by JC Gonzo
HK119, the sci-fi alter ego born of consumerism and greed, was crafted in the early 2000s by Finnish artist Heidi Kilpeläinen. She’s drawn comparisons to Grace Jones, Kate Bush, and David Bowie, caught the eye of Leila Arab and Bjork (leading to a record deal with One Little Indian), and produced two albums’ worth of multi-disciplinary work ranging from video to stage performance to self-made costumes. Typically adorning herself with cheap tech and translucent skintight outfits, HK119 delivers her message in the most direct and personal of fashions – solo portraiture in front of the camera. Alien and occasionally alienating, playfully futuristic, lo-fi and DIY were essential aspects of her aesthetic.
Early HK119 videos from her debut release, songs “23.45” & “Malfunction.”
However, a few shifts have occurred within the bionic world of HK119 in her third and latest album, Imaginature, produced alongside Christoffer Berg (Fever Ray, Planningtorock, Depeche Mode). Kilpeläinen’s persona has discovered the natural world, and through a journey, we are presented with fascination, adoration, confusion, and mystery. HK119 embodies landscapes, or to be more precise, the perception of landscapes distanced by technology and ego. While Kilpeläinen has always been able to be one step ahead of the seemingly literal criticism of timely matters by personalizing her subject matter, Imaginature reaches less restricted territory concerning spiritualism and experience. Kilpeläinen’s signature satire and theatrical flare isn’t missing, but doesn’t take the center stage as often.
We held a virtual correspondence with Heidi Kilpeläinen, currently on tour.
When I first read the title “Imaginature” I was thinking it’d be along a more political and/or environmental line, considering humorous take on capitalism in the past. I was pleasantly surprised to hear something very different. What prompted you to take the alienated, bionic-woman persona into nature?
HK119 – Snowblind / First single off Imaginature:
Do you feel that, by default, using ‘nature’ as subject matter is political/environmental in today’s world?
HK: Yes, definitely! This is and was very much in my mind during the writing process. I didn’t want to preach though, previous HK would have done ‘full on, in your face, tongue in cheek preaching style’ which sounds like fun but too cabaret. I wanted to write from my heart and share something more personal… personal/political. I wanted to go deeper and challenge myself for a more of an intimate song writing process. Singing about love, fears, worries and dreams using nature as a frame. I wanted to highlight it’s beauty as well as it’s beast, to say between the lines, “Look, it’s incredible, let’s preserve some of it for the future generations before it’s too late.” Nature is us, we are part of nature, if we destroy it, we’ll destroy ourselves.
While Imaginature channels more primitive elements you still retain a degree of futurism. Would you say Imaginature is a merging of technology and nature or abandoning one for the other?
HK: Yes, I think again some merging is happening. Wild Grass as a ‘story’ is a good example of a sci-fi vision mixed with nature. Someone is approaching to save us from life beyond neon… dream guy from the off-the-grid world, but does he make it on time? 😉 Also, If I really wanted to go the organic nature approach, I could have gone for an acoustic sound.
I was thrilled to hear you worked with Christoffer Berg. What was the recording process like? I hear the sounds of buzzing insects and running water. Did you record your experiences with nature or just use digital samples?
HK: I recorded some of the sounds on my nature trips. I also filmed video footage on these trips. Obviously, the more exotic sounds like whale and cougar are samples. My favorite is the bee I recorded in Finland for the end of ‘Milky Way.’
Yes, working with Christoffer was a dream come true. As soon as I found out about him I knew he would be the right person. It took a while to get my confidence to ask him, via some friends. He was instantly on board and it felt like a match made in heaven. I loved his enthusiasm and vision about Imaginature. He expressed similar interests and approaches to production, thus making it a very organic and pleasurable process. One of the best, fluent artistic experiences of my life.
Video and theatre were rather integral parts of your previous efforts and fully embodied characters. How will this translate or evolve for Imaginature?
HK: Aspects of the HK119 character are still there, but there’s more of Heidi Kilpeläinen this time. It is interesting to keep challenging and finding new aspects of myself. Playing ukulele for the first time in my life is one of the things I didn’t think I’d do, but now I love it. It was great to play it in the forest in Finland last august, mosquitoes as my audience. But playing ukulele, a more conventional instrument, doesn’t mean there’s no room for a theatrical approach as well. For example, I dressed in paper for Iceberg acoustic version. I fantasize about doing an Imaginature performance in a gallery space, without traditional ‘musical performance restrictions.’
Where you raised in a city or closer to nature? How did this shape your relationship to music/art?
HK: I was raised in a suburb in Finland with a view to a lake either side of the block of flats. In Finland there’s trees and lakes everywhere. It’s never far, even in our capital Helsinki. I love it now. But when younger I didn’t care, it was juts there. I didn’t think about it, but missing it would have been a great loss I realize now. I think it is, because I never had a proper connection to nature, that it completely rocked my world few years ago. That bird song in Finland one spring was a moment of an awakening, a beginning of a life long relationship. Some people go to a church. I go to a forest. It was like an alarm going off saying “Look. Listen. Be.”