ARTBAT Are Changing How The World Sees Ukraine, One Hit at a Time

ARTBAT are arguably Ukraine’s biggest dance music export. After capping off a massive 2019, which saw them score hit after hit while touring the globe, Maya Baklanova meets the duo in their home city, Kyiv, to find out what it all means.

9 min
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Feb 18, 2020
Maya Baklanova

We meet with Batish and Artur, known as ARTBAT, around noon in a small cozy coffee shop in Kyiv during a coffee break off the studio session at the peak of winter. These breaks are rare for the duo these days, due to their intense tour schedule. The guys immediately start talking about their studio, which is located in the same building as the coffee shop on the Dnieper Riverbank. With the excitement in their voices, it’s clear that studio time is both rare and highly valuable for them. For the last month, they have been at home for just three days. And after returning from an inspiring American tour, they are eager to keep the creativity flowing.

ARTBAT have been recording and performing music together for five years now. They won the Breakthrough Artist prize at the 2019 international DJ Awards, and are arguably the most successful electronic duo from Ukraine — they scored 2019’s top-selling track on Beatport in with “Upperground” on Diynamic, remixed 2019’s second-highest selling track, “Return to Oz” by Monolink, and the duo’s Diynamic track “Atlas” came in at the fourth-highest-selling track on Beatport last year. An incredible run. No surprise, then, that their tracks are regularly played by Tale Of Us, Adriatique, Maceo Plex, Adam Bayer, and deadmau5, while their hit “Mandrake” hardly left Richie Hawtin’s set last year.

“We first met in the last week of 2014, and at the beginning of 2015, we had our first performance together,” says Artur. “Synergy between us occurred instantly. Despite the background, the experience, the established views, it was fascinating to find something similar, but also completely novel. Then we suddenly realized that two heads are better than one.” From this symbiosis, the duo developed their signature style — not being enclosed within the framework of one sound, but continuing the creative search in the vast territories of techno.

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The guys played in different Kyiv clubs individually since the middle of the 2000s. Despite moving in different circles, they both had an interest in music all their lives. “The love of music has led me to all this,” Batish summarizes neatly. His calm restraint perfectly complements the enthusiasm of Artur, who is efficiently answering for the two of them simultaneously. “I’ve always spent all my pocket money on music,” says Artur. “I’ve been collecting music from the second or third grade of primary school, buying cassettes and CDs. The arrival of the Internet was a revolutionary moment in my life. I was paid a meager wage at my first job, but I was coming there with joy because the Internet worked there, and I could download music.”

Batish and Artur were only a few steps away from a tiny studio in a neighborhood of Kyiv and small local gigs to venues comparable to stadium stages. Releases like “Aquarius” on fryhide, run by German producer H.O.S.H.; or the Planeta EP on Solomun’s Diynamic Music, became their trampoline, which elevated them to the tops of the charts, and to festivals like Awakenings, EXIT and Tomorrowland.

Besides the spirit of experimentation, and their own ambitions, the guys were moved by higher goals. “When we met, there was a desire to do something representing Ukraine so that Ukrainian music was known to the world. And we are slowly moving towards it. When we signed our first track on a European label, we were delighted. We really wanted to present the Ukrainian product on a global scale.”

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For ordinary neighborhood guys like Artur and Batish, pursuing such ambitions sounds like a fairytale with a happy ending. But after chatting with them for a little longer, you understand why it has become a reality. “The most important thing is the music,” they declare. “If the music is pleasant to people, it will find a way and will be noticed. Even if it comes out on a little-known label or it will be a self-release of an unknown musician, it will still be noticed. There’s no way that a good track does not come into view.”

Artur and Batish are the best critics of each other, claiming that part of the success in choosing a material depends on their ability to filter out unnecessary stuff. “The criticism of selection is enhanced by the fact that we look at it from different angles, experiences, and visions. We are 80 percent critical of each other and 20 percent advisers.” Being able to accept criticism is an important communication skill that is essential when playing together. Especially when they spend 90 percent of their time together — traveling to country after country, in hotels, in the studio, and behind the decks. “Harmony and mutual understanding between us existed from day one; since then, we have been together on the same journey.”

When asked if they would like to stop, stay in Kyiv, and have more creative time, I quickly realize that for this duo, everything is just starting. “We like what we do. We enjoy what is happening to us now. We do not see any shortcomings in the lack of sleep and infrequent meetings with the family. For us, this is a desirable lifestyle. We want to continue growing.”

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Despite all the benefits associated with popularity and recognition, ARTBAT talk about their career from a totally unexpected side. For Batish and Artur, success is not about private jets, millions of followers, and big fees. The best measurement for them is the dancefloor, where each listener is a friend and a like-minded person, and the highest award is the feeling that music can make them all a little happier.

“We heard that we were saving people’s lives. One girl got a tattoo with the words from our song ‘Closer.’ She was flying from country to country with us, and when she came up to talk, she cried. At such moments, you understand that you give much more than just material things. You give an intangible feeling of happiness, depth of emotions, a flight of fantasy, everything that can happen on the inside, something you cannot buy. If you are doing it for money, it ends very quickly. But if it’s about listening to music, you can go inside yourself and create a deep inner world that is only yours.”

Maya Baklanova is a freelance journalist. Find her on Twitter.

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