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Interview with: NEMESIS
Date: April 26 2009


The Imaginary Realms of Contemporary Finnish Electronics: an interview with Ami Hassinen of Nemesis

(photo copyright Jaana Torikka)

Ami, how was Nemesis founded anyway? Were the members themselves already composing electronic music on your own before that?
The band was originally formed by me and Jyrki Kastman. We were schoolboys in our hometown Kokkola, Finland, and we got to know each other because there was no one else in our circles that would have any interest in electronic music.
I was playing bass guitar in local bands, mainly psychedelic rock, and Jyrki was an Eno-like experimentalist, who constructed his own gadgets from radios and home organ/keyboards...often destroying them in the process. As we were chatting now and then, we found that we had mutual interests in music and creative strategies. So we decided to form a project of sorts, to see what we could do with our combined ideas. One has to understand that the pop music world was especially boring at the time, we’re talking about the late 80´s here. So we were very happy to go our own way...

Over time it became so interesting, especially when we bought more synths next to the trusty Micromoog I had bought just before Nemesis started. So no wonder that eventually it turned to be the main project for me and Jyrki. At the start it was just a diversion and relaxing pastime, but soon we saw that this was our own thing...the synth music of the time was rather dismal and rigid, so we were happy to search for ideas from the 60´s and 70´s and from the more serious brand of heavy experimentalism...and by the mid 90´s we were perhaps the main ambient band in Finland. There were not many around in those days, I must add...

Joni Virtanen joined the band in early 2001. He’s an accomplished synth musician in his own right when he joined us. But he had gone very much through the same musical path as us, so it was a very natural transformation from duo to trio.

The band has released a nice list of releases over the years, both studio and live. Can you give a proper description of them, how they differ from each other in music, approach, concept etc.

Our debut album "Xcelsior" was a very good selection of all the stuff we had tried up until then. But the final outcome was probably a bit too sophisticated and clean, when compared to our live-sound at the time. We were probably a bit oversensitive to the suggestions of the record label at the time and the album is probably a bit too "nice" for my current taste. But it was a very good album, although at the time it was criticised for not being fashionable enough...not enough techno. This might be the reason why it still sounds very fresh today!

The second album "Sky Archeology" was a different matter, and many people regard it as our best. It was clearly more retro and rather psychedelic oriented as well. This is because we had made another album called "Cyberiad" just before that. We were in the middle of negotiations with labels and we decided to make a limited release on our own. "Cyberiad" was a big success and on "Sky Archeology" we elaborated on what we had learned making it. It’s outcome was much wilder and closer to our live sound. The clear nods to the 70´s synth prog were widely noticed as at the time it was pretty rare thing to do and acknowledge...

After that, Joni Virtanen joined the band and his first performances with us were part of the next semi-official album "Music for Earports". It was our excursion to the dark ambiences and more improvised strategies. It got good reviews, as most of our releases, and was actually rather close to the stuff we made in the early days of Nemesis.

"Xtempora" was a double album, and in my opinion our best, as it shows all the sides we have gone through. The improvised bits are probably the best we’ve ever done and the whole album really flows.

The "Live Archive" series was a stop-gap release to keep our name in the light, because our next studio album with a new Norwegian label was delayed after being delayed...too many times! The series give a very good impression of our live work, and as a trio of albums, I am very happy with them. Almost all the stuff is non-album material and proves that we have actually made a huge bunch of music over the years. I like them a lot, because they show what we are capable of on stage, without overdubs...

Our third, "proper" studio album "Gigaherz" was actually composed in the late 90´s, re-recorded in 2002-2003. It was originally planned for release in 1997, and then in 2003 for a second time, but we sincerely hope it will released somewhere this year.
"Gigaherz" is a rather heavy album, containing some very strong material indeed. There’s e.g. the title track (a live favourite since the mid 90´s) and the 38-minute piece "Evolution Suite". The latter revisits some of the themes already included in the early commissioned work for the Finnish radio 1996.
It’s too bad this "long-lost-album" has been delayed so many times, but it is not up to us.

The music business is now in turmoil as we all know, and the label has formulated new business strategies as well. But it is out of our hands. It will be released when it will be released, and we have been unable to release any new music as Nemesis before the album is out...
This brings me to the main reason why I made a solo album under the moniker "Ashen Simian" to fill the gap. As Nemesis we also recorded some new material now and then, and there is a lot of material waiting to be released...

In addition, there was also a special album called "Kaiku" in 2003, which was a soundtrack album to photo’s of Jyrki Portin. Sonically, it was a rather jazzy, ambient excursion and we were joined by woodwind player Marko Portin during the sessions. Too bad that the album was just a limited edition of 300 copies, of which most of it went to people who knew next to nothing about electronic music, or music in generaI might say...

What made the band decide to make Joni Virtanen an official third member to the band? What is there to tell about his musical background?
He joined us to help with the concert performances. We had used Jarkko Lahti from the excellent ambient band Rihmasto as a "line-up filler" as we liked the trio concept on stage. It made the improvisation more interesting. But he moved to Helsinki and we needed a new musician to help out. So Joni was probably the only one we knew in Kokkola, so he was a natural choice. Fortunately he was so good, that he has been a third part of the line-up since. He has also composed some great material for Nemesis. All of this is still in the archives, waiting for the "Gigaherz" to open the floodgates

Nemesis also did a few collaborations until now. What is there to tell about them?
As said previously, there were those line-up additions of Jarkko Lahti and later Joni Virtanen. Then there was the Kaiku line-up with Marko Portin, who is actually quite a well known musician in Finland, as he has played on some top-ten albums and with classic orchestras as well.

On a few occasions, we have jammed with other musicians at gigs and mostly it has been good fun. For example, there were the ambient big band with Rihmasto and friends at the huge Koneisto festival in 2000, with Shankara (Indian music) and with Sigma, another current and good Finnish electronic combo.

In regard to collaborations on albums, there have been with some with net friends mostly. There’s the album "New Worlds by Design" by Spirits Burning aka Don Falcone, the German poet/multimedia artist Knut Gerwers and the album "The Infinity Room" by US-synthesist Paul Ellis. All have been realised by swapping material on tapes, overdubbing and sending them back and forth. It’s a very cool and entertaining activity. Personally, I’ve been guest-musician on Ozone Player´s cd "Orange Apples", which was quite an album! You better hear it yourself, as I feel unable to describe it thoroughly. But it’s great indeed...

Ami, Nemesis is also known as quite a regular live-act. How do you prepare for these performances, as improvisation seems a key word in these situations…
At the start of our career, we used tapes and lots of sequenced structures. That was mainly because there was just us two guys, Jyrki and me. We also lacked musical self-esteem and probably weren’t that great synth players.
But over the years, we drifted toward almost total improvisation, it was because we liked the risks involved and the results seemed to be often excellent. Nowadays, it’s a hybrid between those two approaches. It is fairer to the audiences, because it’s better to have the best of two worlds. Improvisations are often more interesting to musicians than to listeners.

What kind of gear do you guys use, which are particularly special or indispensable for the "Nemesis-sound"
Well, we use and actually have always used a mixture of old and new instruments. We all do everything in the studio, but on stage I’m charge of the sequences and I play guitar and keys whenever I get the chance. Jyrki plays totally real-time, with no sync or midi. He plays almost exclusively analogue gear. Joni plays samples and textures in real-time and a few solos here and there.
We all, especially me, are kept rather busy during these live shows, but that’s what makes it interesting. Sometimes, it’s like working on conveyer belt, anything can happen. We like contrasts and try to keep it that way...

Are their any specific bands, composers and albums that have influenced the music of Nemesis in general or certain releases of the group in particular ?
All the early synth music from the 70´s especially, also some techno from the 90´s. Jyrki likes to listen to world music to some extent, Joni likes acoustic sounds and music with folk elements. I myself like psychedelic prog and kraut rock in general. We all like a sort of dreamy prog, where the mood is more important than musical dexterity...

Back in 1987, Nemesis was the first electronic music group from Finland. What has changed since then, is there any electronic music scene ever developed?
What was a rarity in 80´s is totally commonsense nowadays. Basically, anyone with a computer and a soundcard can now start to making music. There simply is too much stuff today. There’s certainly more good music made today than has been made before. But finding your way to it harder that ever.

The great communal experiences are gone, so it’s more like hobby musicians playing to other hobby musicians. And it’s very hard, not to say almost impossible, to make a living with e-music today.
As far as Nemesis is concerned, I am happy that we started so early, because we had to learn everything the hard way and with great effort. It is much harder to find your own sound when everything is available as plug-and-play and preset sounds.

Making electronic music is the standard today. It’s all around us, like it or not. Suddenly everything is possible and therefore it all isn’t so interesting anymore. Personally, I hope that a sort of "less-is-more" philosophy takes over the music world sooner or later, as we could do with more substance and feeling, instead of industry standard sequencing and rhythms...

Do you guys have any new music in the works, will there be any more archival releases, what other plans and projects for Nemesis lie ahead?
As said before, our hands are contractually tied until the release of "Gigaherz", so things will move ahead after that. We have made music for over 20 years, so I do not think we know how to stop anymore……..

Anything else you'd like to tell?
Have a nice summer and listen to the birds!!!


* Xcelsior (1994)
* Cyberiad (1998; re-released in 2000, remixed and remastered)
* Sky Archeology (1999)
* Music for Earports (2001)
* Kaiku (2002)
* XTempora (2005)
* Live Archive 1995-2001(2006)
* Stereofields Forever (Live Archive Vol. 2 1997-2004)(2007)
* Trajectory of Sound (Live Archive Vol. 3 1997-2006)(2007)
* Gigahertz (previously unreleased)


© Bert Strolenberg

Artist Date of interview Description
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NEIL, MICHAEL July 8 2010 The lives and times of a truly visionary artist: an interview with Michael Neil
NEMESIS April 26 2009 The Imaginary Realms of Contemporary Finnish Electronics: an interview with Ami Hassinen of Nemesis
NODE September 24 2010 A passion for vintage technology and extreme electronic atmospheres: an interview with Ed Buller & Dave Bessell of Node.
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