Translated by: Kasper Salonen
At the end of October, 22-year-old theology major Janne Ahtiainen decided to check what was going on on his Soundcloud account. He couldn’t. His artist profile, Versace Henrik, had been deleted. Gone, too, were the rapper’s two million streams, five thousand followers, and dozens of tracks.
How did that happen?
”Well, I’d been switching up my image gallery on there… I found a photo of some dude’s erect cock and made it my banner image. I guess I wanted to alienate people from Soundcloud itself, you know. I wanted to upload shit that no one wants to see. Combining fucking spectacular music with awful visual imagery.”
Henrik also posted a gore photograph showing a person getting their head ripped off.
”That’s probably why they deleted the account. When I asked Soundcloud why, they said I’d uploaded pornographic material…”
Some of the songs were backed up on YouTube or his own hard drive, but some had never been saved anywhere else except Soundcloud.
Ahtiainen – whom I call Henrik in this article since that is his active stage name – asked the streaming site if there was any chance he could get back in. His messages went unanswered.
”I never would’ve posted those joke pics if I’d known my account would be permanently shut down. It was just such a weird, ridiculous thing. I mean, it doesn’t really bother me. ’Cause shit like that is good for the myth, after all.”
The artist profile @versacehenrik is defined as a ”religious community” on Instagram, and has some 6,500 followers. Only a handful of posts are available at any time, with the rest in Henrik’s own invisible archive.
It can be easier for an artist to update their aesthetic if their past self has been destroyed or hidden.
Versace Henrik started publishing tracks and mix tapes online about two years ago. Soundloud is a playground for alternative rap full of underground artists of varying degrees. Henrik made a splash with his unusual work and was soon cosigned by rappers such as Eevil Stöö and Tippa, ”early idols” of Henrik’s who became his fans.
Independence was more important to Henrik than fame. He turned down record label deals and deleted videos and tracks from YouTube and Soundcloud whenever he felt like it.
Last July, he performed for vast, moshing crowds on the main stage of Finland’s premier hip hop festival, Blockfest.
Henrik isn’t into making rap right now, though. He is currently promoting his fresh punk album called Vanha testamentti, ”Old Testament”. The album was released through Eevil Stöö’s Katakombi label on Spotify, and both LP and cassette releases are forthcoming.
Henrik himself is responsible for the album’s cover art, which features a montage of a gig photo and Tumblr images of dragons and whips.
The sound of the album seems simplistic and trashy, but the array of influences is broad: the songs incorporate 1980s Finnish hardcore, noise, ambient, religious music, black metal, oldschool heavy metal, iconic punk band Suomen Talvisota 1939-1940, alongside lo-fi indie bands such as Young Marble Giants.
The lyrics on Vanha testamentti contain myriad contemporary elements, from browsing Instagram to demanding equal rights for trans people. Occasionally they sound like they could be from the debut release of any punk band in any decade:
”I don’t want to do anything
I don’t know how to take a shower
I don’t know how to do anything
The cops are fucking assholes!”
On the first Saturday of November, @versacehenrik’s Instagram Story included a flash selfie taken in a dark room without a shirt on. In the description he says he is in a hotel in Turku.
The previous night marked one of the last times he would perform as Versace Henrik, at an underground techno party. The organizers treated the artist to a tasting menu that included ox tail and artichoke chips.
I send Henrik a DM and tell him that Ylioppilaslehti would like to do a cover piece on him.
What do you say?
The answer comes in about a minute.
Monday is free for me ;)
And you have to mention I study theology xD
I won’t come otherwise xD
Of course we’ll discuss theology, I reply, and we agree to do the interview while accommodating his afternoon ”school stuff”. After that Henrik asks me what I do and what is actually going on.
I tell him I’m a reporter currently working at the paper.
Never read it so I don’t know xD
I just read the black bible and perttu häkkinen*
[* Perttu Häkkinen (1979-2018) was a prodigious musician, journalist, author, and cultural activist. One of his most celebrated works is a non-fiction book about Finnish occultism.]
Henrik sends me another mirror selfie, this time of someone striking a pose in a black Adidas jacket. Under the open jacket the figure is wearing a black t-shirt with a cannabis leaf in place of the Adidas stripes and the text Adihash.
This is not Henrik’s selfie. For some reason he decided to send me a picture of the guitarist in his band.
I give it a heart.
It is noon on Monday, and I’m waiting for Henrik in a cafe.
When he doesn’t show up after half an hour, I ask him on Insta if we can reschedule. Maybe he’s still sleeping?
His reply comes in about fifteen minutes.
I forgot to set the alarm i just wkoe up xDddd
Was out a bit late last nihgt
Will you be around later tonight if we postpone this a little xDdd
Sry so unprofessional this doesnt usually happen xdddd
A few hours later Henrik is sipping tea at the Ylioppilaslehti office. He has a cold. He has just handed in an essay on the connections between Western esotericism and popular culture.
”I hope the teacher likes it.”
Monday is Henrik’s only day off in the week. He describes his first year at the University of Helsinki as ”a bit like being in some grade school religion class”, but this second term has turned out to be quite demanding.
Henrik says he loves studying theology. He is especially excited about a joint course on gender studies and the science of religion, adding that he has learned about feminism simply by listening to others.
”I’ve always liked religions, especially anything esoteric, like the occult. At school I was mostly just good at philosophy, history, and religion, and I ended up choosing theology.”
Are you thinking about becoming a pastor?
”I thought about it at some stage, but I couldn’t,” he says. ”I’m not a believer, more like spiritual. I’m not from a Bible-thumping family or anything, my parents are so great for never shoving any ideology down my throat. I’ve always been interested in Christian themes and iconography since a young age, like heaven and hell or Jesus on the cross.”
Henrik cuts the figure of an introverted music geek, but he talks fast, and at unfiltered length when he gets excited. He will sometimes swing his leg while talking, but not out of anxiety.
”Versace merged with Michael Kors!” Henrik scoffs and leans backward amused.
Is that why you don’t want to be ”Versace” Henrik anymore?
”No, no! It was just a sort of joke in the first place. I had to think of something else.”
Henrik follows fashion closely and has even modeled for fashion design student Juha Vehmaanperä, whose repertoire includes fuzzy crocheted capes.
But Henrik himself tends to dress down during the week. Currently he is wearing large round glasses and a red wool shirt he bought from second-hand store UFF.
He has a fairly large scar on the bridge of his nose, at eye level. He got it by breaking a glass pint over his own face during a gig in Turku.
”I was pretty out of it at the time, even though I wasn’t drunk. I’m never drunk on stage. I just go into some zone, and then anything can happen.”
”I was like, hey yeah, I’ll do like a cool smackdown move and break this pint on my head. Well, it didn’t hit my head, it hit my nose. There was just a shit-ton of blood. My whole upper body was covered in blood, arms completely red. I finished the gig, but it was pretty crap and then it was off to the doctor. There were shards of glass in my nose. It hurt like hell when they cleaned it. I clenched my teeth and I was like I’m not gonna cry, I’m not gonna cry.”
Meanwhile, pop star Sanni sings about a corner sofa she buys at Ikea. Studies confirm that young people use less alcohol these days than ever before in Finland.
Some twenty-somethings get criticized for being almost too wholesome with their matcha tea and their middle-class business propositions. Versace Henrik and other Soundcloud rappers show the opposite side, where fierce aesthetics and thrash sensibilities are taken to the extreme. Versace Henrik’s gigs are known to have an air of the transgressive, à la the infamous GG Allin.
”Not a lot happens at rap shows. Mostly it’s just someone pressing a button and then you yell some shit. I like to think of my gigs as performance art. I want to give it my all.”
Henrik has given out drums to his audience to play, thrown bar stools and even a table into the crowd, hurling pints around, and strangling himself with the mic cord. He once masturbated on stage. Most times he will at least leap into the crowd and strip himself naked.
”If I don’t go crazy enough, I feel like I haven’t given it everything.”
Henrik finds inspiration in noise bands and art he finds on YouTube and Tumblr. The violent and self-destructive performances of Marina Abramovic from Serbia and Petr Pavlensky from Russia. Pavlensky is known for his performance where he literally nails his testicles to the cobblestones of the Red Square in Moscow.
”I don’t think something like that is motivated by self-harm,” Henrik says. ”I appreciate people who are prepared to go so far for their art that they cause themselves physical anguish.”
”I’m not violent at all, but I dig violent aesthetics. I’ve watched a lot of porn and gore on Tumblr, there was some pretty awful shit on there at one point.”
Henrik also finds inspiration in Japanese noise bad The Gerogerigegege, which mainly performs at fetish clubs and whose members vomit over each other and sometimes eat their own sick on stage.
Henrik says he has no expectations or even aspirations to get by financially with his art.
He has played and recorded the tracks on Vanha testamentti 90 percent on his own. He only learned to play many of the instruments once the record was in production. He has now started to train with an eight-piece band to put together live versions of his audio tracks.
Henrik is excited by the prospect of a live music performance, but their fee is now spread across so many people that live sets will not net them much walking-around money.
”I’ll probably look for a job in the spring. I don’t like working, but I can psych myself up for it. I did my civilian service in a library, it might be fun to do some shifts at a library again. I mean, in my ideal situation I could just make music without restraints, paint paintings, and study theology.”
”When I’m researching I have to sort of twist my brain into a different position than when I make music. When I make music, I don’t think about anything. I write about the life I lead, all the dumbest lines, what’s on my mind, or whatever crosses my path. Varying between the two is good for me.”
Henrik says he considers theology ”the university’s punk subject”, because studying it does not benefit society.
”You’re never going to let the man use your bank of wisdom. You dedicate your wisdom to some church, or some other esotericism that no one cares about. You study it purely out of a thirst for knowledge.”
When I inquire after his recent sources of inspiration, Henrik mentions two seemingly incongruous phenomena: the ”health goth” lifestyle and famed Finnish folk group Värttinä.
”I don’t like the term folk-punk at all, but that’s the thing, nothing is as punk as Värttinä. Twelve women singing full blast in the Karelian language and all of them are from that region as well. That’s awesome.”
Henrik’s aesthetic interests change quickly. Tumblr affects his subconscious, he says, and imbues his gaze with an artful radar.
He may start to really enjoy a park bench with a piece of litter on it, for instance. When that happens he has to at least take a picture of it or write a song about it, stacking images and reality on top of each other in thin layers.
Henrik says he doesn’t even dare to think about how fast information moves for the generation after his, for those who have grown up inside the internet all their lives.
”Either I’ll become a transhumanist with all kinds of implants and instruments attached to me, or I’ll just quit the internet because I can’t keep up. I could move into some tiny cabin in the forest, and visit Helsinki to gig.”
Henrik thanks me politely for his tea, wonders aloud at some of the books on the shelf behind him, and returns home to do school stuff. It is strange to thing that a person who seems so kind can transform entirely on stage, like some creature in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
At night I look at my phone. Henrik has sent me a video where he is practicing the transverse flute with on shirt off.
I got this tday, cant play at all
I reply that he could work on some ambient flute material after a few YouTube tutorials.
I’ll wait until I can play something at least
Then crank the delay & reverb thru it or someithn g
That woudl be FIRE
5yrs and its time for a henrik lamar flute concerto
Later when we agree on a photoshoot he sends me a picture of a black cat, again taken with flash. The cat has a bottle of Xanax in its paws and it is looking mischievously at the camera.
Song lyrics and text messages freely translated from Finnish.