Mikko Aspa (Grunt, Freak Animal label owner) “Most of what happens in my life manifests through Grunt in a way or another.”

In these times, where life seems to grow darker by the day, it's reassuring that there are still renaissance men who roam the earth. Men who make what they believe in their life's work, when the work is so magnificently powerful, it's hard to ignore. The following interview is with one such man, Mikko Aspa. Hailing from Finland, Aspa has single-handedly forged an impressive, if not intimidating, body of work, ranging from performance, visual art, magazine publications, videos, and countless music/sound recordings released by labels around the globe. After hearing records by Grunt, Mikko's longtime solo power electronics project, I was curious to learn more about this ominous and menacing figure in the then less popular noise underground. It seemed there were endless rumors and stories surrounding Aspa, his noise label Freak Animal, and his print publications -- not to mention his sexual/violent aesthetics.

After a few meetings with Mikko and subsequent virtual correspondence, I learned a great deal more about his interests and projects, including some incredible stories along the way. For someone who is as unbelievably busy as he is, I more than appreciate the time taken to indulge in this series of questions. I ostentatiously present to you, with minimal editing, Mikko Aspa.

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In your pornographic video work, what are you looking for out of your "actresses"? Do you Have any good stories of any of your actresses who have gone above and beyond the call of duty (or at least what you had agreed upon before shooting).

I usually have no expectations or demands. Any body type, age, or outlook is welcome. It can be pretty or it can be straight-from-the-gutter-ugly, and both have purpose. I do what girls do and basically suggest them anything, and they either agree or don't. It's hard to put any specific value for some practices and, since paying very little money, anything people would do from softcore posing to fistfuck or cutting with razors is welcome.

There was for example cases where, before actual shoot, I wasn't aware girl could do fistfucking (with grown up male hand) and it was just free bonus for the day. Or Grunt video where cutting was agreed in advance, but sticking the cigarette stub into open wound was extra gift from the model.

Where do you find your actresses? Do you ever use male actors?

Some people I know in advance. Some work in the business (strippers, "massagers"...), some are just regular people into doing something. Mostly people contact me through website or we end up chatting somewhere. I have used handful of male actors. I have only filmed two regular fucking scenes, since it doesn't interest me that much as maker of porn due [to] several reasons. I have had male slaves and guys contribute streams of urine and otherwise being in photosessions. I have never had steady flow of actor or actresses. I have not even done anything for about year now. Just been too busy, and I still hand so much unpublished stuff [that] I need to put out.

Given your deep appreciation for pornography, do you feel there is anything out there that goes "too far"?

I don't think so. I have no moral dilemmas about any approach of pornography, but there are some genres that do not interest me personally, such as softcore lesbian boredom, hairy women (except in some vintage stuff), etc...

Do you produce videos for sale/distribution, or do you just make the videos to accompany the Grunt performances?

I have done couple VHS releases years ago distributed around Finnish porn shops. I published six magazines so far, also distributed around porn shops of Finland and were available through mailorder. I have lots of material [that] has been never published, since I don't do pornography [with the] intent to make living (or money in general), and I publish it when I have time to do so.

Commercial pornography has been on edge of total failure for years. Dumping of prices, abundance of material, etc. So many things in the "adult entertainment" ([what] they call porno these days) has become so lame and uninteresting. There is very little of interest to get involved into making fuck films of general public.

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"There is no need to keep any real content separated. There is merely an aesthetic/artistic choice in level of presentation."

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I understand you also run Freak Animal magazine. Is this also a sex magazine? Are there specific topics or fetishes that you cover in the magazine? How many copies do you print?

Freak Animal magazine is noise/p.e. zine similar to Degenerate what we started with Jukka of Kaos Kontrol (who works in porn shop, by the way) when FA was on hiatus. Sex magazine what I do is called Erotic Perversion, and it has also some spin-off projects for different types of stuff. With that magazine, I cover basically everything from "dark" or "bizarre" side of sex & pornography. It has bondage, s/m, plain sadism, rape, cum/piss/scat, fist fuck, incest, humiliation, bestiality (only stories due other content would be illegal), etc. Each issue has various topics what are covered in photosets, short stories, articles, reviews, interviews. They are only printed few hundred copies since it's only available through selected porn shops around the country who still carry magazines & books. I don't do promotion for it.

How strict are the pornography laws in Finland? Is it more or less strict there, when compared to the rest of Europe?

Some years ago, laws changed. Before this, everything was illegal (= any K-18 videos, including uncut horror/gore etc.), but very easily available since people acknowledged the laws were outdated and not worth keep the pressure for distributors. At that time, you could basically have any brutal s/m, animal films, etc. Anything else but kiddyporn, and if you'd get sentenced, it would be same sentence as any adult video. Now after new laws were passed, porn is perfectly legal, with exception of animal, violent, and underage material. Therefore, most of the shops quickly cleaned their shelves of the material for "minorities" and focus now on legal hardcore only. This means you can still buy plenty of s/m, scat, piss, fistfuck, and so on. In Europe, many countries have different regulations. In Sweden you can buy animal films freely, but fisting and s/m strictly [is] forbidden. In Norway you can't buy almost anything. They barely legalized normal hardcore. From Denmark or Holland, you can get almost anything, and so on. There are no standards yet, but I assume at some point they could try to make standards for EU countries.

I believe you were recently invited to be a part of a group art show in Finland (amongst the likes of Roy Lichtenstein). Can you talk about how this came about and what type of work you had in the show?

It was organized by local museum and with assistance of local comic activist, who are also involved in art school's comic line (you can actually study to become comic artists). They knew me and invited to be part of the exhibition. I was basically only person with no education or graduation from any art school and no CVs or other shit like that. I gave them original comics, including standard "underground comics" as well as nasty sex-related stuff. I was told few weeks ago that museum got complaints about my works because visitors didn't see them as suitable to bring their children there. As if "comics" would automatically mean it's meant for children.

What artists (if any) inspire your work? Or simply, whose visual work do you enjoy?

As a comic artist, it's people like R. Crumb, G. Shelton, M. Diana, and a lot of Finnish artists [who] are pointless to mention since people abroad don't know them. As for photography, paintings, etc., I tend to be inspired more [by] genres, publishers, or specific books, instead of really following any particular artists. For most of [the] time, I appreciate the anonymous side of pornography (which I consider to be "art" just as anything), where none of that artist profile or ego is essential, but intent of the piece of art. Writing names sound pretty obvious choices, very traditional, and non-surprising. Sally Mann, Graham Ovenden, Jock Sturges, Joel PeterWitkins, and so on. I do buy and collect increasing amount of art, yet it tends to focus on specific areas. I hate the modern photographic full color snapshot art, so popular in the same circles as the bullshit doodles. However, I'm not elitist in same way as some people in "fine art." To me, some grainy loop by Bob Wolfe or Danish countryside "artfilm" featuring Bodil can be much more higher-rated piece of art than something you see on gallery walls.

Do you feel that propaganda is more effective through visual art or through music?

I trust the combination, but naturally music is much more inspirational medium [that] has power to change personalities and people's thoughts [in] the long run, while the art not connected with music is easy for people to ignore.

According to your aesthetics, is the message or the music more important?

There is no purpose making bad music as intent to deliver message. Answer is that if message is important, then music has to be highly important. This connection is something [that] goes hand in hand, and there is no need to separate those two. A lot of music contains some values, ideas, or visual content. It delivers some kind of [message]. Even the messages of "I don't care."

Are you offended by anything at all?

Depends how strongly you need to feel to call it "being offended," and do you mean I'd somehow take it personally? As for what happens in underground scene, what people say or do, what I see on TV or read in books etc., it's hard to say I would have been "personally offended" in very recent years. As for means of being provoked to give answer or communicate, that I do fairly often, but that falls in the terms of normal communication.

Have you experienced much censorship with any of your projects?

Not that much. Few printing places refuse [to] do print magazines. Some pressing plants refused to press CDs; some gigs/tours cancelled because of boycotts. That kind of usual stuff [that] can happen to anyone. Police has interfered to my personal purchases only once and never had legal problems concerning what I publish. As for what people think or say in ug [sic] and what would people allow me to do on stage etc., I don't consider that censorship.

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"Some material has served its purpose even when remaining unreleased."

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What is your take on the "Satanic Skinhead" phenomena?

If you talk about Deathkey or Blasphemy, I can salute them for good work. I doubt the phenomena is big enough yet to be called "phenomena" or really relevant compared to the rest of skinhead movement.

In ideal case, Satanic skinheads could offer something else than traditional skinhead fractions, but what really is the definition of satanic skinhead? What elements of satanic tradition and skinhead culture are in the mix?

Do you think Gay Skinheads should go to hell?

They aren't there already?

In your opinion, are other people threatened by your work?

What I have done so far, maybe not directly, but some could be indirectly. I'm very positive that getting propaganda through music is possible.

I know only few cases when my direct influence has caused loss of job or serious break-up with daughter and family. I'm also aware of cases where customer of mine has been arrested for illegal activities such as desecrations. Their influences came "somewhere." Who knows where. But without propaganda delivery what satisfied their minds, nothing might have happened. This is the reason why punk, rap, metal, or whatever is threat to people -- if you represent the opposite side. While many may think the message given in my releases is nothing but glorification of filth and violence, if they'd have better look, they may see plenty of other things as well.

What were your formative musical experiences like growing up in Finland?

You could say that living over here resulted [in] serious lack of information. But even more so, living in small city in eastern Finland, just few kilometers from border. Lack of specialized music magazines in big scale (unlike NME or such in UK). Lack of venues to see bands of any style. Remote location in northern Europe, isolating it from a lot of activity. But this obviously has the positive effects too. Leads into more interesting development, through slow isolated process. With less trendy and less obvious routes, equipment, mentality... A lot of time-consuming learning and finding out things via corresponding with few international contacts, tape traders, everybody on local level being equally, if not more clueless what's happening out there, just ending accidentally into very similar results as in global scene.

When did you realize that you wanted to start a label? (Since you have two labels, this may be a two-part answer.) Also, what musical/sound influences helped you make this choice?

In both cases, it walks hand in hand with creation of music. When talking about personal interest of whatever, I hardly ever remain just bystander. When I'm interested in something on deeper level, it means full-scale commitment. From creation to consumption and everything between. It is just the natural way of handling things to me.

Could you give a little history for both Freak Animal & Northern Heritage?

Freak Animal continued what I had started with Nykto-tapes. It was making and distributing my own releases and some of the stuff I got in trade. Label was not very focused or have clear ideas what it should/could be. 1992-1994 was the beginning and transition time from Nykto to FA. It took until 1995 to make first real noise vinyl records, thus become record label. Before that, everything was merely highly limited home-dubbed tape releases.

Even if in theory, label has always been the same, there are certain characteristics that dominate each era. Early years of own releases and projects of friends, [from] split releases with international contacts to vinyl releases of the same, to releases of kind of established noise artists (k2, i=Incapacitants, Haters, Aube) to finally late 90s and early 2000 when label was focusing mostly on new Finnish power electronics scene. And I'm sure that the label profile of first five years is much less acknowledged than 10 years that came after it. Even today you could separate different times where focus is shifted in one way or another. There has been year dominated by tape releases. Some burst of vinyl. Then shift back to CD releases. There has been focus of attention to small editions. And occasionally attempts to push things further with big editions (read: 500 copies). Now I'm kind of back at small-edition CDs. Real professional CD, but often c. 200 copies done.

Unlike FA, Northern Heritage was never some unfocused teenager idea, but something I know from beginning what I wanted to do. Basically idea was to do same in context of black metal [that] I was already doing in power electronics. One should remember that back in Nykto tapes label and Nyktofobia zine, it was mixture of metal, noise, grind, etc. Freak Animal developing into noise, and some years later when time was right, active metal involvement came back.

Besides the vision, high importance is obviously the time. In late 90s, vinyl records in metal was nearly dead. If you looked [at the] Finnish black metal scene, [only a] couple bands had ever published real vinyl 12-inch. And equally small amount done 7-inch. You could count the bands with vinyl record out with fingers of one hand. At the same time, there was an uprising of new wave of Finnish black metal. Days of Beherit, Impaled Nazarene, Black Crucifixion, Unholy, Archgoat, etc. were gone. Some labels were doing more polished and clean BM CDs that never interested me personally. None of the bigger labels of the time could care less of extremely raw self-recorded black metal, [which] was booming already. Most of the time, releases that are now considered classics (Ildjarn, Mutiilation, Veles, Graveland, etc.) were discount bin laughingstock for majority of people in public, but they had the diehard followers too. Nobody here would invest into doing LP release of some obscure Finnish group. I was already about to release first Clandestine Blaze LP, and it was extremely easy task to sign basically every good band who I was personally in contact [with]. Most of the people and bands of the time are still the pillars of Northern Heritage and trusted comrades. I'm hardly interested to sign new groups and new bands.

Scene 10+ years later is more active than ever, but surrounding reality is obviously totally different and to run underground BM label now is obviously different than 10 years ago. And it was even more different 20 years ago. Running noise label isn't THAT big [of a] difference when you really go down to basics.

What is the deciding process for which artists you release?

Basically it is by people who I know personally or have been in touch for long time. Many artists who I release are the ones I have known basically since my involvement [when] the "scene" started. Many belong to same cultural situation, similar roots, same era, etc. Also I have had privilege of releasing material of some personally most influential bands who have been those who made me interested in noise in first place. Almost all the people, even international artists, I have personally met face to face. There are almost no exceptions. It might be hard to relate into something, where persons come from very different history (or lack of it) with very different ideas of how things are. I have zero interest for example in "internet mp3 scene." I can't get into computer noise. Even if I try to justify and rationalize use of this type of new technology, I'm not interested in empty and superficial stuff (be it judged on level of sound or the content). I'm not interested in people [who are] into status games and careers. I'm not into worship of big cult names. They are on same level as any newbie, with same requirement concerning the material. It just happens to be that people with similar interest are naturally getting in touch, even against all odds.

In the end, it's very natural how I choose material that is personally satisfactory, fitting my own tastes of music and aesthetics, and people behind projects being those who I respect. I know that these days there are some people who see my label(s) to have some sort of status and therefore really would like to be signed on one of my labels. But world is full of labels [that] would be better choice for them. Or let's say, better for me not to get involved in something half-heartedly but stick to my methods and motivations what made labels what they are.

Who are your current favorite artists that you're working with and why?

They are the same as always. You can see the discography of label and many of the names repeatedly appear there, and this is obviously because of reason. I have always enjoyed to work with Finnish bands, because there is certain things in Finnish noise, in sound and as a characters, [that] isn't similar abroad.

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"I can't get into computer noise. Even if I try to justify and rationalize use of this type of new technology, I'm not interested in empty and superficial stuff."

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Who are the best selling artists for you?

In noise, maximum sales are getting rid of the common (for others) minimum CD pressing. Like 500 copies. There are couple releases I have actually done more. Strom. ec debute album was 500 CDs and 275 LPs. So that's naturally the best selling FA release of all times. But I'm sure some could have reached that (or more) if they would have been pressed more. Some of the fastest-selling items were for example Grunt Seer of Decay 2xCD, which sold out 500 in matter of months. Recently Brethren CD sold out, 500 gone. On Northern Heritage, it is Clandestine Blaze, Satanic Warmaster, Deathspell Omega, Baptism. In that order, I'd say. Basically CDs are 10 times what FA sells. Big bands may be pressed up to 5000 (or more, since there are repressings coming); smaller ones reach barely 1000.

Which of your releases are you most proud of ?

I can't name single releases. I've done few hundred releases and reasons of being proud can vary. There are releases that are simply very good, but there are also some releases what have besides that, also more wider scale meaning, local or even international. Some releases what in my opinion and also by outsider comments, can be viewed as landmarks of certain genres.

What is your artistic intention behind your project Grunt?

Most of all, it is personal satisfaction. It's dealing with personal interests, obsessions both in realms of sound and subject matter. Everything else is secondary. Most of what happens in my life manifests through Grunt in a way or another. From personal experiences and attitudes/opinions into fetishes, fantasies, historical or political research/study, to mere experiments of different types of sound. Grunt is primarily seen as power electronics/industrial noise act, but it's often thanks to some of the higher profile releases and live shows. I would still say there is big difference to a lot of modern-day PE, due [to the] experimental nature of crafting sounds, field recordings, acoustic and organic sound material, and so on. A lot of the ideas and even recorded materials don't reach public. Some material has served its purpose even when remaining unreleased.

I know that sometimes for Grunt performances you have videos showing while you play. The Grunt performances I've seen were devoid of such videos. I was curious as to the level of importance of this type of imagery to the live performance? Perhaps you could describe some of these videos that would accompany a Grunt performance?

How Grunt live shows originally started was the influence of the European industrial/PE movement, where "multimedia performances" have been very big part. Instead of just some basement rock 'n' roll show. Back then, I didn't even fully understand how this type of sound could be created on spot. So it was closer to what some others (like Con-Dom) was doing. Playback of pre-recorded sounds. Projection of video material. Vocals and some little additional sounds. From those days, visuals and overall subject matter has been very important part. I don't like video footage for sake of video footage, in a way that it would be whatever horror film playing [in the] background. Almost since beginning, it has been self-made videos. Not only self-made collage from other sources, but actually self-filmed material.

But in same way as the sound varies from complex "musical" structures to pretty much free-form sonic assaults, there are variations in live gigs. Different style videos to no videos at all. From carefully planned and executed performances to plain live gig, with no other than creation of music. What is being done is often decided upon type of show, conditions, other bands, and so on. If everybody are doing heavy PE, it will be most likely more free noise blast from me. If everybody does noise, there will be more structure PE sound and so on. When I think about the live show, it's not about only my own set, but the whole night in mind.

Could you talk about a particularly memorable Grunt performance?

Many of them are, for [one] reason or another. I think France in Deadly Actions for first foreign show and first 100% live sound. Warming up Borbetomagus in Finland with perhaps most disturbing backing video. Latest show in Helsinki, for kind of new spirit of Finnish noise underground. 2008 show in Belgium, with utmost control over the gear and insane settings of the festival. Pretty good show in Lithuania too, with level of organization being such top-level.

There has been bad gigs, which are "memorable" in other ways. Terrible failure warming up Genocide Organ, all mics getting broken, set going nowhere. Basically pretty lame performances in USA (all of them, hah...). No blame on organizers, venues, or audience. Only my own performances. My intent has not been really to try to some "safe" set I'd commonly perform. There has been plenty of variation of gear and sets during the years. There will be out soon 3xCD set of various live gigs from 2005 to 2008. It will show more of the structured & song-oriented Grunt. The controlled and composed songs, repeatedly playing from show to show. But also being different versions of same track. Really played live not only pre-recorded playback, even if loops/samples are used. Many of the songs was never done in studio. Some older ones were.

Does the subject matter crossover for your noise and metal projects, or do you keep these sorts of topics separated?

There is no need to keep any real content separated. There is merely an aesthetic/artistic choice in level of presentation. I think changing personality or limiting interests based on music style would be foolish. Crossover is pretty much total. Every project what I have ever done is visible in some tracks of other project. If anyone would doubt it, I could always show the hard evidence where projects meets.

What would you like to accomplish with your musical projects that you have not yet done?

Stability of successful live performance. Basically, ability to remember lyrics. Ability to be in total control. Where it is not matter of luck or conditions.

Are there any artists you would like to work with that you have not yet worked with for a release? If so, who?

I just started the Industrial Recollections sub-label, focusing on reissues of sold out industrial/noise/PE releases [that] in my opinion would deserve to be reissued on CD. My personal favorites. Important releases and forgotten obscurities [that] may merely interest myself and handful of fanatics. In this series, there would be lots of artists I'd hope to work with. Many of bands I don't think I will have possibility to find anymore (to get license) or luring them would be long painful process... Victor/Victim, Slave State, Con-Dom, Grey Wolves, Streicher, Taint, Sodality, Test Dept, Ferial Confine, Vortex Campaign, .......

Any new projects with either of your labels that would like to discuss?

Maybe [of] the above mentioned Industrial Recollections label. I'm very excited about the whole idea of having some of the most obscure and forgotten PE releases back in public circulation and archived in pretty long-lasting and professional manner. Some of them may not have any cult status or huge relevance in the global scene, but something what I personally would see good to promote, introduce, and cultivate. There are plans for many styles, from PE and industrial noise to more plain noise recordings, but most often with certain atmosphere and presentation. Which should be no surprise for those who have followed what FA has done. There will be old 80s material. There will be also stuff from 90s. But also some reissues of even from this decade, including very recent years. Just something I see personally in huge need of re-release. I don't want Freak Animal to be seen as "nostalgia" or reissue label, so decision was to keep FA like it is -- possibly even more focused to certain ideas/spirit/selection of bands. And IR to be the one which has bands released who are predominantly known from other labels and possibly even other times.

What is an average day like for Mikko Aspa?

Wake up. Start doing e-mails, process orders. Deal with many things related of running mail order, label, and record store. Day ends basically when I go to sleep. But due [to the] flexibility of running your own life, there is plenty of listening to records, sexual activities, nighttime whiskey shots, and urination on female body. I would like to have more time for artistic purposes, but at the moment it is limited.

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