Chasing The Dream with Woo York
Six days after Woo York released their debut album, we sat down over Skype to talk about life as a live act, production and putting together their album. Denys explained that Andrew (the other half of Woo York) was unable to attend due to the time of our call; 8.30pm UK time, 10.30pm Kiev.
Monday to Friday, Denys is an audio engineer at Avid, a firm that creates complex hardware and software for audio and video editing systems. On gig weekends, he swaps days and works Sundays. Most weekends are turning into gig weekends. “Between working and playing I produce music and deal with becoming a father six months ago”, he says, appearing relaxed but slightly worn out “it’s a hard situation, but I’m able to do it because of my wife. I only know of a few other DJs/live acts that work as well. Sometimes I feel tired, yes, but I go to the gym, as it helps me mentally. When you do exercise, it releases endorphins, keeping me sane, happy and relaxed. Last weekend we had a gig Saturday I got back Sunday, slept, went to the gym in the morning then work. Without the gym I wouldn’t have felt refreshed, it’s a must for me.” The other half of Woo York, Andrew used to be a programmer and left his job 3 years ago; “He’s happy, but I have a family and I really enjoy my job. It’s related to audio and my second passion which is programming. I wish I had more time to spend time with my family to go fishing or to the pool, but there’s a lack of time”.
Woo York’s debut Album ‘Chasing The Dream’, has been eagerly anticipated, with some of the songs created as long as five years ago. “The album is very important for us, it’s a big milestone. It’s not just a release, it’s our debut album, and is something we’ve been thinking about and working on for a long time”.
“We didn’t have a plan to create the album that you hear now – whilst we were travelling with the live performance, from time to time we found some interesting combinations of sounds. We then thought later that it works ‘remember that ace of a line you did last night, let’s write it down and store it for something else’. In time, all these ideas and melodies and a combination of sounds we collated and understood that we needed to record all these MIDI lines into tracks. The album was recorded in Kiev in our studio, with the melodies created on the dancefloor; we then went to a friend’s studio as he had a vintage tube analog console and mixed it”.
Denys explains a lot of people ask ‘what are the ideas?’, “there are no ideas. We have bass, a kick, a hi-hat and something else. It is not a track but just a combination of synths we were playing. When we understood we had a lot of good combinations, we decided to record some new tracks and found we had enough to record an album. And we have more; we have some of the best tracks that we haven’t released as EPs because it did not feed the idea. For example ‘Kadastre’ and ‘There Is a Light’ are several years old, but if I didn’t tell you that, you wouldn’t have an idea. We didn’t make them with an album in mind, but we believe they fed into the concept well. The idea of the album was not to put in random tracks but was to make the album tell a story, from the first track to the last. Ups and downs, energy burst, more melodic, more energetic, and calm stuff. Because it’s an album, people are asking why aren’t there more club tracks, why? The album wasn’t made to be played in a club; it was to represent us as an artist. And it’s not just a DJ tool; electronic music should be broader than that. We’re not here to make songs for other DJs to play”.
I asked about ‘There Is a Light’ and how he feels about the audience hearing it 3-4 years ago on the dance floor, yet until now they have been anticipating the release. “Well, firstly we didn’t think it was going to be a big one. We made the track before we released our first EP ‘On Life and Death (DJ Tennis record label)’. I like the track, but for me, it’s not the best on the album. For some reason people love it, but I think it’s because it creates a feeling of inspiration, positivity and good thoughts. It’s amazing to be able to connect with our fans like that, and that they really feel and understand the music. When we opened a competition on our Facebook page to win a copy of the album on vinyl, all they had to do was comment their favourite Woo York track and tag a friend – most people selected a track that has a 4×4 beat. Most people are used to it. But for me personally, if I’m at home and putting music on to chill or sing, I like going against the grain.”
“My favourite track (on the album) is ‘Walk Along the Rainbow’ because I like how the song evolves and builds, plus the frequency pitch on the track. All the elements of the track are amazing. It’s probably the song with the most sounds on the album, although it’s still very minimalistic. We normally try to avoid a lot of sounds on a single track, but this track was different. I just like the sound; I can’t exactly explain why I like it. It’s the most beautiful for me.” The album contains several old tracks and new ones. “The new tracks were made very quickly as we had all the combinations I mentioned before. We had everything already, did several takes, and then recorded. We did it very fast. If you don’t have ideas, making an album can be a challenge, but as we had the ideas, we found it a very relaxing and creative process”.
“The majority of our material starts off as an improvised moment in our live set. If the crowd goes wild, to us, that’s where the ideas are born. It’s not always like that. Sometimes you perform, you try something new and *bang* the crowd don’t react. Then you do another way and *bang*, they don’t react again. Sometimes this goes on several times, and then you start to feel not (so) good. It’s like you’ve done something wrong, like the crowds not connecting. When this happens it’s very hard to improvise and create something great. It’s almost impossible. But when the crowd support you, you feel comfortable, everything seems to work and loads of good ideas are created. But it’s not only on us, it’s 50% on the crowd. How they react to the music, how much they’re ready to open their minds to get something new. Sometimes when we play I like to mix it up, in some venues they don’t understand, but it some places people go crazy. If I play in Panorama bar or MMA, people go crazy when you do something that’s not straightforward. It’s not only us that do this; the crowd play a massive part. If their response is bad, our story won’t come across well, but if it’s good, it’s amazing.”
“We can play 4×4, but I also like playing experimental stuff and making people happy”. He then explains that when Woo York first started, they did DJ sets, but this was limited to their city and they only played vinyl. “When we started doing our live set, we weren’t confident in ourselves or our material. But if you don’t try it, you never know. At first, our live sets were more programmed, like most live artists. It was similar to a DJ set and just playing live clips. It was not that fun, I couldn’t imagine that we would still play like this today. Now we have all the equipment where we can make all the components live on stage, rather than just playing pre-recorded clips. That’s the evolution of our live set. It’s not totally different to when we started. It’s still changing now, but we’ve added one more synthesizer, and it takes time to learn and to be able to experiment. But experimenting during a live set is my favourite thing. It gives me adrenaline and if people react, I’m double happy inside. I couldn’t imagine doing a DJ set now, to me it’s dull. I don’t consider myself as a DJ; we use a totally different approach. I use my experience as a DJ to build the live set, but it’s different, I’m always thinking what’s next, what sounds next, what hi-hat is next, when will I do the drop etc. It’s not just clicking play. After a (live) set you’re empty. It’s one and a half hours of pure concentration. Once a set is done you’re pumped and full of adrenaline, but after half an hour, you’re shattered and you still have to pack up the equipment. This takes about an hour. Its 40 kilos of equipment. It’s a totally different job and effort required. We only request a mixing desk; it’s enormous, we need 24 channels. We also request 3 laptop stands, but we put synthesisers on them. Everything else we bring ourselves. We carry two cases each, and there’s nothing there apart from the stuff we need to play live. I have a small MIDI touchpad that I can leave at home, but apart from that, everything is needed”.
I ask if they have a specific setlist they will be using for the current European album tour. “We have several options on how to start a set, but sometimes it changes. If we start a night and no one is on the dance floor, we play the same way, but different. It might be the same track without drums and a bass. It’s an advantage of the complicated set up we have. How do we keep it fresh? I don’t think like that (having a preconceived set list), we always play differently. The only constant is the sound. It’s Woo York music. If you go to a Prodigy concert. It always the same. But with variations. So it seems fresh.”
When quizzed about his favourite place to play so far, Denys responded “The Block in Tel Aviv. I don’t know much about the scene there, as I don’t really follow these things. But I like it because of all the small things, from the hosting (which is important) they’re very nice people; they always set up a good meal and get everything right on the technical side. Sometimes this is not always the case. The primary aspects are the sound system; it’s a very dark room, which we like a lot, both me and Andrew, plus the crowd is very responsive. A few months ago we performed at Panorama bar for the first time, which was special. We’ve played in Berghain in the main room before, but that was our second or third gig abroad, with the first being Tresor (in Berlin). When we played in Berghain I didn’t enjoy it as I was concentrating too much to make it perfect. Can you imagine one of your first gigs abroad is playing after Marcel Dettmann and before Luke Slater? It’s a big ask! There was a lot of pressure and emotion. The set was good, but in Panorama bar, we loved it, totally. We were comfortable and confident in our own ability. It was a pleasure to play in such a prestigious club and show people who we are. I cannot say which was better, they’re all special. I do like playing open air, the fresh air and atmosphere just adds to the occasion. Panorama was crazy and we just went with the vibe and did crazy things, most of these things worked! In Panorama bar, people are very close to you and can see what you’re doing. I really like that! I like people being able to see what I’m doing. A lot of people don’t understand the difference between a live act and DJ act.”
One of Woo York’s biggest tracks to date is ‘Poseidon’, from the Afterlife ‘Realm of Consciousness Pt 1’ compilation. “Regarding Poseidon, we never knew it would be that big, at first it was very different. We wanted it harder so we put in a 909 kick drum. But it’s definitely one of our best tracks. The melody is very soft, but heavy at the same time”. Throughout the interview, this seems to be a constant theme in our discussions, “we like Poseidon and we’re happy with it. But when we finished it, we didn’t know it was going to be that big, we just thought ‘on to the next one’”. Atlantis was released on Semantica Records. Denys explains there’s a story. “We created this track and thought it was shit and didn’t want to release it, but then Carmine wrote to me and asked about the track. Because I trust his opinion we opened the recording and completed the track. We sent into Enrique at Semantica records and they signed it. I’m a big fan of Semantica records, it was a pleasure, and we planned the release for a very long time.”
Woo York have also released Dystopian and Life and Death. “Alien worlds (their release on Rødhåd’s Dystopian label), we didn’t like it at first, but the crowd always reacted to it. We waited to release the EP for two years.” Alien Worlds was released in March 2017. “The reason we released (the album) on Afterlife is due to the sound but more. It’s the whole conception, we think it’s really special and we are really close to the team, plus we believed it was the best fit for us. It’s dreamy and the team is very professional. It was the best fit! It was a big pleasure to work with Phillip and Richard who are the big guys behind the scene that you don’t see behind the decks.”
The Woo York album is out now, and they have recently played at the Afterlife Off Sonar party at Parc del Fórum while continuing their album tour at numerous other club nights and festivals around Europe. The Album has been a success, reaching number one on the Beatport album chart, being released in a tough week with numerous other big albums dropping. Denys explained there’s more to come and most of the best tracks are still to be released. That can only mean bigger things for Woo York in the future.
(Photo from Afterlife, OFF Sonar 2018)