Finnish pop band Jormas recorded a song called Rööperiin in 1967. The track was a cover version of the Beatles hit Penny Lane and the lyrics referred to a neighbourhood in Helsinki called Punavuori.
Well, here we are. In the heart of the Punavuori endz. Walking down the stairs leading to a basement studio, which belongs to the independent label Skorpioni, rapper Noah Kin and grime duo Töölön Ketterä. The staircase is covered in snow (melted into water).
Tuisku Hakoniemi, aka Matti8, the mc of Töölön Ketterä, has invited DUMBØ to join their recording session on a dark Friday night. The other half of the group, producer Fedja Kamari aka Handshaking, is unfortunately unable to attend this time.
An NBA Jam Arcade Machine is lying in the corner of the studio. The side table is full of vinyls, Aaliyah’s LP showcased separately from the rest. Matti8 and Töölön Ketterä’s studio engineer ”Royal Fri” are both eating kebab in the control room.
As the name of the group already suggests, Töölön Ketterä is from a Helsinki neighbourhood called Töölö. They refer to the borough on the chorus of their breakthrough single Ludoo, just like Jormas did with Punavuori. ”When you arrive in Front Töölö, the sun rises again…”
It has only been a year since I first discovered Töölön Ketterä - or Matti8 to be exact. He dropped a freestyle over the instrumental of Rude Kid’s One Take on the 24th of January 2016 and someone posted it on Ylilauta (the Finnish equivalent to 4chan). I stumbled into the track a few days later.
“I thought it (uploading the freestyle on YouTube) was a small move. But now when I rewind to that moment, I see that it was an important step in a sense. And it was the first track ever where the name Töölön Ketterä was mentioned.”
It’s crazy. Töölön Ketterä released their debut single in March 2016. Since then, the duo has already been nominated for an Emma Award (Finnish Grammy), performed at some of the biggest Finnish festivals, signed a recording deal with the highly regarded PME Records (a label run by Finnish superstar group JVG) and scored a booking contract with Alt Agency. In less than a year!
“The whole idea of the band came through the fact that we’ve been roommates with Fedja for almost two years now. Originally we attended the same course in junior high school. We had a mutual friend, who was a proper house head and the three of us tried to form a house collective of some sort. It didn’t work out back then, unlike with Töölön Ketterä.”
In the studio, they mix and combine influences from rap, garage, bassline house and especially grime. Matti8 has an aggressive flow and attitude in his fast-paced verses. On stage, they are admirably energetic performers. Producer Handshaking has a background in house music, whereas Matti8 started his career playing and singing in punk projects. I can’t help wondering; does the aggressiveness of their music and live shows stem from the era of punk?
“Yeah, maybe we have scooped up some of the punk attitude into our gigs. But to be honest, we haven’t even planned our live sets in any way with Fedja. It’s just natural: when we go on stage, we go flat out.”
“At some point of my punk era, I noticed that more and more of my friends were anarchists and left-wingers, instead of just drunken growlers. That’s when rap started to hit through harder. Seeing a live set from Julma H in a squat was a big deal. I started listening to Public Enemy, NWA and so forth. Punk was left behind and our crust punk projects with OD Kokemus (Finnish alternative mc / producer) turned into rap too.”
When a brand new group receives followers, attention, nominations and gigs quickly, the envy of other rappers can’t be avoided. Finnish rappers like Kingfish and Pajafella have fired shots at Töölön Ketterä during the last few months.
“We’ve seen Fisu (Kingfish) in the city on random occasions and have always shaken hands. He has also performed at our club events. When I heard what he said about us, I sent a DM to him and asked what’s good? He replied that it was only a joke, chill, nothing personal. For what it’s worth, I’ve tried to take advice from older colleagues and also tried to ignore all the bs.”
Although Matti8 spits some serious heat with his breathtaking flow, he doesn’t swear all that much, doesn’t rap about getting wasted, doesn’t call women bitches etc. Vice versa, actually: he has raised awareness of the status of women in rap lyrics.