This is Behind The Headphones, where we take a deeper look into the lives of some of the most creative and exciting minds electronic music has to offer. This week we hear the thoughts of YokoO.
YokoO has made a name for himself over the last few years, especially after putting out various well received projects such as Pachamama and Euneirophrenia, both of which were released in 2017 on Get Physical imprint Kindisch and All Day I Dream respectively.
The signature track on his latest EP Jivanmuktih is a calm inducing trip into the realms of electronic hypnotica, with lush, icy pads that drive the narrative of the track. What it may lack in energy it certainly compensates for in emotional effect as the lines between the build up and the drop are slowly blurred. On the breakdown you can hear a glitched and chopped phrase from Kym Mazelle – Useless, the only word taken from the classic house vocal is ‘ecstacy’. An ode to the type of feeling one might be familiar with when listening to the trance inducing music of YokoO.
We spoke to the globe trotting DJ and producer about creativity, his influences and difficulties on the road.
Your first release in 2021 is on Crosstown Rebels off-shoot Rebellion. Did you create the tracks specifically for the label and can you tell us a bit about the creative process?
I never create with a specific label in mind. I usually let myself flow into what feels right without any particular intention. That being said, following months of stillness away from touring life’s noise, disconnected from technologies and attuned to a profound state of presence in nature, I returned to my studio inspired and determined to create music that is different to what I had been known for. This EP showcases the continuation of my exploration through sounds as I transition further in my creative journey.
At what point did you see yourself having a career in the music industry? Was it something you wanted from a young age or was it an interest that developed later on?
I have been passionate about music for as long as I can remember. It was my best friend in some of the harder times I went through growing up. I fell in love with the energy of the dance floor and begun playing about on a set of turntables with friends during my late teens, while living on the French/Swiss/German border. I never thought I would make a living out of it back then. It only became clear as I left France for Australia with a one-way ticket and a bag full of records. I never looked back. I said I would make it and channelled all my energy towards it. It has been a lot of work. I always have kept my head down, remained focused and extremely disciplined.
What artists have had the biggest influence on your career and style?
I will never forget the night (in 2001) I saw Laurent Garnier navigate the decks like a true captain, mashing up musical genres in a flawless manner for seven hours. It was such an inspiring experience and a pivotal moment in my life.
My main influences lie in the early 2000’s when Techno and Hard Techno were, in my eyes, at their peak. Drum n Bass, Electro Techno/Tech House/House were also very prominent in my world. As a result, my record collection is full of music from the likes of Laurent Garnier, Jeff Mills, Miss Kittin, The Hacker, Thomas Schumacher, Monika Kruse, Ellen Allien, Carl Cox, Marco Bailey, Christian Varela, DJ Rush, Chris Liebing, Adam Beyer, John Dahlback, Oliver Huntemann, Dj Hell, Modeselektor, Aril Brikha to name but a few.
Born in France, based in Lisbon and Australian at heart, do you believe your time spent in different countries have helped influence your sound?
It is hard to exactly tell how moving across countries has affected my career and the way I write music. Every human experience I have had has helped shape the person I have become and indirectly has had an impact on decisions I have taken throughout my journey. There is so much ground to cover that I honestly would not know where to begin; stepping away from my comfort zone indubitably was the key catalyst element giving me the drive to excel in whatever endeavour I was going to take. I took a leap of faith and made a statement of independency. The whole world was in front of me. My creative output has been moulded by the energy I have bathed in. It is indubitable that my ability to tune into a state of flow, channel, and create is the result of it all.
What has been the most difficult moment you have had to overcome in your career and how did you overcome it?
End of September 2018, coming straight from a gig in Playa del Carmen Mexico, running on no sleep, I travelled to San Francisco California for an All Day I Dream event that same day. I was carrying ½ gram of CBD oil in my bag and got severely punished for it. CBD being legal in many places including the state of California, I did not expect such treatment. Little did I know I was committing a federal offence by bringing it in. My O1 artist visa got revoked. I was denied entry into the country and sent back to Mexico, following almost 14 hours in detention. I got told I could never enter the United States again, without some kind of work or tourist visa, ESTA not being an option any longer. Several of my forthcoming US gigs had to be cancelled as a result. After months left in limbo with no certainty as to when I would get a new artist visa again, accompanied by a rather unpleasant and costly bureaucracy procedure, I was informed that my application got approved! I was ecstatic and celebrated by accepting new show offers in the USA. When I sent my passport to the United States consulate to finally obtain the stamp, it was never returned to me. In fact, the courier company claimed they lost it, and eventually found it in their warehouse, torn apart, ID pages missing. The United States consulate kindly apologised and told me I’d have to start the procedure all over again. Imagine how it made me feel…
We cancelled the shows once again and went back to square one.
This period was the most nerve wrecking of my career thus far. I felt I was being punished for the wrong reasons and was extremely resistant to the fact that I had no control over what was going to happen.
The whole experience was a blessing in disguise. It helped me grow immeasurably – I learnt to surrender and accept the natural unfolding of life, as well as trust in the process and its divine timing.
Producers often come across a ‘creative block’, when you’re faced with this how do you best overcome it?
I usually let go of the resistance, surrender, and focus on other things that bring me joy. I write music for pleasure, if it does not flow, I do not force it.
What has been your favourite event/festival that you have played so far and why?
That is like asking the Ocean which wave it is the most connected to. This question is impossible to answer. I have had countless magical experiences behind the decks, all very unique and proper to themselves.
If you could produce a track with any artist past or present who would it be and why?
I would love to share the space with Björk. I have always been fascinated by her music and her general outlook on life.
You can buy Jivanmuktih by YokoO here.