Experimental Finn Jimi Tenor reveals how a VHS recorder, a Brooklyn Mafia den and Alan Vega combined to create accidental hit, ‘Take Me Baby’
“I made ’Take Me Baby’ around 1993 or 1994, when I was living in New York. I remember I’d just got a job at the Empire State Building as a tourist photographer, which meant I’d finally had some money and I was able to buy a drum machine and a sequencer and some effects.
“My ‘studio’ was in my apartment, which used to be a poker house for the Mafia. It even had a bar and a small dancefloor. It wasn’t very big at all, it was like seven or eight square metres and I also had a photography studio in there, so it was cramped! It was a good place for creative purposes, though.
“It was in Williamsburg, near this place called Kellogg’s Diner, which was one of the only 24-hour places around at that time. In those days you could never get a taxi around there. There weren’t any hipsters yet. I remember once they organised a club night nearby and I was about to go, but then I heard there had been a shoot-out and a couple of people were dead. So it was a little bit rough. I was mugged a couple of times.
“Otherwise, I was really happy then because I had a job and the rest of the time I was making music. My job started at 4pm, so I could make tracks all morning. In those days, the kind of equipment I had meant you had to do it in one go. I was recording everything in stereo, with no multi-track. The kit I was using had no memory, so if I turned the power off, anything I was doing would be gone. Sometimes it was like, ‘Man, it’s 2.45pm, I have to get the train soon. I need a good take, right now!’. Many times it worked out. Under pressure, you could do it.
“I was doing all kinds of art, loads of photos, but this friend of mine was making a film and he wanted me to do a soundtrack. I didn’t have a master tape recorder, so he gave me this VHS recorder, which had really early digital sound. I used it for the film and I also used that for ‘Take Me Baby’, so it was recorded in a really strange format. It had this nice limiter, which helped make it really pumping.
“One day [Finnish ambient musician] Mika Vainio came to my place and he showed me this solo album by Alan Vega of Suicide and he was making this kind of strange rockabilly music. I thought, ‘OK, that’s kind of cool, maybe I could do something that’s like techno-rockabilly with a delay and a vocal?’. That’s why I made a track like ‘Take Me Baby’, I thought it was kind of techno-billy. It doesn’t sound like that, but that was the kind of idea!
“I don’t know where the ‘take me baby’ line came from. I just wanted it to be this kind of creepy guy who thinks he’s erotic or something. Nightclubs are sexual places and I was thinking about this small room and this sweaty dancefloor, then you hear this vocal line. At that point, electronic music wouldn’t have any vocals, but I wanted this track to all of a sudden have this really loud vocal. I thought people would get into it.
“It was in my drawer for a while in the video tape format, but I knew a guy who worked in music advertising, so I went to his house and he helped me do the transfers onto a DAT from the video tape. I remember there was a problem because there’s a Korg MS-20 sound that repeats and I put the delay on it in invert phase, so if you listened in mono the delay sound disappeared completely. In the end, we just left the problem there. Luckily, most of the time, people listen in stereo!
“Then the Sähkö Recordings guy, Tommi Grönlund, was visiting New York and I gave a load of tapes to him. Tommi cut an album out of my instrumental tracks and, at the end, he put ‘Take Me Baby’. Nothing happened with the album really, but Keith McIvor from Optimo/Pure heard that track and wanted to license it, so it got a little more popular. I think that was around maybe 1995 or 96. The key, though, was that it was played at the Berlin Love Parade, at the end, when everyone gathered at this huge park. The DJ played it and everyone went crazy, then I got really popular in Germany! I wasn’t even there. It just happened, but it was really good for me, it paid a lot of bills. I started to get a lot of calls and people wanted me to play in big, mainstream nightclubs. But I didn’t want to just go and play one track. It didn’t feel right. I could have made way more money, I guess, but you know, it’s not what I am.
“For a while, I felt like I didn’t want to play ‘Take Me Baby’, but when I play a solo gig with the electronic equipment, I always do. It’s sort of not my property any more. I can’t complain, though. I was just in my room in New York, fooling around with equipment. I didn’t think about success, so I don’t feel bad. It happened to be a hit, but I was just having fun.”
‘NY, Hel, Barca (1994-2001)’ is out now on Bureau B