Kahvi Collective is a netlabel hailing from Finland that has been strongly connected to the demoscene back in the day. We first heard of through Lackluster, though after a deep-dive were be amazed by its immense catalogue of more than 400 releases coming from more than 200 artists. Yes, the label might be related with the so-called ‘IDM’ genre, but it also dwells in a variety of styles. Artists like Planet Boelex, Alexander Chereshnev (one of our favourites), Solar Fields, Faex Optim or 4T Thieves, just to name a few. Their annual compilations are also quite renowned, ‘Escapism’ being the last one. Oh, and we almost forgot, pretty much everything there is for free! It is with the English producer Nik (4T Thieves), who runs the label, with whom we had a chat to find out a bit more about this community.
Cyclic Defrost: Hi there Nik, first tell us where you are now and how is everything over there.
Nik: Currently living in Southern Finland, in the second city called ‘Espoo’ which is not pronounced as it’s written. (Try ‘Esbo’). They call this a city, but it’s really a few small towns scattered around a larger area with forests and fields in between. Not much in the way of snow this year yet, but I’d rather have warmer weather than the usual -20 we get around this time usually.
Cyclic Defrost: How come you ended up living in Finland?
Nik: I was relocated here for work some years ago and ended up staying long term. It’s a fine place to live, with fantastic scenery, and some very strange tastes in food – recently an ice cream company here brought a new flavour to the market – Mushroom Caramel. And don’t get me started on the salty liquorice.
Cyclic Defrost: We would like to know a bit about the beginnings of Kahvi Collective, it’s been more than 20 years already!
Nik: Originally founded in 1997 by Strala, or Vae mainly to release tracker modules created by him and some of his school friends, I took over the running in 2001 when Vae mentioned he was going to stop the label and delete the site. I was also the first artist to release an mp3 track on Kahvi back in 2001.
Cyclic Defrost: Have you got a different perspective now about what it means to run a label?
Nik: A different perspective? I think many people think it’s just a case of setting up a label and people come to you for release. But they won’t do that if the label doesn’t get listeners, and the label will only get listeners if there are artists releasing. It’s a catch 22 situation. Kahvi has a die hard fan base which we’ve built up over the years and I like to think they enjoy all of the releases we put out.
Cyclic Defrost: What was the hardest thing about creating a platform and make it survive throughout 2 decades?
Nik: In those days it was just a case of ‘lets start an internet label’ as the internet was new and exciting. What keeps the label going is the artists who supply their hard work for free release. The only thing they’re interested in is getting their music listened to, and Kahvi enables them to reach a wider audience than they otherwise might do. Also it’s key to keep the quality of the music high. You can’t release music for the sake of releasing, if you put out sub-standard tracks nobody is going to return for future listens.
Cyclic Defrost: Was there any big change that you didn’t expect throughout these past 18 years?
Nik: The explosion of home studios. I remember when people were using large studios to create tracks with hardware worth thousands, but I was of the old school who used a tracker and created modules with very little hardware. So even from when I first started it was possible to create complete tracks in a bedroom studio. I guess there’s been a lot of momentum to professional sounding setups at home now, and the quality of software synths is amazing these days. I firmly believe you can create professional tracks with one controller and several software synths, and nothing more. Of course, there are those who collect software synths just for the sake of it (Here’s looking at you, Curious Inversions).
Cyclic Defrost: Could you choose some releases from the label that you consider essential?
Nik: The top release which I would consider essential dates back to 2002. Berestez and his masterpiece of an EP called ‘Plokcity’. It took him a year to create and you can hear it in the quality of the tracks. Unfortunately he’s not doing much in the way of music since but I heard he may start creating new tracks again soon. Then there’s Diskreet and ‘Tracks with Names Written Forwards’ which is an excellent minimal EP. All the VA compilations for the past few years are pretty amazing as well, but to name others would be a challenge as each and every release is great.
Cyclic Defrost: Are you in touch with the scene in Finland or Northern Europe?
Nik: I’m in touch with a few of the Kahvi artists in Finland, with a few living very locally to me.
Cyclic Defrost: If you’d only have to choose the place.. which would be the ideal location for a Kahvi showcase?
Nik: I think London or Berlin would be the ideal location, though I couldn’t tell you an exact venue. A location which is easy for the features artists to get to with minimal expense would be ideal. Who knows, perhaps in the future there will be some Kahvi night somewhere.
Cyclic Defrost: And which do you think would be the ideal context for it?
Nik: A showcase of some of the top Kahvi artists. We actually had a net-label evening back in 2008 in London for Netaudio Festival with a few top Kahvi artists. It was a fun night!
Cyclic Defrost: What was the latest thing that blew your mind?
Nik: Oumuamua, the object from another galaxy. And all the hype that followed it. I’m going for the alien probe theory myself, it allows you to imagine who possibly could have sent a probe here.
Cyclic Defrost: And the latest great thing that you’ve heard?
Nik: Recently I’ve got into the anniversary releases of The Beatles White Album and Sgt. Pepper. Not only because of the inspirational music, but also because of the comments and candid speech that’s also featured. It gives you an insight into the minds of musical legends, which in some cases is more interesting than the track they’re playing!
Cyclic Defrost: How’s your setup nowadays, and how has it changed throughout time?
Nik: I’ve been through many hardware synths over the years (probably around 20-25) but nowadays I only have two keyboards (My favourite ever keyboard, the Roland JD800 and the amazing Nord Lead A1, which is the most accessible and intuitive synth I’ve ever used) and a Windows PC running Ableton, Presonus One and a few soft synths and effects plugins. From my previous EP ‘Details’ (which I think is my best EP to date) I used only software synths.
Cyclic Defrost: If you could choose just 1 piece of software / hardware, which one would it be and why?
Nik: I would choose Ableton Live Suite 10, due to it’s immediate accessibility, ease of use and element of fun. You can jump in and create something mindbending in the space of minutes. It’s sound manipulation possibilities are quite amazing. Hardware wise I would take my Nord Lead, but in future I think I would like to buy just one more synth – a sample/synth hybrid.
Cyclic Defrost: Don’t you think that somehow the reception to this kind of sounds got better on the past years?
Nik: Kahvi and IDM in general has always and will always be a niche label and genre. But as long as the artists keep releasing and listeners keep listening, we’ll keep releasing quality audio!
Cyclic Defrost: Plans for the near future?
Nik: There may be a physical release on the cards for Kahvi and perhaps some kind of live evening at some venue. But let’s see what happens.
You can find out more here.