- Zilka Grogan
A chat with HOMI
Before the pandemic began, two members of our collective (Steve Duncan and Kim Bergstrand) went to a techno party together in Helsinki. The set that stood out from all the rest that evening was from a local artist called HOMI: in Steve’s words, his sound was delicate, detailed, percussive and psychedelic, yet with groove and power. They connected after the set and became good friends, setting the wheels in motion for the second release on the Patterns of Perception label.
More than two years later, we can still hear the similarities between that first live set and HOMI’s Välitila EP. In the lead-up to the record’s release on November 4, we caught up with HOMI to hear the story behind the record from his perspective and to explore some of his more unexpected influences – from the DIY ethos he brings into his studio space to the impact of becoming a dad not so long ago.
You can listen to previews of PTN02 on Soundcloud and pre-order your copy via Bandcamp.
Where does the story of this EP begin for you?
For this particular record, it started I'd say already two years ago, or even more. We got a studio space with my friend here in Helsinki, and I moved my production completely there. Before that I was doing music at home all the time, like in all the cracks in life: in the morning, in the afternoon and at lunch hour, really just all the time. Then I started to spend good eight to 10-hour days at the studio. Music-making and being with music were more focused on these intense bursts in the studio, so that was quite a shift.
At the same time, I changed my production. Before I didn't build a track by multi-tracking, I was jamming basically. All the instruments, synths and whatnot, were always on. When I was finished recording, I just erased everything so there's no going back. Now I started to do a multi-track recording and arrangements which evolved over time. And the arrangement process itself, it took place over time. So I started to kind of prototype tracks – I’d do 2, 3, 4 prototypes in one day – and just let them sit there for a week or so. And then I’d see what I created, and what's interesting, and continue working with those. Production-wise, that was a very big change.
What impact do you think it had on your sound or the music you were making?
It got more complex in the sense that you can imagine that if you're jamming there are limitations on what you can do: you only have a set amount of hands. So that changed things quite radically. When a track has been sitting around for a couple of weeks and you come back to it, you are maybe not interested in some elements anymore. But some are super interesting and you start to focus on those. I tried out things that I wouldn't have tried otherwise.
Also at the same time, I got interested in more fast music. Before, BPM-wise, I was usually at like 120 or 30. And nowadays, it's 140, 150. I don’t know why that happened.
Any clues about where that came from?
These tracks were the first batch in that study of faster music, which nowadays is defacto for me. There was a particular record, which was Rod Modell’s Captagon, that I was listening to. It’s very dubby stuff that’s super fast at times. It’s an absolutely amazing record, the only record that I haven't played in any DJ set. But looking forward to it, maybe one day.
Have you had a similar evolution of your sound as a DJ?
I haven't been DJing much lately and am more focused on the live. I have a background in guitar playing and live jamming, and the improvisation part is the thing that fascinates me the most. I'm most interested in music-making anyway. When you are performing live, you kind of memorise a bunch of stuff that you've created and then you improvise a set based on that. Basically, anything can happen.
It sounds like the spontaneity of playing live is what appeals to you most.
It’s absolutely the key. I'm not the guy who likes to finish tracks; I'm not the finishing type of guy. I just love making music and improvising – the finishing of a track is almost secondary or the byproduct of music-making for me. Every once in a while you have to nail things down, and that comes when you feel you have something to say. It's the moment that you say, ‘this is interesting and this is what I want people to hear’.
Music-making has also always been an escape in some sense. Music is a space where the rules and the axiomatic facts of life don't hold true anymore. You can do whatever you want. You can do anything, and it’s okay as long as you dig it.
You have some very interesting musical projects going on alongside your electronic productions, can you tell me about them?
I have been, for maybe two or three years now, practicing and playing West African music. Usually, I play the djembe and DunDuns, and rehearse the traditional songs. It’s a little bit different in the sense that in my production and music making, I am exploring things, but here I am exploring African music and trying to understand and feel what it is about. I don’t improvise so much. I try not to make my own music but get into that music, and express through that. It is an interesting avenue for me to express through something that is already created.
Then last year I started making drone metal. It’s electric guitar, which I haven’t done in a decade or longer, but I got interested in that and got sucked into it. It was listening to this album from (American experimental metal band) Sunn O))) called Life Metal. Fuck it was mindblowing. The project was bubbling for maybe two years before I decided I had something to say and started to explore that avenue.
It strikes me that these two projects show two sides of your relationship with music: studying and creating.
Yeah, the African music is completely about exploring the interest and respect for the music. It’s a tribute to it. The drone metal is the same, but I want to expand the territory or the concept of what it can be by creating new things.
I would say the difference is this: being an artist is the expression of something through your own ideas, while musicianship is expressing through an existing piece of music. In a sense, you know what you are doing. For me the artist is totally the opposite: not knowing where you are, but improvising.
Has becoming a dad had an influence on your music-making?
After becoming a dad, the musical landscape is for me even more open. Even more things are possible now when I am making music. It can be even more abstract. For the last maybe six years I have been very interested in techno and driving music that can live in a club setting. Now the interest is more focusing on explorations, where anything is possible, even more than it was before.
I also had to go through quite an identity crisis in one sense, where you really rediscover yourself. Through that kind of discovery, or rediscovery, you start to think about what’s important in music for yourself.
And during COVID also, I wasn’t going to clubs and would be a bit lost about what to do (music wise). So then I would always start to fall back to just making something and being amazed at what came out.
When was the last time you went to a gig?
The last time I went to a gig was with Samuel (van Dijk, aka VC-118A, who contributed a remix to PTN02) to see Autechre. And reflecting back after that, the music that I’m making now, well I don’t even know what it is anymore! It’s more about the shapes, timbres and whatnot, I don’t have any fixed time or anything. It’s just a mesh of sounds. Before the gig, I had been exploring those domains and acquired a SOMA Ornament sequencer. With Autechre, I took it as a sign that this is how it should feel.
So the equipment is also quite crucial to this latest evolution of your sound?
The equipment is an absolutely huge thing for me, what you can express through certain instruments. I was about to become an instrument builder, that was my childhood dream: inventing instruments that could express certain sounds. I was on that track and the music playing happened instead.
What other instruments and equipment have you made yourself?
I have always been making stuff with my hands, it could be anything. I built an electric guitar when I was maybe 15 or 16. Then it was like, ‘I can do anything with this’. Then there were keyboards and turntables, and for two-track recording I had a tape machine which I took from school, from language class. It was a kind of hacky solution and I started to do tracks with that. That was maybe 7th grade. I think in 9th grade I got a four-tracker classic tape machine and added more keyboards and turntables, and it just went from there.
I can’t believe you built an electric guitar at 15! Where do you think the drive to not just make music but also the actual instruments comes from?
I was always the guy who likes to make things with his hands, to create and build things. Somehow it felt natural. And I still create things and build things: lots of the equipment here in the studio has, even on a smaller scale, been made by me. I made these “distorters” with diodes soldered straight into the cable. Very lofi but I still use those on a daily basis. And some of the electronics like delays I created. I even built some of the studio furniture. I see the studio as an instrument itself; it’s my instrument nowadays. The ergonomics of where things are, building the table, putting stuff there: it’s very DIY. I’m constantly building and modifying things.
You’ve said that you consider yourself an artist, rather than a musician. Why is that?
I consider myself an artist because I like to perform and improvise. I improvise music and present it to others. But musicianship is just a different kind of trade where you have a very, very special relationship with an instrument. The musician, it's a profession. Many of my idols are musicians or have been musicians. I have zero interest in being a musician by making my living with music. Just making the music and sharing it with other people – like-minded people, hopefully – that's the primary goal. And I'm also so very sensitive in that I bet that if my artistic career would kind of get going, it somehow could be influenced by the attraction of making a living out of it. Then it wouldn't be very good for my music making.
What drives you as an artist these days then?
I don't know what it is. You make music and you find something very interesting and you work with it. You try to express things; it’s all about expression in the end.
HOMI’s Välitila EP is out on vinyl and digital on November 4. Pre-order your copy via Bandcamp.