Fashion designer, photographer and band join forces to create a magical summer utopia
Justus Kantakoski and Mortti Saarnia are good friends who met on Tinder, and both are alumni of Aalto and now also music video directors. Their first collaboration, the music video ’Kutsu’ (Invitation) by Suistamon Sähkö, a band that performs new Karelian dance music with electronics, was nominated for an EMMA Award in May. How did the collaboration between creators from different creative fields come about?
Justus Kantakoski, who graduated in 2020 as a Master in Fashion Design from Aalto University, had been a fan of Suistamon Sähkö for some time and got to know the band members during gigs.
'It started via Instagram when the band contacted me in the spring of 2020. They asked me to direct a music video for them using the Hurriganes clothing collection designed by me and that I would also be appearing inthe video', says Kantakoski. Kantakoski's Hurriganes collection, named after a Finnish rock band that was formed in the early 1970s, was shown at the Aalto University Näytös19 fashion show. The theme comes from their mother's youth: she hand-printed Hurriganes fan shirts in the 70s. Nowadays, the band's frontman Remu Aaltonen is a family friend, and Kantakoski specifically asked him for permission to name the collection.
'Remu said so beautifully that fashion is at least as important as music. That was unforgettable for me', recalls Kantakoski. 'In hindsight, the clothes in the collection, which are reminiscent of oil paintings, also blend with the Karelian florals and flamboyance represented by Suistamon Sähkö.'
Kantakoski immediately asked his friend Mortti Saarnia to co-direct the video, and the duo's first project together began. Saarnia graduated with a major in photography in 2020.
'We found that we shared a similar artistic vision, with a strong sense of humanity, respect for our own values and knowledge of national and international cultural history. We realised that a fashion designer and a photographer are like a fridge door and a souvenir magnet – they need each other. I quickly discovered that I love working with Justus', says Saarnia.
Justus Kantakoski's Hurriganes collection at Näytös19 fashion show by Aalto University fashion students
The script for the music video 'Kutsu' was refined together with choreographer and band soloist Reetta-Kaisa Iles. The band wanted the video to include fashion in a notable way. Suistamon Sähkö is inspired by Karelia and karelianism, and the video is about a search for a utopian Karelia. Kantakoski recalls the band saying that if the ceded Karelia was part of Finland, Suistamon Sähkö would be the hottest Karelian band. The video is thus set in an imaginary world of folk history, timelessness, agelessness, the Finnish summer and ritualism or "dance-trance".
'The best parties are always in the kitchen', laughs Kantakoski, describing the video's kitchenette dance scene. 'There are many things in the video that anyone can relate to, regardless of age or background.'
'It's a low-budget indie music video that was made at an intense pace in a camp-like way. Overall, the whole process was lovely. The collaboration was easy, the vision cohesive, the location magical and many of us were doing this for the first time. It's funny to think that our first direction included long-standing artists such as dancers Marjo Kuusela and Alpo Aaltokoski', recalls Mortti Saarnia.
The creative work is similar despite the role
Both Kantakoski and Saarnia were faced with a new role as video directors, so they reflected on how the roles of fashion designer and photographer differ from that of director.
'The video work process was more human-centred and required more staff management. Trust in each member of the team was also important in order to gather material for the video. The timeline for this process was shorter than for a collection, although the video took six months from start to finish. Still, I think the creative process is at the heart of it, and it's really no different from designing clothes: You ideate, you come back and you ideate again. Creative work is all about thinking', Kantakoski sums up.
They say that a Master of Arts degree prepares you for a wide variety of work. Mortti Saarnia says that they did not learn video photography during their photography studies, but in their case the whole world of moving images was born out of a passion for film and music videos.
'In this video, I didn't shoot at all, but we had a talented cinematographer Kim Saarinen, who was heavily involved in the artistic decision-making. My role was to take overall control of the situation, making sure that the footage we saw on camera matched the vision. It's influenced by everything from the lighting to the colour of the carpet and the order of the performers. What is important to cut, what moves the story forward – the questions are endless', says Saarnia.
'Photography is my great first love, but videography and directing have come into my life to stay. Video and filmmaking is a true collaboration, unlike photography, where the photographer decides everything alone. This kind of collaboration has quickly become my favourite way to work.'
This August, Saarnia is co-directing together with screenwriter and Aalto alumna Taimi Nevaluoma, who graduated in 2019. Saarnia directs the camera and Nevaluoma directs the actors.
For Saarnia, photography and directing have a lot in common: Both control situations, people and light. What matters most, they say, is a bold vision, quick decision-making and "the ability to look at the vision in front of you through a cinematic or photographic frame". The video-making process has been educational for both creators in many ways. 'The most challenging part is creating big images and stretching reality with little money. Fortunately, it's not impossible.'
After the video production, Kantakoski and Saarnia continued their collaboration with Suistamon Sähkö. Kantakoski designed the band's new touring costumes, and the duo designed the visuals for the album together. In between the collaboration new friendships have also been forged. 'Definitely the best thing has been the people, the experiences and the wild and free working environment. I really appreciate these things', says Saarnia.
'Kutsu' music video:
Directors: Justus Kantakoski & Mortti Saarnia
Director of photography: Kim Saarinen
Costume designer: Justus Kantakoski
Color grading: Kim Saarinen
Styling and make-up: Taru Närkki
Light design & Set design assistant: Timo Saari
Producer: Silja Palomäki/Folk Extreme
Anne-Mari Kivimäki: accordion, vocals
Reetta-Kaisa Iles: vocals
Tuomas Juntunen: vocals
Eero Grundström: electronics, vocals
Record company: Fe Publishing/Fe Records