By Scott Heller
From Aural Innovations #6 (April 1999)
Dark Sun are the best SPACEROCK band in Finland (some say anywhere!) who have been compared favorably to Hawkwind in many ways. The band are all great fans of Hawkwind and admit that the band is a great influence on them. Their goal is to create SPACEROCK with varied lyrical themes from sci fi to mental breakdown, but to press the envelope and take the music where it has never been before. Just as Hawkwind did in the 70's... Can one make spacerock and not be compared to Hawkwind??
The band was started in 1992 by Santtu Laakso (bass), Ylli (Moog and Guitar), Kari Kuusinen (guitar) and Antti Luosrarinen (drums). Soon after these guys first jammed together, Janne Kuokkanen (vocals) and Kari Tammi (synths) joined. The band has always had at least 6 members and sometimes as many as 8! This line up was only stable for a short while, with Tammi leaving and Mikko, Janne's brother, coming in to replace him. Petri Sadinmäki joined the band also on keyboards. Petri had previously played with Santtu in a band called Exitus. This line up would record the "Song the Seamans Bane" and "Feed your Mind" 7" single that was released in 1996 (1000 copies). This line up would also record the bands' first CD, "Feed your Mind". In 1997, Antti and Petri left the band. Antti was replaced by the bands' friend, Hemppa. The band played shows in Germany, Finland, and Sweden in 1997 and 1998, working up a lot of new material. In 1999, Kari disappeared from the band. I met up with the band for the first time at the Space and Rock festival in Jönköping, Sweden in August 1998 (See review in Aural Innovations #4) and we became friends. Recently, I traveled up to Helsinki to stay with the band and hear the new music and get inside their heads to see what is up!
SH: So you guys started up in 1991. Was it the common interest in Hawkwind that brought you guys together? Did you go to high school together? Where did you all meet?
Janne: It's a little area we grew up in, about 15,000 people. Myself, Mikko, Kari and Ylli lived there. It was not common interest in Hawkwind. We knew each other since like 1984 or 1985. Santtu and Ylli met. They spent a lot of time together. Kari was Ylli's first friend of ours. I came in about 1988. I had other things going on. It was not Hawkwind. It was music and getting weird and stuff like that. I remember we were sitting at Ylli's listening to records. All kinds of records. Hawkwind came in a little bit later. We found that when we had been playing together about 6 months, someone came up with the idea to play a Hawkwind song.
Santtu: It must have been me!
Janne: After that, some people, like me or Mikko, started digging Hawkwind. So... but at first it was guys wanting to play something dark, something emotional.
SH: Who exactly was in the first line up?
Janne: Ylli, Santtu, Kari, and Ylli's brother was playing drums at some rehearsals. Annti came in later. And I was in all the time but they phoned me. At the moment I was somewhere else.
Santtu: You were on and off in the beginning, actually...
Janne: They called me and said you wanted to come into Dark Sun. Actually, the name was not Dark Sun. It was Forest Echo or Echoes or we had all kinds of suggestions. Eventually, when I came to the rehearsals, I think it was Santtu who said, "We are Dark Sun now. We have decided this."
Santtu: Ylli came up with that idea.
Janne: Lately, I have been thinking that Dark Sun... it could have been a better name. We had all kinds of good suggestions but we never could come to a final decision of what would be the best so this was like, an accident. People were very anxious, we need a name and somebody said it's Dark Sun.
SH: There are a lot of worse things.
Mikko: Anal Intruder (Laughs all around).
SH: When did you guys stop playing some of the early tracks like: Shatter Me, Visions of Infinity, Fata Morgana, Ways of the Damned, Machine Lover...?
Santtu: In about 1995. We recorded the first demo in 1993.
Janne: I guess they dropped out one by one.. Each gig, we found out that this song is not there any more.. Every time we had personnel change in the band, the person who came in, he brought good things, he refused to play some of the songs. Let's leave it behind and make new music. And they are forgotten.. Well, they are not forgotten, cause sometimes we play them in the middle of a jam.
Hemmpa: We come up with better new songs.
Santtu: I think we would play them if we could play for like 3 hours or something.
SH: One of the things that I notice with Dark Sun is that Janne's voice is more of like a classic progressive rock type thing and when you combine that with SpaceRock, that makes it a lot different than all the other SpaceRock bands out there..Most of them don't have someone who can really sing.
Janne: I'm not very much at ease with that.
SH: It does put you in a little bit of a spotlight. I think more people get to hear your music, they will really appreciate it.
Janne: I'm not taking care of my voice..
Hemppa: you shouldn't do that... you shouldn't do that... (everyone joins in on the chorus!)
Janne: I smoke, I drink. I do everything in abundance. It is like this guy from Amorphis. He is like the same. It drives me crazy to see him destroying his voice by doing all these things. What the hell...
SH: It seems like the keyboards are quite high in the mix in the old demos compared with the CD tracks.
Mikko: Maybe it's my fault.
SH: I noticed it was a different synth player back then and the sound has changed. The sound is richer. And now... the stuff last night. I guess it goes beyond rich. It fills up the whole soundscape.
Janne: Kind of fluid.
Hemppa: We have been doing some research.
Janne: Hemppa has had a very big part in this. We all have to acknowledge that. He has been working like round the clock with the computer.
Santtu: With computers you can do anything.
Janne: At first I wasn't at ease with this. Because I am not very much at ease with computers and mixing things with computers. The things that have come out have been very good. Congratulations.
Mikko: Every since I have been the only keyboardist. It makes it easier to form a landscape with those synthesizers. Because I know exactly what I'm doing. With Petri in the band and the equipment we have here you could never really know if it was me doing something wrong or he doing something.
Mikko: It's easier.
Hemppa: Mikko builds up those layers and it is very good when one person can control those sounds.
Mikko: I try to take the middle and higher layers of the mix and Hemmpa has taken mostly the bass beats in the synthesizer.
Hemppa: I do the beats and Santtu does the bass.
Mikko: And Ylli, the only gifted one here. He plays around it all.
Janne: He has an effect on everything. The man with a vision. You have to admire. We are just light years behind him.
SH: I notice you seem to use a lot of sequences and midi signals. You seem to handle it pretty well because it seems like it is quite complicated.
Janne: Of course it is.
Santtu: But it needs some work.
Janne: One bar down and you're lost. At a gig it is hell.
Mikko: I simply don't have enough hands to play all the stuff.
Hemppa: It started when Petri left from the band and there was only so much keyboard things you can play by yourself. So we decided to get CD's and the computer. Now we have decided to put everything in.
Mikko: We just don't know when to stop.
Janne: Let's program!!
SH: What do you think the next CD is going to be like compared to "Feed your Mind"? From what I have heard it is going to be a big progression.
Santtu: Much better.
Janne: It's going to be intense, deep, strong, and very effective.
Janne: It's mostly about some kind of trips. Separate individual trips.
Santtu: Every song will be a trip!
Janne: Like this song "Electrified". Like I told you before, I used to do a lot of speed. After that I realized how I had been and I wrote a song about it. Well, this is not written by me, only the words but I had close contact to Mikko (his brother!), who was writing this song.
SH: Mikko said this was the first song he had written for the band.
Mikko: There was one before but it was... we dropped it because we lost the former drummer. We basically forgot how to play it.
SH: Have you ever worked on or thought about doing an epic tune, like 10 or 20 minutes?
Santtu: How long of songs do you have in store for us (he is asking Ylli)?
Ylli: Between two and thirty minutes.
Mikko: We are basically trying to make shorter songs.
Janne: Because we have to get on the radio. That is crucial for survival in Finland. You have to have songs that are 4.5 minutes at the most.
Santtu: They won't be mainstream songs, those songs, anyway. So lets see if they will ever play it!
Janne: The funny thing is that "Abduction Files", it has had some radio play. It is quite a long song.
Santtu: Not thirty minutes.
Janne: I think now we have done songs around ten minutes, not longer.
Santtu: That is long enough to do a lot of things.
Janne: Do you know Marillion? Fish said one time, when he was asked, because they had very long songs.. He was asked why you do such long songs. He said, "How can you describe the situation in like Ireland in like 3 or 4 minutes. We need 10 minutes. And of course the artistic value and stuff like that.
Hemppa: Our songs when they are 6 or 7 minutes long, they are like as long as cartoons. Bugs Bunny. That is the time that you can carry a plot of sequence, the whole story when you tell it. In 3 minutes you can't develop many changes.
SH: When do you think you will be ready to send out the new demo so that record companies will give you some money to finish the recordings?
Hemppa: In one month. (They are waiting for Nik Turner to add some flute to the song "Dream Circuit" and then do the final mixing)
SH: It is a tough world when you want to make your own creation and not be told what to do. In your case it is better to focus on the local market, as opposed to worry about the outside world because if you sell 10,000 copies...
Santtu: You're in the top ten.
SH: Around 10,000, you can actually earn some money.
Janne: That is when we are home free.
Mikko: Finnish audiences are growing.
Santtu: It's growing, more freaks everyday! It's great.
Mikko: There's only 5 million in all of Finland.
Hemppa: The most this kind of music could sell is maybe 10,000.
Janne: We need one hit, one radio hit and that is it.
Santtu: And a lot of work too.
Mikko: Janne needs a beauty surgery. A face lift. And Capped teeth.
Janne: Yuroky???, the daily music television.
Santtu: It's mostly for teenagers anyway. They buy the records.
Janne: If they play one video, one day, like "Electrified", when we make it to be a video. That will be great. Then we sell. Before that, it seems that they don't take us so seriously.
SH: Have you done all your own promotion or have you ever used someone who has experience in the Finnish music business.
Santtu: Basically we haven't done anything.
Janne: This band is like a self made man. Everything we do we have to congratulate ourselves for that. There have been very few people who have supported us but those who have been, have supported us a lot. Like Jukka Kulju the mixer, he came up with really great ideas at the time. And of course, Mika Järvinen from 5.15. He has been great. I'm speechless when it comes to him. I also have to thank the Rivendell boys and my mother and Mikko.
Hemppa: I thank my mother and my sister and everyone at Elecktra! (Everyone is rolling on the floor laughing)
SH: So who is your favorite guitarist, Ylli... (he has been very quiet)
Ylli: David Gilmour or Jimi Hendrix. Total freakout man. He is the opposite to Jimi Hendrix. These two together. Jeff Beck. Albert Lee, I like his sound. Frank Zappa. Many guitarists. (He is having a hard time coming up with the words so Janne is now translating for him)
SH: Who wrote the lyrics to "Machine Lover"? It sounds like somebody was playing with sex toys.
Santtu: Maybe I just dreamed about it.
Janne: Santtu has had sometimes in his life. Today he is quite mellow.
Mikko: "Machine Lover" had come after he had met me.
Santtu: My special gizmo.
SH: I think it is interesting how you guys really borrow a lot of riffs from Hawkwind like in Lost in Time using Death Trap and Feed your Mind is very similar to Kadu Flyer. I think it is fine as you really make the songs your own. But the dedication is quite strong.
Santtu: Most of the time it has been an accident and we have only later found out. Well, it just comes so natural, so why not.
SH: Hawkwind is a really incredible band.
Ylli: When we have some Hawkwind-like elements in our songs some of them are like emotional expressions. These parts do seem like Hawkwind stuff. They can be emotionally very much in a thing like you do it right at the time, like comedy and drama, we are like in the same groove. And you imitate Hawkwind in that same way, like comedy and drama and sometimes you get carried away. So you play similar stuff or actually, the same stuff, but you are not actually emotionally involved in that thing. It comes from inside.
SH: I guess it is kind of hard for you that Kari is no longer in the band.
Santtu: Yeah. Very hard.
Janne: Right now we are in the stage of denial like after a lovership or something. Because I know we make jokes about him right now because we are angry about him leaving the band.
Ylli: He is a very lazy bastard.
Mikko: Basically right now we don't need him, but for live shows we really need a second guitarist. Kari was not really a creative kind of person. When he created something it was great but mostly it was Ylli or someone showing him things.
Janne: He wasn't someone who would learn very quickly. He learned, of course, all the songs but it took time. It took very much. We had not problem with that. The time will past when we thought that he would come back and we would have this whole Dark Sun again. We have actually turned our eyes to another direction now.
Mikko: At this point when we are making new songs we don't need both guitars. Ylli he can play or I can play guitar also.
SH: Where does the future lie?
Mikko: Stand up comedy! My future lies in an institution! With that white jacket boys and the cream soft walls. I love it.
Santtu: He never should have smoked that pipe.
Janne: He's stoned! And he's the chauffeur for the evening.
Santtu: We will have to wait for a while before leaving.
Hemppa: Jam session.
Santtu: Yeah. Let's jam.
Janne: Right now, I lost my place where I was a student. Santtu is the only person in the band who is working now. Everyone either got canned or quit at the same time. So we time and we....
SH: Are creating...
Mikko: Evolving and mutating.
SH:The new material has a much more intense percussion than in the past.
Santtu: That is from the computer. From Hemppa.
SH: That really changes the driving energy in the band.
Mikko: We have always wanted more percussions and stuff. With the drummer before, he was kind of a lazy guy. Hemppa, he has a lot of energy, maybe not too much. He is actually creating this drum machine human where you can sound really good without really playing so much! If you can catch my drift.
Hemppa: Having percussions, like having all the percussion in the world.
Mikko: We are creating this kind of live show, where we have this kind of spaceship atmosphere, where we basically try to make songs that all of us can move around and play with the gizmos. The drum machine plays where Hemppa navigates.
SH: Does Hemppa trigger the sequences?
Mikko: I do. We have never had a mixer who has specialized in our sound. Me being the mixer... and guitar player and...
Hemppa: We would like to have an 8-track so we can record the tracks with the synthesizers that we have used for the sequences so we can play it live.
Santtu: So we can play it live.
Hemppa: We can have all the samples. If we have guest musicians (on the CD) we can also record them on the 8-track and they can play with us live and they don't have to be at the show.
Mikko: It's pretty much allowed now. Because a few years back if people used tapes as back up, then they would get, "Oh you are a play back band".
Janne: If you get too far with it and you have all these instruments and nobody is visually playing on the stage. It takes something away from it.
Mikko: One gig I was playing and these guys were on stage and I did not fit in with all my stuff and was behind the stage into the farthest corner in the restaurant. Nobody saw me. There was this pillar right in front of me and I heard shouts from the audience saying, "You play back band, where's the keyboardist"... I'm yelling I'm here. I didn't get any girls that evening. Nobody saw me.
This is where we called it a day and went into the rehearsal space and had a one hour jam session. I joined in on the micromoog for a few windy swishy sounds during a few times but was pretty reluctant as I have just started to play synthesizer. We started just with a heavy jam, into "Assault and Battery" and "Golden Void". This was followed by a strange thing in which Ylli was playing a almost bluesy riff and kind of out there in his own space while Mikko was making far out space sounds. It was quite a night.
Here is what the band has released so far and how to contact them:
DARK SUN DISCOGRAPHY
1993 Demo #1 (Astral Magic, Visions of Infinity, Standing at the Edge of Chaos,Ways of the Damned)
Demo #2 (Machine Lover, Lost in Time, One for the Blind)
1994 Shatter Me/My Statued Fire 7" (never released)
1995 Demo #3 (HW covers- Assault and Battery/Golden Void, The Right Stuff)
"Live at Kaisaniemi" live cassette
1996 Song the Seamans Bane/Feed your Mind 7" (Metamorphos META 006)
Live at Semifield, Helsinki 7/18/96 85M Ex (Semi-Official live tape)
1997 Feed your Mind CD (Metamorphos META 010CD)
Metazoon Compilation (Metamorphos META 011CD) Song: Time-Space Continuum
1998 Demo #4 3trk (Iskariot, Wooden Man, Iskariot (Instrumental Mix)
1999 Demo #5 (Dream Circuit, Electrified)
You can visit Dark Sun at their web site.