The Anglo Files is a weekly European dance music column by Billboard.com Senior Editor/Europe Chucky Thomas
NEVER MIND the trance epics of Darude and the bubblegum hip-hop of Bomfunk MCs; Finland is churning out some credible producers -- take Jori Hulkkonen for example. From humble musical beginnings on his own Lumi Records label eight years ago, rose to be snapped up by Laurent Garnier's French F-Communications imprint. He will release "When No One Is Watching", his third album for the label, on March 26. U.K. (StudioK7 will release the set in the U.S. a day later).
While hailing from northern Finland, Hulkkonen drew his earliest influences from mid-'80s Chicago/New York house and moreover, Detroit techno -- Carl Craig in particular. He became fascinated by the methodology of creating dance music ("one guy sitting in his bedroom making everything by himself") and set about sourcing home studio ideas from technical magazines. His earliest material featured on "Under Northern Ground," a four-track EP on Lumi Records (an independent label he set up with friend Ari Ruokamo).
By 1996, a restless Hulkkonen began straddling the boundaries of deep house and techno. "I was trying to look for a label who would be interested in working with an artist on a more long term basis," he says. At the time F-Communications had a respectable profile as an album-centric dance imprint. With successful LPs from St. Germaine and Laurent Garnier already under its belt, the label was a logical choice. Just two weeks after being introduced to Hulkkonen's sound, F-Comm snapped him up. That same year the label released the collection of Detroit/Chicago hybrids that formed Hulkkonen debut album, "Selkasaari Tracks."
His natural flair for the genre had the European dance community questioning the origins of this "unknown" Finnish producer. "When the first album came out, a lot of people thought it was some Chicago DJ using a pseudonym," he says. But eventually it established him as a worthy talent, which was compounded by "The Spirits Inside Me," his second F-Comm album in 1998.
Hulkkonen has also recorded under a string of aliases, including Bobby Forester and Jii Hoo (pronounced yee-ho -- Finnish for JH, his initials). Additionally he has released albums on cult Swedish techno producer Cari Lekebusch's Trainspotter's Nightmare label ("Finland: 0 points") and remixed for trendy French label Brique Rouge.
On "When No One Is Watching", Hulkkonen, a self-confessed control freak, has experimented for the first time with vocal collaborators. "I have this romantic vision about house; that it's one guy with computers and machines. I don't like the idea of having musicians come and play on my record because it's my record," he admits, "but the vocalist is the exception."
The resultant contributions from Wamdue Project's Chris Udoh and U.K. vocalist Paul Oxley are skillfully cohesive. Further contributions from fellow Finnish producer Tuomas Salmela and the vocal samples of Motown artist Willie Hutch in Hulkkonen's '97 smash, "Let Me Luv U" (which is also featured on the set), add credence to the theory that Detroit and Chicago are states of mind rather than places on a map of North America.
U.K. At WMC
The U.K. dance music community is currently preparing itself for one week of meltdown, as the Winter Music Conference (WMC) beckons all and sundry to Miami for some exclusive previews of the shape of dance music to come, plus some poolside cocktails...
Brixton production duo Mutiny (aka Dylan Earl Barnes and Rob Davy), who have taken Miami by storm two years in a row with their unique blend of deep house (in 1999 with "Bliss," and last year with their track "Secrets"), will host a boat party ahead of the release of "In The Now", their first album for Virgin Records.
Glaswegian producer Howie B's Pussyfoot label will make its first appearance in Miami this year. Mr. B will be joined by Pussyfoot artist Spacer (aka Luke Gordon) whose third album, "The Beamer" (out April 2) is already making waves among the U.K. media.
Listeners to DJ Pete Tong's Friday night "Essential Selection" radio show on Radio 1 in the U.K. will already have heard new material from Basement Jaxx in the form of a track called "Romeo," which aired last weekend. Jaxx producers Simon Ratcliffe and Felix Buxton, who are currently putting the finishing touches to their second album for XL Recordings, will play at the WMC's Astralwerks party alongside U.K. drum & bass producer-turned deep house savior Photek, and Fatboy Slim.
Trendy London based label Strut Records, which received widespread critical acclaim for its "Larry Levan Live At The Paradise Garage" album last April, will also put in a WMC appearance. Earlier this month the label finalized plans to work with hip-hop legend Grandmaster Flash on a project dreamed up by Strut founder Quintin Scott, concentrating on Flash's earliest recordings.
Strut's Toni Rossano told Billboard.com, "The whole buzz about the album is [because] its not a Sugar Hill thing. This is the album before that; him performing in the mid-'70s at block parties before anyone even knew who he was." The project is scheduled for a July 23 U.K. release.