In a world obsessed with categories, Fiasko finds themselves producing music that defies them. Further compounding their challenge, Fiasko's home base is Helsinki, Finland: not the first city one thinks of when listing the creative music hotbeds of the world. Against these odds however, in its two years of existence Fiasko has created a growing international reputation and released six albums that all live up to a high standard of production, musicianship and most importantly, artistry.
Fiasko came into being in 2000 as a collaboration between a group of Finnish jazz musicians who were all getting ready to release albums. Instead of shopping the major labels or releasing their records individually, the musicians joined forces in order to increase their visibility. Innanen believes being part of a label catalogue helps an album to survive, keeping it from "disappearing" in the ocean of recordings released every year.
And being a part of the Fiasko catalogue also means the musicians do not have to make the usual concessions to major-label tastemakers. In fact, the opposite is true. There is no definite Fiasko "sound" or "visual identity". No set criteria has been established by the label for what makes a Fiasko record. All potential projects are considered by the eight-member board of directors (all musicians) on their own artistic merits. Innanen sees the only commonality of Fiasko Records as being that they are outside the mainstream. Kari Ikonen expands further, saying they listen for records that "make no artistic compromises to commerciality" and that Fiasko prefers records made up of original compositions. The only packaging standard they have is that each album is released in digi-pak format. Aside from those criteria, they want each album to express, without limitations, the individual artists' creative vision.
Onttonen speaks for all the Fiasko artists when he states, "We don't like anyone telling us what to do", a comment that could serve as Fiasko's mission statement. Bands on Fiasko have full control of their music until the time it goes to pressing. Every group pays their own expenses (something they hope to change eventually) and every group is responsible for getting recording time, producing, designing their cover art and marketing.
> Fiasko of course has faced the usual up-hill battle of an independent label that releases decidedly non-commercial music. "It is hard to sell music you cannot categorize" says Innanen. 2001's Gourmet is a surreal blend of popular music styles, free jazz and ethnic music; in other words a nightmare for record store owners trying to figure out which section to file it under. Or take a record like Ahava , by vocalist Mia Simanainen. Sure, it is jazz with vocals but the all original repertoire, playing style and instrumentation stand miles away from any album you are likely to find under "vocal jazz." In true independent spirit, they pondered aloud the possibility of creating their own categories to help in marketing, but they stop short of making promises for any "commercial" albums. You will not see any producer-induced concept albums (i.e. no Gourmet plays the music of Barry White ) from Fiasko any time soon.
> To conquer the vast distance between its home base and the rest of the world, Fiasko has made the Internet an integral part of its organization. The Fiasko web-site, maintained by Onttonen, not only sells records, but presents artist bios, reviews of Fiasko records, links to artist home pages and photos, with more being planned for the future. In September of this year, they will launch a redesigned web-site with a stronger visual presence and more content, including writings by the label members. They have also made available mp3s of selected Fiasko recordings at www.mp3.com. For now the files are only available in streaming format, but Onttonen plans to make them downloadable in the near future. However, Onttonen maintains that the best place to get your hands on a Fiasko album is by ordering through their homepage, because then you are most directly supporting the artists.
Naturally, the Fiasko catalogue is set to keep growing. A new Gnomus album is scheduled to be released in late 2002, supported by a March 2003 tour of Finland. A second Gourmet album is in the works, as Innanen and Onttonen are busy developing new material. With a growing catalogue the members hope to obtain a wider international distribution deal, for their current deal with Danish The Other Music covers only the Scandinavian countries.
After only two years of existence all three speak proudly of their catalogue, progress and potential. Innanen mentions that Fiasko has garnered a positive critical acceptance in almost ten countries, including Germany, England, Spain and Sweden. Onttonen sees that Fiasko has created enough of a name for itself that after hearing one Fiasko album, people will buy all of them simply for the fact that they are a Fiasko release. Based on Innanen's comments, I start the sentence "If Fiasko's sales were as good as its reputation..." which Ikonen quickly finishes "...we'd be rich."
But Fiasko was never intended as a money-making machine. Ikonen, supported by the others, asserts that the motivation for starting the label was purely artistic. Their releases confirm this motivation, expressing an abiding respect for the individual artist. Being professional musicians has not dulled their taking pleasure from the process of music making either, as they combine their professional skills and standards with the simple pleasure and intense care of a beloved hobby. This spirit and dedication should ensure a healthy, creative future from Fiasko Records.
Read the AAJ reviews of the Fiasko catalogue:
For more information, visit the Fiasko Records website .