Vaaralliset Lelut (“The Dangerous Toys”) is probably the most Disney-influenced act in the entire history of avantgarde music. They culled their name from the Carl Barks duck story The Hypno-Gun, which was published in Finland in 1953 with the title Vaarallinen Lelu i.e. “The Dangerous Toy”. Comics aficionados were no doubt also delighted by some of the band’s other song titles such as Karhunpentujen kesäleiri (“The Summer Camp Caper”) and Pilviä hipovat miehet (“The Giant Robot Robbers”).
Another feature reminiscent of children’s culture was the band’s innocent, childlike eagerness to experiment. I don’t think there were any direct references to Gyro Gearloose the inventor, but the whole project can be said to have been one big Gearloose workshop, where they tested out one acoustic method after another, just as unsure of the outcome as Duckburg’s resident science wizard. They were, as the critic Markku Salo was to summarize in the magazine Uusi Laulu, “a community charting the means of communication”.
The community was formed in 1980 by Jyrki Siukonen and Jukka Mikkola, both contributors of the leading punk zine Hilse. Their musical collaboration had started with Mikkola’s guest appearance on a record by Siukonen’s band Kollaa Kestää. Later they were inspired by both rock experimentalists like The Pop Group and avantgarde veterans like Terry Riley and John Cage. In the early eighties many other punk musicians sought new inspiration in the direction of avantgarde music or progressive rock, but nobody else even tried to operate in such a wide musical field.
Initially Vaaralliset Lelut was meant to be something of a transitory project, for which the core duo would invite various collaborators according to each specific need. Besides Mikkola (sax, keyb) and Siukonen (gtr), their live line-up included Pekka Seppänen (b, keyb), Matti Kurikka (v, vcl), and Jari Kivelä (dr). The records also featured a synthesizer, a stylophone, a spinet, a flute, a recorder, a triangle, chimes, and other percussion.
As an indication of their unprejudiced and broadminded beginnings, Siukonen described how he was triggered off in 1980 by Black, the Talking Heads influenced debut album by the Finnish rock group Bluesounds: “I had this guitar that I really couldn’t play at all, and that record made want to write a couple of songs of my own”.
The liner notes to their debut album Lasisilmäpeli (“The Glass Eye Game”) lauded far-away peoples that had a more holistic, comprehensive approach to music than we do. Their musicians “did not play a specific song” but “an undefined part of music that exists”. No wonder, then, that the bulk of Vaaralliset Lelut’s recorded output consists of improvised instrumentals, soothing repetition of a simple musical theme, the doodling of a flute or a violin, bass and drum heavy dance tracks influenced by reggae, and even synthesizer soundscapes hiding fragments of some familiar melodies.
This was experimental music in the true meaning of the word. One “song”, for instance, was “made up without any other goal than to test the new studio”. On another track, five people’s “instruments” credited as “sounds made upon impulse”.
Despite Siukonen’s and Mikkola’s roots being in rock music, rock became the opposite of their new ideals – the ancient musics of exotic cultures striving for the sacred or at least a balance of mind. Still, as their intentions included performing all kinds of music (within the limits of their abilities), they also incorporated some more normal, charmingly melancholy pop songs in their repertoire. They churned out Beethoven with recorders, and planned to record experimental versions of Finnish punk classics.
The band’s broadminded musical output was only limited by the audiences; they soon dropped the more experimental parts of their set from the club and festival repertoire, and only played them at smaller art house shows.
Still, Atte Blom of Johanna Records dug their unprejudiced approach, and after releasing the two proper albums also put out Seppo ja Antero (“Seppo and Antero”) (1982), a compilation of 7” tracks and live recordings. In 1984 the Power label released the Hedelmiä (“Fruit”) tape, a posthumous compilation of leftover recordings. The band is also featured on the compilation double-CD More Arctic Hysteria/Son of Arctic Hysteria to be released in conjunction with Avanto 2005.
After Vaaralliset Lelut, Siukonen and Mikkola went even further away from “performing songs”. Instead of actual instrument-playing, their performance Tiedemiehet pulassa (“Scientists in Distress”) featured manipulation of various sound-inducing processes – shooting peas at cymbals hanging from the ceiling, driving an electric toy train on the floor, and so on. This was a true Gearloose-style “Musical Inventions While-U-Wait” workshop, if there ever was one. The toy duo’s show at Avanto promises to be more along these adventurous lines instead of their poppier songs – or, in the words of Mikkola, “music for instruments, objects and constructions”, in which a miniature steam engine will be used as an energy source in addition to electricity and muscle-power.
In 1984 Siukonen and Mikkola co-founded the artist group Rodtsenko-seura (“Rodtchenko Society”), whose ranks included Markku Kivinen as well as Erik Ahonen and Jouni Hirvonen, both guest players in Vaaralliset Lelut. Cultivating ironic political commentary and appreciating Soviet constructivism from the years of the Revolution, the group was a kind of a band in itself, expressing themselves not only by way of images and posters but also slogans, lectures, conceptual pranks, boxcar racing, and music (e.g. a sound installation in the aquarium of a major Finnish amusement park). One of their best-known works was an installation inspired by the popular catch phrase from the 80’s “Being born in Finland is like winning in the National Lottery”.
Today, Jyrki Siukonen has a professorship in the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki, while Jukka Mikkola is the veteran radio journalist best known for the Avaruusromua (“Space Junk”) programme, a long-time favourite of the more discerning audiences.
The author is a Finnish journalist and co-author of the books Ensimmäinen aalto: Helsingin Underground 1967-1970 (1988), Jee jee jee: suomalaisen rockin historia (1998), and Suomi soi 1-4 (2004-2005). He has been a regular contributor for the weekly Aku Ankka (“Donald Duck”) comic book since 1987.
Vaaralliset Lelut will perform at the Kiasma Theatre on Sunday 20 November at 19.30 hours.