It’s a bright and sunny day- the third day of Spring, we joke- when I meet the two men behind Freshcode, Turku’s non-profit hip hop association. The warmth of the sun is reflected in the easy and relaxed personas of Mikko Lehtonen and Juho Toiskallio, as we take in some rays in Brinkkalan Piha. The setting is no accident- this historic corner of the city will be the venue for the Freshcode Unity Jam, the organisation’s principal event held on the 27th May.
Friends since high school, both Mikko and Juho have a long relationship with hip hop culture and the Finnish hip hop community. “I have been down with hip hop culture since it came to Finland, since the mid-80s,” Juho tells me. Mikko explains that being a hip hop fan in their high school days was far from easy. “I got my nose broken for wearing a baseball cap.” Still, hip hop has prevailed as a driving force in both their lives. Their passion for the culture projects out of them, as they talk enthusiastically about their lives and their work with Freshcode.
The name Freshcode was first used in 2002 and 2003, when the pair organised a party at Brinkkalan Piha with some friends. “Then it was more like a hobby thing,” Mikko explains. “And it’s still like a hobby thing, but now it’s more official.” They both laugh. The name lay dormant for 12 years before they returned to it in 2015, and I get the feeling that they both take a lot of pride in Freshcode’s official registration as a non-profit association in 2016. Freshcode’s aims are to celebrate, promote, and educate about hip hop culture- which includes hip hop music, break dancing, and graffiti and street art. While their current focus is on the Turku scene, they’re not putting any limits on their future. “But for now, Turku has kept us busy,” Mikko jokes, referring to the abundance of hip hop culture in this relatively small city.
The Freshcode Unity Jam is an event which I am keen to learn more about. The idea intrigues me: a family-friendly, free-of-charge, hip hop ‘block party’ which will take over Brinkkalan Piha for one day. While the 2016 event was held in TVO, now in its second year it is moving to a bigger, more central location. Mikko and Juho have gathered around 50 musicians, dancers, and visual artists to put on the show. Most of these are local, but they have purposely included some from outside of Turku to burst the “local bubble” a little bit. “It’s easy to stay here with the local scene,” Juho explains. They both hope that the Freshcode Unity Jam will facilitate meetings between artists and allow for future collaborations. “It’s about gathering makers of the art and culture of all ages and backgrounds to come together, meet each other and maybe start work together,” Mikko says. “And also for the audience to get to know the artists and see what’s going on.”
The one day event kicks off at 2pm, and will be headlined by Ronskibiitti, Pietari, Turun Saha and K. Luu & Hurjamay. Acts such as Kahen Keikka, Floorphilia and Musta Hanhi will also be featured. The official after party will be hosted at Gong, on Humalistonkatu, featuring Asa & Me-Me, Chydeone and So Damn Tuff. While the Brinkkalan Piha event is open to all ages, after party attendees must be 18 years or older, and will have to buy a ticket.
Another great feature of the Freshcode Unity Jam is the small workshops which will be run on the day. Interested members of the public are given the chance to learn new skills in graffiti, rapping or breaking. Spots for these workshops are limited, with only 5 or 6 participants allowed per workshop, and pre-registration is recommended. They have hopes that in the Autumn Freshcode will be able to offer more of these skill-based workshops. “Autumn could be more like, ‘studying’… more on that ‘sharing knowledge’ side,” the pair explain.
For Juho and Mikko, hip hop is an avenue for both creativity and self-education. They understand the importance of doing something for yourself, by yourself. Juho especially emphasises this, saying, “It would be an important thing to learn and remember that whatever you do is unique… Even when everything’s ‘done’, the important thing is to do something on your own.”
It seems to me that these are words that both Mikko and Juho are living by in their work with Freshcode. They say that the process of building the organisation has been one of learning on the job. When I comment on how great I think their work is, I’m somehow surprised and yet prepared for Juho’s reply: “For me, I have to do it… That’s how I feel.”
I think it’s something many people in Turku don’t realise, that this place is so important in the whole cultural history of hip hop in this city.
Early on in our meeting, Juho points to the corner of the courtyard- “I used to breakdance on stage over there, in the mid-80s… I think it’s something many people in Turku don’t realise, that this place is so important in the whole cultural history of hip hop in this city.” It’s a theme that we keep coming back to throughout our discussion- the significance of history and its relationship with the present and the future. Hip hop’s roots as a counter-cultural movement are an important context for the ever-evolving scene. “You make your own stuff from the older material… There’s this cultural heritage thing, and on the other side there is this energy to create new, all the time. They are the two main ingredients of hip hop, I think.”
This is something I ruminate on for a long time after the three of us have parted- the respect that Juho and Mikko have for the past. Not only hip hop’s past, but also their own. At the same time, they openly look forward; embracing and encouraging innovation in the hip hop culture.