Maximum energy: Anfisa Letyago is the techno dynamo heading to the top
Anfisa Letyago is a DJ star on the rise, fuelled by her irrepressible energy behind the decks and growing catalogue of groove-laden techno. Niamh Ingram tells her story
Anfisa Letyago is fast becoming a household name in techno. In 2021 she launched her own record label, N:S:DA, dropping two EPs which were whipped into remix packages by producers including Chris Liebing, Calibre and DJ Seinfeld, following those up at the start of 2022 with her own sublime remix of Moby’s ‘Go’. This summer, her schedule includes dates in Ibiza for TRICK at DC-10, at Glitch and Drumcode in Malta and the mighty Exit Festival in Serbia.
Throughout her upwards trajectory, Anfisa holds one value at the core of her beliefs: “To stay true to myself was my start,” she says. “I began [by] wanting to be myself. I’ve always taken this attitude with me through the years: and it’s easy, because it’s me. I don’t pay attention to be something that I’m not. I don’t waste my time on that. I decide to be myself, even when I’m not perfect.”
“I grew up like this and it’s my mantra: stay true to yourself. I’m always like that.”
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Speaking on video call from her home in Napoli, known as Naples in English, where she’s just landed after a weekend in the UK playing Mixmag’s’s Lab LDN and the imposing Printworks, it’s clear that the artist’s passion for being her raw self and channelling her home influences motivate her every move. “I love Italy, it’s my home country,” she smiles. “My Dad is Italian and my family have lived in Italy for more than 20 years.”
Growing up around music, it seems as if a career in the industry was somewhat inevitable. And while we touched on a few high-profile names, there were some significantly closer to home who especially left their mark on Anfisa.
“When I was a child, my grandmother had a lot of vinyl. Italian music, Italo disco… she was the first! Secondly, my dad played guitar and bass in a small group with his friends, and still plays. He organises small concerts in South Italy and when I was young he listened to rock music, punk music. He had a big influence on me, like many musicians.”
It seems fitting that one of these key figures in music who inspired Anfisa so greatly is also Italian. “In Napoli I went to a huge event and I saw Marco Carola for the first time: it was too many years ago!” she laughs, reminiscing about the occasion. “He was playing a real proper techno set, and I was like ‘wow… wow wow wow… I want to be like him, I’d love to do what he’s doing’,” she recollects. And so she did.
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“I started DJing in Napoli in 2009. It has a very big underground culture. There are lots of underground events and clubs here, and promoters groups that organise the events. There are so many. You know, 10 years ago, the situation with clubbing was so huge here and the clubs were open seven days a week. I was playing almost every day.”
Throughout our discussion, Anfisa’s positive energy is infectious. Keen to ensure I gained the correct picture of Naples’ underground - and aware that I was situated some 1500 miles away from her at the time - she made careful effort to explain the significance of the Neapolitan circuit and its impact in driving her to both hone her craft as a DJ, and enhance her musical knowledge to push her skills as a curator.
Nodding to Marco Carola as the main individual whom she looked up to when beginning her career, she also highlighted the importance of more local DJs and producers, circling back to Gaetano Parisio. “He does very old, proper techno and I love his production,” she explains. “He is my friend as well!”
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“I never missed any events,” she continues. “I was everywhere, always around. There were too many events and the choices were so huge. Sometimes, you know, on Saturdays there were around 30, 40, or 50 events and it was like oh my god, where could you go?”. She laughs, simultaneously articulating the bittersweet frustration felt by many regarding the vastness of the Naples club scene.
Soon enough, Anfisa found herself playing the city’s Duel Beat Club. “I remember it as my first big gig, there were almost 2000 people. Duel Beat is a very important club here and there were so many people, I was so excited.”
While describing the night, she barely stops smiling and giggling, speaking with such elation that you’d be forgiven for thinking that the event happened only months ago. “I was super-excited and will never forget the emotions.”
“I remember that I forgot my name. I was like…” she trails off, breathing outwardly with the grin still plastered across her face, in an attempt to display the exhilaration. “I just forgot what I had to do because you know, I was so young, almost 19… I was shaking at the mixer, shaking all the time,”, mimicking her hand movement behind the decks all those years ago. “It was unforgettable – but the event went well and then afterwards I started to play the big clubs in Napoli, so it definitely helped a lot.”
It felt natural that years later, in 2016, Anfisa began creating her own productions. “After all those experiences in the clubs, just as a disc selector, I felt a huge need to express myself not only through a DJ set but through productions as well, and put my identity into them,” she explains. Focusing hard to recall specific dates, she reminisces about releasing on small Italian underground labels before meeting Carl Cox in 2018, who has since labelled her as one of the ‘new generation’.
After hearing that he would be playing in Sicily, a one-hour flight from her home in Naples, Anfisa made the journey and waited around the area in an attempt to meet the legend himself. In true musician style, she was armed with her trusty USBs filled with her own tracks. “I saw him, and I asked, I was so far away but was like ‘excuse me, excuse me, can I get a picture please?’”, she laughs. “He was like, ‘Oh, of course, of course you can!’. He’s one of the best not only DJs, but people, you know. He’s so good. He took a photo with me and I asked ‘I have some music… maybe you can check it out, please?’”.
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One month later, Cox was playing Anfisa’s records around the world, and she’d been offered a release on Intec Digital, with 'Hypnotic' landing in 2019, following her debut release on Italian outlet Natura Viva the year prior. Since Cox’s support, she has released tunes on labels including Kompakt, Rekids and Deutsche Gramophon. “He was the first DJ or producer who supported me. I will always remember it and I am so grateful. I always will be for the rest of my life,” she tells me, the nostalgic grin having not left her face since beginning the story.
Continuing to the present day, Anfisa has kept honing her craft. Carrying her homeland’s techno influence throughout - something she coins “groovy techno” - she is unafraid to traverse genres throughout a set to pique her audience’s interest. She did exactly that in her Lab set earlier this year, in which she navigated through techno, melodic deep house, and more subtle, signature sounds.
“I don’t like limits in electronic music. I keep a techno identity in my sets, but I love all the shades of techno and electronic music. So when I produce and play, I don’t like to limit myself. The base is of course techno music, but I love to travel between genres. It’s all about the groove. A well made groove helps a lot to create a good techno track.”
“When I play, believe me, I give a lot of energy. After my set, I’m like…” she trails off, exhaling sharply and laughing to recreate the adrenaline rush she experiences. “Like, I’ve died! I sleep for many days, many hours, because I feel empty. But while I play, when I’m in the DJ booth or on the stage, I give the maximum of my energy. I give everything - not only is it the music and the soundsystem, but it’s about energy and attention you give to people, and the vibe, you know. You can create the moment.”
Over her career, I ask, she must’ve witnessed a change in dancefloor dynamics – many argue that more recently phones have ruined the club experience, with too many focused on getting that perfect video of the drop for their social media, right? “Of course, social media…” she ponders, “Yes, it distracts people, but at the same time when people take videos, they feel integrated as part of the event, taking stories, you know.”
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And creating an experience for the audience is what drives Anfisa: something she strived for even when we weren’t able to connect on the dancefloor during the pandemic, utilising social media as a form of not only solace, but a space to communicate and bond with her audience.
“During the pandemic, so many people wrote me messages thanking me. ‘Thanks Anfisa for your positive attitude, you helped me a lot, thanks for your live-streaming, it cheered me up’,” she lists. “During the pandemic too many people were alone at home with no parents or no friends, and I felt good because those messages also helped me through in those times. It’s symbiotic. I did a lot of live-streaming and dedicated a lot of music to people who follow me, which helped them but also me as well, so it’s really cool.”
She maintains a balance between offline and online activity, and is always open and honest in her digital presence. “I love to keep in touch with people who follow me or come to the clubs to listen to me. It’s important to show the events I do with them, so maybe they can come and see me, and share all my experiences, my normal life. For example, when I work in the studio and I produce a track, I love to share the experience with people. Or, some very emotional moments in my life when I listen to the music, or do test pressing of my new release and I’m very happy about the music. I’m like a child, I love to share all of these experiences! It’s very important to stay true to yourself and share it on social media, and I love it. Of course, sometimes I find time to stay away for a little bit. I find time for everything! Over the years, I’ve found the right balance between my life and social media and I feel good about it.”
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But does she ever yearn for those days without social media? Without the need to maintain a presence online? “When I started all those years ago, it was like that, no social media, so I got the experience,” she says. “I was happy with myself anyway. DJing can be done without it: before, we were doing our job, I was DJing, it was okay with no social media, no sharing videos of your songs - you can press it on vinyl anyway, or listen to them on the radio, and it’s cool. I don’t think social media is a problem now, it’s just a question of the time you spend on it, and all about habits with it.”
When Anfisa isn’t chatting to her audience in the comment section of her social media, and isn’t travelling the world to play, she practises the balance that she preaches by exploring either the mountains, or hills, of South Italy. “I try to combine it with restaurants, wines, and good Italian food!” she laughs, with true Italian emphasis on the word food. “It’s all about food, sea, mountains and nature when I'm not DJing. I love it.”
After giving me a brief lesson on when and where to sample particular Italian delicacies and wines depending on the setting, we fall back into discussion about how vital balance is while pursuing such a demanding career. Even in a professional setting, her team, who are spread all over Italy, are her backbone. “We are like a family,” she explains, declaring their closeness as a reason as to how she is able to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Or, as healthy balance as you can when you’re an internationally renowned DJ.
Are there any shows she’s played that really stick out as a favourite? “It’s not easy to figure out because every place in the world has its own energy. It’s not easy to find only one,” she grins. After some deep thinking, Anfisa’s face lights up as she remembers a boat party on New York’s Hudson River. Setting the scene, she explains how the perfect weather, audience and sunset resulted in a memorable atmosphere. “I love all the countries I’ve played because they have their own identity,” she hurries, quick to reinforce that she doesn’t have an explicit favourite location as if not to offend the country’s partygoers. “I’ve lots of emotions about every place I've played,” she smiles.
An hour into our call, Anfisa’s positive outlook and infectious enthusiasm for her craft, country and life hasn’t wavered once. Her relaxed aura has shone throughout, and I wondered if this state of mind is a benefit when she looks into the future. “I’m going with the flow. I need my time in everything I do - my job, my music, I love to do it step by step.
“I don’t know what will happen in one year, or two years, in 10 years… I really don’t know. I’m crazy, I’m like a child. I’m very happy with everything I do today, everything I did years ago, and hopefully, fingers crossed, everything I do in five years. It’s all about growing and progressing myself without thinking ‘oh, I wanna play there…’. I just have fun and stay true to yourself and do what you feel you should at the time. I just wait for my moment, you know?”
One thing is for certain: she’s having a moment now. And with an admirable attitude and perspective on life, a mature outlook on the overwhelming force of social media, and a work ethic which is second-to-none, Anfisa Letyago will keep making moves. Wherever she goes next, she’ll give it her all.
Niamh Ingram is a freelance writer and Mixmag’s Weekend Editor, follow her on Twitter