A chat with Suski
As a university student in her native Finland, Susanna Nuutinen found the perfect setup to hone her skills. Susanna, also known by her artist name Suski, would regularly visit the basement of the university’s student organisation alone to practice DJing and to familiarise herself with the equipment.
“Practicing alone is important for giving yourself the feeling and security that you can do it. I had to learn how to set up the gear with the sound system, to plug in the CDJs and mixers. I went there alone and practiced often. This was maybe the highlight of my studies,” she says.
Those solitary sessions spent learning her craft paid off: Suski is now a fixture of Helsinki’s vibrant electronic scene and a regular at some of the city’s best known venues including Post Bar, Kaiku and Ääniwalli. Following on from her recent Patterns of Perception 65, we spoke about her path to DJing, getting over the nerves and the dynamics of her beloved Helsinki scene.
Let’s start at the beginning: how long have you been djing?
I’ve been DJing since 2012. Actually New Years was my first DJ gig. I had been travelling and had this realisation that everything in life is possible, so when a friend invited me, I thought I could return to play at that party. That kind of kickstarted the whole thing. I played in the lobby so it was a pretty easy going gig but I was still nervous as hell.
Do you remember what inspired you to start? What keeps you going?
Before I started, I was kind of nervous about whether I would have everything to give in terms of playing music. But the more I started to dig into it, or to dig into detail, I realised there was way too much music to explore to be nervous about that. It’s exciting and gives me joy and love until today and hopefully much more in the future.
For me, it’s the combination of being in the moment and really mastering it. It’s like a symphony orchestra. And it’s the interactive element with the dancers, audience, staff. I still have these moments where I look nervously to the audience to check how they’re feeling, and then you see the smiles of the crowd and you’re smiling. It’s this transforming of energy and feeling.
For me playing is at times the thing that I receive the most energy out of but you also give a lot of energy. You can feel so energised for a long time after a really good gig.
Do you still get nervous when you play?
I’m not so nervous about the technical side anymore, or I don’t have to be, but it has taken a lot of practice and hard work to get to that point. I think the only thing that has helped me to get to that point is that I have done a lot of gigs. It’s a whole different thing to jam or practice at home, compared to playing at the club, or even an underground location where the technical side is not necessarily top-notch.
At the start when I would make even just one minor mistake in a gig, I just wanted to go low behind the table. I was so nervous and so worried. I felt like that one mistake, or few mistakes, ruined my gig. It was nerve-wracking but I have overcome that. Many of my heroes and artists who play almost every weekend, I hear them also making mistakes. You realise that it’s just beautiful and that’s just part of the thing. Especially if you play vinyl, which is a much more vivid thing to play than MP3s.
It must have felt pretty amazing to realise you’d gotten past that nervousness and self-consciousness.
Nervousness can still be there but I don’t have to be so worried anymore. That feels great and it gives me a lot of balance and room to explore, to give myself room to play. To dance more. To have fun! When you have a lot of fun, you notice that transfers to the audience too.
How would you describe your sound to someone who hasn’t heard you play before?
It’s versatile. If I have three gigs in one week, I love to explore different kinds of music for each gig so that they don’t sound the same. Of course it’s about the time and place, in terms of the type of music that will be played. For example, a sunny terrace gig affects the music selection very much compared to a club environment at peak time.
I’m not that big a fan of dropping genres, though I sometimes have this crisis about whether I should be more focused on one sound and make that kind of my trademark. But I cannot do that; I love to explore different genres within one gig even.
The baseline of my sound would be house, techno and minimal, but still I don’t want to be defined by those. Music is constant exploration and it always depends where that journey will go.
Are there other common elements to your sound or something in particular you look for in the music you select?
There is almost always this dub influence – almost like a cat prowling. And I love these kinds of dreamy landscapes. Those would be my things that always come around in the music that I like. It’s this deepness and this weirdness. I love to make mixes that include this sense of inner trip. Still, they can be danceable, but there’s this weird twist.
Tell us a bit about the mix for Patterns of Perception. How was it recorded?
It was recorded in July in Post Bar in Helsinki. They were really kind to let me record my mixes there. I had certain songs that I knew I would love to include in the mix so I started to collect them in a folder. It grew to be a very versatile selection. I was kind of worried that it would be even too versatile. But I still think that the feel of each song – no matter what genre – they still go together and form a whole. At least I hope so. I like every song a lot and they all mean a lot to me.
I also really wanted to include Finnish music. It’s always one factor, that it’s important for me to include local music and support local artists. For this mix, I included some promos that I have received from friends. I’d like to highlight tracks from Sansibar, who is really about to break globally. And there is also a forthcoming track from CRC called Downstairs.
How would you describe the scene in Helsinki at the moment?
It’s a really rich scene compared to the size of the city. The quality here is amazing, in terms of the venues and the people.
What do you think is the reason for that? Why do you think it’s so rich despite its size?
Maybe it’s this kind of Finn mentality of doing things with care and professionalism, no matter what you do. That transforms into beautiful clubs, or underground venues and parties. It’s also about this family vibe of the people that belong to this. The scene has grown a lot during the last five or so years. Before there used to be a couple of big underground organisations, for example, but nowadays you have several small ones, which gives a lot of diversity and richness to the scene.
How have these last few months been for you?
As an artist, of course, I was quite sad to see many gigs getting cancelled, when you weren’t sure of how the summer would go. Usually, summer is the busiest time, you can have three or four gigs in one week. Of course for businesses and the unemployment rate in general the situation has been bad, and will continue to be bad. I know many artists who have been struggling, especially freelancers.
So it has felt weird but on the flip side, it also felt easy going. I think this situation has done good for everyone – for artists and people in general – to just kind of stop. Of course, it depends if corona has hit in your family or if someone you know has suffered from this. But I would still say in general that this break and this reset - that you kind of have to stop and to think what you have to do, and how you are doing things – can be positive. For example, with the environment. I think maybe the good thing with coronavirus has been reducing travelling, especially air travelling.
Which is a potential long term impact for the electronic scene in Helsinki and everywhere.
That’s what’s happening in Finland at the moment – you see local artists booked for venues. It’s understandable and I think it’s good. Last week, they removed almost all the restrictions from the restaurants and clubs here, so they can open until 5 o’clock. But I would say at least for now, for the rest of the summer, the lineups will be mostly local.
How did it feel for you to start playing again recently?
Of course everyone – the promoters and the clubs and everyone – is looking carefully at the situation and has a careful eye on how things go. Two weeks back I played with IDA, a Finn living in Glasgow but based in Helsinki at the moment. We were both very excited to play again. First I had a gig at Kaiku but the Post Bar gig after that was really amazing. Usually, when you enter the club it’s empty at 9.30 or 9.45. You set up and start to play music and people will come eventually but, at that time at Post Bar, it was already full of people.
The dance floor lit up really quickly, in a matter of 15 or 20 minutes. That rarely happens in Finland – people are slower to fire up with the dancing. I hope that side of things will stay.
As well as DJing, you are also a co-founder and booker for Electronic Market, a booking agency & collective for underrepresented artists in the Helsinki scene. How did this group come about?
It started off by us realising that we all had an urge to have this community around us. We are each quite strong artists or DJs in our own right, but we all felt like we were in need of a sense of trust, of community. We wanted to share our experiences and form this kind of group. We all felt like we were loners in this very much male-oriented industry.
I think in Finland there has been tremendous work done to balance the lineups with female and queer artists. We all feel like we haven’t been left out in any way and that we have been supported in a very nice way. But we sat down, we made dinner together, we prepared some delicious pad thai! And we came across this idea of having a community and network to help and support each other. That’s where it began.
We thought some of the group might just want to be artists on the roster but then everybody went straight into action mode, in terms of being part of the whole thing and giving it synergy.
You describe Electronic Market as a “community of friends and like-minded individuals” What are your goals as a collective, if you define yourselves this way?
We are a booking agency and collective – those are the main terms we’ve used so far. We want to support female and queer artists. We haven’t had many chances to book yet for our parties but when we do … of course it goes music first, but we also want to support artists who have the same values as we do.
What need or purpose does it fulfill for you personally?
I feel like if you do not have a group, like you do not belong, it’s really lonely compared to how it was before DJing. If I have weekend gigs, I don’t go anywhere to see friends and do a pre-party. I’m home alone preparing for the set. Then I go to the gig and I’m there for the whole night. You see your friends there but it’s a very different thing. You do not have this network around you. That’s what Electronic Market is about.
The booking agency part must be difficult to execute fully at the moment, but another component of your group is supporting creative collaboration and experimentation for each other. What other plans do you have as a collective?
One project we were meant to start was for this WTSUP! conference for female entrepreneurs in Lebanon. We had the idea of doing a collective sound art piece that would be interactive. The basic idea behind it would be that most of us within Electronic Market haven’t had much experience with music production. We feel that underrepresented artists haven’t been much invited to make music and produce. It’s not so common for underrepresented artists and females to get access to this invitation. This piece would have been about bringing this topic up, bringing our own experiences around this topic, and also addressing these points and having panel discussions with different artists and people on this topic. Due to the political situation in Lebanon they have maybe cancelled or postponed the event, so we haven’t gone forward with that. But that's one of our long-term goals, that we would support music production within the group.
It sounds like supporting other underrepresented and female artists to make a start with DJing or producing has become an important topic for you?
Yes, I have been a mentor in a DJ course a couple of times now. The last time I taught with Linda (Lazarov, also part of Electronic Market) actually, we talked about our experiences as a DJ, and then we went hands-on with the players. A lot of the attendees were female or underrepresented artists, so we were really happy about that. And some of those artists are also now DJing, which is amazing to see. Once you start to have that fire for DJing, you will find your way. But if you have this invitation to come and try it out, it’s much easier.
In the end, having this supportive environment is so important.
Within my group of friends and network, I don’t think anybody thinks it’s a bad thing if they see you have a lot of gigs. You get comments, wow you have a lot of gigs! But it’s more of a positive thing. The scene is really supportive here, also due to its size. I’ve felt appreciated and supported throughout my DJing career, which goes to the heart of the Finnish community and its supportiveness.
Lastly, which other Finnish artists should we keep an eye on?
There are so many! Hard to mention only a few but for example Pekko has an amazing live set. Jokki and Jimi are both one of my b2b favourites that master especially the deep minimal. I’m maybe biased to say but each Electronic Market artist has earned their places in line ups, for example Linda Lazarov takes you talentedly & trippily wherever. Trevor Deep Jr. are super talented guys both in production and dj’ing. Newhouse is the encyclopedia for house music etc.
This summer has been the rise of underground open airs around the city, so even more new up’n’coming talents will spring up from there.
Catch Suski at Hello Stranger on August 8, Ääniwalli on August 9 and Siltanen on August 25.