Timo Kaukolampi: Slave to the grind
With his countless music projects – including his current band K-X-P, Timo Kaukolampi has been an influential artist in the Finnish music scene since the late 1980s. But a couple of years ago he managed to reinvent himself as a musician and is now finally getting the recognition he deserves. We interview the pioneering electronic musician, whose soundtrack for the dance piece "Station to Station to Station" has just been released.
"I don't think I'm overburdened", Timo Kaukolampi says as I try to list the projects he's been involved with in the past couple of years. He explains how minimalistic his life has become after he decided to quit alcohol over ten years ago.
"After a tour I'll rest for one day and then I hit the studio. This can sound rough but I enjoy it. Then again I could be more social, but... I'm in a good place with my career now", he pauses with a certainty in his voice.
Kaukolampi hasn't always felt this way. He said that touring with his band K-X-P was almost unbearable between 2010–2014. According to Kaukolampi, nobody seemed to care about them. Even in the underground they were the outsiders.
We’re too harsh for the fans of psychedelic rock and too rock’n’roll for the techno scene
"The world of music revolves around different scenes and K-X-P doesn't fit in any of those. We’re too harsh for the fans of psychedelic rock and too rock’n’roll for the techno scene. So taking K-X-P abroad has been a challenging thing to do."
But K-X-P kept going on and played their brand of motorik space rave. Album by album and gig by gig they turned heads one by one. K-X-P:s fifth album, IV (counting III Part I and III Part II as separate albums), was released in May 2019 and they toured once again in Europe.
"We have a good thing going on now. We still can't be pigeonholed but nowadays K-X-P really makes me happy."
What's my scene?
Kaukolampi now realizes his first solo album, 1 (2017), was the turning point of his career so far. The Nordic Music Prize nominated album was years in the making and Kaukolampi believed that this release would finally make him part of some scene, like cosmic disco, ambient or electro. Three decades into making music and he still wanted to be part of something rather than an eternal outcast.
"When the album was shaping up and I sent some demos to people, I soon started to understand I've yet again made something that doesn't belong in any existing scene. I felt deep sorrow."
I've yet again made something that doesn't belong in any existing scene.
Sorrow turned into joy when he figured that this was exactly the point of his own artistry.
"I reinvented and found myself as a musician. I started building this world of my own, which is both wonderful and interesting. I stopped worrying about proving myself to anyone and giving a damn about any possible expectations – and suddenly everything was simple and easy!"
The soundtracks of his life
When Kaukolampi found himself as a musician, the world followed. He and his longtime working partner Tuomo Puranen (also a member of K-X-P and Op:l Bastards, another one of Kaukolampi's bands) were commissioned to compose the score for Euthanizer (2017). They did, and won the coveted Jussi Award, Finland's premier film industry recognition, for the best music.
After that the duo composed the score for Maria's Paradise (2019), a movie about a Finnish cult leader. The film’s director Zaida Bergroth wanted to use Kaukolampi's whole solo album as the score and even played the composers’ music on set to inspire the actors.
I think we sent the tv people something like 300 demos. I understand that's way too much.
Right now Kaukolampi is counting days to submit the score to a tv-series called White Wall. It's a co-production by the broadcasting companies of Finland and Sweden, and it's one of the most expensive tv-series ever made in Finland. It’s a story about building the world's largest nuclear waste site in an abandoned mine – and of course things don't go as expected. White Wall gets its tv premiere in the fall of 2020 and no doubt Kaukolampi and Puranen’s dystopic dark synth sounds will feel like at home in it.
"To be honest we kind of acted a bit stupidly. It was our first television series and the timeline is so vast, I think we sent the tv people something like 300 demos. I understand that's way too much. Nobody has the time to listen to that. We were just grinding for a year."
Grinding for minimalism
Kaukolampi explains that the more material he has, the easier it is to reach the idea of minimalism. He tells me that he already has about 50 songs worth of material for his next solo album, but he still plans on "grinding" some more.
Not everything has been easy. Earlier this year, dancer Mira Kautto commissioned Kaukolampi to compose music for her solo performance Station to Station to Station. They started working together on the piece, improvising, jamming – and even switching roles.
"That was horrifying! I didn't have any kind of relationship with my body in that context. It wasn't a beautiful process but I overcame the embarrassment. I learned from Mira, that if nobody is recording, even the ugliest of dances stops existing when it ends. What an outstanding insight."
Kaukolampi felt that they were stuck for months and not even close to a breakthrough. Then he came up with the idea of counting the beats-per-minute (bpm) of all the songs Kautto had danced to in her earlier pieces.
"I should have done that more quickly”, he sighs. “I found out that I'd been operating with way too fast tempos and had to slow down."
If nobody is recording, even the ugliest of dances stops existing when it ends.
The dark and oppressive music of Station to Station to Station was practically composed during the following night, as Kaukolampi jammed until the morning with his headphones on. And even if the dance has ended, the music continues living its own life. The Euthanizer soundtrack is already sold out on vinyl, the score to Maria's Paradise will be released in early 2020 and Station to Station to Station is out now on Svart Records.
"I know this sounds corny, but vinyl records are like canvases to me: when I get to hold it in my hands, the case is closed."
Time to move on to the next project.