When we think about all the corners of the world and the various and endless drum and bass communities that they hold, it is not always Finland that springs to mind. Yet it is this small Scandinavian country that is now home to an expanding scene of drum and bass newcomers, including Helsinki-based producer, DJ Sofa.
Don’t let the cosy name mislead you – DJ Sofa, real name Kia Súmen, is coming through with a nostalgic and heavyweight bang. Her tunes are filled with 90s and early 2000s inspiration, with her love of jungle and the old-school UK sound at the heart of much of her music.
Despite only being around under this alias for a couple of years, DJ Sofa has started to rack up some pretty big releases on the likes of Midnight Sun Recordings, which is the home of her most recent release. Tracks Digital Evolution and Robot Rock are reminiscent of nineties jungle and her childhood love of The Prodigy.
She is now immersed in the new wave of Finnish drum and bass, creating tunes fit for Helsinki club nights and day raves in Bristol, but life’s not been without its challenges; at one point she even found herself homeless. We spoke to Kia about the world of drum and bass across the North Sea, her life, her inspirations and some upcoming releases.
How have you been in this last year? What’s it been like over in Finland?
There hasn’t been any raves, events or gigs at all for god knows how long. I have been pretty much just stuck at home making music and spending time with my family and that’s about it! It has been hard but also good to focus on music and learn how to live in boredom.
When UK ravers think of drum and bass, many probably don’t think of Finland as a home for D&B – what is the scene like over there?
Well the scene is pretty small, I guess. I do not have much of an experience being in the scene for too long because I used to live in central Finland in a pretty small city, where there was only a handful of people organising events or making drum and bass. So far everyone has been really welcoming and warm. They have their hearts in the right place and I think it’s a really tight knit community. It was really easy for me to get in and meet new people and they are really helpful. I have only been producing music with this alias for maybe two or three years as I used to make a lot of different music.
Obviously, you haven’t been around for too long and it’s a small scene – have you managed to play any club nights at all yet?
Back when I was in central Finland I used to play some gigs, but in Helsinki I have not yet played in a club. I have played in squats and small parties here and there, but for a long time I have not really been playing shows – I’ve just been focusing on producing.
Is it something you’re looking forward to doing?
Yeah, I feel like I’m gathering my strengths for it. I think it has been good to be laid back about playing shows and now I have a lot of material that I can actually play when I go out and be satisfied with it.
Is there a specific style or influence out there in Finland that dominates?
I feel like there is not really one style, I think everyone just plays what they want to play. I have been talking with friends who think that here people are just pleased that when they go to a rave that there is drum and bass there – they don’t really care what style there is.
Tell us how you got into drum and bass then, was it the production side of things that caught your attention?
It was around six or seven years ago when I still lived at my parents’ place in central Finland. I used to organise parties at my place and we would play hip-hop and trap and drink beer. I had one friend that was really into drum and bass and his Dad actually spent a lot of time in the UK in the nineties and early 2000s going to raves and collecting drum and bass records. They had thousands of records and vinyl players at their house, so one time I went to a party and I was just hooked. I didn’t really get it before, it was like a snap of the finger type moment where I thought ‘yeah, this is the shit I want to do’.
So, it’s that one memory where you found the scene was for you?
Yeah, it happened really fast. Of course, when I was younger, I listened to a lot of different music like hip-hop, reggae, punk, hardcore and The Prodigy especially. I feel like I was listening to 90s rave music without even realising it was rave music. Listening to drum and bass and jungle as an adult, it took me back to those years when I was little and very into these influences and listening to this weird new music that I had no idea about. It was kind of nostalgic but new at the same time.
Are there any big names or figures in the Finnish scene that paved the way, or is it very fresh with newcomers?
Muffler, Physics, Fanu and Infekto to name a few are all solid producers who have been in the game for a good while, but I don’t feel that there are a lot of newcomers per se. Askel & Elere, Nosfer and Aeon four are killing it right now but there is plenty of room for newcomers in the Finnish scene.
Along the way you must’ve had some challenges trying to make it in a small scene – tell us about your journey so far.
That’s a tough question to answer. When I first got into making drum and bass in 2013-2015 and I had been producing for a few years, I had the view that I wanted to make it and be really big, playing big shows and getting lots of plays outside the country. I should have just been content with making good music and focusing on the moment and trying to get better, instead of just wanting everything now.
I then got super bummed out and depressed because I felt that I was making stuff that I didn’t like. The ideas were there, but not as good as I wanted. That led to a falling out with music, which related to other stuff happening in my life like being homeless for a while. I moved to Helsinki and became homeless and kind of lost in general. I felt like just giving up producing, which I kind of did for a while.
After that I sort of gave up those hopes of wanting to be really big and popular in the scene, which led me to feel like I was on the right track again. I just want to make better tunes time after time, and since then I have had a lot of exposure and support from everyone in the scene, which has been great.
That shows that when you’re true to yourself and make what you love, for the right reasons, people will love it and support it!
I definitely was trying too hard. It was not just about drum and bass, it was everything about music. I was trying too hard from the beginning when I should have just accepted that it was going to take me at least five years to make tunes that should be put out.
Did it help that you realised this instead of pushing yourself down the wrong path musically?
Yeah, everything happens for a reason. I have had a lot of tough times in my life but they have only made me stronger.
What’s the meaning behind the name DJ Sofa? We need to know!
I have been waiting for someone to ask me this question! My second name is Sofia, and when I was thinking of a new alias, I wanted something to kind of describe this homegrown attitude to making music. In the 90s, people had cheap equipment and they were making tunes with this cheap equipment in their mother’s basement of garage, so I wanted to reflect on that.
I also really like producing on the sofa with my headphones on – I don’t even have a studio at the moment. I have two monitors on my desk that I use when I mix down tunes, but other than that I just basically sit on the sofa making them.
It reflects very humble beginnings!
Yeah. I would like to get a studio but I just can’t afford it at the moment.
Tell us a bit about your release on Midnight Sun.
There are two tunes. The first is called Digital Evolution which is a dark 90s Metalheadz style that a lot of people have said is reminiscent of old Spirit tunes. It’s kind of a bit slower than new D&B. Like put your hood on your head and go to the rave type tune. It’s really dark and punchy and has lots of old school breaks and it sounds kind of old. It’s a homage to the dark MetalHeadz style of music. The other tune is called Robot Rock and is more of a simple Bristol jump up roller with a bass that is similar to Clipz and old Roni Size from the early 2000s maybe.
It’s nice that you’ve integrated a personal nostalgia into your production. It’s also fitting considering your entry into the world of D&B was from reminiscing on music from your childhood.
The 90s and early 2000s is my favourite era of drum and bass for sure. Nostalgia plays a very big part in my production style.
Your sound is definitely varied – are you still experimenting with what you want your sound to be, or are you content in making anything and everything?
I wouldn’t say that I am experimenting, I just like to make all kinds of jungle and drum and bass. A friend of mind recently said, ‘you know everyone spends years trying to grind to make their own sound and they spend their days trying to make that same kind of music’, but for me that is impossible. I cannot get into the mindset that I need to do things the same each time because I have a deep love for all kinds of jungle, dark stuff, old jump up, new jump up, liquid and everything.
My mind kind of hops from place to place. I might be super into one subgenre for like two weeks and then not really listen to it at all, then I’ll be hooked on another new thing for two weeks. I just get bored, even after a couple of weeks I want to do something else for a while so I can fall back in love with that style again.
What can we expect next from DJ Sofa?
A lot of different kinds of music hopefully! I have three releases coming on vinyl in the next year or so, all of which are this kind of 95/96 style jungle. They are going to be out on Da Demolition Squadron, Straight Up Breakbeat, and I’ve got a collab with Tim Reaper coming out on Future Retro. I am working on a single with Nattydub that is going to be a Bristol dancefloor single. Then I have one tune coming out on Midnight Sun Recordings on a compilation and I have this jazzy late 90s kind of drum and bass tune called Heistotron. It’s coming out on a compilation EP featuring Peshay’s remix of Trip Tease by Champagne and other goodies.
I don’t really have any big plans other than making good music, and I am finally at the point where people are kind of recognising me and asking me for tunes, so I am just waiting to see what happens. I feel like a lot of things are going to start happening soon. I have been asked by a couple of big labels for tunes already and I am just waiting and seeing what is going to happen. I am also waiting for the COVID situation to cool down so we can start having club gigs and raves again.