In Conversation with…Spartaque
Ukrainian DJ and Producer Spartaque has become a name known for raw quality on the international techno landscape. He’s been at it for many years, but got his first break in 2007 DJing at Ukraine’s Global Gathering festival, and has continued with this festival every year since. He has added other vital performances to his resume by performing at Love Parade, Kazantip, Mayday, and others. Spartaque supplements these performances and maintains the momentum by way of his award-winning Supreme podcast, in addition to numerous guest mixes on other podcasts and radio shows.
Spartaque started out in his teenage years composing and producing dance music, finally realizing as a young adult the lucrative skill of DJing his works. His first piece to release was on a Virus Music album in 2005. A decade later, he now has over 300 released tracks on more than # labels. His arsenal includes both original works and remixes for some of the top artists around the world.
Joseph Dent sat down with Spartaque recently to discuss records, his radio show, his biggest influences, growing up in Ukraine and being a father. His new EP is out on Reload Records, you can grab a copy here.
Evening Vitalii. So where are you calling from tonight?
From my home in Kiev, Ukraine.
What sort of music do you produce/DJ and how long have you been on the circuit for?
I have had 2 periods of my career spanning over 12 years. In the beginning, I was a pretty big DJ in my root countries of Ukraine and Russia. I was playing more commercial, progressive techno music at that time. Since we had the revolution in Ukraine I decided to build my worldwide career. So as a proper techno DJ I have been playing for about 2 years.
So you had 2 aliases?
No, it has always been Spartaque. I’ve had this alias since I was 5 years old. My friends at school gave me this nickname. When I decided to become a DJ I thought I might as well keep it.
Why did they give you this nickname?
I didn’t know why until fairly recently. I was playing in Russia and was asked the same question. Somebody on the farthest corner of the table shouted, ‘Hey you look like Spartacus’. It turns out that it is an old Hollywood movie with Kirk Douglas playing the role of Spartacus and we have pretty similar faces. At that moment I realised why people called me Spartaque as a kid.
Who are some of your biggest influences?
When I decided to move from one sub-genre of techno to another I remember listening to a lot of Adam Beyer as he is one of the main trendsetters that I like to go in with. All of Slam’s stuff is amazing. I thought Radioslave’s last release was incredible. It’s really hard to say, to be honest. For example the last 6 months I have enjoyed playing more melodic stuff but right now I am playing more of the heavier stuff. Of course, there are a lot of artists I really follow such as Len Faki, Marco Carola, Carl Cox. When I am at the gym I try to listen to all this music.
I saw that you were playing at Aquasella Festival in July. That looks like a mad one, I have to say. Jeff Mills, Pan-Pot, Solomun, Technasia, Ben Sims and The Martinez Brothers to names just a few on the bill.
I played in 2016 and it was incredible. It is not as well known as Time Warp or Awakenings but in Spain, it is very popular and this year the line-up is massive. I am very proud to be part of it.
It must be very satisfying to be on that level after all the years of hard work you’ve put in.
I am happy now that I’ve made this shift because with the previous stuff I produced it was impossible. It was a hard decision because with that music I got pretty good money in Russia. The Russian market is…special haha. Not strange, but special. Because the regular people are not really rich but some people are super rich and can pay you very big money. I realised that to get a good name in European techno I would have to lose 95% of my fan base in Russia and the income from my bookings there. Also, politics has changed everything. Currently, we don’t have the best situation between Ukraine and Russia as you might have seen in the news. I still have a lot of friends in Russia but now it is hard even to travel there.
Tell us about your record labels IAMT and Codex?
IAMT was my first label. I have good friends who are the biggest promoters in Ukraine and they wanted to make a Ukrainian techno festival. Those guys put on very big parties in our country like Global Gathering, Gods Kitchen and Sensation. They wanted to make a festival called I Am Techno and decided to make the brand, label and festival together. Unfortunately, the festival was not really successful. They did about 3 parties and stopped. However, the label already had a name and at the time I was producing more commercial stuff. I decided it was not really good to call the label IAMT as the music was not really techno. Techno is a strange genre as 2 people can say that they listen to it but the music may be completely different. The genre’s range is too wide. I decided to start Codex to show people that Spartaque and the Spartaque sound has changed. I am now 100% focused on Codex.
I was listening to your Supreme radio show #262 on the way to and from work today. Did you start that 12 years ago?
Yes. It was called Sunrise at the beginning and I changed the name to Supreme on the 50th episode. It is still a pretty big radio show in Ukraine and Russia but since I changed my musical direction it has got increasingly popular in Germany and Spain. The statistics show that Germany, Netherlands, US, Spain and UK are the Top 5 listening countries. I really like to make it. A year ago I bought myself a Zoom H6 and started to record all my mixes which is a great challenge. For the first hour of my show I play brand new tracks in my inbox; promos and releases. It’s great seeing how happy the artists are when I feature them. I like to do this every week. Sometimes it is hard because I may be listening to tracks on my headphones on the way to a gig and like the way it sounds but when I play it in the club it may not sound as good haha. I always say to the promoters please wait for the 2nd hour. Let me finish my radio show. After that, I will kill you and all the people in the club haha. Most of the time everything is cool but if a track doesn’t work as well as I expected then I will mix it out fast which is why you may see up to 18 tracks in the first hour of my radio show. It is cool to show that every week I can play brand new stuff. It means I work a lot and producers really appreciate that kind of support.
Absolutely. So who should we be looking out for on the horizon?
A guy from Ukraine comes to mind who produces this amazing stuff that I love. He was in the shadows for several years, ghost producing for many artists. Now he’s finally started to make his own tracks. His name is Alan Wools and I am even going to press his tracks to vinyl. I played his track ‘World in Trouble’ in my last podcast as the first track. Also, I can tell you about these guys from Argentina. Their names are Drigo and Ignassio Arfelli. Sometimes I feel envious of the tracks they produce haha. I’d highly recommend checking out this Ukranian guy called Skober. Also David Temessi from Budapest. His sound is on the edge. Techno which is really fast. We live in an amazing time as there are so many great producers out there.
Did you come from a DJing background first?
I came to DJing as I wanted to monetise my production skills. I started to produce my own tracks 17 years ago. I was a really big fan of this. My mother and father directed orchestras which played classical music. Also, my mother worked as a music teacher before the Soviet Union folded. So genetically I had really good roots. I remember asking my parents to buy me a PC just so I could use Fruity Loops Studio. For me, I came to DJn due to sound production.
What’s the music scene in Ukraine like?
Before the revolution, we had a nice scene. Ukraine was a cool country to play techno and we had a lot of techno parties. A lot of European techno DJs played here. But since the revolution, we have had pretty hard times in Ukraine. First, it is hard to put on parties with international acts as Ukrainian currency has fallen really low. Before the revolution, 1 euro was about 10 hryvnia and now 1 euro is about 30 hryvnia. Salaries are almost the same but the people cannot raise the prices for tickets otherwise people will not come. The economical situation is very hard. We still have some clubs but most of them are commercial. Or we have some super underground clubs like Closer in Kiev but the community is really small. I have cancelled all my gigs in Ukraine. Promoters call me but the quality of people is not really good and I’m saying now that I see no reason for me to play in my country which is a real pity.
Where are some of your favourite places to play right now then?
I think Spain and Germany are the most crazy countries which I enjoy playing in. Really great people. As for the UK, I played at Egg in London for Familia last year which was awesome. My first time visiting the country. I remember saying to my wife when I got back that if I could live anywhere it would be there. It is very beautiful.
It’s funny that you mention Familia. Last Saturday they were at Egg with Monika Kruse headlining. I won 3 tickets to go to it but couldn’t annoyingly as I was covering Elrow at Village Underground. Familia is a real up and coming techno party on the London scene and definitely on my bucket list. What are you working on right now?
For me the biggest thing is Codex. Today I just confirmed a new release Core EP from Mr Bizz in Italy which includes a remix from a super talented artist from France called Wex 10. I just finished a remix for Funk ‘n Deep Records which is a label based in the US. The guy who runs it is a good friend of mine called Durtysoxxx and gets me great gigs in LA, El Paso and Las Vegas. I have signed the tracks to Christian Smith’s Tronic label and am working on 2 collaboration with Skober. I am doing quite a lot of shit haha. Then when I come back from gigs I work from Monday to Thursday from my home office. Behind me, I have the PC for making my videos. In front of me is the Mac for making tracks. Vinyls on the left. The plans are big and it’s really exciting when you see everything moving forward.
You said you pressed records. How many releases have you done that for?
We are now on release #9. There is a lot of competition right now. There are a lot of good labels and good artists are really hard to nail down for releases and remixes. So I wanted to make the label more attractive to them. That is why I decided to make this investment in vinyl. I understand it is pretty hard but vinyl is coming back. I have a good friendship with the main retailer of Pioneer in Ukraine and he said that even here sales of their most recent decks have shot up. I think I am right investing the money and time in this stuff. Also, we decided we would do vinyl exclusive releases. For our first release we did a 1-month vinyl exclusive, then Beatport, then the rest of the stores. With our next release, we will make it vinyl exclusive for 2 months instead. I also decided to change my own routines as well. I believe if I am pushing this product then I must play with this product.
It is certainly a draw. I probably buy vinyl every 3-4 weeks. I like the process of going to the store. Flicking through some of the label or genre sections. Also like having a physical, tangible product that you can feel. We’re just lost in MP3 files. It never ends and you don’t really feel like you have anything. It also sounds better!
That is absolutely true. I have spoken with my agent and are planning some vinyl only parties in Kiev. Pressing vinyl for my label has changed the way I think about music and myself as a DJ.
Nowadays you just need to carry around USBs or use Rekordbox.
Rekordbox is great. I prepare my sets with it. You can mark the tracks. You can preview them. You can make an unlimited number of playlists. Tracks will be on the same spot you save them at. The best thing though is that by default it saves your track history. For me, the guy who always shares his live sets, this is an amazing feature. In the past, I played with Traktor, CDJs and a controller. I would always forget to save playlist at the end of my set haha.
What upcoming gigs are you most looking forward to?
Aquasella Festival in July that you mentioned earlier. Also Dreambeach Festival in August. That was voted best festival of Spain in 2016 and will be amazing.
Away from the music then. I saw that you have a daughter?
Yes, I have a 2-year-old daughter called Lisa. I realise now that I had so much spare time before having a kid. My friends who don’t have kids don’t understand how much time they have for everything haha. I am always trying to find this balance between work and family. I have an amazing team but I also do a lot of stuff by myself. The podcasts, videos, label. It is always a big challenge.
Do you organise all of your own bookings or part of an artist management company?
Routine jobs I do myself. Social media posts. Label management. Podcasts. Voice-overs. I am really happy working with Urban Rebel PR and excited for the upcoming results. I have an amazing booking agency in Barcelona called Cubbo. They are like family and have really impacted my career over the last year. It is really hard to find a good manager. It is important to find the right person for you. You can be in a big agency but it doesn’t mean that you will have a lot of gigs. Or you can be in a smaller agency with amazing artists where you feel more comfortable. It’s not like you have the big artists and everybody focuses on that and you are on the shortlist. It’s different. And the plan is to grow together which is really great.
Is there anything you’d like to say to the fans reading this?
Hope to see you on the dance floor soon 😉