ARTBAT at Cercle in Rio de Janeiro
Photo: Raul Aragao
ARTBAT On New CamelPhat Collab, DJing In The Clouds & Loving L.A.
Back in 2015, Artur Kryvenko and Vitalii "Batish" Limarenko, both successful DJs in their native Kyiv, met at a club and joined forces to create ARTBAT. It wasn't long before their deeply emotive brand of melodic techno made them one of the biggest names ever out of Ukraine and had them playing shows at major clubs like London's Printworks, Berlin's Watergate and Blue Marlin and other Ibiza hotspots, along with big events like Amsterdam's Awakenings and Brooklyn's City Fox.
In the global underground electronic scene, 2019 was undeniably the year of ARTBAT: they made their BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix debut, DJed for Cercle atop Rio de Janeiro's Sugarloaf Mountain and their fire releases earned several No. 1 spots on Beatport's charts, eventually closing the year as the top-selling artist on the platform.
Their latest release, "For a Feeling," is a collab with GRAMMY-nominated duo CamelPhat and vocalist Rhodes and has been No. 1 on Beatport's Top 100 for the past two weeks. Calling in from Kyiv, the dynamic duo caught up with the Recording Academy to talk about the new track, what it was like playing on that magic mountain top, and the support they've gotten from Pete Tong and other big DJs. We also dove deep into their lifelong love of electronic music, the rich techno scene in Ukraine and how much they love love Los Angeles.
You guys just released "For a Feeling" with CamelPhat, which is already No. 1 on Beatport. I'd love to learn more about how the collaboration and the track itself were born.
Well, we really like CamelPhat's production but it's a little bit of a different style from our work. We had a lot of good chats and a good connection with them. We played together and decided to try to combine our styles and do something new.
The CamelPhat guys gave us a vocal and some ideas and we really liked the vocal [sung by Rhodes], especially the meaning of lyrics. The meaning felt special for us because we like to feel the music and everything around us, we like to feel that it's deeper. We decided we needed to make something really beautiful with it, for both the dancer and the listener.
So the starting point of the track was built from the vocal?
Yes. The vocal and some of the rhythm. We worked on it two or three months together. Then we tried it out and people started to love it. Other DJs asked us about the track and we shared it and got some very good feedback from big producers—like Tale Of Us liked the track very much.
So it already get some love on the dancefloor before quarantine?
Yes, of course. We made it last summer and we played it the whole autumn and winter and a little bit of March. It's actually one of our favorite finishing tracks. And as I said, Tale Of Us, Adriatique and other DJs played it for about half year. That's why people already knew this track and were waiting for its release.
Pete Tong recently named the track his Essential New Tune, which I think makes your seventh one. What does that recognition from Pete, as well as the other DJ support and everyone downloading it on Beatport, mean to you two?
We're very thankful to Pete for having his eye on us. He's said wonderful things about us and has liked some of our songs and presented them as essential tunes; for us it's a big honor. 20 years ago, when we were young, Pete Tong was one of our big inspirations. So, the support from him brings us a lot of happiness.
And with Beatport, when we see that people are downloading and buying our tracks, we understand that we are making something which helps people enjoy life, something for their feelings. And when we see this support of our tracks, we feel like we're on the right path. It also helps us find more inspiration in the studio to deliver the emotion, that energy on all that sides that music can bring in.
As we are all feeling pretty isolated right now, it must be really powerful to know that your music is still touching people even when you're not able to share it in person.
We're receiving a lot of videos, Insta stories and posts with our music as people are listening and playing it at home. It's our little inspiration for our current work in studio. It's not an easy time now because we cannot share our music live and we cannot meet people. Everything is on pause now, but some time it will start again and continue as it was when everything was good.
Speaking of Pete Tong, you released your debut BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix last year—what did it feel like for you being a part of the iconic series? Were you nervous going into it?
It's a big honor for us of course. We are music diggers and lovers and for two decades, maybe more, we've been listening to Essential Mixes from all the big DJs and electronic bands, like Daft Punk. To be part of it, and on the list of artists who've made Essential Mixes, is a big privilege for us. We are very thankful to Pete Tong for giving us that opportunity. From producing tracks, the other side of our lives is DJing, and the Essential Mix is a big step in DJ life.
I cannot say that we were nervous but we were very picky while picking out the tracks, to find the balance between old and new tracks, and we were very excited for it. Essential Mixes are one of the main, important mixes in the DJ catalog. It's a big recognition.
Also in 2019, you played an epic Cercle set atop Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro. What did that experience feel like for you two, and what was the energy was like playing in that beautiful setting?
It was one of the best experiences in our lives. We had wanted to be a part of Cercle, but we understood the guys pick the artists out themselves. And then they invited us to take part in a Cercle event. We wanted to do it in Kyiv because we live there and love our country very much and show people our country. But the email proposed the venue [Bondinho Pão de Açúcar, or Sugarloaf Mountain Cablecar] and when we saw the mountain we agreed.
When we arrived in Rio de Janeiro, there was a very big storm, so we were very lucky that we had one more day there. The Cercle guys moved the event to the next day, which was very good weather. You can imagine our feelings when we arrived to Rio de Janeiro, it's like a 15-hour flight, and when we landed, we learned that we couldn't have the event today because the weather is rainy and stormy. It could've been canceled because of that, but the guys had time and we could stay for one day more.
It was actually so hot the next day, we were afraid it would be hard to play because we were coming from winter to a very hot summer. But we were lucky because there was a very good breeze on the mountain. When we started to play, we were even under the clouds sometimes, playing for people who knew us and like our music. They were smiling and it was a very close atmosphere because there was just 250, 200 people. It's not a big venue and everyone was very friendly and happy.
And when we were playing, I looked back at the mountain and I thought "thank you my life, thank you energy, that you bring me, with music, to this mountain." It was the best DJing experience. With the beautiful nature, the quality sound system and happy people, I never had an experience quite like that. We will remember it for all our lives.
And actually, when we watched the video [watch for yourself above] after, we couldn't believe that it was us playing there. It's so beautiful. We knew how beautiful it was, but from the other angle of the drone, and the blue sky, blue water and green nature, it's like the best natural combination of colors, music and clouds. And the guys from Cercle also said that it was their favorite location. I think it's one of the best experiences of our DJ career and we know it's very hard to repeat this.
What do you think are the key elements of a great dance track?
You know, dancing comes from inside you. For some people, one thing gets them moving, and it's something different for others. But, I think for a great dance track, it should be balanced between groove and melody. Sometimes melodies get in the way of dancing because you're starting to really listen to it instead. It's hard to say because every time is different, but I think the key is to find the good balance between uplifting and building. And the melody can't be very long, so you can catch the flow. Of course, rhythm is the dance mover. So good rhythm is most important for the dance track. We dance with the rhythm.
When you guys are playing a club set, what are you looking for in the crowd? For example, what do you do if people aren't dancing?
We start to find the people who you can tell came to dance. Some people maybe just came to party or to listen to music but not to dance, so we're searching for the people we see have a lot of energy, who want to dance and seem happy. So we're trying to first make the flow that keeps them in good mood. We're looking for happy faces and trying to keep them happy and smiling.
But our music is not always happy, sometimes it's kind of deep. So then we're searching for people who are really engaging with it, getting deep in to the music. If they feel it and catch the flow, you can watch them, and if everything is good you see if them dancing and you understand you're doing good.
When did you first start listening to electronic music? What artists made you want to start DJing and producing yourself?
We both started to listen to electronic music very young. I started when I was eight or nine. First it was ['90s] European dance music, like Dr. Alban, maybe you remember him. So it was like '93, '94. For my whole life, I've lived in headphones. I'd spend all my money on new music, buying cassettes, then discs.
And in 2003, I started DJing and I gained a deeper interest in electronic music. Then, I found electronic German records like DJ Hell and then Tiefschwarz. I also listened to DJs like Paul van Dyk and Armin Van Buuren to Carl Cox, Adam Beyer, and also Stephan Bodzin was the one of my favorites. So all the famous DJ that you know, I listened to them. Some of them inspired me in some styles and others in different ways. I really liked how Stephan Bodzin made his own style with Oliver Huntemann, as well as Carl Cox's techno, for its power.
How did you discover all this music? Was there a good record store where you grew up—how were you listening to all this cool music from such a young age?
No, it started from cassettes, like I told you, when I had some lunch money from my parents for school, I tried to save it and every week I'd buy two or three new cassettes. And then in 2002, we had internet and I searched different forums for music and where to download it. It wasn't good, but there were the peer-to-peer sites and you could search for the track and the artist. And later, when I went to work, it was a very small salary, but I had good internet there and I could download a lot of music for my DJ sets in clubs.
How old were you when you started DJing?
I started in 2007, so I was 24, 25.
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What was the house and techno scene like in Kyiv then and now? Were there a lot of other DJs then or was it a close-knit community?
Ukraine is a very musical country, people like music here very much. Of course, we have Soviet experiences here and it was not easy for the culture here because of economic hardships. The scene's growth depends on the economy, so when it started to be better from 2014, the scene started to grow also. We have a very good techno community here. In Ukraine, we have a lot of fans of house music and melodic techno, the music that we make. We have very quality clubs that we can compare with the best clubs in the world for sure.
We don't have a lot of festivals. There's a few, but they're not very big. Festival culture only started here, maybe five years ago, in Kyiv. But for music, people are very educated about it. And everyone is waiting for this quarantine to be finished, waiting to get out of our homes especially in summer. We should have had few good festivals here this summer but they're canceled.
Have you guys been spending more time in the studio during quarantine? Have you been making or even just listening to more music?
Yes. Our last gig was March 8th or 9th. After that, we arrived to Kyiv and put ourselves in self-quarantine for two weeks at home. We actually had some symptoms of coronavirus, so we stayed at home, then got tested after to make sure we were not spreading the virus. It was negative then, so we started to go to the studio. Now we're in the studio three, four, maybe five days a week, trying to find some ideas to make tracks. We actually already made some tracks. But you can understand it's not easy time in terms of inspiration.
Somedays you have inspiration, some days you don't because you're tired from this situation and the restrictions. Sometimes it's hard for the mind, especially when our gigs are canceled. It's not an easy time now. But, like I told you, we're getting good feedback from people, people playing our music and sharing emotions with us. And we're releasing music! Now we've released "For a Feeling" and we also have for one cool track to release in summer, I think.
And we're preparing music for our new sets when the quarantine is finished. We will be ready to show people the new stuff and we always love to play music and enjoy life together with people.
Why did you decide to form ARTBAT together, and what does the project mean to you, as a duo, with the music you're putting out?
Before we met, I think we had like six or seven years of DJing. And it was the period when we played a lot, maybe in all of the clubs [in Kyiv]. I needed some new stuff. I started to search for a person with whom it would be fun to create music with. And faster, more quality, because when you're alone it takes a lot of time deciding if it's good or not and just searching for ideas.
We met in the club, our friends connected us, and we decided to spend one time in the studio together and try it out. In our first studio session, from the first hour, we learned that we can make good music that we both like, that we can make it fast and we like the process together. We can spend all day in the studio and joke, have fun and talk, which doesn't happen when you're working alone. Together, we're sharing a good time and playing music and finding good ideas.
So, we made one track, then two tracks and started to realize we could continue with this. We started to do DJ sets as a project and we searched for the names, for two months actually. Then the idea came from our names; ARTBAT is Artur and Batish.
Now it's like our life, for sure it's the best that can be in in our social, creative life. Our project is everything for us. We live like one family and we're very close. Our passion and our project is almost the same. And we're very picky about the tracks, about everything, because we're very connected to our creative name ARTBAT. It's kind of a dream that came through and now it's all of our life.
Obviously, you guys had a huge 2019. Is there a dream, something you hope will happen, for ARTBAT next year?
Yes, yes, we have our next step, we can't really say now because it's still a baby, we're making it, filling it with ideas. I can't tell you now but, hopefully in few months. But one dream for us is, of course, to play big festivals to share music with big crowds because we like this energy and the feedback from people. Also, we like to represent Ukraine in the music world. We like that people know we are from Ukraine, and a lot of people know us here, but doing gigs around the world is a big pleasure for us, to be people who bring our country in to the music scene
ARTBAT in Los Angeles | Photo: Courtesy of artist
Where do you live now? [Artur asked interviewer.]
I live in Los Angeles.
It's our favorite city in the world. We have been almost all around the world, but L.A. is one city where we really want to try to live someday. One of the first feelings when we came to L.A., you feel this freedom, like freedom for your mind. The atmosphere of freedom is everywhere. I think it's the best city in the world.