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Nastia: Keep on dancing

The Ukranian has come a long way from dance contests in her home village

  • Words: Joe Roberts | Images: Carsten Windhorst
  • 11 May 2016

It’s the nightmare start that every DJ dreads. Ukrainian techno star Nastia has just taken to the decks of Vinyl Pimp, the East London shop stacked floor to ceiling with rare second hand records, when the turntable on which she’s playing her first track –SBTRKT’s ‘Hold On’ – turns off. Someone, somewhere, we find out later, has accidentally pulled the plug out.

Given the challenge of playing this in-store using vinyl plucked from the shop’s uncatalogued shelves in just an hour, she’s admitted that she’s stressed at the prospect of playing music she doesn’t know. The situation feels tense, the suddenly muted crowd looking on expectedly. But Nastia, whatever is going on in her mind, holds the room with a calm, unfazed smile. A minute later the power is back and she sets to work like nothing has happened, Sampha’s soulful vocals mixing into an hour of perfectly sequenced house and techno, deep, delicate and with a trippy 90s edge. It’s a magical sleight of hand conjured up from a few record descriptions and a finely tuned ear; precisely why Richie Hawtin has asked her to play alongside him at Fabric tonight.

With no hype hits or label hook-ups to her name, Nastia has earned her place at techno’s top table the old-fashioned way: by consistently turning up and doing the business, turntable malfunctions or not. Born in a tiny Ukrainian village, the 28-year-old hosts a weekly radio show on Kiss FM Ukraine, the station giving her complete free reign over selection. At the non-stop two-week KaZantip festival she mastered her art by playing a minimum of three shows every day, and current demand for her DJ skills – as easily turned to house, or drum ’n’ bass (her other love) as they are to techno – means that last year she was playing up to 20 consecutive nights without a break.

Somehow in 2013 she found time to start Propaganda, her vinyl-only label that quietly puts out releases, with full artwork, from the likes of iO and Andrey Zots, its concise back catalogue ranging from intricately detailed minimal to dubby breakbeats. Then there’s the gathering pace of Strichka, the festival held in Kiev, where she now lives, each year around her birthday (on May 20); the 2016 edition, happening in conjunction with Closer on May 21, boasts a host of talent from Pearson Sound and DJ Stingray to Jus-Ed and Anthea. Her first appearance at Panorama Bar is up this month, then dates at Circo Loco in Ibiza and a packed festival schedule.

If this suggests a full-on approach, then today is no different. Having come directly to Vinyl Pimp from the airport, she has a sound check at Fabric almost straight after, then dinner, so our interview is split into two parts, leaving minimal time to prepare for her set. Nastia takes it in her stride. She’s disarmingly honest and willing to talk at length, joking and laughing despite modestly warning us about her English, after we’ve found a table in the plush basement bar of the Malmaison where she’s staying. Dressed in black Armani jeans and buckled leather boots, standard techno issue, she’s sporting a kakhi T-shirt she bought in LA picturing Robert Johnson, the legendary 1930s blues player who rumour has it sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his guitar-playing prowess (and who lent his name to one of Germany’s best clubs). It’s an apt choice. Although Nastia hasn’t knowingly entered into a Faustian pact, success, she suggests, comes with a price.

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