With her first full EP for Crosstown Rebels in stores now, iDJ meets a Russian producer with seriously itchy feet…
In our experience, iDJ readers are generally pretty clued-up when it comes to music, so we're sure you're aware of Yulia Niko's work by now. You could be forgiven, though, if you aren't entirely sure where she's from. Born and raised in the south of Russia, she started DJing in earnest while living in Greece, kicked off her production career in New York and is currently based in Berlin – although during the summer season you're just as likely to find her in Ibiza.
All that moving around doesn't seem to have harmed her career any, though: as well as her own TochnoTechno and LibeVibe imprints, her work has appeared on respected labels such as Subliminal, Nervous, Get Physical and Deeperfect. She started out making straight-up techno, but latterly she tends to operate mostly in that nebulous "is it house? is it techno?" hinterland which, let's be honest, is where a lot of the action is at in 2019.
Last week saw the release of the Paradise EP, which marks her debut on Crosstown Rebels. So with her star firmly in the ascendant, we figured we'd best grab her for a quick chat now – before she just gets too damn busy…
Let's start with your new EP on Crosstown Rebels. Talk us through the tracks: how would you describe them if you had to review the EP for iDJ?
"To me, it's three different tracks that convey three stages of the mood. The main one, Paradise, is a groovy track with a lot of detail and sounds of nature. Exactly how I would feel while lying down on warm sand on a beautiful island somewhere. Es Vedra, which is only on the digital version of EP, is the embodiment of my feelings when I get closer to the real Es Vedra island. Every time I go to Ibiza, I don't miss a chance to visit it – it's so inspiring and magical, and I hope everyone can feel the same way through this track!
"And then Caminando is one of those tracks which came out randomly. I wanted to make a melodic deep tech-house beat. It was a pretty straightforward demo that I sent to my friend Sil Romero, and this girl made it sound magic. It's a strong vocal record and the remix from Cioz made it sound incredible. I’ve never heard anything like that."
Rewinding for a moment, your biog states that you grew up in rural Russia, but also mentions you getting into dance music via your "local club". So was there much of a local scene where/when you were growing up?
"I come from a town called Anapa, near the city of Sochi right by the Black Sea. It’s a summer resort town, that's why we have a lot of clubs and even international talent bookings. I guess I got lucky growing up in this part of Russia. It's the most beautiful part of south Russia, with palm trees and sandy beaches, a lot of grapes and mandarins growing in the gardens. It's very nice. If you ever go to my country, I highly recommend checking it out!"
I read that you started DJing when you were 15… did you find you were accepted, as a young female DJ, or did was it a battle to be taken seriously?
"It's funny but everyone who knew me back then says I look younger now! Firstly, it was no age limitations to go to the club: I think it's just recently that they put out some law for that, and now in Russia, you can rave only after 18. And secondly, no one had a clue how old I was anyway. My parents owned beauty care shops, and I had so much stuff at home, like make-up and hair products. I was kind of grown up, and I could be on the same level as adults in a conversation. Well, I thought so… now I look back and I am so embarrassed!
"I guess because of my crazy confidence and how I was performing on the stage, no one ever bothered anyone to find out what is actually my age. Somehow I made it now to my 29 years, not using any make-up anymore and feeling like 19 every day."
Since then, you've lived in Greece, New York and now Berlin. What made you move so many times?
"I was tripping, ha ha! But honestly, every country was like another university of life. There is nothing wrong if you can quickly move multiple times, start over from scratch. Maybe I wasn't too wise to do that, and I think it would be nice to build a following in one country, and perhaps easier to grow worldwide. But I don't regret anything, and now I have such experience with people: one of the secrets of DJing is, you must know people and how different they are.
"I left Russia in 2013, not that long ago, but it feels like ages. So many things are happening daily, and now I can't stop… I can't stay in the same city for more than a week. Even when I go on vacation, I make sure that we don't stay at the same hotel for more than three days! I guess I'm a 'moving maniac' (excellent title for a track!), so that's one of the reasons."
Your production career really got underway in New York, I believe? So tell us a little bit about that…
"I was going from party to party while living in New York, and I was trying to collaborate with some producers – let's be honest, ghost production guys. But nothing good came up from that – I have a dominant personality, and not everyone can take my bossy tips in the right way. So I just said to myself, why would not go to school and try to make music by myself? And in the second class, I already made the best track from the entire group from some loops, and I felt so motivated.
"New York was the right place to begin. It's similar to Berlin: a lot of workshops, artists, parties, and of course, the biggest inspiration for the art. I hope my studio partner in Bushwick is not upset anymore with me, because I blew some $6,000 speakers while making my first album. Oops! But I did pay for the repair."
Your bio describes you starting out as a techno DJ but moving more towards house. So how you describe your sound as of 2019?
"House music includes all types of beats and grooves. I focus on playing music and tracks that I myself enjoy hearing over and over. I collect them for years, and it's what creates my unique sound. I rely on my taste, not a particular genre. In my playlist, you can find from deep house to melodic techno or old-school acid. I think my skills of mixing it all with the support of acting and dancing on the stage is what makes those tracks sound different."
I spotted "2x Technics 1210s" on your rider… how often do you get to play vinyl these days?
"The beauty of living in Berlin is that I can play many parties and bring vinyl. I wish I could take records more often on the road, but I guess that will come with time when I get a tour manager. By the way, they say you will not able to make it in Berlin if you don't know how to play records, but I am playing records not because of that. I am obsessed with the analogue sound, plus playing vinyl looks better on stage. I truly enjoy to dig for exclusive ones and then drop them at the party. With records, you will never be wrong."
Let's talk about your labels. I know you have TochnoTechno, but there's also Libe Vibe, and according to Soundcloud you're currently concentrating on that – can you bring us up-to-date?
"I'm working slowly with the labels, as creating music takes most of the time I have. This year Libe Vibe had some up-and-coming artists on it like Rich NXT, Enzo Leep, Miguelle and more. I am going to keep doing it the way I do, to help young artists present themselves to the world.
"TochnoTechno is on pause right now as my idea is to keep it only for techno and acid tracks. I am also waiting for when I will start to play more big festivals, and I will need some big room tunes. Just working hard, no matter where it's all going to."
What's been your proudest achievement with the labels, or in your career generally?
"I am proud of myself now. I have let go of all complexities in my life. I just started to be natural, and I am happy that people are taking it the correct way. My funny attitude got great feedback lately, so I am on fire in all cases!"
Finally, what else is going on for you right now that iDJ readers need to know about?
"There are lots of quality productions lined up. First there's a proper techno EP on Elevate Music in November, then an EP on Get Physical with a remix by Mihai Popovicui. There are also lots of shows, going to new countries, meeting new people and making new friends.
"I am excited to enter my 30th year of life with Day Zero Tulum. I will play and celebrate my birthday on the same day. Life is beautiful when you're focused, know what you want, and are doing it all from your heart and with kindness."
Words: Russell Deeks
The Paradise EP is out now on Crosstown Rebels