With Pig&Dan collab 'Mozzarella' in stores now, iDJ catches up with the Watergate resident and TochnoTechno label boss
It's not that long since we last spoke to Yulia Niko – just 18 months, in fact. So we'll spare you the long biographical introduction this time around.
Suffice to say that the globe-trotting Russian-born DJ and producer hasn't slowed down any since then – well, not on the release front, anyway. But obviously the coronavirus pandemic has put paid to any big international tours, festival dates or Ibiza residencies for the past 14 months or so, and while she's recently temporarily located to Frankfurt, the famously nomadic spinner is still essentially based in Berlin, where she's still resident at the city's famous Watergate club – even if coronavirus has latterly put the kibosh on that as well.
Undeterred, she's been busy in the studio, with the latest fruits of her labours coming in the form of a collaboration with Mallorca-based techno, tech-house and minimal duo Pig&Dan, the Mozza EP, which is out now on Nicole Moudaber's MOOD Records.
And which seemed as good a reason as any for a quick catch-up…
Your new EP with Pig&Dan is out now on MOOD… can you start by telling us a bit about the two tracks on there?
"Kalimera was one of the tracks from an album that I never released. I made it two years ago, but in the end that we decided to split the tracks and release them on different labels. This track was more techno than the others and I didn’t quite know what to do with it. When I showed Mozzarella to Nicole, she asked if I had something else and here we go. It was a perfect match.
“As for Mozzarella, I was waiting to get picked up after a show at ADE in Amsterdam with Igor from Pig&Dan and he was watching videos on his laptop when a TV show popped up on his screen and he heard this word and sampled it right away. He loaded it into Ableton and made a loop. I started screaming that it was a hit and he said ‘Nah I’m only kidding'. Then a year later, when we went into lockdown, I asked Igor to send me the project so I could work on it. Then the work was done and I was super happy that they agreed to collaborate with me on the track.”
As well as MOOD, your music has appeared on some other very respected labels… the likes of Nervous, Crosstown Rebels and Get Physical, to name just three. Was there any one of those labels in particular that was a proper 'dream come true' moment for you?
“It all started with Nervous Records – the home of house music classics. It was a dream come true because my vinyl collection was oriented around New York, Detroit and Chicago records from the 90s and early 2000s. At the time, I had met new friends at Burning Man and they introduced me to melodic house and techno, which transitioned my production and DJing style into a more groovy and percussive melodic sound.
“I also discovered Get Physical while I was living in New York and hustled hard to get my music to them. I really wanted to make something that fitted the label and was rejected many times. The feeling never changes when I get a release signed these days, too. I’ll jump around my apartment and call friends to share the good news. It’s still a weird feeling to see my name associated with labels that I’m such a big fan of.”
And what about your own two labels, Tochno Techno and Libe Vibe – what's going on with those right now?
“I'm actually taking a break from Libe Vibe at the moment… maybe just for while, maybe forever, because we're relaunching Tochno Techno under a slightly different name this year. You see, Tochno Techno was my first project and the name was based on the Russian word for exactly (tochno) so the name translates to Exactly Techno. When I started creating music that didn’t fit into the techno genre, the name stopped making sense.
"Also, I used to do it all on my own and that’s another reason why I’m relaunching the label. This time I’ve got help from my management and hopefully that will take the project to the next level. Having the label presents a great opportunity to help emerging artists but also gives me freedom as a producer. I don’t have to worry about fitting the style of another label. I can create music and release it the way I want to.”
So is running a label, for you, more about personal satisfaction, having artistic control and so on, than it is about the financial rewwards?
“Of course! I think anyone who runs a small label knows it’s not a massive money-maker so that’s definitely not something I gain massively from this. I love the creative processes and being able to guide new talent and have the pleasure of playing their tracks. Someone had to give me an opportunity to release my music and support me – now it's my turn to give back.”
Last time we spoke we discussed the many different places you've lived, and you described yourself as a 'moving maniac'. But 18 months later you're still in Berlin – do you feel, now, as though Berlin is your final destination, or is it still just the latest stop on the journey?
“Oh man, it's so hard to predict. I recently looked into my astrology and it's totally my personality. I get excited easily, love moving to new places and discovering new foods there and then doing it all over again. I certainly like living a nomad’s life but I am also an extremely organised person so it's nice to be home too - to do the laundry and cook, then get back on the road again for a few months.”
“I love Berlin so much. It’s the best city I’ve ever lived in so far. It's green, calm, no traffic, amazing food, a lot of people are into music and sustainability. I’ve already temporarily moved to Mannheim in Frankfurt a few months ago, but I’ll be coming back to Berlin super-soon and not sure what’s next.”
And of course you've got your Watergate residency to keep you there… how long have you been resident there now, and what's special about the club to you?
“There are not enough words to describe how happy and honoured I am to be part of the Watergate family. They’re an extremely lovely team that treat me with such respect and are incredibly supportive. They have the most caring artist liaison team, the label are really organised and of course my lovely agents who are super hard-working. They’re a massive underground machine with worldwide respect and years of work behind it. I love those guys and I miss them so much.”
Your music's spanned a range of styles, from ambient to many different shades of house and techno. What are the pros and cons of having such a stylistically diverse discography behind you, do you think?
“Sometimes I really irritate myself because I have so many massively different ideas in my head all the time. I’m really impatient and all over the place. I love so many different music genres, so it’s hard to resist making something that might not even be my style. I’m not really sure if that’s a good or bad thing. I am who I am, and therefore I don’t like stressing about this too much.”
Given that you do have such eclectic tastes – it's almost an impossible question, I know, but if you were forced at gunpoint to listen to only one style of music for the rest of your life, what would it be?
“I don’t think I could ever get bored of bossa nova jazz. It’s such romantic and genius music. I always feel good vibes when I listen to it.”
You have a law degree, which must help when running a label. It's a long way down the road for you, but most DJs reach a stage where they've had enough of touring and performing – do you see yourself at some stage moving over to concentrate more on the business side of things?
“As a woman, I have to think about having a kid and dealing with how that will affect my career. I do sometimes dream about owning a restaurant or bar by the beach where I could cook, DJ and talk to strangers…”
Finally, what else is going on for you right now that iDJ readers need to know about?
“Well, I’m fully set-up for the summer now. The most exciting news is relaunching my label Tochno with brand new design, and the first release includes a massive artist. I’ve also got releases on Get Physical and 8-Bit coming up, as well as a mini-tour of Russia and shows in Turkey, Israel and Mykonos, to name a few.”
Words: Russell Deeks
Yulia Niko & Pig&Dan's Mozza EP is out now on MOOD Records