Electronic music producer and DJ: Yuka (Russia / India)
The very first time I came across Yuka‘s name was a few years ago, when I was scrolling around on YouTube, searching for Boiler Room videos.
At that time, there wasn’t any movement yet, sweeping across the electronic music scene in order to lift up deep-rooted barriers for a more balanced industry where equal opportunities are granted to everyone and where no discrimination occurs on the grounds of sex and gender. I remember wondering myself, how many female DJs and producers there are in the scene and I remember that I was particularly happy to find someone at the time whose ambient productions felt so pure and close to me as hers. Therefore, I have decided to contact her and asked her, whether she would want to contribute to my starting project. She agreed to it right away, but since this blog is just a one person initiative, it took me years, till I was ready to contact her again to finish off this interview. I felt extra lucky, when our paths crossed and I had the chance to get to know her in person during an artist dinner, right before her set at TRESOR Berlin. We had a long talk about the scene and her current life, full of adventures and beauty, but also full of difficulties.
LC: You were born and raised in Bratsk, Irkutsk Oblast (Siberia), located on the Angara River. You described it once as an uncomfortable place to live due to air pollution. I was wondering though, how was your life there as a young child?
Yuka: I remember that during the winter, there was lots of snow and that was a lot of fun – you could do so many things, from ice skating to tunnel digging and sledging from the hills and so on. During the summer time, we’ve been traveling with my parents and my sister all around Russia to visit relatives (my family is big). I liked it very much and perhaps because of that, I’m still traveling a lot.
LC: Which was the coldest winter and the warmest summer / or most memorable winter or most memorable summer that you remember having experienced as a child in Siberia? Which was your favourite season as a young child?
Yuka: Every winter in Siberia is cold and really long. I remember days when it was -50 C. But on the other hand, it’s also sunny and beautiful – everything is white and sparkling because of hoarfrost. I especially liked winter because of New Year’s Eve. I loved to decorate the Christmas tree! We never celebrated Christmas – the event around the 24th-25th-26th – in the USSR, but we always had a tree that we decorated. The colourful small lamps on the tree were creating a very special atmosphere in the room and me and my sister liked to play with them making elf kingdom on branches.
The hottest summer was when it was +45 C. Dry and sunny. Days during the summer periods are usually very hot, but the nights are rather cool. Sometimes we were unlucky, because the entire summer was cold and that was heartbreaking. But I loved summer anyways, because that was the time for us to travel. We almost never spent the summer school holidays in Bratsk, but somewhere far away, visiting relatives. One of the most memorable summers to me was close to the place where my mother was born. It’s a village next to Chinese and Mongolian border and my uncle gave us horses to ride. We did it from early morning till evening, every day. We rode great distances on the steppe and climbed the hills. It was such a great experience as a child!
LC: I have recently read about another Russian born producer who now lives in Denmark. She has mentioned classical ballet as being her first encounter with music. What was your first connection as a child with music? Did you learn to play any instruments?
Yuka: I played the metallophone in the children’s orchestra in kindergarten when I was 5. That was folklore music for kids. At the age 6 my mother sent me to music school and it was my first encounter with classical music.
[ LC: Any musical instrument consisting of tuned metal bars can be called a metallophone which is struck to make sound, usually with a mallet. Metallophones have been used for musical performances in Asia for thousands of years. In this way, it is similar to the xylophone; however, the xylophone’s bars are made of wood, while the glockenspiel’s are metal plates or tubes. ]
LC: I watched once a documentary which talked about the fact that Western music was forbidden in Russia during the Soviet era and yet, people took prodigious risks, just to be able to listen to their favourite tracks. Did music play an important part in your parents’ lives when you were small? What types of music did most people listen to – was it radio or more classical music on vinyl, or how did in general people get in touch with music?
Yuka: At home I was mostly listening to music from “The Who” and “The Beatles”, because my father liked it and also to some Russian and Italian pop from TV and radio, because my mother was listening to it as usually most of the people do. Later on, I preferred underground music like rock’n’roll and punk – genres which were illegal in the USSR. I made recently a re-post on Facebook about the list of illegal music in Russia around 1985 – all famous punk and rock bands are on this list. My personal favourites were Pink Floyd, Sex Pistols, Janis Joplin, Jethro Tull, Can, Jefferson Airplane and King Crimson. Somehow we managed to have all this music at home, since my father was listening only to illegal music! We were making copies from cassettes or bobbin tape, and some of my friends even had them on vinyls. There was always a way to get it somehow. Either on the black market or sometimes somebody (like relatives or friends of someone’s parents) went to other countries like the GDR to work and brought some records from there… I never had the feeling that it was something really dangerous, but to tell you the truth, not many people were listening to this sort of music – music that was not easy to find around the time. As for me, to a teen, it was definitely cool to have it! I didn’t like any popular music or music that was played in the radio everywhere. Until today, I still prefer it that way – I love searching for good music which is not known and therefore, special. The habit, you know, I don’t trust anything that is easy to find.
LC: At the age of 17, you moved to Irkutsk and then later on when you were 24, to Moscow. You have mentioned that it was in the capital where your music career started when you became resident DJ at a club. May we know which club it was and if the club still exists? Did the club have its own equipment that were needed for the artists to perform?
Yuka: That was a big club for rock concerts and night parties, called “Tochka”. It doesn’t exist anymore. It was a professional club with good sound system and all needed equipment.
LC: What kind of music did you play at the time? Was electronic music already in or was the scene for it still only developing in Russia? Did you get to listen to music from other countries that inspired you regarding your productions?
Yuka: That time my preference was deep house, house and so on. Most of the music I’ve played were from my small collection that originated from the UK.
LC: What were your most cherished records you had with you when you’ve started your residency at “Tochka”? How did you stock up on records? Which were your favourite record shops, do they still exist and can you recommend any record shop now, if someone would want to go digging in Moscow or St. Petersburg?
Yuka: I honestly don’t remember anymore what they were… Probably something from the Glasgow Underground scene…
Back in that time, we were unable to buy music online. We had only one record shop and a couple of record dealers in Moscow – some guys who had connections with European records stores. Somehow, they could make orders and receive parcels by post. It was not easy to travel outside Russia, so around that time, I’ve never got the chance to leave the country. Then the USSR collapsed, but the law was still the same. Once in a month, all DJs went to visit these dealers to buy new records. We had the option to listen to what they had purchased and to choose the records we wanted to buy, but our supply was limited as these guys chose music according to their own tastes and we could only get our hands on records from their collections. In those days, I was always selecting music by listening to the records first, never according to producers or labels. I’ve looked at the author’s name as last, usually when the music impressed me a lot. Most of the time, it was enough for me just to remember how the art on the cover or how the label itself looked like. That is why I don’t remember one name from that time. Nowadays, I remember many names because I play digital format and the only way to remember every track is to remember the names.
The fact that we could choose out of their pre-selection was also the main reason, why my “golden collection” of records started growing only a bit later – when I finally had internet access and could order my music from the shops directly. Nowadays it is so much easier to search for new music, using the internet and the situation is also better now in Moscow and St.Petersburg as we have also more shops, but I’m sure that record digging is still better to do at Space Hall or Hard Wax in Berlin.
LC: Recently you’ve become a citizen of India and during the dinner you told me that you spend nowadays more and more time there, traveling. Where and when do you get to produce music and how do you manage to get some studio time?
Yuka: Whenever I get to stay in Russia or in Berlin, I spend my entire time with producing music. In India, I do it less. The life in India is different from my life in Russia or in Germany and I prefer to spend more time with things like yoga and meditation which are also very important to me: for my mind and my health. These help me to feel balanced and to stay happy.
LC: Now you are able to travel around with an artist visa. Is Berlin your favourite European city?
Yuka: I love Berlin. It’s a very international place, full of creative people. I don’t know any other cities with such a big and interesting night life. There is so much art, so many festivals, performances and so on. The city has its own, special, attractive atmosphere, even if the architecture is more industrial than classic.
LC: I would love to hear more about that collaborative project with that throat singer from the Altai area that you mentioned in a previous interview. (Do you have any music material left over that we could share about this experiment of yours?)
Yuka: The name of the singer is Bolot Bairyshev (Болот Байрышев). Around that time, we wanted to record something together because he really liked my additions to his singing which I made for our performances, but we didn’t have enough time to go to a studio together to record anything. DJ-ing was not my main job then and I was busy at my work. (That period was so intense, that I even had to give up DJ-ing for a while). So, unfortunately, there is nothing left from that experiment and it was such long time ago that I don’t think we would ever be able to pick up where we left that project.
LC: You mentioned that currently, the scene is more varied in St. Petersburg than in the capital, and you enumerated some experimental artists who in your opinion are really talented, but because they are not well-known enough in Europe, and because of the distance, they rarely get booked.
Did you do any collaboration with any of them / or is there anything planned? How did you get to know them?
Yuka: Egor Sukharev (Khz) is a resident of Fullpanda Rec, too. He is a great musician, a professional sound engineer, sound designer and collaborates with artists for exhibitions or video/movie projects and he also works for theatres. Time to time he is DJ-ing or does live sets. He is also a very good friend of mine and he helps me with mixing and premastering my productions. Roman Korablove kindly lets us to use his amazing studio with special equipment when we need it. He is a good producer and has many interesting projects.
[ LC: Roman Korablove has a slow electronica project with Anton Kubikov, Ilya Shapovalov and Sergey Sapunov called ‘Raw Code’. ]
Yuka: Then, I would mentions Stef Mendesidis and Alex Unbalance. I know them personally and we share our music with each other from time to time and have honest discussions about it. I know also Snezhana (Rzeng) and Andrey Svibovich personally, because sometimes we perform at the same events in Moscow and in St. Petersburg.
[ LC: As described by the artist, Snezhana herself with her own words: “Technically, “Rzeng” is a manipulation of the prepared effects of analog synthesizers in real time, and occasionally, an experimental modelling of the sound space using some digital effects. Stylistically, “Rzeng” is a synthesis of such musical directions as: IDM, Electronic, Glitch, Noise, Jungle, Techno, Breakbeat, Broken beat, Ambient, Industrial, and Experimental.”
Andrey Svibovitch is an audiovisual artist “currently based in Saint Petersburg, Russia. He was born in Kirovsk, a town beyond the polar circle in the Khibiny mountains on the Kola Peninsula. Nevertheless, the contrasts of the nordic nature had a profound impact on Andrey’s artistic vision. He received mostly private education, studying the theory and practice of contemporary dance, fine arts, music, sound engineering, sound art and visual programming. The experience of various practices led him to a synaesthetic approach in art: the combination of graphics, light, sound and motion into a common audiovisual structure, where each element is essential.”
(Synaesthesia is a condition in which someone experiences things through their senses in an unusual way, for example by experiencing a colour as a sound, or a number as a position in space). ]
Yuka: Oleg Makarov has always amazed me with his music. Actually, all of these artists I got to know through their music first and only afterwards in person. They are all such great musicians! I would really like to collaborate with everyone, but it’s difficult because most of the time I’m not in Russia.
LC: You are a resident producer on the label of Dasha Rush at Fullpanda Records who you’ve met after you have invited her to Moscow to perform on an internet radio station. Which radio station was it and is it still up and broadcasting? Are there other (internet) radio stations / radio programs that you would recommend us to follow to get to know the scene more in Russia?
Yuka: First Dasha‘s live set was on Megapolis FM which is a popular radio station in Russia (but it is not an online radio station). I couldn’t listen this program, because I didn’t have a radio receiver, that’s why I invited her to play on RTS FM where I was a resident and yes, both of these radio stations still exist!
[ LC: RTS.FM Moscow is a unique internet radio with audio + video stream and live shows from Moscow, Berlin, Budapest, Bucharest and Riga ]
LC: You mentioned that you are also a resident DJ at “All You Need Is Ears” which is an event series of Fullpanda. Is there anything planned for 2019 with the label?
Yuka: Yes, there are some plans for the summer 2019. So far, most of the events took place at Tresor Berlin, but for the next event series anything is possible due to some changes. Anyways, the night will be great as usual, I’m sure!
LC: Do you produce a lot with analogue equipment? Do you have some favourite ones? (Russian synthesisers are amazing!)
Yuka: I don’t use a lot of analogue equipment for producing, because I can get only ideas for my music when I’m alone and never at a limited time, f.e. when I’m at my friends’s studio. I can use it and sometimes I do, but to get a track ready, it’s not enough. But I use it for mixing and premastering. Honestly, I would love to have my own studio full of analogue equipment and expensive modulars! I could spend days / months / years discovering new amazing sounds and rhythms, but it’s not possible with my life style – I’m moving all the time and I don’t have any permanent address on this planet. Maybe in the future, when I get old and decide to ground myself and grow roots in one place, I will create my own studio! (*laughing) For now, I use programmes like Reaktor and LogicPro, plus I use a lot of pre-recorded sounds. For example, during my travels, I always have my Zoom recorder with me to catch interesting sounds. I believe that it’s doesn’t matter, which instrument you use to make music – talent and inspiration are more important.
Russian synthesisers are amazing, indeed! I love Polivoks ever since I tried it for the first time (which was 25 years ago) and Alisa (because of its crazy sounds).
“The Polivoks (also occasionally referred to as the Polyvox (Поливокс) is a duophonic, analog synthesizer manufactured and marketed in the Soviet Union between 1982 and 1990. It is arguably the most popular and well-known Soviet synthesizer in the West, likely due to the uniqueness of both its appearance and sound. It was intended to appear and sound similar to American and Japanese synthesisers from companies such as Roland, Moog, and Korg. The Polivoks was engineered by circuit designer Vladimir Kuzmin with the appearance of the instrument influenced by his wife Olimpiada, who took inspiration from the design of Soviet military radios.”
Polivoks Pro: “The one and only Vladimir Kuzmin, creator of the original, worked on this spectacular 21. century recreation – which, now with more consistently reliable parts, finally really gives that original genius its due deserved place in the studios.”
“The author of the Alisa-1377 was Eugeny Tjurlenev. The “Alisa – 1377” electronic musical synthesizer intends for signal’s design of audible range of band with a possibility to play solo musical compositions. It can be used to create audio effects if connected to the outward acoustic device. The synthesizer can be used as a non-standard electric signal’s source for scientific and educational needs.
The synthesizer “Alisa – 1387” (Luberetskiy factory of musical instruments) has 3-octaves keyboard, a modulation wheel and the control system (regulators and buttons). The instrument consists of the following main blocks: tone generator, filter, contour filter, signal contour, modulation, sound mixer and output.
“Alisa-2500”: This instrument was made in a single copy at the Luberetskiy factory in 1984. Alisa-2500 is the development of Alisa-1377. It was used with success by well-known Soviet musicians in the course of their studio and concert activities. The device was not put in quantity production because it would have been fraught with enormous financial and labour costs. The author and the developer of the project was Dmitry Isakov. Tjurlenev, the creator of the Alisa-1377, also took part in this project; he developed analogue frequency multipliers x2, x3, x5, ripple filters (“pseudo overdrive”).”
LC: I have seen that recently you’ve dived into tattooing. How does one start with it? (I’ve always wondered myself. Got one tattoo for now, but since that I am planning to have more…) Is it true that people use pig skin first to practice? Or does one immediately start tattooing family and friends? Where do you get your inspiration from?
Yuka: I’m Siberian and tattooing is in our culture historically. Many tribes of Siberia were making tattoos for many reasons, for example for healing, for protection, or to show social status, or belonging to a specific tribe or family. For me it was always interesting. Since I was a student of an Art Institute, I’ve learned ornaments, stylisation, design and also about the meaning of Siberian tattooing. When I got all the needed tools and inks, I started practicing on my own skin. I never used animals skin for practice, because I know how to draw and the technic is not so difficult. Soon my friends began trust me, so I started doing it for them. My inspiration is in my roots and in the works of other great masters.
The Pazyryk people
“The Pazyryk people were described in the 5th century BC by the Greek historian Herodotus as a nomadic tribe. The Siberian permafrost, a natural freezer, have preserved many burial sites (known as kurgans), where during archeological expeditions, next to valuable archeological findings, the mummified remains of a young female shaman and two male warriors have been discovered and dug up. On their bodies, the permafrost beautifully preserved certain parts of their skins and therefore, some of the very first tattoos in human history dating back to the Iron Age (2500 years BC) could have been revealed. The intricate reconstructions show us an entire language of animal imagery. The Pazyryks believed that the tattoos would be helpful to their owners in another life, making it easier for the people of the same family and tribe to find each other after death. Moreover, they also defined one’s position both in society, and in the world. The more tattoos were on someone’s body, it meant that the longer the person lived, and the higher was his or her position. The remote Ukok Plateau, now a UNESCO world cultural and natural heritage site has been since declared a ‘zone of peace’ by The Altai authorities, so no more scientific excavations can take place.”
LC: And at last, but not least: what are your plans music wise for 2019-2020? Can we expect more productions / releases from you?
Yuka: I’m preparing some new releases for many different labels simultaneously. Out of own experience, perhaps it is better that I do not say too much about them, before everything is done. A remix of mine for the Swedish label, Mountain Explosion Device was released this February 2019 (track: Dadaab on the EP titled ‘Lönnmördare Fick Betalt i Frimärken’). There is another track coming out on vinyl soon for AboutBlank (ab007).
LC: Will we see you more often in Europe?
I hope you can see me more often in Europe this year! There are plans for some interesting festivals and gigs in the summer. One of these is a Finnish festival called Visio where Dasha Rush is the curator of the Saturday line-up and she has gathered some very cool artists. I’m preparing a special set for this day!