It’s no surprise that a genuine artist avoids trends. Whilst it’s always a matter of personal taste, there’s a distinction between production that’s lacking progression & maturity over a career, compared to a catalogue of music clustered under one genre yet is individually presented in a unique sonic aesthetic. It shouldn’t matter whether an artist releases ten house records in succession, if the quality is there than the avid listener will appreciate it. Furthermore, if an artist decides to veer away from what they have previously produced, it’s a chance for them to showcase other influences & technical artistry.
Vakula’s production certainly falls under the latter principle. His entire catalogue is washed in live instruments, channelling music globally from African to Mexican, with the strongest influence being from Detroit & his homeland of Ukraine. Since 2008 he has amassed over thirty releases & will be adding a new album to that collection later this year. We are thrilled to have had the chance to chat to him last week about Ukrainian Folk music, Propaganda Club in Moscow & A Voyage to Arcturus
Tell us a bit about your home town of Konotop, Ukraine.
It’s a city in the Northern Ukraine where I grew up. It is my home where I feel safe, energised and where i can concentrate on work and not get distracted. I always come back here for inspiration, I feel like this is the land that carries spirit of the past which I am strongly connected to.
Anyway, I also realise that it is Ipossible for me to continue living here only because my production does not depend on the outside conditions. Otherwise there is no space for artists or musicians in the city and I am certain that if I had to look for work here I would not find anything satisfying.
My music is not known here either, but this is fine with me as this is my spiritual home which gives me energy and insights for the music I create. Promotion is not my task, so as long as I can live here and still be appreciated in other places I am happy enough!
What was the decision surrounding your move to Moscow?
There was a point i my life when I realised that I am living my groundhog day. At that time it was not a conscious decision to go and start making music. No, it was rather a break-through in search for fresh air, and the only big vivid city that I had access to was Moscow. I believe it was the best decision at that time as it satisfied my thirst and help me set the priorities. Moscow is certainly my second home, because it was the city where I met people who inspired me and let me be a part of something big and meaningful.
It was there you worked at Propaganda Club, which is where you met Anton Zap, can you tell about your time there.
It was the end of the 90’s and these were the best times of my life. The concept of Propaganda Club was very young and tempting. They had a very strict face (door) control and the first three times I went there they did not even let me in. But eventually I started coming to Propaganda every weekend, getting to know people, enjoying the music. It was a mystery happening and I really wanted to be a part of it. Propaganda was not a big place, it could host 800 people, but these were the people who really enjoyed those parties. Anton was the first person who gave me some records that he did not need so that I could practice. Eventually I spent 4 years in Propaganda as a resident.
When I started djing it was a very special community of us, taste was a matter of great importance and there was not that much access towards music through charts and internet. At that time we would only order vinyls from a couple of websites such as Junkie XL Records or Satellite Records. Parties were very popular but still quite intimate. This is what I liked about the place.
Of course, we would have some inside misunderstandings and troubles, but I guess, it is always a part of life and collaboration. Especially if it has to do with people who have their own visions and ambitions towards similar subjects. Anyway, being a part of something as great and dynamic as Propaganda is an integral part of my development as an artist and a person.
The times have changed, Propaganda is not the same anymore either, but I think it is the way it should be as the club scene is developing fast, new tendencies appear and young blood comes into play.
How would you define the differences between your labels Leleka & Bandura?
Bandura is a label on which I released my house tracks that were mostly written long ago and differ from the music I am create nowadays.
Leleka deals with more experimental music & the tracks are more acoustic sounding. The music that I release on Leleka is very melodic, sometimes acoustic. It also has some ethnic elements that are taken from, for example, African or Mexican folk music. These tracks are very eclectic.
For those unfamiliar with bandura, it’s a string instrument used in Ukrainian folk music, of which your Grandfather played & travelled across the country using. What influence does he have on your production?
My grandfather was a well-known bandurist. He travelled a lot & was invited to play solo or in groups with other bandurists in many Ukrainian cities. I remember him going on such bandura-sessions and being interviewed in his yard wearing national Ukrainian clothes.
He died when I was still too young to be able to consciously appreciate our relation(ship). Nevertheless, I think he did influence me to some extent, especially in terms of passionately enjoying sound, because no one else in my family is anyhow involved in music or other arts.
There seems to be a massive love of Russian/Ukraine/Euro pop, are there many clubs in Ukraine where underground music is played?
Nowadays there appears to be more new places where good music can be heard, particularly in Kiev.
There are guys who try to organise nice alternative parties and I think some of them are doing good job. The last good party I enjoyed was at LOW organised by Pavel Plastik and co.
Did you read much of Nikolai Gogol growing up?
Yes, I did. Gogol is one of the most outstanding Ukrainian writers. He as well had to move to a big city in search for new possibilities. At that time it was St.Petersburg.
It’s funny that you ask this question because recently I heard from a friend about how in a recent interview a very popular nowadays dj says about how Gogol is a Russian writer and how nice it is that he wrote in Russian, because it is such a powerful language.
It is a powerful language, no doubt about that, but to me Gogol is a proper Ukrainian who went to Russia to introduce Ukrainian culture in there. In many of his works he refers to the beauty of Ukrainian language and lifestyle, and in my view he Ukranizes’ his Russian a lot.
Do Ukrainian folk stories still have their place today?
I think that what is really relevant nowadays is the stories about the heroic Kozaks past and about how people had to stand up and rebel. This topic was often raised in Ukraine but it is now that it is of such great importance.
Besides, I think that all the pagan stories which constitute our mythology have never vanished because they are implied in orthodox religion and modern traditions.
Ukrainian culture is strongly connected to metaphysical powers of nature and is often present in the contemporary interpretation. For example, we have a great ethno-chaos band DakhaBrakha that cherries Ukrainian folk heritage and creates crazy breathtaking music.
You mentioned you rarely use samples, opting for live musicians to perform on your production, can you tell us a bit more about who you work with?
I work with different musicians who I observe playing and invite for collaborations. I attend places where the music and instruments that i’m interested in is played, talk to musicians about my projects and offer them to create certain things together. Usually music that they normally play differs from what my projects are about but i guess this is exactly what makes collaborations exciting for both sides.
Do you have any compositions, albums or jazz musicians that you regularly listen to?
One of my favourite jazz musicians is Yusef Lateef. He is an artist who experiments in different dimensions of what we usually call jazz and this is what i am most fond of.
What is it about the “old era DJs” such as Joe Claussell, Theo Parrish, Francois K. Dj Harvey. that hold such influence to you? Is it their production value, work ethic or just a coincidence they come from a similar time?
What I admire about all of them is that they are not only DJs but first of all, real musicians to whom music means life. I believe that they have different values as DJs compared to ‘new era DJs’ because they are not afraid to experiment on the dance floor, to play free style or to lose the audience. They have no fear of being not understood and accepted. I am inspired by how they have enough courage to be an artist and not an entertainer, they have concept, they are musicians, different values, experiment on the dance floor, no fear, free style & psychedelic.
You recently posted that you’re not playing Russian anymore, are you happy to talk about your decision behind this?
There must be some confusion because I don’t remember myself playing Russian. What I was saying is that I don’t play in Russia at the time because some people cross the line when making comments on what my attitude towards the conflict between Ukraine and Russia is. The situation in Ukraine has changed since then as well and it is difficult right now to understand whose war this really is. The most horrible thing though is that hundreds of innocent people are dying and we do not know what they are dying for.
What’s you tour schedule like for 2014?
It all depends on who will want to hear me playing.
Are you able to explain the concept behind the album or tell us some information on what we can expect?
I’m writing music following of the book by David Lindsay “A Voyage to Arcturus” (1920)
It will be a cinematic music. Everything is played live; choir and etc ..
But I do not want to disclose details.
Are there any records that haven’t left your bag recently?
Debbie Jacobs ” High on your love” is always with me.