A combination of Ukrainian experimental electronic music and non-banal pop structures — this is the sound of the debut EP ‘Po tobi’ by Kyiv-based producer and songwriter YUVI. Breakbeat, layering of drums, piercing bass, playing with silence and time signatures come together in ‘Po tobi’ with its somber lyrical mood. With this release, the artist seeks to outline a new Ukrainian sound as opposed to the sloppily Ukrainianized ‘post-Soviet’ mainstream.
This year YUVI released several thought-through singles, performed at the festivals ‘Na chasi’, ‘Brudnyi Pes’ and Khvylia Records showcase in Lviv, and recorded a number of mixes, particularly for DTF Magazine. However, the artist and producer believes that this is just the beginning. DTF Magazine tells you who YUVI is and introduces you to her first EP
‘Have you listened to the album with headphones on? It’s fucking awesome’, Ulyana Auteniuk, the driving force behind the YUVI project, is making handrolled cigarettes and excitedly discussing tracks from ‘Po tobi’. YUVI appeared on the Ukrainian electronic scene last year, but her artistic pop ascent began this spring with the single ‘Zhyva’. Gentle and melancholic electropop with unexpectedly natural jungle parts is instantly memorable, as is the cover of the release, where Ulyana in knight’s armor and torn denim raises her sword against the backdrop of St Andrew’s Church and Kyiv hills.
In total, YUVI has released three singles since March, but only the last one, ‘30 povin’, was included on the album. ‘I had some aggressive tracks — that’s how the album started to take shape; some other tracks I finished during the mixing stage. Everything happened intuitively’.
Sensual and uncompromising at the same time, imbued with UK-bass sound, ‘Po tobi’ also incorporates ambient folk, breakcore, nu jazz and has a flavor of post-punk and dark wave — genres that have a long history of popularity in Ukraine. Ulyana admits that she works without references: ‘I’ve been in music all my life, but in a different environment, and I didn’t know people who could tell me about electronic music. It was later that people said about my tracks: This is electro, This is techno… But only a year and a half or two years ago I realized what exactly I was doing’.
SAXOPHONE AND FALSE STARTS
‘When I was six years old, I started practicing vocals, at the same time I learned to play the clarinet and eventually switched to saxophone. My mom had a dream that me, my brother and sister would make a trio of saxophone players — what a horror!’ After graduating from the saxophone class at the R. Glier Kyiv Institute of Music, Ulyana started writing songs for sale. ‘In the fall Jamala took a song I wrote when I was 15 — it’s the only case I’m proud of. Let’s not talk about the others, I’m a little embarrassed to say who they are’, she laughs.
‘At first my acquaintance was arranging my tracks, then I realized that no one can arrange what is in my head. I happened to see a video of a dude writing music in FL Studio. I found this app. When I opened the piano roll and wrote the first part, I burst into tears. That’s when I felt like my work was about to get off the ground and something interesting was going to happen. It was December 2018 and that’s when it all started’.
For the next few years YUVI’s tracks were known only to SoundCloud diggers, but little by little Ulyana became notable in the electronic community. On SoundCloud she met and became friends with Odesa producer SVZZ and founder of the Khvylia label Kiss Allah. The latter offered her to release her tracks on the new label — that’s how YUVI’s first official release ‘Hrishna’ came about. ‘Maybe I would still be releasing my tracks on SoundCloud if not for him’, Ulyana notes, but considers her initial strategy ineffective.
‘It was a big mistake to release the first vocal track featuring a male person’, she comments on her second single ‘Minlyvoyu Maroyu’, on the production of which she collaborated with Souzy (aka SVZZ, Geyera) on an equal footing. ‘Everyone took it as if I got on a dude’s beat. Girls wrote to him later: Ihor, what a cool track, I want to be featured in your track too. And I started thinking about how to do it right. I evaluated other artists, watched how they promoted themselves. I saw gaps, I saw that I wanted to do better. But I did it all by myself all the time: I wrote, recorded and mixed. This year I finally formed a symbiosis with people who help me instead of hindering me’.
THE BIRTH OF YUVI
‘In January, very unexpectedly, my cat Rusya died due to doctors’ mistakes. In our realities it’s silly to complain about it, because people die every day, but I was fucking stressed. After his death, I wrote the greatest number of songs in the last three years’, Ulyana jumps up and quickly returns with a picture of Rusya curled up in a ball. ‘I perceived him as my child, he’s still here, I cremated him’, she points toward the far side of the apartment.
‘That month was a stage of growth, a stage of formation of YUVI, the songs were written in the state of experiencing death, anger at oneself. All of them are emotionally heavy’, Ulyana concludes, but notes that the history of YUVI as a full-fledged project began with the lightest song.
‘I didn’t bet on Zhyva. I’m used to putting a lot of time and effort into my songs, but I spent an hour and a half creating the track Zhyva. I felt like it wasn’t enough’. After the creation of ‘Zhyva’, Ulyana started to cooperate with designer Alisa Liubomska, about whom she tells with delight: ‘She re-created all my references, and the cover of Zhyva became iconic. It’s done on a 60s Polaroid with no effects. It was 2 degrees Celsius, we were on the bank of the Dnipro, the wind was fucking hard…’
Alisa Liubomska has previously collaborated as a stylist with the band ‘Tonka’ and Andriy Kyrychenko, but she singles out her work on the cover of ‘Zhyva’. ‘YUVI said that she saw herself with a sword, that was the starting point. I was advised to contact Rosland — he is involved in staging medieval battles and has props in his costume studio. There I saw the armor, and we decided not to limit ourselves to just the sword. YUVI supported my suggestion to use armor and denim. Denim, as a common available material, was supposed to represent the image of a common person. But there is a great power inside this person, this person is a warrior. It’s as if the clothes are torn before our eyes and the real YUVI appears in front of us — strong and determined. It was a very extreme shooting: it was the beginning of March, I and photographer Vadym Khudoliy were standing wrapped in down jackets, and YUVI was standing in front of us in armor on a naked body and jeans. Then I thought: Wow, this girl is wonderful’.
‘DO THIS, DON’T DO THAT’
YUVI epitomizes a new generation artist not only in sound, but also in her approach to teamwork and community. Today her team consists of Alisa Liubomska and sound engineer Arkadiy Lenov (Native Outsider project), whom she met during YUVI’s first release, ‘Hrishna’.
‘The stars aligned so that we immediately became soulmates’, Arkadiy comments. ‘We understand each other on a very high level, not only in music. We are still getting used to each other, but it happens organically, with humor and mutual respect’. Ulyana laughs: ‘We argue in the studio all the time because I sit next to him and tell him: Do this, don’t do that’.
The album will also feature another collaboration with SVZZ (aka Geyera) — the track ‘Po tobi’. ‘It’s not easy to work with Ulyana — you either do what she says or do nothing’, the producer confirms.
‘Distribution is handled by POTOP, they do everything perfectly, — Ulyana shares. It’s the same with the live shows. We are friends with human margareeta (Kyiv DJ, producer and promoter, founder of CUTIECORE formation. — Note from DTF Magazine), she invited me to perform at the first Na chasi. I thought about refusing at first, but after three weeks I had a fully formed program. People heard me and I wanted to continue doing something’.
‘PO TOBI’: BASS, WILLOW AND SORROW.
During the spring shows, YUVI performed material that she then refined for the album. Its central song ‘Vdova’ is a multi-layered construction of drums, deep bass and dramatic recitative.
‘This track was too difficult, I split it into two parts — Intro is also part of it. In the fall, something happened to my Instagram Reels: every second video was about widows, orphans, people who lost their relatives at the front. There was a pressure in my chest, as if I had something to say, and I started working with FL’.
I notice that the lyrics of ‘Vdova’ are reminiscent of folk songs: in it, the personal becomes common and eternal. It is the same with the cover — we see not a human being, but rather a fantastic and mythical creature in which Ulyana’s features are barely recognizable. ‘Yes, — she agrees, — I am a willow’.
It was ‘Vdova’ that inspired Alisa Liubomska to design the album cover: ‘The text contains the words ‘If she had not stood under the willow tree, she would not have become a widow’. Its heroine is so gripped by sadness that she becomes immobile and stiff: she turns into a tree. I created a piece of jewelry based on a traditional Ukrainian wax wreath that resembles willow buds and made elongated fingers like branches’.
The theme of loss and grief is key to the album, but there’s also space for club bangers like the powerful EBM track ‘Kayus’ or the trance and dark wave track ‘30 povin’.
The penultimate track, ‘Tonem’, arguably YUVI’s most experimental work to date, contains another personal reference — a saxophone recording of her favorite teacher from Glier Music College, Viktor Pavelko. ‘I found a 2017 dictaphone recording in which Viktor Viktorovych plays the instrument, and I remade it and cut it up. If he listens to it, he won’t realize it’s him’.
‘Po tobi’, a minimalistic nu jazz ballad with a folk melody, was written last and, according to Ulyana, contains a hint of the sound of the next EP: ‘I won’t stop! I did something good and now there is no turning back. I want to turn my shows into performances, with the participation of other musicians, with choreography, visuals. I’m also planning new collaborations with Anton Kramer and SI Process’.
YUVI’s nuanced sound polishes the achievement of the Ukrainian electronic underground in the so-called ‘middle scene’ — the group of musicians who get enough streaming and earn money by performing, but remain far from the mainstream.
‘I don’t want to be middle scene; I want to grow further. Today mainstream music is being aggressively Ukrainianized, but all these ENKO and MOZGI remain russian in sound. I want to outline a Ukrainian sound to counterbalance them. I’m difficult, and my music is like that, but I’m also interested in writing something more poppish. Now I’m working with Scorpioprincess: I produce her, but I also teach her production so she can become a full-fledged artist. So far I’m helping only the girls, but we’ll see… YUVI Production is coming soon, — she smiles but instantly becomes serious — I need another five years’.