KIZUNAUT - 'Upwards & Forwards' | An Interview
The self styled musician of the 'machine age' has graced us with some amazing tracks over the last 2 or so years since he catapulted onto the scene. From Crisis 2033 released in December 2018 all the way to his latest release Tidal Wave which drew a line in the Synthwave sand in April of this year you get the innate feeling his story still has some chapters to run. In fact, word on the grapevine suggests a new album pretty soon which will certainly please his fans no doubt!
Kizunaut is the Brain-child of Finnish native Oskari Lappalainen and is a key lynch pin in the foundations of what the Synth World has lovingly coined "The Finnish Invasion". With such huge names as Ace Buchannon, Levinsky, Millenium Falck to name but a few they've made an indelible mark on the scene with their fresh take on the Synthwave groove and whose tracks have formed the back bone to any Synthwave playlist worth listening too. It was a really cool interview to do..take a look!
Tell us a little about you, where you’re from and how you got started in Music?
I'm Kizunaut from Helsinki, Finland. I got started in making music back in 2008 or so. How I got started is kind of an unusual story.
I used to be extremely into metal when I was a teenager, and I wanted to metal music. I however didn't really have the money for instruments and didn't really get along with people well enough back then to be in a band. So I just had this desire to make music that wasn't finding an outlet.
I got introduced to electronic music in a really roundabout way. I had turned 18 and I was at a trade school in '07. I got presented with the opportunity to take part in an EU student exchange program. I had a number of countries I could choose from, so I picked what sounded like the most exotic destination at the time: Slovenia. I told of this to my scarce few, mostly online friends, and one of them told me that there is this really crazy band from Slovenia called Laibach and implored me to check them out. And so I did, and it was like an entire new universe of sound just appeared to me. I found a number of other industrial bands and Kraftwerk through them.
I was in a really edgy phase back then and discovering that there was this huge, back-then really obscure underground of hard, dark and weird electronic music out there was like getting jolted by a lightning. This was it, I could do this myself without the need for others to get involved. So after I returned back to Finland I got my hands on some music producing software and started making weird noises on my PC.
How has your sound developed over the years? & has the current market been of any influence in that?
I've been making music for 12 years, and there's been a lot of evolution, or at least stylistic variation, over those years. I've been in like two industrial rock type of bands at various points, I've had a phase where I made mostly psy-trance, I've had a phase where I made mostly break-beats, a phase where I did music with only the Pocket Operator handheld synths... Sometimes I listen to some older stuff I've done and I kinda chuckle at how there are certain core elements in my music that keep on manifesting throughout the years. But I'd say that over time my style has evolved into something a bit more refined, polished and probably fair bit more accessible. I think it reflects the evolution of my personal taste. Current market has been an influence, but in a bit roundabout way. I got really excited about Synthwave when it started making waves (pun intended), because it really represented a lot of things I enjoy in music. It had a bit of metal in it, a bit of video game music, a bit of 80's with enough energy and edge to really grab my attention. I thought that was really cool and something I wanted to do and I pivoted towards it. However, while Synthwave might be at the moment trendy, I think the most raw market oriented music is elsewhere. The current market is brutal, and if you really wanted to chase those Spotify plays you would make music that is either just complete tapestry music, fodder for playlists, or then crank out a mumble rap track on a weekly basis.
How would you describe the music you make?
I make synth music that draws influence from Synthwave, Synthpop, industrial and at times other genres like techno. It tends to be more on the energetic, harder and darker side while also having a pretty strong melodic side to it. The album I'm working on is a bit more synth-pop and rock influenced affair.
How has your 2020 been? With the Gig situation how have you managed to stay reasonably sane?
2020 has been weird. 2019 was a crazy year for me. I got into the Helsinki Synth City artist collective along with Millenium Falck, Levinsky, Ace Buchannon and others and the whole 2019 went so unbelievably well for us. We really established ourselves, had some great events, did a lot of gigs.
Then 2020 rolls around and everything just comes to a screeching halt. There were so many things I wanted to do, not just music wise, but with my life, and instead we're stuck with the pandemic. It was extra hard at the start because we had a lousy, snow-less, pitch-black, cold, long winter and just as it comes to an end you're supposed to stay indoors.
But in some ways I felt like things were going a bit too fast for me in 2019, I felt like I was under a lot of pressure to perform and deliver and I've come to see the current situation as a kind of a well-needed opportunity to take a breather. I've been mostly playing a lot of games lately and taking it easy. I go out whenever it's possible to enjoy the spring weather, too.
As a whole though, the situation sucks for artists and people who run the venues. I really don't know what the long term impact of this all will be.
Who are your influences in music today? Who did you listen to when you were growing up?
Perturbator and Carpenter Brut were the two artists that really got me into Synthwave, so they are definitively deserving of a mention. Outside of Synthwave, Nine Inch Nails, Covenant and Depeche Mode have had an impact on me for many years now.
The musical environment of my childhood mostly consisted of stuff from the Finnish radio, which even in the early 90's had a ton of stuff from the 80's playing. Eurodance was everywhere. I played a lot of games and sucked up influence from them, most notably the soundtrack of Red Alert. But of course as a child you don't really listen to music the same way as you do in later life, and these are kind of more of background influences. Strong ones, nevertheless.
When I really got into music as a teenager I started off with metal. Metal scene as youth culture was a huge thing in Finland back then, and my dad was into some older metal. Black Sabbath, Metallica...later on I got into stuff like Rammstein, Fear Factory and Sepultura before discovering Laibach and getting into more obscure electronic music after that.
Is there anything new you’re working on currently that you’d like to share a little bit about?
Yeah, I'm working on an album called The City By The Sea. It's been a quite long project, bogged down at times by various things. There's been stuff like gigs eating up a lot of time in 2019 to my old mixer dying out, but in general, the last time I put this much effort and energy into making music seriously I was like 22, and I've mysteriously found out that when you're 32 and with a day job you just don't have the time, energy or capacity to learn new information as effectively as you used to have. In retrospect I set way too high goals for myself and struggled to get there. But I'm getting there.
As for the album itself, as stated before, it has a bit more of a Synthpop and rock influence than my last album. The big difference is that this album will basically have vocals on all the tracks. I've wanted to do this kickass industrial rock-synthpop-electronic hybrid album for like 10 years now and this is my shot at it. Musically, I'd say it's kinda like Ebbhead or Pretty Hate Machine for the 2010s, not really in the sense of direct influences but rather this idea of mixing various genres together.
Thematically it deals about things such as urban life and it's other side. It's not really a concept album per say, but it's all underpinned by this idea that cities are places with a highly dualistic nature. On the other hand they are places where people can live in a certain kind of urban freedom and pursue their dreams, but on the other hand they are places where many become very lonely and fail to reach what they wanted to reach.
If you couldn’t make the great music you are making today what would you be doing?
It's really hard to imagine not making music. I've been doing it for such a long time and not even being permanently exhausted for 5 years straight because of university studies could stop me. But if I'd lose my hearing or something at this point I would probably just start writing instead. I have a lot of ideas for stories, games, whatever, but I've learned to try to get involved in only one project at a time.
If I hadn't ever gotten into making music in the first place I would have probably kept drawing and painting. I used to draw and paint a lot as a child, but I eventually started doubting my skills, didn't really seek any encouragement, became discouraged at stopped doing it. I could easily see a timeline where I just kept doing that instead.
Do you have a day job? How do you balance this with the passion for creating the great music that you do?
Yeah, I have a day job in university administration. While it gives me financial security that music cannot give, it's not always easy to balance having a hobby as intense as this and working a a day job. I've honestly just come to accept that I value the security and stability and see my ventures in music as what they are: a hobby, a creative outlet and a way to connect with others.
I think what I make is way too niche to ever be really commercially viable. This isn't simply pessimism, because I think that adopting this mindset can be very liberating. Once you stop caring about the idea of making your music into a job you'll stop caring about all kinds of baggage like thinking about marketing strategies or how to appeal to the current market or how to chase playlists and fame and all that.
Who or what got you into the Synth scene initially?
It's kind of hard to pinpoint an exact moment, but one of my ex-roommates played a key role. He recommended Carpenter Brut to me. I remember really vividly how I went out for a walk, it was a beautiful summer evening with the sun just starting to go down and I put on Carpenter Brut's third E.P and I was just blown away immediately.
But it's not like I rushed into every Synthwave group across every social media after that, for like 2-3 years after that Synthwave was more of a ”this exists, this is cool, I listen to this every now and then” type of a thing. I think it was really the Helsinki Synth City guys who kinda really dragged me into the scene.
How do you feel about the popularity of the Synth Genre as a whole and the new Generation of Producers who keep evolving?
It's certainly brought me a lot of interesting new music to listen to. I remember when dubstep and EDM really got big I just kinda tuned out of back-then current electronic music and listened mostly to really niche stuff or then the classics. Now I'm in a situation where I have much more new electronic music to look forwards to!
On the other hand, there's of course the unfortunate bandwagon phenomena that comes with any scene or genre becoming large. I don't really mind the people who wanna take a shot at producing Synthwave and then do something that doesn't exactly break new ground, but I really encourage everybody to do what they want to do with their own personality. There's a lot of room for personal expression in this scene, I think.
I have a much more real problem with some opportunistic and toxic behaviours that have emerged from the scene. There's been so many cases of people botting plays, using money to win playlist placement and favors from gatekeepers, labels with questionable practices and terms, producers not giving proper credits, people talking shit about each other behind each other's backs and harassing artists... I don't think the scene is exceptionally or even predominantly bad, but the newness, perhaps even faddishness of the scene and how it's so extremely online has certainly brought negative elements to the scene.
Ultimately, when it comes to the music itself, everybody has different ideas about what Synthwave should or could be about, and I think people should just follow their hearts with this one. The world is full of would-be gatekeepers and just because somebody in Facebook has some weird ideas about Synthwave doesn't mean you shouldn't do your thing. Every scene and genre that doesn't evolve will eventually stagnate.
What type of Hardware/Software to you use, do you have a preference?
I'm these days more of a hardware guy, though I do the final production on software. The vast majority of my equipment comes from the Swedish synth manufacturer Elektron. I have the Digitakt, Digitone and Sidtation from them. The last one is pretty rare synth built around the sound chip of the Commodore 64 computer. It's very quirky and you can kinda feel it was literaly the final project of a few engineering students. I've owned it for years and don't really use it as much as I used to.
Digitakt and Digitone form really the backbone of my setup. They've been designed to work together really well, and using them is most of the time a joy. Digitakt is a drum machine/sampler and Digitone is a four track FM synth. I've made signifigant chunks of my discography with just the Digitakt and some extra synths recorded on top, but these days I use it mostly for drums. Digitone is good for building a few basic elements, like a bassline, an arp and then something else to be used as the skeleton of the track.
I also got a Roland D-05, which is a reproduction model of the 80s classic D-50. I used to own the original D-50 many years ago. I loved the sound, but I found the size and weight of it kinda inconvenient for my situation back then. D-05 offers the same great sound but in a smaller format. I use it for things like leads, pads and sound effects.
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