harmonic navigation / an interview with yuka

yuka

yuka is a wanderer. she is a shaman. she’s a designer and an artist. she’s a collector. she’s a crate digger. she’s a songbird catcher. she’s a dancer, a guitar player and an inventor. she’s a traveler. she is so many things — but most of all, yuka is a music maker.

born in 1974 in the industrial beachside town of bratsk in eastern siberia, yuka’s home offered red earth and harsh climates; a fact that she doesn’t romanticize, even today. the town’s remote location in the depths of the taiga, as well as the severity of the soviet regime, meant that she relied on imagination, imagery and music to fuel her creativity.

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what kind of effect did the soviet era have on music culture in russia?

this was a time when music was subject to censorship; all around, italian and soviet estrada music was being played, but at the same time underground rock clubs existed. people engaged with that kind of alternative and experimental music. i was lucky because i was always surrounded by creative people: we loved to play instruments, whether it was electric guitars, drums, flutes or odd, home-made inventions. we would meet and jam together. often we’d make recordings, and listen to them later. sometimes we’d rent a room in a puppet theatre overnight and throw an illegal concert for our friends.

did you have any connections to or awareness of electronic music?

“underground” or “club music” wouldn’t even reach us until the 90s, actually. and at the time, any music that was not soviet popular music was difficult to find — this didn’t interest us at all, even though it was easily accessible. rock or punk-rock was nearly impossible to find. but we had some recordings that were transformed into audio cassettes many times over, so all of us had a good collection of banned, musical rarities.

i read that you don’t really consider bratsk your home in the strong sense of the world.

well, i began traveling at a young age, first with my parents, and later on my own. i got to experience many different places, and suddenly felt a strong urge to leave my hometown. it had become dull, ugly, and too remote from the rest of the world. i started asking myself, “what kind of home is this, really?” home to me is something warm and pleasant; a place you would want to return to, a place to make you feel safe and comfortable. i guess you could call music my home, because it makes me feel home. bratsk is so far away now, it almost seems unreal…

do you think, though, that the harsh environment in a way forced you to become the artist that you are today?

i have a wonderful mother. when i was six, she asked me if i would rather pursue art or music, and my choice was music, so i think my path was clear from the beginning. but you’re right that my home town gave me a lot in that sense. it definitely forced me to develop into a creative, constructive person. when you’re surrounded by endless amounts of snow for most of the year, and box-looking houses followed by factory pipes, an urge to add some color into this landscape of bleakness overcomes you. i can’t recall ever wanting to be rooted in one place. it’s impossible! i’m a natural born traveler.

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in the 1990s, after moving from her childhood home to study at the irkutsk arts institute and later relocating to moscow, she discovered electronic music, and has been DJing ever since. that wanderlust has, however, remained seemingly insatiable, taking her from russia to asia and europe before settling in india.

it was in varanasi, india, that yuka’s sound really began to flourish. inspired by the colors, vibrancy, and lush landscape, her particular brand of electronic music began to feel more organic and closer to nature. with this sound, she emerged as an artist, coming onto the scene in the mid-2000s with the help of the now-defunct mnml ssgs, a prominent and well-respected techno blog. it was this sound that caught the ear of fullpanda label boss and producer/DJ dasha rush, who signed yuka just a few years later. fullpanda has been yuka’s home ever since.

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patternsofperception

i read an article about you that said you’d earned a reputation as a “harmonic navigator.” would you say that’s an accurate representation of what you’re trying to do as a DJ?

since ancient times, humans have danced to the beat of the drum, submerged in trance. and essentially nothing has changed! the DJ or musician, that’s the shaman with his drum, making everyone vibrate on the same frequency.

is that something you strive for with your music?

well, i think humans intuitively strive towards unity because fundamentally our perception of ourselves is in some sense false. we’re all one. that’s why people love dancing or listening to music so much, because it’s meditation, something unconstrained and essential.

does experience always inform sound? or would you have found your way to this more organic music if you’d stayed in russia?

experience adds depth, history and meaning to the music. add talent to the mix, and the result will excel. i don’t know of any other way. but yes, naturally the most interesting sounds are more easily found in faraway countries, at least in my opinion. i like to use sound recordings captured on tape deck, and to process and mix these sounds with contemporary electronic music is something that i love doing. it’s so absorbing.

you once said that you enjoy inhabiting two opposing states with your music: abstract, experimental, cold, dark but also beautiful, harmonious, immersive.

i’m a person of extremes, for sure, and i love contrasts, they are what allow us to feel alive. but in reality, opposites always underline and complement one another. soft sounds even softer on the backdrop of something hard. just like beautiful, flowing silk fabric with its natural creasing against the surface of a rectangular piece of metal construction. or a rose with thorns. balance is the most important thing in music — and in life. without balance, things fall apart.

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this weekend, yuka returns to berlin alongside peter van hoesen as part of patterns of perception, a new club experience run by the opal collective, which focuses on deep, hypnotic soundscapes — a perfect fit for the kind of organic, mesmerizing techno that yuka specializes in. find the event this friday 17 june 2016 at arena club in treptow.

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