For the current episode of Ukrainian Field Notes, we travel to Kharkiv, Kyiv and Lviv in the company of Yaroslav Lenzyak, Burning Woman, ноги руки, Heinali and Nina Eba.
We also have a guest spot with the Eastbloc Antifascist Sound Alliance and we look at updates from Yurii Popov aka 58918012 and the Odesa label система | system, who released a fundraising compilation for the Kharkiv based lesbian-feminist organisation Sphere, uniting women regardless of age, marital status, origin, sexual orientation, religious, political and other beliefs.
But to start things off, we open with a message from Valentin Silvestrov, one of Ukraine’s most prominent composers.
APRIL 30, 2022 – INTERNALLY DISPLACED
Yaroslav Lenzyak Soblazn Music
I’m Yaroslav, I live in Khrakiv, and my artist name is Yaroslav Lenzyak.
I had a lot of gigs before Covid, it was a fun time. When the threat of Covid slowly began to recede, the war started, so I do miss the opportunity for good events.
I run a couple of record labels, Soblazn Music and Navidu Music, Soblazn is still operative, but I have decided to stop releasing music on Navidu.
What is your current setup and favourite piece of gear?
Mac air, jbl flip 6, Ableton + Reason – this is my current setup.
How would you describe the electronic scene in Ukraine and what would you say makes clubs like Port in Odesa and Closer in Kyiv unique?
I love these venues for their good quality vibes.
Could you tell us a bit about your label Soblazn and the way you run it?
I’ve created this label many years ago, it was created spontaneously and quickly but with soul. I receive many demos, but the majority are not a good fit for the label. I release artists from the world over, with the exception, nowadays, of Russia.
I curate all aspects of the label myself, including its visual identity, and run it on my own, although at present I don’t devote as much time to it as I used to, even if I still release 1 album a month, or every couple of months. I already have a few releases lined up for the next few months.
Are you still able to listen to / produce / release music?
I’m producing now, but I do miss my studio and the gear I left behind in Kharkiv.
At present I am working on a new vinyl release. It will be an EP with 4 original tracks. It will consist of slightly different music from my usual, as I’m a bit tired of the minimal sound.
It will be out on a Berlin based label, soon enough, hopefully.
How has the war affected you and your loved ones? And could you describe a typical day for you at present, if such a thing exists?
The war showed me who my real friends are, everything fell into place. I live in another city now, I rent an apartment, I like it here, but the truth is I am also very lonely.
On weekdays, I work as a designer at Awesomic. I am very grateful to this company for a lot of things! On my days off I try to work on my music, and yes I’m finding myself spending more time with Ableton and Reason.
Forgive me for asking, but just to get an idea of the difficulties people are faced with, does it mean you are now currently paying rent on two flats, your new one and the one you left in Kharkiv where you left all your belongins?
No, I pay for one apartment in the city I live in now. The apartment which is in Kharkiv, I don’t have to pay for, as we are all human, and all perfectly understand the situation and try to help each other as much as we can.
Can one ever grow used to air raid sirens?
Yes sure 🙂 I hardly pay attention to sirens anymore. But it still puts a strain on my psyche.
Echoing Claro Intelecto, how does one regain peace of mind in a war situation?
Oh, I have this record, love it. Of course you can, we quickly get used to the given conditions of life.
Have you received many interview requests and offers to take part on fundraising compilations since the Russian invasion and how would you say the international music community has responded to the war?
I was approached in the first days of April for an interview by a London based magazine, I did reply, but never heard back.
I was also offered financial help by many of my colleagues from different countries! But not a single person from Russia offered help, although I had many friends there. I declined all offers, because at that time I was living in Kharkiv, and I didn’t need any extra finances.
That said, I did get financial support from music labels and promo groups.
Are you able to think about the future?
MAY 2 2022 – KYIV
Kateryna Kostrova Burning Woman
My name is Kateryna Kostrova, I compose and perform electronic music under the moniker Burning Woman. I’ve been doing it since 2017 in a semi-professional way, but I always had an interest in music. I used to play and sing in rock bands with my friends in my adolescence and young adulthood. I tried making my own music of different genres at home, too, although I never performed it live.
When I moved to Kyiv in late 2015 (I was born in Donetsk, then lived in Mariupol for a year after the war started), I became seriously interested in electronics as I got familiar with the local scene and started exploring the club culture. I got hooked and shortly after decided to try myself some techno and IDM music, learning Ableton at the same time. In 2018, I started performing as a DJ, and played my debut set at Platforma TU in Mariupol. The founders are my good friends, and it was the beginning of a long-term partnership. I used to play quite often at their events in the past four years. And about a year later, Olesia Onykiienko asked if I was willing to present my own music at one of Womens’ Sound events. Even though I didn’t feel quite ready to perform live at the time, I still played a short set. Afterwards everything just continued unfolding naturally, which I enjoyed very much. I kind of started feeling myself in my place.
What is your setup and your favourite piece of gear?
Currently, my setup includes only a laptop and a Korg Volca Modular synthesizer. I mainly work with Ableton Live and various VSTs to create sounds, rarely record and process some guitar. I like field recording, so I also frequently use my own sonic observations of the surroundings in my music.
How would you describe the experimental and electronic music scene in Kyiv and Ukraine, and how would you say it compares to that of neighbouring countries?
I have not been that often to other countries, so I can’t say much about the neighbouring countries’ local scenes. But I constantly hear stories from my friends where they emphasise how great, fresh and unique the Kyiv electronic scene is in comparison with what they experienced abroad. What I can say for sure is that the Ukrainian scene actively develops and evolves in various directions, enriching in new artists who embrace and explore the experimental sound. I like a lot of local musicians and DJs. We really have something interesting to share with the world. In fact, it often seems to me that foreign audiences, promoters and media appreciate the Ukrainian underground electronic scene more than many of us do here.
You are part of the femnoise platform, would you say the experimental and electronic music scene in Ukraine is developing to a more inclusive and less male dominated environment, thanks to the work or organisations such as Womens Sound and clubs like ∄, or is there still a lot of work to do?
I see the tendency for improvement. Even though there’s still a long way to go, I think that we’ve reached great progress in making the local scene more inclusive. The gender imbalance in line ups reduces little by little. In 2021, we even carried out the first in Ukraine women-only international residency WOK together with my colleagues from the Institute of Sound and our Swedish and Polish partner-organizations Konstmusiksystrar and Oramics. Judging by the rising number of girls who join miscellaneous production and djing courses, they feel more confident within the Ukrainian music community. I think the local scene not only will constantly grow in numbers but also get more diverse.
What impact has the war had on you, your family and friends, and could you describe a typical day for you at present, if such a thing exists?
I constantly observe, process, and analyze the psychological impact of the war on me, it’s quite massive to realize fully at once. On the surface, my life hasn’t changed dramatically. I kept my job, though with a reduced workload. I still live in the same place I lived before the invasion and communicate mostly with the same people. My relationship with my Mom collapsed again, just like in 2014, because it appeared that she’s still absorbed in Russian propaganda, so I just stopped communicating with my relatives from Donetsk. It was heart-breaking, but I learned to live with that. At the same time, I started communicating more with those who live in Dnipro.
My typical day is quite boring now. I work a few hours, sometimes make some music, then either go out to meet or visit somebody or watch Star Trek or play video games, read, or walk in the park. In March, I was volunteering at the “cocktail bar” and one of the museums when I lived in the city centre. Then I got back to my place in a different district and returned to my usual routine.
Dozens of my friends have very different experiences. Some have been through the blockade of Mariupol and now try to start from the blank page in different places both, in and out of Ukraine. Some left the country in the first days of war and still live in the refugee shelters, some went to territorial defence forces, some do volunteer work. In any case, life has changed for all of us to one or another extent. Everyone is frustrated as we have lost the sense of safety prospect.
You mentioned you are still in Kyiv, what is the situation on the ground at the moment? And could you give us an idea of some of the more pressing challenges you are facing at present?
Yes, I’m in Kyiv, and I don’t plan to move anywhere far in the nearest feature. Actually, it’s still quite difficult for me to plan something in life in general at the moment. There’s this tense uncertainty in the air, even though people seem to feel safer than a few weeks earlier when the war was physically closer. A lot of people lost their jobs or stopped working for an undetermined period, and it’s not so easy to find a new source of stable income yet, which can be frustrating. But the city gradually comes back to life.
I was lucky and kept my position at Kyiv Academy of Media Arts that I only got a week before the war. Not so many things happen in the educational sphere these days, so I don’t have a huge workload, but fortunately, we managed to keep it running at least. Don’t have much to complain about, except the overall frustration and uncertainty.
Are you still able to listen to / compose / produce / music?
I noticed that I’ve lost motivation for making music, but hopefully, it will pass soon. I basically didn’t even listen to music much at first, and started only recently when I moved back home from my friend’s place. At some point, I realised that it doesn’t evoke the same emotional response and involvement in me as before the invasion. Again, I expect things to get back to normal soon as we all get adapted to the war.
Have the Orange Revolution and Maiden prepared the artistic community to respond to the war and how do you manage to stay connected when so many are displaced?
I wasn’t quite part of any artistic community during the Orange Revolution (I was only 13-14 at the time) and joined the Kyiv community only a few years after Maidan, so I cannot really judge its growth in comparison with previous periods. But I surely saw the rise of club culture in Kyiv when I moved here in 2015, and the electronic scene’s development later on. Now, people have become pretty scattered physically, but virtually the community stays connected. At least in my experience.
How do you view the way the war has been reported in Western media and what are common misconceptions you find yourself having to counter when speaking to people from outside Ukraine?
To be honest, I don’t really follow foreign media lately. My view on the coverage of the war outside of Ukraine is quite limited, as I mainly read or watch short news reports from our local media and officials these days. The density of events was overwhelming in the first month, so I had to heavily filter information at some point. On a personal level, I didn’t notice any significant misunderstanding of the situation when communicating with people from abroad. Though I observed that some among my friends who fled to Europe perceived what was happening with more fear than many of those who remained in Ukraine. The perception of the war definitely alters with distance and time, and the social and informational surrounding, too.
Did you receive many interviews requests and offers to appear on fundraising compilations in the days immediately following the war, and are you afraid that interest in the war may now be waning?
I had some tracks released on two compilations of the labels DRUM and Corridor Audio just at the beginning of the war, so some people used to include my tracks in the mixes and podcasts and expressed their support. Both albums became fundraisers, though they were planned to be released with different context in mind long before the invasion. I had a few requests for participating in the podcasts, but I couldn’t manage to do so. Frankly, I had so many things going around in my head that I didn’t pay much attention to the music-related requests and didn’t really want to speak out about anything. I don’t know how things will develop, but I was really glad to see so much Ukrainian music out there lately. I made a lot of great discoveries myself, so I hope this wave won’t wear off so soon and our artists get the attention they deserve.
Are you able to think about the future?
It seems vague. Of course I’m trying to get back to my “normal” life and think for more than two days ahead. But there’s still so much uncertainty about how the war will develop and which aspects of it will touch you personally. When you hang in such a state for long enough, you start losing focus and motivation for pursuing your long-term goals, thinking about the multitude of different things beyond your control and knowledge that can disrupt your plans. Under the present circumstances, I’m trying to live a day at a time and avoid building high expectations about the future.
I guess it probably won’t be as bright as I imagined it before the war. I’m afraid that Ukrainians will have to face a lot more suffering, not only because of the direct death threat from the Russian weapons, but also due to severe economical damage caused to our country by this war. I hope for the best but, I’m preparing for the worst, I guess. The situation for any of us can change quite rapidly and drastically, so I don’t dare to make any prognoses of my future. These days I prefer to solve problems as they arise, returning to normality one step at a time.
MAY 5 2022 – LVIV
Hello. My name is Evelina and for a few years, I’ve been working on the music project ноги руки (legs and hands).
I don’t have much knowledge in music theory and I don’t have any music education either. But everyone in my family is a good singer and plays an instrument: piano, guitar, violin, reed pipe. So, I was growing up in this kind of environment.
I think, my mother passed on to me all her knowledge about music: through her voice, her playing, and her love. It’s a very special gift from her to me.
You seem to have switched from digital to analog, or from electronica to mostly piano and voice. How did this shift come about?
I guess, I understand what your question is about. But there were always my voice, a piano, and the sounds. For a period of time, I was trying to change the raw sound, because I thought that is how it had to be. But I don’t do it anymore. I’m now trying to be honest in my music and convey the feeling and sounds as they are.
You have contributed two tracks to the fundraising compilation For Ocalenie by Women of Noise, how did this come about and what is your feeling about fundraising compilations?
It’s an absolutely amazing accident! I found the information about the benefit album on social media and sent two tracks to Women of Noise with a message, “If my music can help, please, use it.” For me, it’s an amazing thing, that we can help through our music and I still don’t believe that it works like that. I’m not a very brave person, otherwise I would do it more often.
How would you describe the experimental music scene in Lviv and how does it compare to that of the rest of the country, and is there enough of an audience?
I know, that we have a lot of talented people in Ukraine, and if you really want to find something, you can do it successfully. This collective experience, that we are going through now, gives a big push. So it’s very interesting to see the movement and to dream about the future of music in Ukraine.
I think, that I don’t have words for this answer yet. I just can tell you, that I see every day this massive amount of sadness in our eyes and I don’t really know, how we endure\deal with that. It’s a very powerful collective experience.
When I was reading about the war in the books, I did it with the understanding that the stories were history and that it would never happen again. And I can’t explain the feeling right now when these stories became real. I’m experiencing a lot of things and don’t have enough resources to process and articulate them.
What is the current situation on the ground in Lviv and is the influx of internally displaced people still continuing?
We have a lot of people in Lviv right now. The city is full, the city is crowded. And I hope that every person has a place to sleep. The war continues, unfortunately.
A few days ago, I was listening to music for the first time from the beginning of the Russian invasion. I can play music, but the sound is empty, I’m empty. I need to find another way to communicate with a piano, with my voice, with myself, with the audience. It is a natural process, we are all undergoing transformation.
Are you able to think about the future?
Yeah. I think sometimes about the future. These thoughts are like a dream: sometimes like a nightmare, sometimes like a fairytale. I dream about music a lot and observe my own transformation and the transformation of the nation.
Could you recommend a book/film/artwork/podcast/series that best captures Ukraine for you?
MAY 7 2022 – KYIV
Oleh Shpudeiko – Heinali
I’m a music composer and sound artist from Kyiv, Ukraine, working under the Heinali moniker. I specialise in electronic music and modular synthesis. Self-taught, I have no formal musical education and started my first experiments with sound in 2003. I’ve been exploring generative polyphony in modular synthesis for the past few years. I like to think of my current practice as a continuation of the late medieval and early renaissance polyphonic traditions but in contemporary electronic music. I also write music for films, games and choreography and perform live shows, create sound art installations and co-host an educational podcast about music called АШОШ in collaboration with my colleague Alexey Shmurak.
Considering your music practice takes different approaches from sound art to installations and soundtracks, do you have an established work routine with a tried and tested set-up and favoured gear or do you regularly step out of your comfort zone to approach each work in a different way?
When it comes to music or sound art commissions, I try to use instruments and workflows best suited for a particular task. E.g. the ‘Eavesdropped museum’ sound-art intervention we did with Alexey Shmurak for the National Art Museum of Ukraine several years ago required the development of a new methodology. It involved visual arts research, extensive work with sound libraries and more or less traditional music composition. While, say, a trailer music commission often demands a set, tried and tested routine that results in a solid, predictable outcome. However, I’ve been using just the modular system for the past few years in my personal practice. In this case, my workflow doesn’t change much. It usually consists of Early music research and patch development followed by studio recording sessions. These stages, of course, aren’t that well structured in real life; they often chaotically intermingle.
My favourite piece of gear would be my eurorack modular system built for generative polyphony. I’ve been putting it together for the past six years, trial and error, and it’s the only piece of equipment I took when I fled from Kyiv.
I learned my strengths and weaknesses. However, the most vital knowledge wasn’t as much about myself as my field of study. It was about the diverse and previously unknown (to me) ways to communicate or produce new senses and meanings through sound. Choreographers deal with the sound as much as musicians, but their tools and discourses differ significantly. There’s a rather significant cross-fertilisation potential if we approach collaboration in a meaningful, well-thought-out, interdisciplinary way. Reactive choreography and generative music are well suited for such endeavours since the dancer quite literally becomes a musician and, in turn, the musician becomes a choreographer. It’s crucial in electronic music and its (often problematic) relation to bodily expression. How do you articulate virtuosity in electronic music? The work that has been put into your instrument of choice. You don’t require musical education to comprehend the time necessary to master a traditional instrument like a violin. The time gets embodied and then emphatically interpreted. But how about a laptop or a modular synthesiser? Have you ever wondered if it was Medusa’s gaze that the petrified artist had a mischance of catching on their laptop’s screen during yet another experimental electronic music show? Reactive choreography could lend its polished shield in such moments.
You have been active and prominent voices within the music community in raising awareness about the realities of the war. After more than two months from the invasion and now that the war seems to be concentrated on the Donbas, are you afraid the international attention is waning and how would you say the perception of the war has changed, if at all, in the past two months?
The initial shock has passed, but so have the purely performative reactions. As for the media attention, it’s difficult to judge because I still remain in Ukraine, in a bubble where I tend to read mostly Ukraine related news from Ukrainian and Western sources, so my perception is skewed. While I think it indeed feels that the media attention is waning, on the other hand, there’s now a better insight into this war. A couple of months ago, few people understood what Ukraine is and what it’s fighting for, the moral compass was vague, and now it’s probably the most black and white war since WWII.
There’s definitely a shift in local perception, though. The thing with war is that there’s no such thing as an essential war experience. It can’t be perceived wholly. It’s a totality consisting of a myriad of personal lived experiences, and these experiences differ a lot sometimes. Yesterday, I read someone’s tweet noting that people having a coffee and small talk in a cafe were playing a game pretending to have an everyday, peaceful life. Then there was an air raid alarm, followed by explosions that brought the visitors back to reality, according to the tweet’s author. I couldn’t agree less. Both of these experiences were authentic and real. At times it might be hard to deal with the complex actuality of war, and we tend to simplify things, excluding specific experiences from our perceived reality. This is why it’s a good idea to amplify people’s stories unmediated by mass media.
As one of the many fundraising activities you have been involved in, there’s a livestream from a bunker. The international music community has been quick to express its support with a number of fundraising compilations. The one distinctive feature, though between compilations produced within Ukraine and outside is that the vast majority of Western produced albums raised funds for humanitarian causes, mostly the Red Cross and Unicef, Ukrainians tend to raise funds for the army. What’s you take on that and how do you feel about these fundraising compilations?
I’m sincerely grateful for their support. Any support. However, the only way to decrease the number of victims who need international help from these organisations is to support the Ukrainian armed forces. Thanks to our army, I’m doing this interview instead of lying dead on the street, shot in the back of the head with my arms tied behind my back. I understand the uneasy feeling one might have regarding sending their money to people who kill other people, especially if you were brought up in a pacifist environment and had the privilege of not experiencing war. But we’re not talking about just a conflict here. It’s genocide, war crimes and atrocities galore committed by Russia. Unfortunately, there seems to be a massive experiential gap between people who experienced war and people who didn’t. We’ve had experiences that can’t be communicated through text or other media no matter how we try. It’s a phenomenological struggle.
You read J. Martin Daughtry’s Listening to War: Sound, Music, Trauma, and Survival in Wartime Iraq before the Russian invasion of February 24. How has your reading of that book changed since you’ve had direct experience of the war yourself?
I wouldn’t say it changed profoundly, but there’s a difference between reading about something and living it. It just brings a different layer of understanding, an experiential one. At least, some parts of it. It helped with the vocabulary to talk about the wartime acoustic ecology. It helped structure and reflect on the experience my friends and I had.
In his book, Daughtry introduces the term “belliphonic” to describe the acoustic consequences of war. With “belliphonic” he refers to the full spectrum of sounds produced by armed combat bringing together the latin word for war (bellum) and the Greek term for voice (phone). This portmanteau term comprises not only the sounds generated by weaponry and vehicles that carry the weaponry into combat, but also the sonic material less directly associated with warfare, like gas generators, sirens, propaganda recordings, etc.
Daughtry argues that sound is not epiphenomenal to the lived experience of war. Some of the musicians I have been talking to, for instance, have described getting acoustic hallucinations, or being unable to listen to music as a consequence of a state of auditory hyper vigilance. They now talk about becoming desensitised to air raid sirens.
What would you say has been the most immediate sound-centred impact of the war on you and your friends and loved ones?
It’s tough to pinpoint the most immediate one. I’ve been reading about the phantom siren syndrome, on Instagram stories and posts, on Twitter, especially during the first weeks of war and frequently from people who left Ukraine. They said they were haunted by phantom sirens after they evacuated to other countries; it caused and still causes tremendous anxiety. I haven’t experienced it, but, like many others, as you noted, I experience auditory hypervigilance and the inability to listen to music.
In addition to this, for some time in Lviv, and after I returned to Kyiv, I noticed a subtle but tangible shift in auditory focus that highlighted specific resonances in noise-like drone-like sounds. I don’t know if it has something to do with belliphony or the sensorineural hearing loss I was diagnosed with five years ago. As for the music, I still haven’t listened to any recording properly. Before the Russian invasion, I listened to one new release every day, on average. I was an avid music listener. I don’t know whether this inability to listen to music has more to do with the behavioural changes — I used to listen mostly during my walks around the city in headphones (a dangerous practice in these times), or psychological changes.
Much has been made about the role of social media with plenty of graphic images available on Telegram channels on both sides of the war. But, aside from the now familiar sounds of air raid sirens, it seems to me that not as much attention has been given to the sounds of war and the effects these have on the population. I am not aware of any field recordings, for instance, that document the changed sonic environment. On the other hand, during the pandemic many musicians reflected on the acoustic changes around them producing albums that serve as sonic documents of a specific time. Is it too early and or too traumatic to be considering sound in a similar way when people are concentrating on staying alive?
Yes, this is an issue, and I thought about it. We just don’t have enough belliphonic documentation. And in my opinion, it is as essential as any other type of documentation. Several problems make such documentation challenging:
While making such recordings in relatively peaceful locations is rather safe, they wouldn’t differ much from the pre-war acoustic ecology documentation, except for the air raid alarms that are documented fairly good already.
Recordings in heavily shelled locations, while possible, could endanger both military personnel and civilians.
Hypothetically one could join a military unit fighting at the frontline as a journalist or researcher with the necessary equipment. Still, I don’t see how it’s feasible without institutional support, some sort of legitimising bureaucracy. Soldiers who fight are risking their lives to protect journalists attached to their units. Is it an ethical thing to do?
Last but not least, how do you document an internal sound? The one you hear in your head?
If these issues could be resolved, I see it as mixed media research documenting the wartime acoustic ecology in field recordings and personal interviews.
Like many at the start of the war, you left Kyiv. Have you now returned and if so what is the current situation on the ground and were there any sounds specifically relating to Kyiv you missed in particular while away or new sounds you have encountered now that you are back?
Yes, I’m back in Kyiv. I have been here for a month now. The city’s gradually coming back to life; however, it’s yet not safe. There’re still airstrikes, and air raid sirens have been raving tirelessly lately. I wouldn’t say that the acoustic ecology has changed drastically (as of now). It is similar to the one we experienced at the beginning of the COVID pandemic. To borrow R. Murray Schaefer’s term, it became high fidelity. Fewer cars and people on the streets and less public transportation result in a lower noise floor. This, in turn, highlights bellicose sounds. Gunshots, explosions, air defence are brought to the foreground. It is as if the city itself now suffers from auditory hypervigilance. There’s an odd affect that some people, including myself, seem to have experienced in Kyiv — a feeling that the city is a living entity, an urge to hug it, shield it, and protect it from harm. Though, it’s important to clarify that I’m talking about the time after the battle for Kyiv was over. People who stayed here during the battle experienced an entirely different acoustic ecology. We had a conversation with my friend just a week ago who told me that he learned to distinguish different types of explosions. For example, he could quickly determine when there was a danger of a missile strike and when it was an air defence working.
Generally speaking, how difficult do you find it to think about / produce and perform music at present?
I don’t find it difficult to think about music at all. I think about it a lot. We even have conversations about music. We discussed with a colleague several weeks ago how there seems to be music that could fit nearly any human experience and whether this kind of universality is of value right now in our context. And whether it’s at all possible to write music that could survive. Not in terms of being eradicated but in terms of leaving its particular wartime context and still being able to produce compelling senses and meanings. And how we can learn from Early music in this regard.
As for music production, I don’t find it too hard to write commercial commissions. Perhaps, since there’s a certain amount of distancing implied. However, when it comes to my personal practice, I managed to perform a live show once in a bomb shelter, but that’s about it. Couldn’t even think of resuming work on my new album. But in part, because I can’t make any plans, I have no idea what will happen tomorrow. There might be another airstrike, a chemical attack, a nuke? I might have to flee Kyiv again, or I might get conscripted. I have no future at the moment, only the present.
Back in 2015, you collaborated with Sal Solaris on the album Distress. Do you envisage a time when it will be possible to work with Russian artists again?
No, I can’t.
I thought maybe after a process similar to Germany’s entnazifizierung. That is, if it hasn’t led Germany to the point where their government is complicit in genocide again. This time, by striking putinversteher deals with the war criminal in the name of European comfort, paying with Ukrainian blood since 2014.
Going back to Daughtry for one last question, what are the limits to music’s efficacy as an antidote to violence?
Music isn’t, never was and never will be an antidote to violence. It’s just a tool. Music can be and is used to inflict violence as well as it can be and is used as therapy. It’s wrong to assume that culture can make us more moral. Nazi officers could have a nuanced discussion on opera one day and mass-murder civilians the following day. The same holds for Russian war crimes and atrocities in Ukraine.
MAY 11 2022 – BERLIN
On your soundclud page you define yourself as Daughter of Ukraine with an Asian heart, a fairy babe, a sound producer and musician, a DJ on TV and in real life. Could you trace your musical background and how you got into music?
When my mother was pregnant with me, she went to the choir all 9 months. It’s no wonder that my interest in music has been since childhood. My mother and her sisters and relatives have good hearing and voices. Probably because they are from western Ukraine, where the tradition of singing Ukrainian folk songs on holidays has been preserved. I remember every time we got together we sang very beautiful lyrical songs in several voices.
My musical path has been paved through academic music school, Casio self-playing piano, indie rock bands, Ableton, audio stocks, djing and playing music from someone’s USB Flash, television work, burnout and as a result escapism in anime mania and k-pop hysteria. Right now with special passion and interest, I’m studying the modern sound of the music of the Far East, seeking out the most unusual and groovy tracks from the depths of the underground.
How would you describe the electronic and clubbing community in Kyiv and Ukraine and what were its relations with the club scene in Russia before the war? Also, has the Russian club scene expressed solidarity?
In recent years, the club culture of Kyiv has begun to develop and expand incredibly fast, despite the quarantine, several new large clubs and DJ schools have opened in Kyiv. Huge communities, festivals, and promo groups have formed around the genres. However, I must say that, in my opinion, these communities are quite closed, perhaps it is part of our mentality and a consequence of the long-term Russian occupation (the Moscow empire, the Russian empire, the Soviet Union).
After 2014, when russia annexed Crimea and occupied Donbas and Luhansk, much of the music community refused to engage with the russians, and there were many who believed that music was outside politics. They went to perform in Moscow and invited Russians to play at Ukrainian events. As far as I know, the russian club community does not express solidarity and support even to those with whom they cooperated. One of the Moscow clubs at the beginning of the war tried to hold a thematic event, but did so hypocritically, insincerely, and in their promos used such vague wording, it was still difficult to determine whether they really support Ukraine.
However, I cannot know all the cases. I have no friends there, I have never had ties to their musical community. To be honest, I don’t give a fuck if they show solidarity or not. I don’t need it. They have turned a blind eye to their power for more than 20 years. It’s too late to change shoes. Russia has completely lost its face. All they deserve is shame and guilt for all future generations. Another question. What does it mean to show solidarity? What actions can be sufficient for a russian to show solidarity? Apologise on their knees? I do not know.
Kyiv’s visibility on the international scene has been growing in recent years. In his article for Tax magazine, Laurent Bigarella describes how the city became a clubbing destination during the pandemic, with clubs like ∄ promoting a safe space policy and LGBTQI+ inclusive ethos. What can be done to preserve this spirit?
The answer is very simple. Everything must be done for Ukraine to win. If we lose, Ukraine will never again be a safe place for creative people, LGBTQI +, BIPOC and others. Russia brings only destruction, inequality, discrimination and complete disrespect for each other.
Are you still in Kyiv and what is currently the situation on the ground?
On the first day of the war, I left Kyiv and spent 40 days in my hometown of Kremenchuk with my family. When the first rockets were bombed in our city, I could not stand it. I decided to leave Ukraine. Now I’m in Berlin. Despite the fact that Kyiv has become much calmer and there are no russian troops in that direction, russia is still bombing Kyiv. The last rocket fell 500 meters from my house in Kyiv. They are trying to bomb a defense plant. However, due to corruption at all levels, their missiles often malfunction and do not hit the target, instead hitting civilian buildings.
We communicate through messengers, social networks, there are no problems with that, (instead of some occupied regions). After moving to a new place, those who have the strength to be creative immediately look for opportunities and options, and make charity events in Ukraine and abroad. And in some cities new music groups and collaborations appear. What is happening to culture now is something incredible.
Have you been able to work on your music since the 24th of February?
It was hard, because all my equipment was left in Kyiv. First time I sat to make music was a month ago in Warsaw. However, when you find yourself abroad, it is a completely different world and you think about something completely different. In the beginning, all my energy went to finding housing. And when I found it, I started having health problems. However, now I have finally started writing music again, I hope that you will hear a new powerful track from me soon.
Could you recommend a book / film / artwork / podcast / series about Kyiv or Ukraine?
My favourite film that I saw 5 times is Wild Horses of Fire (aka Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors or Shadows of Our Ancestors). Also Пропала грамота (The Lost Letter by Boris Ivchenko). The best channel about Ukrainian history. Radio by Kyiv bar HVLV.
You also produce the podcast Air Raid Siren for HKCR, which reflects the diversity of the experimental music scene in Ukraine.
The second instalment is devoted entirely to musicians from Mariupol including Vasily Tkachenko, kuvallini, unsinned, EdZ, Peshka, Decorodi, unfeeling, Kollega Ilay, and kazzzmi.
Comprised of direct testimonies and diary entries, it makes for uneasy but essential listening. Every story is unique, but are there common threads you have identified within the artistic community in its response to the war?
There are several common features: belief in victory, anger and hatred of the enemy. However, over time, people’s feelings change somewhat. When I was publishing about Mariupol, there was a strong emptiness and powerlessness in the artists’ messages.
The Eastbloc Antifascist Sound Alliance is a community initiative created around the desire to connect an eclectic group of people working with sound in Eastern Europe who choose to remain anonymous.
Could you start by introducing Eastbloc Sound and talk about its remit and objectives?
To support the development of interconnected, conscious, flourishing music scenes and fields in the loosely interpreted cultural area fka Eastern Bloc and dispora. Learning. Building. Space creating, giving, reclaiming.
The eastbloc antifasciast sound alliance (@eastblocsound) in short began in March 2021 as a way of building a shared support network for artist and music workers in the regions. There have been many convos about lack of press, bookings and attention, exploitation of territory by the West and also huge blind spots even on personal levels.
The broad global ignorance of work from former Eastbloc territories is just outstandingly loud.
We also hope to find a way to fight the tendency of always looking West (Ewa Majewska “semi-periphery”) and instead get to know our neighbors and be stronger together. There are complex geo-political and cultural aspects between these territories, understanding what we have in common, like education systems, that have been largely undefined, existing in silence and experiences, memories that are shared are in some cases more overlapping than what separates us.
We started eastbloc sound in 2021 not looking for nationalist identifiers but include them to speak about territory and consequences that birth from them, passports, border regimes, visas, possibilities in music making and performing, being heard or ignored, on or off the map of peoples listening radar etc
So for us the common denominator is to share our experiences of neglect.
We are not looking for hegemony or common opinions but actually talk about what is not talked about. Shame, forgetting, cultural memories, upbringing, the neglect.
Our intention is to stand up for the people living with them, to amplify and buddy up against the neglect, the neglect of ourselves and by others, a vicious cycle that maintains hierarchies.
We released a mixtape with ‘Berliner Gazette’ and opened a twitter account and a discord server, we set up an open data base and started to talk about issues privately and publicly.
We wanted to stay an anonymous entity so we can tackle controversial or offensive topics without taking personal hits as some of us live in precarious and vulnerable conditions under right wing, fascist threats. Some of us are more publicly connected which should be obvious when you follow us.
The compilation “We stand with Ukraine” is the largest project we done so far.
How would you describe the electronic and experimental scene in Ukraine and where would you position it in relation to that of its neighbours?
They have such a strong music scene, with lots of talented musicians. Everyone should enjoy and support them! Here’s a fantastic database of Ukrainian labels & musicians to explore.
You have started a database of artists who condemned the Russian invasion in Ukraine, which includes Russian artists. What’s been the response so far?
The Russian war on Ukraine is stark and brutal. the long violent invasion and annexation of sovereign territories since 2014, mostly ignored by everyone including Russians, but not by Ukrainians.
We started eastbloc sound in 2021 not looking for nationalist identifiers, not looking for hegemony or common opinions. The common denominator is to share our experiences of neglect. Our intention is to stand up for the people living with them, to amplify and buddy up against the neglect.
The very few Russian musicians we are in contact with are vocally anti-gov and donate to Ukraine. Initially, as we started the database as a free-to-edit/add yourself spreadsheet, we had way more Russian labels than from any other country. That’s the first thing someone saw and that this is the reason why no Ukrainian, Georgian, Kazakhstan, Armenian, Latvian, Baltic artist were joining us lightly.
Also since the Putin-Kremlin-Regime uses fake-Nazi-pretext to attack Ukraine, the terms has been so violently appropriated, that anti-fascist artist friends can’t stand for the term “anti-fascist” at the moment, which is similar to to right-wing appropriation of words like “feminism” or “solidarity”.
Nevertheless we want to emphasise that we are not interested in a White notion of Eastbloc but exactly the opposite.
We’ve now made some changes to the artist database, making the Ukraine music database link to the top of “Label” section. Now only those 2-3 Russians are on it who are part of our server and we know personally, it’s in minority.
You have curated We Stand With Ukraine raising funds for minority groups and underrepresented sections of the community. How did you go about selecting those particular organisations and what has the feedback been? Also, what is your view on the number of compilations currently out there and which are your favourite ones?
Mostly through the network of our community members and friends, cross-checked several times. Resources shared publicly by Nino Ugrekhelidze (@niiugre on twitter) have been especially helpful. The more charities the better! Love to see it. The 4UA compilation organised by Czech label Unizone is a really awesome one.
Are there any aspects you find problematic about the general response and specifically that of the international music community (including the press) to the war in Ukraine and the way it’s been reported?
The tendency of the press to interpret Ukraine’s suffering as a fight for the “freedom of democracy and Western/European values” and such narratives, instead of Ukrainians being victims of imperial forces like many others in the world, is worrying. The lack of reflections on whiteness is unacceptable. We want other people’s struggles, like Syria, Palestine be supported in Europe with similar unity and motivation.
Links to a few reflections we like: Left East; e-flux Journal; and Ukrainian Spaces podcast.
“semi-periphery always tries to become a part of the center and always makes a tremendous effort… ” [Feminist Antifascis: Counterpublics of the Common by Ewa Majewska]
Over in Ivano-Frankiwśk, Yurii Popov aka 58918012, who took part in the first Ukrainian Field Notes, has released two new albums in April and May. The three track EP micromind, a melancholic electronic ode to outdated robots rusting away on the scrapyard, and Different Colors, a collection of peaceful vibes, “light and soft”.
Here’s what he had to say about the current situation in his hometown.
“In my city, everything is calm in general. Yes, lots of people came here from other cities… but everything is fine overall. Sirens are now a part of our reality actually. For around two days there were no sirens, but I think they will return 😦
Our government says that everything is under control. I believe in our victory in any case. Especially after Biden signed the lend-lease act. In a few words — living in the hope.”
And finally, SESTRO, a new fundraising compilation from our friends at система | system.
“SESTRO” is a compilation of electronic music from the Odesa-based label система | system, designed to bring together musicians from Ukraine who have been released on our label and performed at events we have organized. For many years we strive to cover a wide, diverse, and adventurous spectrum of Ukrainian music. The goal of the compilation is to directly financially support (ГО Сфера) Sphere (@womenspheresolidarity) which is a Kharkiv-based organization that actively helps women and LGBT+ people from eastern Ukraine in territories that are heavily affected by war. NGO Sphere (ГО Сфера) supplies crisis kits for women in frontline areas and also provides financial assistance to vulnerable groups of women, organizes legal and medical consultations, provides psychological assistance, informational campaigns, and activist events.
“We have never had an experience of working with women in conditions of stress, shock, and grief like today. Now we are trying to gather our experience and the experience of our colleagues from other countries to help deal with the terrible consequences of the survivors” – Anna Sharygina, a representative of NGO Sphere (ГО Сфера).
We believe that giving visibility to Ukrainian culture is an important part of our struggle, because Russia’s war against Ukraine is imperialistic in nature, and for three centuries the works of Ukrainian authors have been denied and destroyed.
We will never agree to be dominated. We want, as artists, to give all possible support through our work to the brave volunteers now active in Ukraine, who are heroically fighting to save the most vulnerable.
And to round things off, for those who have yet to meet the Ukrainian travel blogger Anton, here’s his latest despatch from Ukraine featuring Patron.