Kimi Kärki: Light & Dark

Words by Lauren Cook; Photos by Joonas Mäkivirta

Turku is a vibrant city with many attractive venues to visit and places to see. But it is people that drive this city’s special cultural life. CC:TKU gets to know some of the people who live and work here.


Kimi’s second solo album, Eye for an Eye, was released in August on Svart Records. The album has received international reviews and is available to be purchased through bandcamp and various outlets.

Kimi Kärki is a cultural historian at the University of Turku, whose research largely focuses on popular culture, music and media spectacles. He is also known for his semi-professional music career as a guitar player and singer / songwriter, often under the moniker of Peter Vicar. Kimi’s past and present bands include Reverend Bizarre, Lord Vicar, Orne, E-Musikgruppe Lux Ohr and Uhrijuhla.

How did you find yourself in these jobs?

Regarding the university job, I already knew in high school that I wanted to go to university, and I knew that I wanted to do either history, comparative religion or philosophy. I ended up majoring in Cultural History and doing both of the other things as part of my studies, so I was surprisingly determined to do what I would do in the future. That’s a curse and a blessing I guess- I’m still here! I found the Department of Cultural History, graduated here, worked here, and did my PhD on Popular Culture History- history of stadium rock design. Now I’m doing my postdoctoral work. I have been teaching and doing a lot of different jobs between these years and it’s been a wild ride.

As for the music, when I was a kid I liked drawing. I always had this interest in visual forms, maps, shapes and so on. Only in high school I discovered music. I wasn’t particularly interested in music [before that]- I did listen to it, and I used to listen to Four Seasons by Vivaldi every night when I went to sleep. But I guess I discovered that there are good bands in high school and I got really interested in music. Then visual imagery was replaced by the musical forms and shapes. I was still thinking holistically, in the same way, but just a different sensory realm. I got my first guitar when I was 15, so quite old in terms of learning an instrument and actually starting to play music. But at that age, when you’ve got the bug it really bites you deep and hard, and I used to practice quite a lot in the early days. Now I don’t have time for that anymore, but I’m still trying to work in many fields of music to keep things fresh and my mind curious, so that I don’t get kind of stuck in certain kinds of preconceived forms. Having said that, I’m interested in the history of music as well, and some of my bands reflect that idea that there is a tradition where we find our place as part of that. Then there are little boxes- little mini ontologies- where you work around those limits that certain musical forms give you, and that’s exciting as well.

What do you enjoy about your work?

Discovering new things, imagining combinations from existing things. So, the creative part of it. I do like teaching as well- interacting with students, especially when they feed my curiosity and give me something that I didn’t know beforehand. That’s always an exciting situation, and that’s why I try to teach things that are dear to me. I mean, university teaching is supposed to work so that you do research and your teaching is based on your research, and that’s the best kind of situation, because then what you do is really something that you feel passionate about and you are interested in it. And when you meet students who are actually able to contribute to that discussion, it’s like a circle of meanings that everyone learns from, including the teacher.

I think it’s important for the mental health of the teacher to stay curious and interested. That means that you have to be open to many new things outside your own comfort zone, because a lot of modern culture is about finding your special niche and then making your name by beating the same old nail. I think, especially in the Humanities, you have to have a little bit of a Renaissance person in you, so that you take little bits and bobs from here and there and then construct your own- sometimes elusive- network of meanings from that. I don’t mean that you are supposed to be an expert on everything. I don’t like that. But, you can have kind of general outlooks and philosophies on things that you can adapt to very different situations, source materials, student works and so on. That makes it beneficial for everyone- you can actually contribute something, even if your own focus would be narrow in your own doctoral work.

What makes Turku your place to live and work?

I ended up studying here. I used to live here when I was a little boy for a few years, and I returned because of the study place. Then I fell in love with a colleague and I have a house and two kids now. I do like travelling a lot, and I get to travel because of my work. I did a Fulbright visiting fellowship in the US just this year and I was able to take my family there for a little while.

It’s possible to be anchored in a certain place but still keep this kind of travelling mind. I love seeing new cultures, new places, new people and learning from them. I think it’s very important that you don’t get too anchored- again, to do with this curiosity thing. At the same time, I think I have my life and my roots here. So that’s why: it’s a more meaningful place for me than most other places. Maybe the most meaningful place. I love this city in the summer time, and I tolerate it when it’s autumn and winter.

What’s a favourite Turku live music memory of yours?

Maybe this is kind of selfish in a way, but I felt historical when my old band, Reverend Bizarre, played its last show with a secret name in this now-abandoned venue called TVO. Which is now relocated, but the old venue used to be there since the 50s. We were the band that closed the place, the very final gig. We had played our official final gig there as well, which was also a great memory. But I think mostly great musical memories have something to do with successful shows and interaction with people. For our official last gig, a lot of people traveled from all around the world, actually- there were Australians there. Just the idea that people would gather to see your band’s last gig made it really meaningful. And then the very final show of the place [TVO], that had also this very tangible quality that this is kind of the end of something. Those kind of memories, they really tend to stick with you.

What’s your current earworm?

My current earworm? I tend to get 5 to 6 every day. Let me think… I actually had some new music in my head early this morning, I did record this nonsense to my phone. I get bits of music sometimes, and I know that they are very elusive- they tend to go away if I don’t record them right away, so I hum, whistle or sing nonsense lyrics to my phone, and then later pick up a guitar and work around them. So maybe, the latest earworm was something that doesn’t yet exist.

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