Esa Ruoho, who records ambient and electronica under both his own name and the probably better-known alias of Lackluster, has become a familiar face in Dublin since moving here from Helsinki recently. We got a chance to ask him a few questions about this 'n' that during the weekend of May 28th, and here are his responses...
Anorak: Why did you decide to move to Ireland, and how do you like it so far?
Esa Ruoho: Mostly to get away from the rut that is 24/7 ADSL. I couldn't get anything done and would spend most time bickering about anything and everything. It's only been semisuccesful, I still end up bickering with people, even if it might be 30 minutes to an hour online at an internet cafe. I also wanted to get away from my Helsinki apartment of 16 years; the only parts of that I haven't done trax in being the toilet and the balcony. Apart from being (relatively) netless I also wanted time to do trax in relative solitude. The city is pretty much like any city, too noisy/crowded/overwhelming, but there seems to be a lot of green to see once one ventures out. I've been taken to some shockingly lush places here. We're hoping to eventually move away from Dublin downtown and get to the countryside --cheaper rent too.
A: What's your general impression of the Dublin electronic music scene?
ER: There aren't really club-listings magazines in Helsinki, there are, but this place is exploding compared to what's going on there, it's been getting better, but take a look at any of the weekly/biweekly mags you've got here; seems to be an endless amount of gigs and DJ sets, high-profile names too. Not really going out means that I've missed most of them but it's gratifying to be able to go out and see, for example, Jamie Lidell play, whereas almost none of the Warp/Rephlex crew (apart from Brothomstates/Astrobotnia, of course) perform in Finland, ever. I'm going to try and catch a few others, eventually, as it's more a case of "when are they coming" than "are they ever going to get booked??" In fact, I've been thinking of tormenting a few friends by sending them a few of these mags because, at least to me, the amount of stuff that's happening here is nothing short of incredible. You lot are pampered around here, and that's an understatement, when mentioning to "electronica".
A: Are there any producers or live acts in Dublin that interest you, or that have impressed you so far?
ER: Having caught Karl Him at Mor, and again yesterday at Ballroom of Romance, I'd have to say he's one of THE sounds for me. I didn't know people did that live, and the calm that's in his performances is shocking. His sounds and harmonies really strike a chord in me. Hearing (The Man &) The Machine at Mor was unexpected to say the least, I'd like to hear what they'll do with added instrumentation. Unfortunately, that's about it for my studies into the Dublin scene; anyone who plays on the same night as me tends to not get the full ear due to stress and nerves. Seems that there are a load of producers though, but you knew that already. It might be considered arrogance but I tend to not pay attention to anything that I could "do" too, and am more interested in something I'd never be able to do, something that really catches my attention. I'm sure I'll eventually bump into someone on a laptop (if I haven't already) who beats me to pulp sound/ideawise, but right now I'm only half-listening.
A: You still seem to be thought of as an international act when you play in Ireland, even though you live here now. Are you concerned about the possibility of overexposure here by playing more regular gigs than you had done when you were living in Finland? What's your general attitude towards live gigs, and do you like to limit the amount that you play?
ER: Yes I'm very concerned. I've been trying to do DJ sets instead of live gigs just so that I can play stuff that I've been working on here, and have time to build up more stuff to play out live. And there's the case of me kind of wanting it to be worth it too, so I surmised that doing DJ sets would be a good way to atleast do something. I'm hoping to eventually play gigs with new ingredients that haven't been played out in Dublin, to pay the rent, but I'm trying to not play myself out of material. However that's kind of what happened at Mor/Hub/Shelter/Tower in-store... I think overexposure happened around Shelter/Hub, so now I'm just happy not playing for a while. Live gigs are a real problem, nerve-wracking and any kind of feedback from the audience being transformed inside my mind into a kind of endless wave of negativity going from merely shuffling their feet because they're bored to actually being filled with hatred and wanting me to stop playing and slink away. And it's not the people who are hearing it only -- I know every single mistake and error I make and gigs to me are just an endless onslaught of putting myself down and feeling depressed. Sometimes they coalesce into something akin to liking it but even then failure is 20 seconds away. It'd be much worse with a nicotine overdose, but now that I can't think I'm getting a negative feeling due to that, it's worse in a different way. Also i've been falling out of practice due to trying to be less harsh/abrasive on my ears, and thus it might not be worth it to check it out anymore for people who have heard me at any 2 or 3 sets before. So I think that any cheering transforms into jeering. It'll have to be a really happy crowd to take me away from my negative reverie.
A: You had the dancefloor hoppin' during your sets at the Mor Festival and The Shelter, but a lot of people still identify you with the downtempo electronica of "Container". Do you get frustrated at being pigeonholed like this?
ER: I'm fine with it. Most people don't realize I put out an album of ambient under my own name, and since "Container" is the only thing that they have heard, with "Wrapping"/"Showcase" only filling in the '99-'01 hole, I can't fault them for expecting something to relax to. I try to show newer sides of me during DJ sets, but it doesn't necessarily gel. I'm still a long way from actually putting out new albums, so it's fine. Also, what people hear during gigs isn't necessarily what ends up on records, for it is far easier to do a meaty beat than to work out a track that captures what happens during gigs. I wish. Sometimes I just go and program beats especially for gigs, and that can end up misleading people into thinking that the next few released tracks are going to be proper stomps as opposed to trickle.
A: Your forthcoming Psychonavigation release consists of remixes you've done over the past few years. Do you get approached by other producers to remix certain tracks, or do you tend to pick the artists yourself?
ER: Out of 11 artists on the CD, 4 asked for a remix, I told 5 that I'd be remixing them, and a close friend got me the parts for Korpi Ensemble. And then there was the Global Goon competition #2, which I took part in. Out of the 11, I got a fee for 1, so it's not like I sit around and labels get in touch for remixes and I pay the rent with that, unfortunately. Lately Alder+Elius wanted a remix, I've been trying to make that happen.
A: According to your website ( http://www.lackluster.org ), you've got quite a lot of upcoming releases. Are there any in particular that you are excited about?
ER: One of the reasons why "Remix_Selection" got compiled was for it to act as a kind of calling-card for people who might be hesitant to ask me to remix them, based on having heard "Container" only, so in a way, I'm slightly interested in seeing how it will be received, as it is the newest stuff that anyone has heard. But it kind of grates me that I cannot seem to get '02-'04 stuff out no matter how much I try, so the real excitement is trying to secure a label to release my forthcoming LP called EP. I recently scrapped the actual LL "album" (locked down the tracklisting back in 2003) based on feedback from two labels, which still kind of hurts... Sometimes it feels like the only way to get stuff out is to release it as mp3s.
A: In the Discography section of your website, you have listed "From the Shelves of" as being ready for release in 2009. Is there a story behind this, or is it that you don't think the world will be ready for it until then? :)
ER: Yeah that's a proper one. Originally, back in 2001, I played 4 tracks to a few friends, and removed 2 of the tracks due to them being iffy. Then the 2 remaining were mastered, and it was supposed to come out as a 12", artwork was being sorted out, around Nov'01. The name was because they had already been shelved and cancelled, and I wasn't too sure if they were any (good) anymore. Then I started having cold feet and ended up having a decent falling-out with them, they wanted to release the 2 tracks but I really wasn't sure anymore, thinking I could do better, etc. Nothing happened for ages, then this year I played the tracks again, DJed both of them at Undercurrent, and asked if the label would still be interested in releasing them both, they said yeah, but on a 7"... The B-side track is 11 minutes long, so now I'm just waiting for them to either try and press it on a 7" or decide that they can afford to do a 12". Originally it was supposed to be the first you-honey record, but that whole project is defunct, they both sound like LL to me, so why bother. I'm hoping it'll be out before summer '05 -- it would've been out 2 years ago if I hadn't got cold feet. I have a habit of getting into trouble when it comes to knowing if a track is worth it or not, some tracks I really want to release due to personal preference never seem to find people who want to release them, and some stuff I'm not sure on seems to come out whether I want it or not, and I just don't know. Some people have that mirror on their wall that tells them they're beautiful, I've got a mirror inside me, telling every track off and nudging them to the brink of being deleted (but not quite). So yeah, 2009 is just a made-up releasedate. When Blamstrain was coding my site, I didn't realize that a "TBC" would be more suitable than a made-up releasedate.