Interview – Victoria Ball
Ukrainian DJ and Producer known as Spartaque… A name known around the world with a huge Techno following and respected highly in the music industry. With a fast growing success, award-winning Supreme podcast heads his own Label IAMT (I Am Techno)…Codex becoming a brand…Producing jaw-dropping techno releases on some of the top labels in techno and still has the energy to fly every week from one end of the country to another and always seem to give the performance of his life… so I was delighted and honoured to get the chance to catch up with him to give me an in-depth exclusive on how he does all of this…
Victoria Ball: Thank you Spartaque for talking to us at iconic underground. Tell us about your background in Ukraine, what laid the foundations that gave rise to your musical passion, why did you feel the music industry was the place for you?
Spartaque: And thank you, Victoria. I’m happy to have a chance to answer your questions extensively for this interview. As for my background, I was born into a family that revolved around music, mostly along my Father’s line. My Great-Grandmother headed a music college, my Granny was a professor, also in a music college, located in my native city of Kharkiv, Ukraine, and my Dad was a music director. My parents worked with this choir, so I grew up a backstage kid. Constant rehearsals, we would always have those people come over to our house, everyone would sing along to the piano, and of course, I would sometimes join them. It was all so exciting to me, being raised on classical music.
However, after the fall of the Soviet Union and the breakup of my parents, my mom vowed I would never study to work in the music industry. Well, apparently, that’s not what happened. My genes played a crucial role, I believe, so even though I had no musical education as such, I started writing electronic music. The very nature was calling on me to head for music. I really enjoyed music, so I started composing my own tracks using some primitive software… Of course, I craved to DJ – that was something that attracted me a lot. Moreover, once the Iron Curtain fell, the western culture slammed upon our country like a tsunami… I remember watching some videos of DJs performing on stage and driving the crowd crazy. So I started off with doing high school dance parties, we also had our school radio. Actually, kids laughed at me when I said I wanted to become a professional DJ, and my family did as well. But
my firm stance and an absolute belief that I do want to live a life dedicated to music
helped me get over this type of attitude.
VB: You have become very well-known and respected in the music industry…. what key elements do you think are behind your fast-growing success…?
S: It is pleasing to hear from you that I’ve already become “respected” in the music industry. This means that I’ve been walking the right path all along. I think that any kind of success requires a quality approach. I believe there are many things a successful artist should do, starting from booking and classic PR, social media, releasing interesting music, cooperation, networking, quality gigs – because the promoters should want to have you back at their next event… You have to shape your team, not being afraid to hear no, not being afraid of failures just moves you closer to your goal.
Failures are just a part of everyone’s life you should be able to learn from them and eventually profit by making better decisions, not letting the errors repeat.
Mistakes do happen, and they teach us to cope with our problems, generally making us better people.
It is crucial that you set your goals clearly and never stop perfecting yourself and your skills. In the music industry, the same tricks can be applied as in general marketing in other spheres not related to music. You should also be able to go a few steps back to assess fairly your latest developments and make some adjustments taking into account your updated goals. I believe that classic marketing plus music, the latter being the passion of my life, yield the results that I have right now. I really love what I do for life, and even if one day I don’t get a penny for my efforts, I’ll still be doing it.
VB: With your award-winning Supreme podcast … you have had so many highly respected DJs playing on them including Stefano Noferini, Phutek, Anti-Slam & Weapon, Matt Minimal, Skober, Steve Mulder and D-Unity to name but a few… has there been a podcast set which has stood out to you and can we expect more artists joining the podcast this year?
S: It’s a really good question, in fact. There was a stage in my podcast’s development when I would invite my friends to take part and record a guest mix. But now my podcast is pretty much a platform for myself where I upload my live sets. I believe it’s very important for me to share with the audience the music I play. Thus, I deceive no one, and promoters as well as my potential audience – they can watch me play almost real time and get a clue of what I’m playing right now and what material I choose for my sets. Lately, I’ve been using my podcast as a powerful instrument of direct communication with my audience. But once again, I do understand that for networking, for me to build better ties with various artists, with friends and colleagues of mine, the guest mix podcast format is perfect. I’ve been thinking about doing a whole new series of podcasts titled Codex Showcase, similar to that I’ve already done on IAMT.
I think this one would also be coming out weekly, maybe once every two weeks – a guest mix by some of my friends, someone who has already released their tracks on Codex. This whole thing will probably be accompanied by Codex Showcase parties we’ll be setting up here in Kyiv, Ukraine in June. This, I believe, will be a rather interesting enhanced concept, uniting a label, a podcast, and the events. It will definitely contribute to the development of Codex as a brand.
VB: One of your trademarks to your performance is your amazing energy and what I call the ‘Carl Cox’ Bounce…, you do throw yourself into your set and music and always look like you’re enjoying it as much as the crowd! I personally love this about yourself and from any DJ’s, which not only give you an awesome set to dance to but also a buzz from themselves sharing their experience with you, it makes it very personal I feel… what are your thoughts on this?
S: I can’t deceive anyone. I do love dancing a lot, and of course, I enjoy the music I play. I never try too much to give out more energy than I can. It just seems that when I play, the energy is coming from outside, and I can’t control it. Indeed, I’m moving and dancing, not actually being aware of doing anything like that. When I watch videos of my sets, I see that I was going down pretty good. In fact, I have no idea how I can get people to dance to my music if I fail to do so myself. It would be kind of weird. Although, there are loads of great artists who manage to bring the audience into a state of trance and euphoria while being rather composed on stage. Well, that’s their way. I’m a simple guy. I like what I play and I enjoy dancing to my music along with the crowd.
VB: Your own label IAMT (I am Techno) is highly regarded in the techno world with the likes of Agent Orange, Spektre, Devid Dega, Chicago Loop and Durtysoxxx… Is there anyone who you still love to have on the label and why?
S: There are plenty of great artists today. Sometimes I start thinking that it’s hard to keep up with their pace and write my own music. It’s just unexplainable, how much great music is out there today. Of course, I would love to attract more artists… I should put it this way: check out the tracklists for my radio show Supreme and look at those who have not yet released tracks on my label. So, I wish to attract all those artists. If some of those whom I’ve already released send me some new interesting demos I’ll be happy to have it released as well. Everything is fair. If I play some track, if it fits into my set, I’ll definitely sign it up on IAMT. I play no games here trying to promote some of my friends in particular or brag of reputation… If I like the thing, I’m ready to play it, I see it in my playlist, then I’ll be happy to have it released.
In general, the label has been developing and growing. I see that some star artists like Adam Beyer play the tracks from IAMT, and that’s a great thing to see. I should confess to you, I once even considered closing the whole IAMT thing down when I wanted to focus on Codex. But my colleagues and friends talked me away from taking that step, and I’m grateful to them for that because I’m the type of guy who sometimes can get too emotional. Today, great prospects lie ahead for the label, and I really enjoy the new demos I receive, trying to test them on the dance floor. I believe the label has a long life to live.
VB: Your latest production label Codex Recordings is already getting great feedback on the latest releases being pressed to vinyl… What were your thoughts on doing this and do you think Vinyl is finally coming back and maybe back into our clubs?
S: Vinyl is awesome, being that unique opportunity to actually be able to touch your music with your own hands. I haven’t dealt with vinyl for around ten years maybe since I learned how to play on it. I was given an opportunity back then to play sets on vinyl. I can’t say I’ve mastered this craft though, as the CDs rushed into the market too rapidly, then there came Traktor. Now I use Record Box + USB sticks. However, I can say that the decision to press tracks to vinyl has changed significantly my attitude to it. This decision made me a better DJ, I suppose. I’ve started purchasing more records on vinyl produced by other labels, and now
I try to play all my studio live sets on vinyl exclusively.
As I mentioned earlier, we’ll be setting up a Codex Showcase event in Kyiv, and will be also using vinyl in my set there. This means a lot to me. I can’t imagine how one could be an owner of a vinyl label and at the same time ignore vinyl as a DJ. In general, the feelings you have playing on vinyl can’t be compared to anything else. That’s an amazing feeling when you get a chance to buy some rare record or when you anticipate some new release… This whole collecting hype is great, and the music is more real to you.
I recommend all young aspiring DJs to at least try to play on vinyl records and get a feel of what it’s like.
VB: Your first big gig was at the 2007 Global Gathering Festival in Ukraine which you have played every year since… is that because it still holds a special place for you?
S: Global Gathering was a truly important event for me. It was the first big festival I’ve ever played in my life, my first ever big crowd and great experience of a huge open-air stage when you just don’t see where the crowd ends. That performance made me a star of Ukrainian DJing and opened up many doors for me in the capital City of Kyiv where I had moved from native Kharkiv. I got an opportunity to work with Virus Music, now good friends of mine who at the time were Ukraine’s largest event providers. They gave me a lot back then and I’m happy we had a chance to work together.
We haven’t cooperated for a while and unfortunately, this festival has ceased to be held following the Revolution in Ukraine in 2014. Indeed, the economic situation in Ukraine is rather complicated and it’s always a great risk for the organizers to set up events like that the guys will be able to get Global Gathering back to Ukraine and on my part, I’ll do everything possible to participate in this festival as it means a lot to me.
VB: Can you tell me the most recent piece of studio hardware or software you brought that blew your mind and Why?
S: I try to experiment with some new plugins quite often. Just recently, I discovered a product line by D16. They create these analog emulators and a whole lot of other great stuff. From the long list, I’d like to highlight PunchBOX – a kick generator, which is a necessity in the arsenal of any techno producer because everyone knows how important the kick is in any techno tracks. First of all, it’s background, a reverb that is laid over it, then the punch is really important, and there’s a great opportunity opening to make a perfect long release with a massive tail and set some awesome dynamics for a techno track.
So, I highly recommend that DJs look at PunchBOX. Another plugin from this bundle I’d like to note is Phoscyon. It’s an emulator of a legendary Roland-303, that great tool for acid tunes with a built-in arpeggiator. It’s easy to notice today that a lot of techno tracks include some acid melody, so this trend is returning and it’s impossible to ignore the fact. The first vinyl release on Codex, track 1 on side A, was called In The Beginning. In this track, I used a melody written on that emulator. Although many producers seem to have back-shelved that acid sound, it’s right about the time they clean the dust off of those keyboards.
But of course, it’s much easier to just download this Phoscyon plugin and add a bit of acid into your tracks. The third plugin is called Sigmund. It’s an effect plugin, which is a perfect instrument for experimenting. I recommend it as well, although it would be hard for me to say exactly what it is that I love in it – it may be a delay, chorus, or reverb… Perhaps, it’s all at once. It’s a really interesting instrument which I always recommend for making at least some vocal or percussion sample and injecting a new life into it and make it sound in a whole different way.VB: What was the last production collaboration that excited you?
S: All my upcoming collaborations will be released on my label Codex, meaning they will be pressed to vinyl, which makes me happy. We are awaiting a new record with an amazingly talented producer from Ukraine – Alan Wools, who at the moment lives in Cyprus, I’m glad I have a chance to collaborate with him. We will have two joint tracks released as well as two of his own works, so that’s four tracks on a record.
Then there will come two joint pieces with another Ukrainian producer, a more famous one – Skober. I believe there’s no need to introduce Kostya. He’s a guy who’s already released on Drumcode, AnalyticTrail, Terminal M, Phobiq, Tronic, and so on… The list is quite impressive. His skills are also amazing. I was the one to create those draft projects, which I sent to him to work on them, and the outcome was awesome. I’m hoping I can release a teaser soon, and we are already discussing possible remixers… So, you’ll soon hear the products of some great collaborations.
VB: Do you have any guilty pleasures within music that nobody knows about and might shock your fans?
S: Yes, I have some, just like everyone else, I believe. I should start off by saying that I sing. Usually, I sing my baby daughter to sleep… I really enjoy singing. Mostly it’s the songs from some old Soviet-era movies for kids on which I was raised and which I adore. I don’t think you ever had a chance to hear any of those but for me personally, when I was a kid, those were some milestone songs. So that’s a legacy I hand over to my daughter. In general, in my free time, when I want to have a little rest, or when I’m on a long flight somewhere, I don’t listen to techno. I usually prefer something from my childhood.
This may be George Michael, Roxette, Backstreet Boys… The list is long, really. Among today’s artists, I like Bruno Mars. My preferences vary a lot. This may be anything ranging from ATB to Gus Gus. There’s nothing criminal in it, right? Of course, if you only listen to techno, your brains are most likely to turn into an orange pulp. One should have a break from techno music from time to time, and this is what I do just as much as other people.
VB: How hard is it to juggle family life with so much traveling, studio time on the labels, radio shows etc… do you have any rules to yourself to make sure it all works together?
S: It’s a difficult one right here. I always feel as if I’m a rope dancer in a circus that’s because I always have to find the right balance between my family life and my work, my touring. It’s no secret that in order to ensure a tight touring schedule you must work hard during weekdays and spend tons of time on the organization of this whole process. But of course, I love my family a lot and I really enjoy spending time with them. I always try to be there beside them for as long as I can. They’re the call of my heart while my work is just the call of a list of things I plan to do. Of course, this in no way means I don’t love my work. Moreover, I get great pleasure from day-time work, from all this management thing. It’s also like a drug for me.
I comprehend though that it all needs to have its limits. For example, when my wife and daughter are visiting my in-laws and I’m home alone, I have no will to work whatsoever. On the contrary, I’m in a working mood whenever I feel they’re somewhere near. So I’m a type of a family guy for whom his family is a top priority. In general, I feel I’ve succeeded in finding that right balance. I get great pleasure from whatever I do in life. I love my family, I love spending time with them, and I also love my work and I enjoy touring. The only thing I loathe is flying. But it’s not that much of a problem. I can deal with it.
VB: You once set fire to your hair during a DJ set….. Where was that and how did that happen?
S: Yes, this happened once. It was really funny on the one hand and scary on the other. That bleached, long, hardly-shaped hair that had a whole lot of hairspray in it… At that moment, I was a smoker, and
while trying to light up a cigarette on stage, I set my own hair on fire
I somehow managed to put out the fire real quick and maybe only a couple of people sitting up in a VIP lounge noticed that mess and had a good laugh. For me, of course, it was one of the most notable fail moments on stage, and it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever forget this episode in my career. I always tell people now that the combination of hairspray and a cigarette is not one you want to deal with.
VB: What’s one of the funniest things you have seen while DJing?
S: Well, maybe that story with my hair on fire was the funniest one. Of course, there were situations where my gear would collapse from the stage. It wasn’t that funny at the moment but we would still laugh about it afterward. There were also situations when alcohol was spilled all over my CD folders… But once again, those situations initially mostly caused discomfort and only afterward could we all have a laugh about them. I don’t quite remember anything critical that would be funny as well.
VB: Tell us about the techno scene in your home country Ukraine.
S: In my earlier interviews, maybe some three months ago, I was saying that there is no techno scene as such in Ukraine. But now I have changed my point of view because
what I see happening in Kyiv evidences the fact that at least in the capital city, quite a vivid techno scene is present,
and this is great, I would say. We’ve just had a Strichka fest held in one of Kyiv’s iconic nightclubs called Closer. As far as I know, it was a successful event. I was on tour at that moment, so I didn’t get a chance to visit the festival. It’s a more underground type of techno, not the kind I play but at the same time, the guys are doing great, and I rejoice at their success. It’s always great to see good things happening in Ukraine, in Kyiv… Another festival is upcoming, called Ostrov, with a really interesting line-up. So I hope the guys will have it done right. It’s probably the fifth consecutive year they’ve organized this fest.
This year, I see that it sparked significant public interest and I sincerely hope everything goes well. There’s also an event called Scheme (Scheme). It’s also a more underground sound. I didn’t go to this event personally, either, but I’ve heard they got a great feedback. The crowd was big, and this means this music is in demand. And this trend leads me to believe that the future is bright.
VB: Do you ever get a chance to go on the other side of the booth with friends and dance all night out, if so, where and when?
S: A really long time ago, maybe when I was somewhere around 18 or 19. This was in my native Kharkiv. Since I’ve become a professional DJ I somehow missed out going out dancing all night. I’m used to being “on the other side of barricades.” It’s been two years now since I quit drinking any alcohol… It’s unlikely that you see me partying my head out somewhere in the club. I’m a rather modest and reasonable guy, not inclined to any blow-away nights-out. I believe this is one of the requirements for my job as there is always a lot of touring, and if you consume, it’s hard to retain full control… Of course, you mostly get hyped up to go out dancing when you fuel your brain with some booze. I don’t know, maybe the day will come when I’ll be up to party like that.
VB: Christian Smith had you on ‘Tronic Radio’ recently who said he had been following you a long time, is there a chance of a collaboration or signing on the horizon?
S: I’m happy to hear that Christian said that. He is one of the artists I admire. His label, Tronic, and the music he writes and releases – these things have always been a beacon of real quality to me in the techno industry. He has always had this alternative look on things. So the very fact that such an artist as Christian Smith has been following me for a while is great news for me. I first met Christian in Lisbon where we had a great time chatting. We played at the same event but it’s cool we were able to get in touch before the gig because despite being on the same flyer it turned out we were supposed to play at different locations.
That’s actually a quite interesting move by local promoters… Christian played at night, while I performed at an afterparty. The crowd was huge at both times anyway. That was great. As for our meeting, we discussed a lot. He’s a really pleasant guy, and we actually have a common interest as his younger daughter is two years old, just like mine, so we had a lot of things to talk about not only music-wise. You know, such things connect people more. He invited me for a podcast, and it all went down well with a lot of people have listened to it. I have now signed my track up for their Various Artists compilation they are planning to release ahead of Sonar, and a little later a four-track release was also signed up. It was a really big step for me because Tronic is one of the highly acclaimed labels for many artists, and I hope that our friendship with Tronic and Christian will bring to the techno world more interesting news, tracks, and joint works. I hope you will hear about it soon.
VB: What can we expect to see from Spartaque this coming year?
S: Now I’m working on a large number of projects. First of all, it’s from my Codex label, which is a multiple-layer brand as I’ve mentioned before. I plan to set up a Codex Showcase event in Kyiv and a podcast with the same title. In general, I plan to inject substantial investment into this brand, both in terms of financing and time. I believe interesting joint works will be released there. It’s truly important to me to create a concept and make it possible to set up similar events in Europe and worldwide. Of course, I’ll be paying great attention to my IAMT label as well. It is also developing well, and I see how DJs are interested in it, just as producers who keep sending me their great demos. I’m awaiting releases on Tronic, Riot, then another track of mine will be released in Transmit’s Various Artists compilation dedicated to Sonar…
There will be two records released on Codex as well. So I’ve got a bunch of plans to fulfill. I am working with great people, a great team. The bolder our goals are, the more interesting it will be to achieve them. Probably the most important news which I haven’t announced anywhere yet is that I am now seriously considering moving to Europe. It will most probably be Barcelona, Spain. I feel it’s the time when a plant has to be replanted into a larger pot to let it grow further. That’s how I feel about myself right now. We’ll see how it works out… So this is the freshest info about my plans. Thanks for the interview! See you on the dance floors!