In continuation of our Artist Focus series, this month we spoke to renowned Finnish drum and bass breaksmith Fanu.
For our readers who are not familiar with you yet, please can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
My artist name is Fanu. I live in Helsinki. and I’ve been releasing drum and bass and related styles since 2003 or so. I started making electronic stuff in 1992, though. I recently kicked off a “hip hop side career” as FatGyver, too. I run a label called Lightless and sometimes I release music wherever. My Bandcamp page should give a decent picture of what I’ve done in the past decade or so, as I’m trying to have most of the worthwhile music up there.
What inspired you to get into making electronic music? Is it something you’ve always known you wanted to do?
I could go for the super corny saying, ”I didn’t choose it – it chose me”. I spent my childhood (till I was 19) in the quietest, most boring countryside town, and hearing electronic music hit me really hard in the early nineties and definitely filled a void as I had nothing else to do (in addition to skateboarding). Hip hop came into my life at the same time and influenced me a lot as well, and I think most of my stuff has a bit of aesthetics from both genres.
I got into sampling with Amiga at an early age and started messing with tunes of my own around 1992 or so, and literally from the first moments I knew that’d be something I’d like to do. Nothing really compared to the magic of making music of your own. I still find it quite magical, to be honest.
How has living in Finland influenced your work?
It’s ”always” dark and cold here. Well, in general. Like right now, mid-June, it’s raining like hell while all I’d like to do right now is go out and skate. It still hasn’t got really warm, to be honest. So I’ll use today making music once again.
Living up north was even colder and darker, and I’ve always said there’s a lot to interpret in the dark, and snow definitely puts you into a different mindstate, and it 100% did shape my imagination when I was young. I’m grateful for having always lived in Finland, as because of that most composers here tend to write this sort of deep, melancholic music. It’s the weather / climate. I can’t even think of what type of music I’d be laying down if I had been born in Brazil or something.
When writing a track, what is your creative process? (Do you program drums first? Do you sit down at a set time and say “Now I’m making a track” or spontaneously rush to your studio…)
It varies a lot. For such a long time, I used to start with a break, and you can hear it: most of my D&B tunes are known for the breakworks. When you write a strong break, you’ll sort of have to write the song around it, whereas if you start with something else, the beat may be sort of complementary.
But I’ve always considered the “vibe” important too – the emotion – so I may start with that sometimes because just laying down a deep chord will totally set the vibe for everything else you’re going to do. But if I start with “something other than a break”, I won’t always end up getting that deep with the beats. But I like switching my ways of working in many ways as it keeps it fresh.
Music – finishing songs – is work, and you often have to make yourself work even when watching a movie or going to a pub might feel like a more pleasant option, but in terms of starting a new piece, I need to have a bit of a vibe going. I easily get there by going through sounds I’ve sampled or sounds I’ve created or come up with. I’m always working on ideas and sounds, so I’ll always have material to start a song with when I feel like it. I’ve been keeping a notepad of all worthwhile ideas etc. for a while now so that leaves me a lot of mental space as I don’t have to remember anything. Mental space is key when it comes to creating music.
Can you tell us about your studio setup?
As for hardware: 17” Macbook Pro, UAD Apollo Twin, Adam A7 monitors + Sub8 sub, Moog Minitaur, Arturia Microbrute, Waldorf Blofeld, Akai s3200XL, Akai s950, E-MU Ultra 5000, Akai MPC Renaissance, Ableton Push, Soundcraft desk.
As for software: Ableton Live 9 and a ton of software. I’ll use anything, to be honest. I’m not a master of anything – other than Ableton Live, which I also give a bit of training on – but I’ll vibe off of anything and make it work. Traditionally I’ve been sampling everything that moves pretty heavily but it’s been in recent years that I’ve started using synths more, too.
What were your initial thoughts on Circle2? Are there any certain features you like in particular?
For me it’s important that it looks clear – I can work on my breaks a long-ass time using a sampler from the 90s that’s slow to use, but to be honest I don’t spend hours and hours on a synth patch. I do make my own, but I want to get them down quite quickly, and I need to be able to just rock it without having to read the manual all the time. I mean if the GUI is intimidating, it puts me off, but Circle2 did the opposite when I saw it: it’s really easy to grasp. And the modulation system is the best I’ve ever used on a synth, hands down. Honestly, the design is great – all you really need is laid out for you and all is easy to see. I also love seeing visually where the envelope and LFO are going…one of those small yet big things and it helps you set their speed etc.
All in all, it’s perfect for someone like me who wants to get their hands dirty quick. Definitely one of those I’ll whip out at an airport, come up with a dope sound quickly, and boom, I’ll write a tune around it.
To keep up to date on Fanu’s latest news follow him on Facebook, SoundCloud and Twitter.