“Do you want to hear the truth…” says Julia Govor over a crystal clear telephone reception before sustained pause arrives. She is waiting for my reply I realize as the silence starts to creep in. “Always” comes my reply eventually and the Russian artist and DJ acquiesces with a non-committal but sincere: “I have no idea,” slowly coaxing out the words in a kind of shy manner. “I wish I could give you an answer,” and I believe her, “but I think I’m still figuring it out.”
It’s a sincere and honest response from the type of question that might have engaged another more tactile artist into a long repose about the inner workings of the subconscious, but for Julia Govor the origins of her hypnotic and mesmerising sounds as an artist remains an intangible mystery. For the last four years Julia Govor has started to make significant strides in Techno as a producer and for a genre that is usually draped in anonymity and secrecy, Julia amiable demeanour and bubbly personality, negates a lot of the familiar trappings of the introverted Techno artist.
“Let me ask you a question,” she says through introductions, “do people still read interviews.”
It was her breakthrough track “Litmus,” released on Hypetone in 2014 that brought the name Julia Govor to the attention of the western world. Her voice, cooing over a bed of frosty synths and dramatic harmonic progressions had found a great reception with the media and DJs alike. “Hypnotic” has emerged frequently to describe the artist’s work as Julia mesmerized audiences with a distinctive mood that coursed through her Techno creations. Since “Litmus” she’s released a handful of EPs with standout releases on Rhythm Cult and Pan-Pot’s Second State, gaining form as a producer through each release, while making deeper impressions on the Techno circuit as a DJ.
She’s at home in New York when I call her up, and she’s just about to go out to her day job, where she “sell(s) clothes and make(s) people beautiful and confident” at an upmarket, Scandanavian-based fashion boutique. The job’s Julia’s tether to the real world where she can “feel more down to earth” and “see new people every day,” and a world away from the intense travelling and social pressures of being an international DJ.
She lives with her husband and fellow musician Kamaran Sadeghi, who often collaborates or remixes Julia’s work and when asked about the challenges of living with a fellow artist, she shrugs it off with a snicker; “are you kidding me… this is the best relationship I could dream about.” They met on a dance floor in Ukraine and four months later they were married and moving to New York, where Julia has found some equilibrium with the avant garde history of the city, but still prefers “the German and Scandanivian sounds of Techno” which is “more dramatic and melancholic.”
“I am happy where I am today,” she says, “living in New York and everything is amazing, I can’t believe it.” Julia had been “moving from one city to another city, ” before settling in New York, and it’s a complete contrast from her childhood living in military camps in post-soviet Russia during a period she refers to as “the war situation.”
The daughter of a Russian military career man, Julia Govor spent her youth in military bases around the black sea where she her family would live in constant transience to the next base. Julia’s exposure to music would be through the orthodox teachings of a Soviet era military education system where Russian classical music had informed a great deal of her formative years. “I had to because in the Soviet era all kids growing up at military camps, as I did, were obliged to attend music school to study pianoforte or vocal arts, as well as music history,” she told Monument in a previous piece for the magazine. Fascinated with the “complicated, dramatic, dark and melancholic” nature of the music, Julia considers this the crucial nexus for her particular taste in music.
Those dark, dramatic, and melancholic elements is something that is prevalent in her own music today. From those brooding vocals of “Litmus” to the sombre atmosphere of a track like “Drama C,” Julia’s music retains that sense of melancholy that defines Russian classical music. She “absolutely” agrees when I share my conclusions about her music, but says those influences are not without its challenges either. Those “complicated” textural aspects of classical music is not always suited for the minimalists nature of Techno, and Julia had to work at her sound to home in on the functionality of her chosen genre.
“When I start to produce a track it sounds so busy,” says Julia in the context of her latest collaborative EP with Jeroen Search, “You are the Machine” by way of explanation. By the time Jeroen had received his samples back from Julia she had imprinted her own voice on it, adding some of her own elements and arranging the tracks, before returning it to the Dutch producer. “Wow Julia,” says Julia, mimicking Jeroen’s reply after hearing the results; “I can make three tracks out of your one track.”
“Jeroen gave me so much advice,” says Julia who has always admired the producer’s work because “it’s functional and it’s peculiar,” but her “biggest influence” she claims is still her husband, whose advice and experience has applied Julia with the necessary tools and “tricks” to “minimise” her sound and hone her own working methods, which for the last four years she has perfected in her own unique idiom. Today she builds incredible layers of sound through crystalline waves of harmony and melody weaving their way through the stoic rhythms of Techno.
Before Julia had even approached the idea of producing, she had been a singer and it was only after “meeting producers” on the DJ circuit “who wanted to work with” her that she would indulge her own interests. She had already established herself as a force in the booth, but for producers that were perhaps too “shy” to get on the microphone, Julia’s experience and particular skill set had made for a “great opportunity to work together.” She started “learning to produce with a computer out of curiosity” and by 2014 she had made her lasting mark with “Litmus,” her voice at the center of that ethereal track defining her sound between the evocative moods of Trentmøller and the progressions of Robert Hood.
It was during her time living in the various military camps around Russia’s borders that Julia would nurture an early passion of music. In temporary towns with “300 families” where “everybody knew each other,” folk musicians on conscription, would introduce Julia to the more accessible aspects of music, contrasting the serious classical education she received at school. As much as music was essential to the curriculum, it soon became a form of “entertainment” for the impressionable Julia. She started singing in various cover bands when she was old enough and her relative proximity to the outside world on the black sea coast was perfectly poised so she could “always catch waves from other USSR countries.” From these pieces to Turkish music and on the rare occasion, American musical “contraband” smuggled in by visiting DJs, Julia would build up a vast knowledge of music, laying a foundation for a budding career as a DJ.
Armed with a tascam cassette player she would entertain fellow teenagers with a rudimentary style of DJing she says “wasn’t really DJing,” but still planted the seed for something that would flourish into the career she has today. Between “Spice Girls” and contemporary Russian pop hits, Julia would get on the microphone, introducing songs and announcing shout-outs at social gatherings around the barracks. When she enrolled in University in Moscow, she would develop those fundamentals towards a career in journalism while DJing remained “a kind of side job,” primarily for a bi-weekly student radio gig.
“We were partying so much during my student life;” remembers Julia fondly, “playing, partying, learning how to mix and then you go to work on Monday and going to university.“ She started making friends with “very nice people who collected records” and “little by little” she started DJing.
When she left university she couldn’t find a job in journalism, because “she looked too young,” her petite frame and ageless features perhaps prohibiting her from a career she sought out. “I couldn’t get a job so I had to move into entertainment,” she says matter of factly and in a serendipitous fortune she fell into a job on Russian MTV. It was at MTV where she could “speak about real-world issues” through the “open and entertaining” format of music television that she found a cultural experience that weaved through the fabric of the music she was experiencing during her free time. By the time MTV’s programming moved completely into reality television, Julia had found it too “bizarre” and left to pursue a full-time career as a DJ.
It was a kind of frankness and idealism to connect with people on an equal plateau that encouraged Julia onto the dance floor and into the booth. “I truly believe real heroes are always invisible,” explains Julia. In club culture “nobody gives a shit of who you are they just want to rave together and you have access to all these people no matter who you are.“ It’s that connection that Julia craved and which eventually led to her “escape from music journalism.”
“So,” she says hanging on the “s” like she’s trying to charm the words into a sentence, “it’s important to be part of this community.” She realizes it can be a lonely pursuit, “because everybody is doing their own thing,” and that’s why she thinks; “it’s healthy for the mind to be focussed on music and not just playing music, but to be creative and innovate something.” Whereas maybe five years ago she would have been more focussed on making music she could play out as a DJ, today she wants to “make music that sounds different.” She hints at future sounds being more complex in terms of rhythm and less-focussed on making it into her DJ sets, and perhaps those avant garde New York experiences informing her work.
She has established Jujuka in this spirit as a comic book, events series, a fictional social-media character and as is in the nature of such things a record label. Conceived while on tour in Japan, Julia refers to Jujuka as a “very personal” account of her life brought to life through the fictional character Jujuka. “Originally I just wanted to do comics” she claims,“but it’s turned into a record label.” Julia’s also hosted a few events around the USA under the Jujuka banner and in the future she hopes to establish an AV show around the concept as a “bridge between my digital character which lives in my instagram” and the dance floor.
She feels she has to constantly “challenge” herself as a producer, a DJ, and what she does through the record label to offer something “a little bit different” to her audience.” In the booth she has a unique take on her role as both working in harmony and against the floor. “If the energy is quite flat I’m gonna go more brutal to break that ice;” she says by way of example and similarly in the way she’ll disarm a person in conversation with her effervescent personality, she’ll disarm her audience as a DJ. Playing between New York, Europe and Asia today, Julia’s extensive experience from her youth to her studies and career as a presenter, has made her a desirable booking for most venues and a noteworthy force on the ever-growing Techno scene.
Maybe it was “my background and the music I grew up with,” she proffers when I ask her about how her history has informed her “sound” as a DJ. Ultimately it’s about “affection and the people around you” she believes and from her “beautiful” husband and the artists and producers she’s collaborated with, Julia’s work is in a constant state of evolution as she progresses through her career as an artist. “I know one thing,” she says when I ask her about the next phase in her career “it might change in the future again.”