Producer Spotlight: Yulia Niko
Producer Spotlight: Yulia NikoJanuary 19, 2023
Russia-born Yulia Niko is no stranger to the studio. Her production prowess and abundant work ethic have resulted in a compelling back-catalogue of releases on the likes of Watergate Records, Crosstown Rebels, Get Physical, MOOD and ELEVATE, to name a few. It’s these accolades that put her on the front cover of Mixmag Brasil just last year, and have earned her sets at some of the biggest and best clubs and festivals around the world. Most notably, she holds a residency at Watergate in Berlin, the city she now calls home.
After discovering dance music in her teens and going on to take influence from the likes of Damian Lazarus and Pig&Dan, Yulia has sharpened her sound to one that amalgamates her favourite characteristics of minimal house with melodic techno, a style that she has dubbed ‘Melodic Minimal’.
This style is distilled into her new sample pack, launched this month on Beatport Sounds and available via Loopcloud. We managed to prize Yulia out of her busy touring and studio schedule to find out more about what elements go into her style, why she made an unlikely turn to the world of DJing, and how she got her career established.
How did you come to start DJing originally?
It’s actually quite a deep story. I was originally a professional dancer. When I was 15 I was hanging out with my friends, driving in the car, and we got into a really serious accident. Our car flipped a few times and I broke my spine, I was completely broken.
I had to stay in the hospital for two months. I had a CD player and my friends were bringing me CDs from Ministry of Sound. I was listening to this house music and I just realised that this rhythm, this hypnotic rolling rhythm was bringing me back to life.
I dedicate my music to house music because it saved my life.
That’s one of the best origin stories we’ve ever heard. How did you make the move from DJing to the world of production?
About seven years later, I moved to New York. I took audio engineering classes, bought my first Minilogue, and built a studio in the corridor of a shared apartment in Bushwick. Basically it took me seven years to realise that I needed to produce music – it wasn’t enough to just be playing records and travelling the world.
Who were your main role models coming up in the scene?
I think the biggest influence on my sound was in 2010 when I first saw, Luciano at Sonar in Barcelona. The way he performs, the show, the sound, the music – also I’m a really big fan of percussion, which brings so much energy to the sound.
I slowly moved to more melodic sounds – Damian Lazarus is really my hero right now. I really like how he takes you on a trip, he plays a completely different style and mixes in the same set. When I come and I see his performances, it’s very educational. I’m always trying to Shazam and it’s never possible to Shazam!
You’re a resident at Watergate in Berlin. What appealed to you about Berlin enough to make it your home?
I’m sure every person who’s ever been to Berlin can say the same: in the city and especially the scene, when you go out or you go to play, you lose yourself and no one judges you – you can do whatever you want. And especially as a DJ, it’s so special, you can come, you can close your eyes, and you can play whatever you want. You can play real underground and people will always trust you and follow you and appreciate you.
And the best thing is, you’re not allowed to use your phone and take pictures – so what could be better?
Do you think people using phones and cameras on dance floors has changed the vibe over the years?
It has. First of all they’re filming a video and they’re actually looking at the screen and not paying attention to what’s happening. I ask my friends, if you’re with me in the DJ booth and you want to text or want to post something, just go out and do it – you know? It doesn’t look nice when I’m performing, and people behind me are texting on their phones.
Do you have a unique approach to production? Or do you have any odd pieces of gear or plugins?
I’ve been a big fan of the Roland SH-101 since I first heard it. I actually just had an opportunity to get one of my own two years ago. Recently I’ve used Roland Cloud a lot – it has all the vintage Roland synthesizers inside.
How do you get started on a new track?
I love to sample. I use a lot of samples from sample packs, or I sample records. I go to record shops and search for old stuff like vocals, African sounds, and my own voice too. I included some of my own voice samples in my sample pack – I just find it really inspiring when I have a piece like a vocal sample and then I can quickly build a loop around it.
For me, it’s really difficult to create a demo first and then send it to a vocalist – it’s easier to have vocals and then build a track around those. So I created some simple words, simple lyrics for the sample pack. I’ve already used some for my own tracks.
Where do you stand between digital and analogue technology in production? Do you take one side or use a bit of both?
Because I travel a lot, I don’t have that much time to spend in the studio, and so I make a lot of preparations, loops, demos on the computer. I use samples and plugins, and some of my best ideas have been created on the sofa with my laptop.
Then I’ll go to the studio with ideas and I’m maybe recording some extra sounds on the synthesizers. I’m really happy that technology provides so many digital options to work, to be mobile and to make music on the go anywhere you want.
Do you find inspiration being on the road too? Or do you just prefer life in the studio?
I prefer being in the studio every day – I love it so much but it’s not possible. On the go, I record a lot of samples – even sometimes homeless people; my song “Man from Ubud” was something I recorded in Ubud in Bali – a homeless guy was singing and I reversed his vocal. I cleaned it up because I recorded it just on the iPhone recorder, with a lot of noises from the street.
Travelling definitely brings the biggest inspiration and the most ideas in my production.
Speaking of samples, can you tell us about the name of your pack? How did you arrive at ‘Melodic Minimal’?
Often people ask me what kind of music I play, and it’s hard to define the exact style because it’s a mix of everything. But I always say “melodic minimal”, and I often see people’s faces like “what’s that?” For me, I’ve been playing this style for seven years, and then I started to produce minimal house.
After meeting Damian [Lazarus] I started slowly shifting to the sound of Crosstown Rebels and Get Physical, so I based my sample pack on the grooves from minimal, and they are more melodic too. It’s the perfect combination of minimal grooves and melodic elements.