Photography: Tarina Tommiska
With releases on the likes of Delta9, Soulvent, Hospital, Fokuz, Cyberfunk, Soul Deep, Midnight Sun, and Differential so far this year, it’s accurate to say Finnish duo Askel & Elere aren’t letting the universal weirdness of 2020 get in their way.
Friends since the age of 10, releasing beats together since the year of 2018, they complement each other right down to the fact that Askel (Juho) plays drums and Elere (Sainey) plays bass. And their deep take on drum & bass has been an equally complementary tonic to the challenging year, too.
Strong in the soul-soothing and escapism departments, from the heavier, pulsating creeper Envelop (on their latest Soulvent EP Glass) to the mournful bass prowls and soft strings of Space To Be Yourself (on Fokuz), each release has seen them gradually honing a distinctive shimmering, glacial signature.
It’s a signature that taps into a long national tradition of deep, often melancholic and emotionally latent drum & bass from Finland that goes back to the earliest days of the country’s scene. Following the likes of Muffler, Resound, Trisector, Samuel & Nasley, Physics and Fanu (to name a few), Askel & Elere are part of a new generation of national artists putting their ice cold stamp on the D&B map.
Fresh from dropping their most comprehensive EP to date on Soulvent – an unhurried, elegant four track adventure called Glass – and set for a release on Delta9 before 2020 is out, we called up their Helsinki HQ to find out more.
2020 is a weird one, but you guys seem to be having a good one…
Askel: For sure. Most the tunes we’ve released so far were actually written last year but it’s been great. The whole year has been amazing. We released on Med School and Hospital, neither of which we expected for a few years to come.
Elere: And getting our first vinyl release. That was a really nice feeling.
You’re back on Soulvent. That’s where it all began wasn’t it?
Askel: Yeah we love working with them. I can’t remember why we decided to go to Soulvent with our first ever demos but we did, they replied and wanted to release our music. It’s been a great relationship ever since.
Nice. You guys go right the way back to school days, right?
Elere: Yeah we’re the same age, both born in 1995.
Askel: We’ve known each other since we were 10 and our first ever collaborations were on Garage Band on my dad’s laptop.
Elere: We made a drum & bass remix of the theme of the first Super Mario Bros game.
Ha! Amazing. When did that get serious?
Askel: This round two in a way. We first tried to take this seriously in 2010 and released one collab under different names but that sizzled out quickly.
You were just 15 at the time!
Askel: Yeah, we were super young. Then we took things back up when we were at the same university. Around 2017. That’s when we started as Askel & Elere.
Elere: We made a deal to work once a week and develop ideas and see what we could do together. That became two days a week and it’s gone from there.
Elere: Mostly drum & bass, yeah.
Askel: All of our collaborations have been drum & bass so far – except a really new thing we’ve just worked on – but we come from band background so work in other genres in our own solo pursuits.
Elere: He’s a drummer, I’m a bassist and I also play piano.
Drums and bass! Were you in the same band at any point?
Elere: Yes, at one point we had an indie pop rock type of thing going on with three other friends who were involved.
I thought it was the law to have a death metal band in Finland or was that years ago?
Elere: Oh that’s still a thing here but we’ve found our own interests in music. British music influences us 90% of the time.
Askel: My number one influence was punk and I played drums in a lot of punk bands. I love the DIYness of it all.
Elere: The fierceness and loyalty of the fans, too.
Amen! So if your influences came from UK, when did you realise there was a strong community of Finnish drum & bass acts?
Askel: I’ve always loved Trisector so it’s not like we weren’t aware of local acts all the time. I actually messaged Trisector on MySpace when I was 14 and was a huge fanboy. I still am, actually. So we were aware of them but we weren’t living in Helsinki where most of the scene is. We knew their music but didn’t know them personally.
Elere: It was only last year when they started to become real people in our lives and have since become good friends. It is inspiring to be part of that now.
I wanted to ask you about something Resound said to me in another feature about Finnish drum & bass. How people often making bleak music because it’s dark and sub zero degrees for half the year. Like it’s in your DNA. Would you agree with that?
Elere: For me 100%. I steer towards melancholic music a lot. We can see it a lot here in the Finnish mainstream, too. The biggest chart and radio song this year has been BEHM – Hei rakas, which is basically something out of someone’s diary who’s suffering heavy depression. And it sounds like it, too.
Wow interesting. So there’s definitely a relationship on the music. What do you write during the summer?
Askel: Maybe not different music but I definitely write a lot more during the winter. It’s easier to get in the mood and find more inspiration from the bleaker weather.
How about writing during lockdown? Did you suffer a lot of lost gigs?
Askel: Oh for sure. All my band gigs got cancelled and all my DJ sets got cancelled so it’s been a hard time.
Elere: On top of that I was about to get a job in the field and didn’t get it due to corona. All of us have lost opportunities and had plans ruined though, haven’t we? We’ve had time to write more music, which has been a good side of it.
Has the music changed due to frustrations and pressures of current time?
Elere: I’m not sure, but I feel like we’ve taken half-conscious steps towards a more professional sound and trying to find our sound a little.
Askel: Yeah, I don’t know if it’s the pandemic or where we’re at with our music anyway but we definitely have a much clearer goal of what we want to do from the session and how it’s going work.
You’re developing a short-hand with each other. That’s the sign of a strong partnership!
Askel: Also we’ve been friends for so long we can say what we like to each other and know we won’t cause offence.
Essential! Any particular tracks where you felt you’d turned this corner on the road to a more ‘professional’ sound?
Askel: It keeps moving forward. Every time we think ‘okay we’ve nailed this’ then fast forward a few months and we’ve made something that sounds even better to us. So for me the best tracks are ones we haven’t signed yet or shown to anyone and I’m really excited about that. The Mystery City single is very dear to me, though, and this new EP on Soulvent had a lot of things we’ve not done before and ideas we’ve not tried before.
Elere: There’s a lot of hidden instrumentation in the tracks, details that make the EP for me personally.
It’s all in the details! I’m imagining that after releases on labels like Delta9 and Hospital you’ve got a lot of requests right now? It feels like a producer’s market right now, rather than a label one.
Elere: Yeah there’s definitely more interest. It’s a fun buzz. We got to takeover the Hospital Instagram recently and share whatever we were feeling or into. That’s quite crazy considering how new we are. If you’d have suggested that to me a year or two years ago it just owuldn’t have even made sense. It’s intense but in a good way.
Askel: I agree about it being a producer’s market. There is a growing amount of new artists who are quick to realise it’s their creativity and they should have control over it. They don’t have to give everything to one label or everything to Spotify, there is much more potential for creative control and owning our own rights.
Sounds like you guys are thinking about your own label! It seems like you’re at the stage where you’re just enjoying working with a lot of wicked labels, some of which probably inspired you in the first place?
Askel: We’re trying to narrow down the people we’re working with a little now. We’ve worked with some incredible labels and now we know who we like working with and who we can really trust so things are pretty good. I don’t need to think about our own label for now.
Elere: Writing music and, when we are able to again, playing it is all we want to focus on right now. That’s where we’re feeling fulfilled and inspired but who knows what we’ll do in the future.
Nice. So Juho you play drums. Sainey you play bass. Two very clear types of roles and mindsets. But how else do you complement each other?
Askel: Sainey is very good at music theory and I’m terrible! He does most of the compositions and puts the notes where they belong. He’s also great at the technical side of production. Then I can jump in and make the drums.
Elere: Juho does excel in drums but he’s also good at editing and arrangement. I tend to over-shoot projects and do too much and he tones it down so it has style. He gives the tracks vibes and swagger. So if I destroy a mix by over-doing the technical stuff he brings the flavour back.
Synergy! Next release?
Askel: There are a few things coming out which we can’t mention but we can tell you about a Delta9 release that should be out before he end of the year.
Elere: It’s a collaboration with another Finnish artist who we’ve rated and respected for many years – Nosfer. There’s another tune on the release called Pulsar which has been supported on Radio1, which is incredible. We’re really excited to drop a lot more music…