You grew up in Poltava, together with Bohdan Konakov and Nikita Acid Jordan, and you three are becoming more and more visible on the Ukrainian experimental scene. Do you think your hometown has influenced your artistic vision in any way?
I was definitely affected by my social environment, there is always plenty of talented people in Poltava. I became interested in electronic music in 2008. At that time, the only Poltava club where all major concerts and parties were held, Art Club 22, had been closed (it was located in the house of culture of the former 22nd factory and, in fact, used to be a really important place). In the summer of that year, I started going to parties at the small Art-House “Basement” club, where drum-and-bass parties were held. At the same time, I met a DJ who introduced me to the craft, and I slowly began practicing behind the decks. After that, I would help my friends with organizing parties and would play sometimes. However, the most important thing was the acquaintance with Nikita Acid Jordan, and later with Bohdan Konakov.
Your DJ sets may give causes for speculation about your moniker: maybe you’ve chosen it because you are trying to counter the one-dimensional, cheeky approach to dance music with more humane, delicate sound. Is this a good guess?
In terms of music, yeah, this is basically what happens. But the story behind the moniker is more of a lifestyle thing. When I switched to a certain diet, I started buying a lot of tofu, and somehow went to the supermarket with Bohdan Konakov (we used to be flatmates). He jokingly called me tofu, so I added “dj” and started using that name. A bit less romantic, in short.
Yet, even at really vivacious events, such as the last Boiler Room in Kyiv, your sets somehow come out sounding thoughtful and a bit dreamy. How do you see the perfect setting for your performances?
It may sound corny, but in my ideal setting, the main component is the technical one: good monitoring, quality audio system. But it is also important that the people on the dance floor are experiencing something new and unique or, at the very least, are generally having a good time.
Tell us about the favorite set you’ve played.
Speaking of big events, it would be my show at Cxema + Pan. I really loved the event, everyone had a great performance, and I played a good, I think, morning set. Plus, it was early summer; in short, I was super happy. And speaking of smaller events, it was at an Ejekt party in Rivne — or rather, in a nearby forest at a Soviet resort. As soon as I arrived at the location, it began to rain hard, and we were running around saving the equipment and eventually moved some of it to a small room where the party continued. It was cozy and cordial, I love this stuff.
Yeah, you regularly play at events help by Ejekt, an “outsider,” as stated in their Facebook description, collective. What is so special about these parties?
Ejekt is the peak digger parties in Kyiv, with a sophisticated musical approach. First and foremost, they are about the music itself and the community, you won’t meet any strangers there. The most soulful parties indeed.
How do you prepare for your shows? Do you plan your sets from start to finish, or do you select the appropriate tracks on the go?
It all depends on the context of the event, the slot in which I play, and the artists I play with. Given this information, I prepare the selection. Sometimes I can think of how to start or how to finish, but usually I don't have the whole mix in mind when I play. So I take a lot of tracks with me in order to be flexible.
Sztvo1, your collaborative EP with Acid Jordan, was released on vinyl by Kyiv label Pep Gaffe, and you are part of the team there as well. Tell us about this organization.
We kick-started our activities with this vinyl record, and this year we plan to release at least 3–4 more releases on physical media, a few more in digital, and I don't even know how many mixtapes. Pep Gaffe's approach to the music publishing process is quite simple but, I suppose, rather efficient: we give the musicians complete artistic freedom to pursue their vision, are we are happy to see their concept being innovative and elaborate. There’s only one thing we ask for: you should go all out. There are so many ways to create content nowadays that it would be just plain boring to restrict an artist with a predetermined format. That is why Pep Gaffe is not a label in a traditional sense, but rather an action group: we regularly involve new people in our processes, trying not to get caught up in a single-vector activity, whatever it may be. In particular, we are already organizing parties and developing a major project regarding the topic of decentralization of audio culture.
Two of your works (Sztvo mixtape Live The Swamp and your track Voronina on British label Bokhari Records) are associated with the topic of swamps. What’s so special about the swamp?
There’s no direct link between these two releases, it just so happened that the cassette series that includes my track is called Swamp Tapes. However, there is definitely a stylistic connection. Speaking of our mixtape, I once went to visit David from 20ft radio, put on this record, and he called it “pastry in a swamp” at once, so the swamp thing stuck. Speaking of the idea of the swamp in general, to me, it is something multilayered, psychedelic, a kind of trippy object, in audial context primarily. The swamp is a proper ecosystem, you can watch it and listen to it for hours.
A lot of your tracks feature nature field recordings, and you often go off into the wilderness with an audio recorder. Why is it so important for you to include organic soundscapes in your music?
By far, the best pastime is outdoors. I am very addicted to nature, and try to get away every time I can. I use field recordings in almost every track, I have a lot of them, and constantly expand my collection. It's like a quest, a game that you invent for yourself while looking for new sounds. And these sounds are an integral part of my workflow. I work a lot with audio in general, but natural soundscapes add atmosphere, structure, and diversity to the tracks.
The mixtape Live The Swamp and your EP Sztvo1 are quite different stylistically: the first is abstract and the second is quite dancefloor-ready. They are both released as Sztvo, though. What unites them?
We originally recorded a release where we just had the intention of making unconventional dance music. Then we came up with a release made from our other recordings from different periods: we put together different tracks, resampled all that and ended up with the mixtape Live The Swamp. They both share the same audial signature, you can definitely feel that during close listening.
And how did you record your EP? How do you both get around writing music in general?
We have two ways of collaboration. The first one is when we work together, this happens not so often since we are in different cities — I am based in Kyiv, and Nikita lives in Poltava. The second one is when one of us records a project and sends it to another for an update. In general, this is a step-by-step process, we do not divide roles, we just sit down, start doing something, add, edit, etc. We started writing our EP at my grandmother’s place. Her private house is divided into two parts, we occupied one of them, brought the monitors, opened our laptops and began writing tunes. We had, like, four night-long sessions, during which we accumulated a few projects and then worked remotely, sending materials to each other.
Pep Gaffe has a studio in Kyiv. Perhaps it would be easier to write Sztvo1 EP there, though?
In terms of convenience, it’s not that important, for I can comfortably write music at home as well. Sure, when you are in the studio, you should be more motivated, but in reality, in our studio, the main thing is communication and interaction. When you are there with your friends, you usually just want to listen to some cool records, talk about music and about how you’re going to make a new album tomorrow. This often ends with collaborations or just jams, but in any case, the main thing is that you share your experience and get feedback.
So, for you, studio time is not only for literally recording but also for developing your sound through communication with other musicians, isn’t it?
Writing tunes is a lot of fun, sure. However, you know, I still feel a bit uncertain about what I'm doing. I cannot clearly describe what exactly I want my sound to be like, although I understand that in any case, I have already developed a certain style and usually stick to it, be it rhythmic stuff or something more laid-back. Of course, my music reflects the times we live in, my experiences, changes in my mood, and my overall understanding of the world. And in general, my music is rather melancholic, but it doesn't convey any specific idea for now.
However, it is evident that your sound has been undergoing a transformation recently, and your music is quite different to what you have been doing a couple of years ago.
I started writing music relatively recently, about four years ago. Every year, my skills improve, I am developing myself, and it directly affects how everything sounds. And yet, transformations also happen because of the music I listen to — I'm very impressible. Now I have a general idea of what I would like to hear as a result, but it is too early to speak about it — I haven’t put out my solo record yet.
When should we expect it, then?
I’m going to finish a small release for Pep Gaffe by the end of this winter. No spoilers, you’ll hear everything yourselves soon enough.