. The Bug’s Angels & Devils is out now

First Record

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today