Pioneers: Hitmaker Jaakko Salovaara shaped the sound of the new millennium

Music Finland's 10-year-anniversary article series honours and celebrates the PIONEERS of Finnish music export. These are the bands, artists and musicians who went out to the world with little help and knowledge of how the international music business works – and still managed to find audiences for their magnificent art. In the 6th chapter of the series, we celebrate the long career of dance music producer and songwriter Jaakko Salovaara, also known as JS16.
October 1999 was a spectacular month for Finnish music and club music overall. Darude's "Sandstorm" and Bomfunk MCs' "Freestyler", two now iconic anthems were released just a week apart. It was spectacular also for Jaakko Salovaara, the man who produced both singles.

Sandstorm is certified platinum in Finland, the UK and the USA. It has been streamed over 270 million times on Spotify alone, but of course the record sold huge amount of CD singles and 12" vinyl discs back then. These days the iconic trance tune is commonly played in sports events and has also become a staple in internet's meme culture.

"I met Ville Virtanen (Darude) in Turku and he sent me some demos. We produced Sandstorm and sent DAT tapes everywhere. Eddie Gordon, who ran the trance label Neo in London loved it and used his network to push it forward and it took on from there. The song was good enough and the response escalated", Salovaara reminisces calmly.

Bomfunk MCs was also a creation of the Turku (Salovaara's birth city) nightlife around the millennium.

"We were partying with Ismo Lappalainen (DJ Gizmo) and hit the studio in the night. We called Raymond Ebanks, whom I knew from some previous collaborations. I had this idea of mixing together an Afrika Bambaataa type of breakbeat with drum & bass sounds. And of course the Jason Nevins remix of Run DMC's It's Like That played a huge part in the plan."

Freestyler topped the charts in more than 10 countries and gained Bomfunk MCs a huge following in Europe.

I met Darude in Turku and he sent me some demos. We produced "Sandstorm" and sent DAT tapes everywhere.

Both Darude's and Bomfunk MCs' success peaked almost instantly, but Salovaara decided to take the backseat. He focused on producing songs and building his solo career as JS16 but had to turn down opportunities like collaborating with Jennifer Lopez because he felt that his trademark sound could not be created without his non-portable studio.

"Back then it wasn't possible to just carry a laptop and go work anywhere."

Salovaara couldn't repeat the home runs of Sandstorm and Freestyler. He was close with another project, Mighty 44, who signed a deal with Jive Records but it didn't really take on. Salovaara says he struggled with the descending success and shifted his focus towards local artists.

"It was easy because everyone is around in the neighborhood. But I kept my goal-directed mindset: whoever I worked with, I wanted to make the biggest hit of their career."

In that he succeeded indeed. The list of Finnish platinum and gold singles produced by Salovaara in the past 10 years is exhausting. From Sini Sabotage's rap banger Levikset repee to Reino Nordin's euphoric house pop song Kato mua silmiin, from Stig's nocturnal and nostalgic Roy Orbison to last year's biggest domestic hit Vauhti kiihtyy by Portion Boys – just to name a few.

From classical to house

Jaakko Salovaara hasn't been an EDM producer his whole life. He started playing the cello at the age of five and is a classically trained cellist. He even joined his parents at Turku Philharmonic Orchestra for a short period of time in his teens, but was already more intrigued by synthesizers and techno.

"I always wanted to form a band but never found the right friends for that. I was 15 years old when I met a guy who had a synth workstation and that was a turning point for me. I realized I didn't need anybody else, I could make all the music and the decisions by myself."

A family vacation to London a year before his introduction to synthesizers was a crucial point for his musical upbringing.

"My parents bought me a portable cassette player and radio. I stumbled on some British pirate stations playing acid techno. I'd never heard anything like that and was blown away by it."

Salovaara started looking for acid and techno in Finland as well. He soon found the Hyperdelic Housers crew who was organizing raves at his home town Turku in the early nineties. Salovaara started attending these legendary and trailblazing Hyperdelic Housers' events and got acquainted with especially one guy from the collective, Mika Vainio.

I stumbled on some British pirate stations playing acid techno. I'd never heard anything like that and was blown away by it.

"Mika used really old school equipment and I was more computer oriented. We clashed these technologies and made an EP together."

Orchestra Guacamole's "Saab 96" was released as a 12" EP by Sähkö Recordings in 1993. The record's jazzy house sounds, not far removed from Jimi Tenor's 90s output, is an exception in both of its creators' catalogues.

The late Vainio, known for the experimental and minimal techno he did as Pan Sonic with Ilpo Väisänen and his solo work such as Ø, is not the only underground figure Salovaara has worked with. Recently he has laid some synths on Timo Kaukolampi's K-X-P's latest album IV (2019).

"And as a matter of fact I was just working with Timo again. He and Tuomo Puranen did a movie soundtrack for which they needed me to play some trance arpeggios", Salovaara says refererring to an upcoming documentary film about the controversial Finnish athlete-turned-politician Tony Halme (1963–2010). The film is titled Viikinki (The Viking) and is premiering in the fall of 2022.

Back to the Freestyler days

At the moment, Jaakko Salovaara is also living a part of his past that he didn't witness firsthand. Bomfunk MCs has made a comeback with Salovaara part of the live band as well.

"I'm so excited about the upcoming gigs because I didn't get to play to the big crowds in the peak of Bomfunk's success. The big festivals, the club gigs, I want to experience them all!"

Salovaara tells that Bomfunk MCs is also writing new music and he's also releasing a series of singles under his solo monicker JS16 for Universal. Those aren't the only things he's proud of. The pseudonym JS16 comes from his initials and the age he started composing music. Now he has two sons renewing the same numerology while creating their own music.

Early on my career I did remixes and worked with different record labels. Soon I understood that owning the recording rights to the songs I produced would be crucial.

"My eldest son Aaron released his first single when he was 15, the same age as my middle son Aamos now. I've tried to teach them everything I know and in return they've turned me to hyperpop acts such as 100 Gecs, which is really interesting music at the moment."

Salovaara's sons record for their father's label 16 Inch. According to Salovaara, forming his own label for Sandstorm over 20 years ago is one the wisest decisions of his long career.

"Early on my career I did remixes and worked with different record labels. Soon I understood that owning the recording rights to the songs I produced would be crucial. Releasing the songs myself and then licensing them has turned out to be a smart move business-wise."

Salovaara believes that in the past decades, only the music mattered: if the song was good enough, it took on and the artist didn't have to do anything else if not wanted.

"But today the competition is tough and taking over different social media channels is mandatory, for example. I'm still working on that."