Enzo talks to Finnish producer Ursula’s Cartridges – ahead of the vinyl release of his rave-infused opus, Braindance – about a love affair with 90s UK dance culture that he shared with his beloved brother.
In the ever-evolving landscape of Vaporwave, UK rave culture is perhaps one of the more surprising reference points for artistic experimentation. Particularly in a scene which, for casual listeners at least, is most famous for its relationship with 80s R&B slow jams.
Yet nostalgia comes in many forms, and more and more artists from across the globe are turning to niche underground UK sounds for inspiration.
Argentinian producer BBRAINZ was arguably the first to experiment with the sound of London’s early 90s underground with his album ‘Jungle2000’ – released back in 2015. But it’s a growing trend.
As someone who grew up in the UK and who personally witnessed the latter stages of the so-called ‘golden age’ of rave, I have a very direct and emotional connection to the source material.
I still own many of the records I picked up from long closed, legendary record shops like Remix Records, Section 5 and Vinyl Mania; and somewhere in my mum’s loft is a shoe box of taped recordings from the pirate radio stations that dominated London’s airways in the 90s.
It’s this lifelong love affair with Jungle and Breakbeat Hardcore music that inspired me to start 3PeaceSweetz with Thom and Jay.
What’s intriguing, however, is to see so many people from across the planet inspired by music that simply didn’t exist near them in the pre-internet age; music that in some cases passed its peak long before they were born.
Take Finnish artist Ursula’s Cartridges, for example. He was only 4 years old when he was first exposed to the rave sound by his older brother.
His 2022 album ‘Braindance’ was inspired by their relationship and shared love for a style of music that was most commonly heard more than 1500 miles away from where they grew up in Finland.
‘Braindance’ gets a long-awaited vinyl pressing this week on My Pet Flamingo and channels early 90s bleepcore, and Ursula’s Cartridges is part of a growing number of Vaporwave producers taking inspiration from the UK’s cultural past.
Just recently on this platform we interviewed PowerPCME, whose latest album is heavily influenced by the mid 90s sound of LTJ Bukem. Whilst Pizza Hotline’s PS1 Jungle opus – Level Select – has blown up in a big way on YouTube, making him one of the most in-demand UK Vapor(rave?) artists out there.
Even George Clanton’s track ’Slide’, which you would hardly describe as a rave track, oozes ‘Baggy’ vibes and samples the famous ‘Assasinator’ break shared with the Prodigy’s ‘Out of Space’ and ‘Hyperreal Selector’ by The Shamen.
The early 90s was an era of innocence and optimism, before the mainstream took control and diluted our dance culture to within an inch of its life and its fascinating for me to see it reinvented and reincorporated into a new ‘underground’ context.
‘Braindance’ was an album we literally jumped at the chance to release.
It achieves the almost impossible by sounding simultaneously ‘authentic’ to the era, and somehow relevant and fresh today.
It’s Fantazia, 1992. But you could be anywhere.
Nebula II (the Atheama Remix) is piercing through the speakers. It’s about 3AM as you soak up the atmosphere, and take the last swig from your bottle of Evian.
Everywhere you look you see smiles and sweat. Staccato movements shuddering through the strobes. Seriously, where else would you want to be right now?
Interview with Ursula’s Cartridges
I talked to Ursula’s Cartridges (real name Pekka Lavia) about his influences, and the story behind an album that was the best part of six years in the making.
How did you come to discover this niche form of underground rave music that the album is inspired by?
“My brother used to listen to a lot of dance music throughout the 90s. I can remember him listening to lots of rave music back when it was still a brand new thing, but later during the decade he also listened to Happy Hardcore, Euro Dance and Trance.
“Back in ’92 I was only about 4 years old and he was 11 years older than me. He recorded lots of stuff into his cassette tapes and VHS from radio and Music Television. Altern-8, The Prodigy, Cappella and many more.
“We also had a turntable so he bought some releases for it as well. Every time a new dance hit was released he could have it available for him to listen to. Haddaway’s ‘What Is Love’ and The Prodigy’s ‘Out of Space’ were brand new things and I had a chance to get introduced to new music every now and then.
“Sometimes he would jam the music on a high volume and our mother would get pissed and tell us that this kind of music could affect me in a negative way. Suffice to say it did affect me to start making music in the future, alright!
“Unfortunately my brother is no longer here with us. He passed away suddenly in 2007 but I wouldn’t want to talk publicly about that.
“He had a great sense of taste for music and art and to be honest I was rather envious of him because everyone knew him in our hometown and he had experienced so much during that era, whereas I was still just a little kid playing with Lego!
“In ‘Braindance’ I wanted to celebrate his memory and the era we lived in. I really miss and cherish those times. I had this album idea in mind for too many years but eventually I had enough inspiration and willpower to start creating the album which took about six years, at least.
“I had some trouble with technology because: a) I updated my hardware to a newer PC and audio monitors, b) I updated my FL Studio into the newest version, c) Had trouble with older DAW versions due to incompatible vst versions and old project files, d) I had to search for a decent press house from my hometown to scan brother’s old graffiti art and e) Looking all the family photos to find any worthy pics.
“The task was long and difficult but ultimately I’m happy with the final version. Rest in peace, brother.”
One of the things that stands out to me as someone who was an avid listener of old school hardcore is how authentic it sounds to the era – to me it’s very specifically a 1991 or 1992 album. How did you recreate the sound, and was ‘authentic’ something that you were deliberately aiming for?
“I love this sound for nostalgic reasons. And I find that I dislike modern dance music because it lacks the joy and entertainment of the classic era – it’s not that memorable!
“As a sober person I feel like most modern dance drives up the bass and decibels to the nth degree to cater for drunk/stoned ravers, and it’s lost that sense of memorable melodies and hooks.
“There’s a high chance in the (near) future that some of this music will be forgotten, whereas people will never forget lots of dance hits from the 90s, 80s and even the 70s! (I think i’m getting a little off-topic here, sorry about that.)
“I really wanted to mimic the ‘feeling’ of the early 90s rave era so I had to spend some time to figure it out how to do that.
“There’s a lot of sampled stuff, both heavily recreated or edited afterwards, but I also wanted to add my own virtual synth melodies and VST effects to make it sound more authentic to the time. I also thought about how Vaporwave elements could work in the mix but eventually those elements were reduced to make room for a “purer” sound.
“I guess my Ursula’s Cartridges project isn’t as ‘classic Vaporwave’ as it was before but Braindance’s music fits somewhere between the aesthetic of 70s-90s.”
Why do you think that so many Vaporwave artists from across the world are finding inspiration from rave culture now?
“One possible explanation could be that most of the 80s music and City Pop tracks have been sampled too many times, and people just want to experiment with new ideas?! I don’t know, I’m kidding.
“I guess many Millennials (myself included) who lived through the era just find the sound very nostalgic. After all, here in Europe at least, dance music was literally everywhere!
“We were just little kids hearing new music on radio and television and this sound was everywhere at that time. And don’t forget how important Playstation is because they had loads of games with soundtracks made up of dance music.
“Anyone who’s ever played Wipeout 2097 must know what kind of track ‘Firestarter’ is.
“Perhaps the 90s era is mostly remembered by Gen X, but it is nice to see some Millennials also remember their childhood jams from the past and who knows, maybe Zoomers are also taking some kind of inspiration for future music?! We shall see.”
Vaporwave doesn’t seem to have many strict rules, beyond a connection with the past and nostalgia. Do you find that gives you a lot of freedom to experiment and create a ‘world’?
“Sure. People have lots of different ideas and this way the hive-mind grows bigger and bigger.
“My own project is described as a 70s-90s aesthetics music project, so that’s already a wide scope for experimenting.
“There’s always room for new and old ideas. To each their own!
“Unless it eventually explodes…? Who knows what the future holds… The sky’s the limit, as it has been said before.”
What are you working on now, and does Ursula’s Cartridges have any big plans for 2023?
“Right now I’ve got one rad album in a state of limbo. It’s been a year since I sent it to the label, but they haven’t given me any news lately. So hopefully that’s something that I’ll be able to share pretty soon.
“I’m also releasing an album of remixes from ‘Aqua Placenta’, with more than 25 different sea salty remixes and that’s coming some time in 2023. I want to send a big thank you to everyone who took part in that project!
“I’m also working on a concept album inspired by my sleep deprivation music making sessions, and going into Downtown while being sleepy. I don’t know for sure why these things happened, but during these days I managed to make some tracks while being very exhausted and having next to no sleep.
“Not sure what else I’ve got planned for this year. I have a few concepts for albums that I’ll work on in the future but I’m not sure when I’ll be ready to take the first steps on those. Hopefully soon!”
‘Braindance’ is out on My Pet Flamingo on Friday 27th January on a limited edition vinyl pressing.
Written by Enzo Van Baelen