DJ, party and festival organizer, creative director at Sloibar, music lover
Tell us a little about yourself. How did your path in electronic music culture begin, and how did you get into it?
My name is Danya. I’ve been partying since the age of 18. As it happened, it all started quite accidentally. My friend Danya once suggested we hold a party for our friends, and this party grew into a big event for 80 people, and then we realized that it was something cool and worth doing. That was all the way back in 2015, and we’re still doing it.
You’re a DJ, party and festival organizer, and art director, with solid experience in electronic music. What kind of music do you listen to generally? How have your tastes changed during your creative journey?
You know, over the past 10 years, I’ve always been a music lover. I listen to anything and everything, different genres, except that there are some kinds of metal I haven’t really listened to. I still don’t truly understand it as a genre, but I totally get all other genres. I’ve come all the way from Crystal Castles, witch house – which was very popular at the time – to Christian music, ambient stuff. I’ve listened to everything, to be honest.
What or who influenced this, and your creative journey in general?
If we’re specifically talking about my parties and projects, then at the very beginning it was undoubtedly the DISCOTHEQUE project. It was inspired by Chicago house and the beginnings of house in the late 80s, just classics of the genre, and that particular vibe, you know, around Studio 54 – all of that had an influence. And also, at the core, there were always two genres – disco and house – let’s say the main genres. At that time, I was always in opposition to the parties that were taking place. I always wanted to have these bright, colourful parties, not all those dark techno raves.
Why is your DJ nickname Kiss Allah? How did this name come about?
About my nickname, it’s quite a long story. It comes from my friend, who called me by that name, but it’s also rooted in my Middle East-related hobbies. I’ve lived there a lot, I really love that region and the people there.
I lived in Israel, for some time in Turkey, in Iran, and I’m generally madly in love with that part of the world. Likewise, I’m always glad to live there and spend time there. I’ve always been fond of what we call ‘Orientalism’, and how amazingly traditional Muslim culture and modern Western culture mix together. This is especially visible in Israel and Istanbul. And “Allah-Allah” had a kind of harmonious ring to it, and so I chose this nickname.
Your latest mix for Radio Sofa, «post-soviet melancholy» came out very sad and melancholic, with tracks about spring, about pain and about «I wondered whether I should stay alive». Was it some kind of inner premonition, or just your mood?
About the Radio Sofa mix – it isn’t my latest mix at all. My latest mix came out on Tsugi — it’s in French and it’s more fun there.
But if we’re talking about Radio Sofa – there was, I don’t know, some kind of presentiment that something would happen, that something was coming at that moment. During that time, I had anxiety for a couple of months, and somehow this kind of music always helped me handle these feelings inside, and I thought: why not collect music like that, why not help others? Because I’m clearly not alone in this situation, and in general, I love this kind of music. Especially in winter – it’s the only way.
I light candles for myself. However strange it might sound, I’m quite an introverted person in general. Technically I do hold parties at the weekends, but most of the week I sit in my office, thinking about something, meditating to that kind of music, and that’s how I live.
Tell us about your creative path before the war? What projects did you do? What worked out?
I’ve had the DISCOTHEQUE project for a long time, for about four years. We were exclusively working with that kind of disco-funky-house music. Then somehow our whole thing fell apart. I broke up with my girlfriend, we’d been linked together by this project. I had a six-month period when I needed to freshen up a little, switch off from one project and take up another. So, again, I travelled around the east, I returned to Kyiv, and launched the East Kultur project, which was dedicated to exactly what I mentioned before – Orientalism, and the mixing of cultures.
That was quite a vivid period. We got a lot of people together in different places in Kyiv, and it was a whole lot of fun. For the first time, I was booking artists – this also turned out to be dangerous and exciting. Then, if we talk about the East Kultur project, the difficulties were probably about establishing the logistics. Occasionally you had to be in three places at the same time, and I didn’t have an artist-host at that time. I would do everything myself – bring in the artist, feed them, solve problems in parallel, work on editing, back and forth, and somehow it would all happen.
Then I created another one of my biggest events with Egyptian Lover. After that, there was the most difficult event in terms of preparation and work, the most exhausting event, because I made a couple of mistakes there. I didn’t correctly assess the scale of everything and I should have hired people to help. As a result, I did almost everything by myself, and there were several issues we didn’t sort out. Plus this meant I had millions of tasks to do. I don’t remember how many, but that day it seems that I got about 250 calls, almost one every two minutes, so I had to answer those and solve other issues in parallel. It was a really difficult event, but the most successful in terms of the number of people, the vibe, the venue – everything was generally super.
What difficulties did you face in this sphere in Kyiv in the pre-war period?
Every place has its own difficulties. I had more of these ideological struggles with Kyiv in the pre-war period. For example, I would never conform, I was always trying to do something different from what others were doing. When you’re in a position like that, it is very difficult – for example, on a financial level – to get the required number of people together. Because if your party doesn’t have techno or a techno artist, then the party is already 70-80% doomed to fail. My main difficulty was just in the fight against the stereotypical approach and the presence of only one genre on the market.
What projects are you proud of?
Actually, I’m proud of all my projects to some extent, because to make them we broke through many barriers, and sometimes – even very often – we were in the red. But for me, it was always important to shake up the culture a little, enrich it somehow, and I think that at some point I did that, and most importantly, we’ve formed a very cool community of people.
Tell us a little more about them. How do you think they influenced electronic party life in Kyiv?
Well, of course, a more comprehensive approach to enriching the culture began for me when we opened a Bar at 20FT. After so many years, I finally had a platform where I could really fulfill myself and organize a variety of different parties, develop my ideas to the maximum. This just allows you to have a much more comprehensive approach. Now, after three years at 20FT, I can say that I’m super proud – especially for the last season – because there were super cool parties, and we finally started to do concerts. It was exactly what was needed.
After February 24, the lives of all Ukrainians were divided into ‘before’ and ‘after’. How has your life changed?
Well, it’s definitely changed, just like everyone else’s – I don’t know, are there any people who would say “no, it hasn’t changed”? Everyone’s life has changed. The only thing is, I left Kyiv and went to the village on the fourth day of the war, and I missed what were probably the biggest rocket attacks. Well, I did experience a couple of missile strikes, and so on, but I didn’t particularly experience the peak of the bombing or the horror. So, I can’t say that I’ve suffered from it or anything like that, but of course, in general, it’s clear what my feeling and attitude towards all of this is.
Have you kept in touch with the foreign electronica scene? How do they feel about what’s happening, and do you personally feel the support of the international community? If so, how do they support you?
I can’t say we’re keeping in touch directly. I’ve corresponded with some of them via direct message, in a very fleeting way. In general, they support Ukraine, they’re concerned about this issue, but I must also honestly say that the further away they are, the less they understand what is actually going on here. I know a lot of artists from Lithuania – in this country, everyone understands perfectly what is going on. In Poland people also understand it well, everything that is happening. But if you take France, let’s say, I haven’t heard any particularly strong support from there, except that in the first few days they asked how I was, and that was it.
About Russia, that’s a different story altogether. Many of them haven’t written at all – well, it’s all pretty clear.
Are Europeans open to cooperation at this difficult time?
About working with them at this difficult time: If we’re talking about parties, then no. Right now, of course, this is irrelevant and impossible in Ukraine. If we’re talking about other projects, then generally, yes, they’re open to it now. Many doors are open for work now, you just need to understand what to do and how.
What are you doing now? Are you in Kyiv? What are you working on now? If you have any other projects, please tell us about them.
Now I’m in Kyiv. I’m preparing to launch a music label, this idea I’ve been putting off for a long time because I had another job and I didn’t have much time to work on it. The idea of the music label came back to me in April. I had kind of a renaissance of thought and inspiration, and finally, the idea with the label had a new lease of life. There is time, desire, and I have some feeling that now it might work cool and help everyone.
The label is called «Khvylia» (The Wave – eng.). The point of the label is to collect a new wave of Ukrainian artists who are both underground and at the same time worthy of a big stage, and may well represent a new wave of really good Ukrainian music. It’s not a «pop stage» on its own, but it could be a piece of pop music there too sometimes. But, as we know, pop music can also be cool and of high quality.
The concept of this label is also that it is absolutely not limited to any particular genre. It’s not just dancing music, not just electronic, not just house or techno. It’s the widest range of music as it is possible, and the range of good music is the most important thing.
In continuation of the concept that «we look wider», I’m currently preparing a debut release called «Operation Perevtilennya» (Operation reincarnation – eng.). It will have 13 tracks, and they are all very different. There will be both hip-hop and electronica, there will even be sweet punk rock. In general, there will be a fairly wide panorama of genres. We are preparing it partly as a donation release because we transfer 50% to donations. In general, the artists you will see on this release, you will see them further on this label in the future, we will develop together with them.
If we go over the names, then we will have such characters as my namesake Danya from Aircraft, who plays the guitar cool dream pop and dream rock. Маша ТУЧА, who won the previous Jager Music Awards Ukraine. BADWOR7H, which just recently released the hit «Glory 2 Ukraine». Андрей Савиных (Dj Superelite), Jockii Druce, Emil Asadov from Odesa, Maryana Klochko, guys from peauty fute, and Євген Касьян from the Kurs Valut. Well, in general, there is a good list.
Our first release goal is specifically to draw the attention of the West again and again to our global problem. To help volunteers and the army also. And finally, start to promote our artists more efficiently and professionally. I’m just starting this journey specifically with the label, I’m sure there are still will be a lot of questions and mistakes. But it seems to me that a new wave of Ukrainian music is emerging now. I feel that I want to be a part of it.
The release date is June 10, so we’re getting ready. We will also have cool merch in a collaboration with the girl who runs Nashiiu, she is making cool bracelets with ethnic patterns and chokers. The label and release goal is to get attention in the West to us, and also I want to work with the Western market now.
To sum up, the label concept absolutely does not run counter to what I was doing before. I just thought that this is a logical continuation of my activity, but now it is drawn up in the music in a more nice and laconic way. Considering my connections and contacts in the West, I thought, it would be good to cooperate with them in this form.
Is your style a team effort? Does it come from cooperation with your partners? Or is it a more individual approach?
Damn, that’s a good question, about teamwork or individual work. I’ll tell you this: for a long time, about five years, I generally did everything by myself and always preferred to do everything by myself because who, if not me, would do it all the way I wanted?
And in the process of scaling up, I began to realize that, well, whatever you say, you can’t be a designer and manage social media and communicate with everyone, at the same time as inviting people, coming up with ideas, and so on. So, little by little, a team appeared; we’re working with them now. Working with the team was quite difficult for me at first. Because I used to be such an individualist, you know: I would come up with something and do it by myself. It turned out that others don’t quite understand why I do this. And however much I tried to convey and explain it to them, it wasn’t enough. Then I realized that communication is an important element too — it’s worth telling everything, saying things out loud – and in the process, I learned teamwork.
I can’t tell you what my style is, it all depends on the project. Well, on what kind of project it is exactly. If it’s a small one, then it will probably be more convenient for me to do everything by myself, of course. But there are big projects, like festivals, where you just can’t take it all on alone, however much you want to. So I’m flexible, my approach is flexible. As an introvert, of course I’m more inclined to work alone. I enjoy it more, it suits me better, but at this stage I’ve already learned how to work with a team.
I understand that it is very difficult to plan anything now, but still: do you have any plans for the future? Any creative plans? Are you thinking about any new projects?
It’s very difficult to plan, that’s true. I don’t even know how to answer you: there are lots of directions, prospects, but everything will depend on many factors, such as having a peaceful sky above our heads — that’s for sure. In this case, it will be possible to quickly mobilize and start working in some direction or other, but it’s still unclear. I actually want to dabble a little in IT, and also in some kind of production — both music and video — and have a go at that.
And of course, the idea that has been floating around in my head for a long time is to open a place that is completely my own. With the team we’ve been trying to make it happen since 2019, but all the time, for reasons beyond our control, there’s something that doesn’t work out. So, basically, I’d like to have someplace of my own.
How do you see the field of electronic music in Ukraine – and in Kyiv in particular – after the war? What challenges do you think it will face?
About postwar electronica in Ukraine – it seems to me that a new wave will begin. Many people are switching to the Ukrainian language, this is a great trend. I’m getting a lot of feedback now about the fact that many people previously saw Ukrainian as a bit of a strange language. But it turned this was because all the major labels releasing mass-market Ukrainian pop music still conform to the image of ‘sharovarshchina’ (a term that refers to a somewhat vulgar tone in Ukrainian culture – ed.). There’s something pretentious about what they produce.
A lot of people who started singing in Ukrainian are producing a really cool product – they’ve realized that it sounds really damn cool, you can make a great product, but you’re facing a wall of big music production companies who’ve set the agenda in a crappy way.
So this is why: the problem was that everyone making music in Ukrainian was doing it in a crappy way. But you can make it cool, stylish, youthful, and in Ukrainian, and everything will be great.
Will the punitive approach of the system change? Will the ‘Podil safari’ stop, along with the police raids to identify the «most dangerous criminals» for possession of a gram of weed? Or will the community still have to continue its fight against police lawlessness?
Listen, about the ‘Podil safari’, yes, of course, it will probably continue. Because even now, even during the war, the cops are showing their bad side. These people haven’t gone away and unless they are cleaned up along with the judicial reform, it’ll all continue. So everything will need to be cleaned up, and I’d like it to happen as quickly as the adoption of PayPal during the war.
What will you do first when Ukraine wins?
The first thing I’ll do is throw a fucking huge party for 1,000 people.
Name your three favorite DJs, producers or artists from Ukraine and three from abroad.
Damn, that’s a very difficult question – I always dislike this kind of question – “name your five favorite films, your five favorite tracks”. Let’s just say that I simply love artists who are really interesting and original, who aren’t like anyone else. With this in mind, out of the Ukrainian artists, it’s probably Viktor Konstantinov – Polje, since he’s a shining ambassador of the Odesa post-chanson scene; Маша ТУЧА, she drops this ice-cold electronic music with vocals, and she recently won at the Jager Music Awards Ukraine; and probably Maryana Klochko, as her music is very touching. I’d also add AirCraft – this is Danya Merkulov and his project – that I sometimes just listen to on repeat. I love him. It’s complicated with the foreign ones too, but let’s close this question. I’ll just name three classic artists. Underworld – they’re the guys who have strongly, powerfully influenced me. I still dream of bringing them to Kyiv; I consider it my mission. Then, The Cure and Pink Floyd.
What or who inspires you in your work? Where do you get your inspiration from?
Well, I get inspiration from everywhere. I have colleagues all over the world, and each of them generates something, does something cool. When everything here was fun and provocative, I was inspired by Israel because they’re at just the right level when it comes to parties that are fun and provocative. I was inspired by Lithuania because the guys there have a super cool community and throw really good quality parties and things. I was even inspired by Moscow because before the war they had a very cool underground scene and if you look at the variety of genres, they were doing it all really nicely. But unfortunately, a lot of these people turned out to be not quite sincere. Although I know that many of them have left Russia now. Anyway, there was also punk rock, surf rock, electronic music, ambient, and a mix of different genres.
And finally, what is your message to Ukrainians and the world community? Just say what you want to say, whatever is in your heart and soul.
This is what I’d like to say to Ukrainians: many of you have shown yourself to be just the most united, kind, honest, and excellent people, who are fighting against untruth and lies. For this, endless respect to you. Many have given everything they had, many have been volunteering, many have donated all their money to volunteer organizations, everyone has helped as much as they could, and this is so inspiring. In fact, it makes you realize how different we are from the people on the other side of the frontline, and this can only cause delight.
Another thing I’d like to say to Ukrainians: we’re already at that stage when, however crazy it sounds, we’ve got used to what’s happening. But we shouldn’t get used to it. It’s better to get used to the good things. Otherwise, we could turn into Russia. Hold on to each other, love each other, stay close to those who love you, be careful, don’t insult anyone, and our boys will deal with them all! I believe in this!
Interview by Anton; Edited by Claire Little