Photo: Demian Beccerra
Yotto On "Is This Trance?," Launching Odd One Out & Building A BBC Essential Mix
For a globe-trotting DJ/producer who isn't convinced he's made any great dance tracks "yet," Yotto has a pretty impressive musical resume that has many others at odds with him on the matter. Hailing from Finland, Otto Yliperttula, a.k.a Yotto, has been signed to Above & Beyond's beloved deep house sublabel, Anjunadeep, since 2015 and has been packing dancefloors around the world with his emotive, pulsing beats rooted in deep and progressive house.
His tracks have been celebrated by longtime icons of the global house scene, including Pete Tong, Annie Mac, Sasha and Laurent Garnier. In addition to landing at least five of Tong's "Essential New Tune" selections over the years, the British DJ also invited him to do a BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix in 2018, a major DJ rite of passage moment. 2018 also saw the release of Yotto's gorgeous debut LP, Hyperfall, on Anjunadeep. This past summer, the "Radiate" producer launched his own label, Odd One Out, and toured historic venues and theatres across North America to celebrate, bringing his energetic music and down-to-earth presence to new spaces.
The Recording Academy sat down with the Finnish artist before his final show of 2019 to talk about the vision behind the label, the electronic music he sought out as a teen (including Sasha) and what he thinks makes a great dance track—which he'll make "hopefully one day."
You launched your Odd One Out label this summer. What made you want to start your own label?
I always wanted to have my own label because when I grew up, I was listening to all these DJs that were playing great music and then I found out they have labels. And I was able to dig through the labels' catalog and be like, oh, yeah, this is really, really good. And that always gave me a glimpse inside the head of the DJ who I really admired and the music they wanted to play. I like the idea of the label being an extension of the DJ.
The person who runs the label, shares the music he likes or thinks people will like, or the music that works well in his live DJ sets through it. That was the core idea of it and I don't know where it's going to go, I don't really have a big plan for it. It's going to be a lot of my own music, but also I'm going to sign a bunch of artists.
I just get so much really good music sent to me, from kids that don't really know what to do with it, so I'm just going to take some of it and put it all together. I'm working on a small compilation for next year, a curated album kind of thing. That's going to be the first thing I'm going to hop into when I'm back [home in Finland] from the tour.
Who are some of these people you were listening to when you were younger?
It was like Desyn Masiello, Sasha, [John] Digweed, the old progressive house DJs pretty much. Hernán Cattáneo was a big one. Also, there was this label called Underwater, Darren Emerson was on it. Those were probably my favorites.
How old were you when you first started getting into electronic music?
Around then, I was maybe 15. It was really hard to get that, because the internet was just slow. It was there, but just not the way it is now, of course.
Were there any good record stores where you grew up?
Yeah, there was one that I would always go to, and that's where I kind of found most of the records and the DJs because they would also sell music magazines. Ministry of Sound had a magazine back then—"Muzic" with a "z"—that was really good, really tasteful, kind of sarcastic, really good reviews on dance music. And Mixmag was around already, so then reading those and their reviews, and then going to the record store, trying to buy the records. Because I was underage I couldn't go to the clubs, so I would just have to listen to the records and think about how they worked.
You got into it early, that's cool. It seems like in Europe, electronic music has been a lot more embedded into youth culture, and also just music in general, than in the U.S.
I think yeah, especially in the U.K. and Germany.
When I was a kid, I only knew about, like, Daft Punk. But so did everyone. Of course there were kids here that were really into electronic music, but it was a lot more sub-culture here in the '90s and '00s.
Oh yeah, sure. It was the same in Finland, it was very, very underground. There was a big scene around trance music, but the rest of it was small. It's a small country, so in relation to that, it was a healthy scene. So the best things, at least for me, I found out as a kid, were just reading about it and listening to the music.
Okay, back to 2019. To launch Odd One Out, you released "Shifter," then "Nova" and, most recently, "Is This Trance?"—the best track name ever. Can you talk a little bit about that one? And when you're working on a track—and on "Is This Trance?" specifically—where do you start?
It depends on so much, each track is a bit different. That one was, I was in Italy for a couple of weeks on holiday. I was listening to old '90s trance that day for who knows what reason, and I was inspired by it after not having listened to it for a while. I just put my little spin on it, it's a lot slower than what the music was back then.
The name was a joke, but I just thought, you know, it works. Trance can be anything. It can be like ambient, slow music, it doesn't have to be club music. I think trance was always more about the emotional content of the music than a very particular style.
And you're about to wrap up the North American leg of the Odd One Out Tour here in L.A. tonight and you've done a lot of shows this year. What's been your favorite part about this tour?
This tour has been a bit different because I moved away from clubs a bit, doing venues like The Fonda and Regency Ballroom in San Francisco. I played a bunch of theaters and ballrooms and warehouses to just to do something a bit different and special. So it's been a challenging tour, but also one of the most rewarding ones. I'm excited to see what we're going to do next, I don't know yet.
I can only imagine that with touring, part of it is exciting, but it can also be kind of draining to not have a home base. What do you do to stay upbeat and grounded when you're all over the place?
I fly back to Finland quite often. I recently stayed here [in L.A.] for a couple of months just to make the touring easier, which was nice. But in general, I don't party that much, I try to work out a lot, eat healthy, just sleep as much as I can. Today is a party night, so I can have a few drinks because it's the end of the tour, so I'm happy about it.
You don't meditate to trance music or anything?
I've tried meditation, I haven't really got into it yet. I'm not a very anxious person. When I'm alone at an airport, I think that's already a form of meditation. I'm just sitting there and my head just empties.
That's a good skill.
It's kind of helpful, but also not ideal sometimes. I might drift away during a conversation and be totally somewhere else.
Well, when you're DJing, do you feel kind of immersed in it? What's the experience like for you when you're sharing music with people?
Yeah, there's part of me that's constantly thinking about or analyzing it, in a way where I kind of think about what record I want to play next. There's a few tracks that I know the people that actually bought tickets want to hear, so I have to figure out a way to make those tracks come through in the set, but also I just want to keep it fully free-flowing. I don't really plan the sets that much. I just play whatever feels right in the moment.
Last year, you released your debut album Hyperfall. You've put out a lot of music and mixes before then, but did it feel different working on a cohesive album versus a one-off track?
Yeah, it started just by having a few tracks that didn't make sense to me as singles at the moment, so then I started building something larger around them. It was something I always wanted to do. It's not a necessary thing for a club act today. Personally, I just wanted to have an album that has music that's not just what I play in the shows, it's just something different.
Also in 2018, you made your BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix debut, which is a big deal. Were you happy with how it turned out?
I'm really happy with the way it turned out. I used to listen to all of the Essential Mixes when they came out. I would the download sh*tty quality ones the next day, when they were available online after being broadcasted on BBC since 2003 or '04.
So yeah, when they invited me to do one, obviously my first reaction is, "Yay, that's amazing," but after that you get a bit nervous. You're like, "What if it's going to suck?" But then I just thought, I'm just going to record a mix of me playing music that I like, so then I just did that and then edited it a bit more, added a few extra in there, like an intro and outro. That was it.
I think it kind of functions as a really good, thought-out mix for me, and also a time capsule of where I was musically in that time of my career. If I were to make a new one right now, it would sound a lot different, but also similar. You never know.
Sounds like you didn't overthink it and it flowed pretty well.
I started overthinking it, but then it was like, yeah, this is not going to sound natural. So then I approached it as just another DJ set with just a few extra things.
What do you think makes a great dance track?
I don't know if I've made any great tracks yet, hopefully one day.
You really don't think you've made a great dance track?!
I think I've made some decent ones, time will tell if they're great or not. But I think it's the combination of capturing a moment that people will remember from their lives and then, whether it's melody or just something that grabs their attention. And then with that, combined with the club functionality of a dance record. When those two things meet, then it's like a recipe.