Vlad Fisun steps up for Ukraine Mix Series

Hi Vlad, thanks so much for taking the time to deliver a mix. Before the invasion, can you tell us a bit about your involvement in the Ukrainian scene?

Some of my recent add-ons included DJBuro.com, which is an agency and a blog and a Telegram channel. Our aim was to promote the electronic music that my colleagues and I truly believe in. We focused on the aesthetic side of the culture, leaving behind the darker and more radical forms. We got involved as a promo group at events, went on tours, and organised our own branded events, shaping our approach and ideology.

Another influence was my 8-year involvement with Aristocrats.fm, the most successful digital broadcasting platform in Ukraine. I hosted a weekly show where musicians, mostly indie and electronic artists, would join me for a drink, chat, and perform.
Imagine, it happened every Monday. Every Monday I had a drink, sponsored, for 5 years!

And there was another show entirely dedicated to the addictive world of vinyl records, welcoming DJs, promoters, and producers. It helped to find out more about music people want to put on the shelf, spend on it, make it a part of life. 

In general, last 20+ years I've been quite busy organising parties, festivals, collaborating with brands, and inviting my dream artists to perform. Even though music activity was never my profession, I hope my contributions are seen as significant. And I have no intention of stopping anytime soon.

Has music been therapeutic for you? Does it help you switch off and compartmentalise things? 

It's strange how things happened. When the war broke out, listening to music felt impossible, no matter what genre or mood. It was like the 'play' button had lost its meaning.

But then, last summer, I had a chance to DJ again. The set was filmed near the Carpathian mountains, no crowd, no dancing. I hope it'll be released this year. Since then, I've been back to DJing periodically. One performance featured three turntables, with VJ art, visuals of war and peaceful life in Ukraine, creating a storyline. Ukrainian artists, labels, and records. I played it twice for the people, I would say, it’s like a theatrical show, but the scenario is not so predicted. I put a promise in the tracklist, that Ukraine will emerge victorious from this strife, and I saw people get it. And I also put my belief that our nation will learn to honour itself.

I believe you worked as a journalist and an editor of Playboy. Can you tell us a bit about that? 

Five years. Amazing. It's funny how people think it's just one big party, hanging out with bunnies by the pool and always having a drink in hand. But it was also a job, a dream job for sure, with tasks, projects, and deadlines.

I was lucky enough to meet the boss and even organise one of the biggest photoshoots in Playboy Mansion history. We had models from all over the world, and even scored a historic magazine cover with Mr. Hugh Hefner himself. The parties we did in Ukraine were top-notch too, with guest DJs like Felix Da Housecat in the DJ booth. Those years marked the dusk of a peaceful Empire, the Empire of aesthetics, hedonism, and the art of living each day to the fullest. Good times.

How has the Ukrainian electronic music scene helped one another at the moment? Have you seen the best of the community shine through? 

Those who were capable of helping each other continue to do so with enthusiasm and activity. Those who weren't inclined to help remain unchanged.

It's certainly not driven by any desire for personal gain. My hope is that this spirit of collective support will be reflected in our creativity, leading us to discover new options for Ukrainian culture. And if acts of kindness can serve as the catalyst for starting or reviving cultural movements, that's inspiring.

When a low-budget party or an underground producer or DJ directs attention not to themselves but to a friend serving in the Armed Forces or a group of charity enthusiasts, what could be more meaningful? I'm certain that this unique experience will leave a mark on the future endeavours of every creative entity.

I suggest checking Mixmag’s features or RA’s recent documentary. There are a lot of good examples. Much more, in real detail. 

Are you hopeful for a time when this returns? Or is it more a case of taking things day-by-day?

I work extensively in the business realm, and applying logic helps me maintain a level-headed approach. It also reminds me that even war is a business, although it's challenging to accept this cynical formula. In order for a business to crumble, it must either lose its interests or suffer structural collapse. I wish both of these to the terrorist country with all my heart.

On a daily basis, my task is to assist those who are working tirelessly to weaken the enemy's power by any means possible, as well as support those who helps civilians to survive. The focus remains on the present, on providing aid. It's essential to keep this mindset, free from expectations of personal gain, knowing that the efforts can contribute to a better future.

The likes of Closer is open again, which is fantastic to see. Has electronic music always been associated with freedom and protest in Ukraine? 

Surviving venues are truly great. Closer, HVLV, Alchemist in Kyiv, Sympatia in Khmelnytsky, Port in Odessa, Module community in Dnipro. The best example is Zhivot club in Kharkiv, where I've been a witness and guest star, and boasts an impressive 25-year legacy. Some succeed, others don't.

Regarding freedom and protest... The electronic scene here never clearly declared its message to society, partly due to the presence of a murky industry. Protests on freedom, LGBTQ rights, and youth issues can also serve as distractions from the undisclosed business models. Nightclubs and festivals still face challenges, particularly with taxes, licences, and artist fees. During tough times, clubs prioritise local artists, fostering opportunities for artistic and community discoveries. We still have a lot to learn from the established businesses in Europe and the UK. 

In a post-or-not-so-post Orthodox country, eccentric individuals can be easily labeled as smugglers or criminals. But in a good way, electronic music in Ukraine may serve as a means of connecting with extraordinary people. It's definitely the option of the individual what to include in this connection, communication, and how long this individual is willing to ‘communicate’ in general. And where to proceed, towards the room filled with creative excitement, or to rehab.

You’ve released music on esteemed labels such as Bordello-a-Parigi. Can you tell us a bit about how you approach the production process? 

Always found the "Dream Big" populism quirky... But it actually works, apparently. Two years ago, I paid a visit to my good friend Mykola Makeyev at his studio, "Horizon." It's an inspiring space with a view of a typical Soviet skyscraper, filled with synths, instruments, records, and good vibes.

My intention was to jam together. I came up with a bassline and a hook, and we added some "Persian" samples, even used cheap walkie-talkies to say "Allora" in the mic. The most exotic addition was a stylophone Mykola purchased in the Hong Kong underground.

Mykola assembled the session into a track, we made some adjustments, and I tested it on the dancefloor. It clicked, and I decided to move forward with it.

Later, as COVID restrictions eased, I travelled with my girlfriend to Rome and Naples, where I filmed a music video for the track. That's when the idea to name the project C/TRO struck me since it sounded similar to the track itself. Once, for our blog, I reached out to The Steaming Jeans project from Australia. They released an album on Bordello-a-Parigi. They passed my track + video to the boss, Otto Kraanen, and – voilà, positive reaction! I never dreamed for a better option!

Eventually, C/TRO found its place in the spectacular tracklist of Buone Vacanze vol.1. It is definitely a push to continue with it.

Tell us a bit about the mix you’ve delivered for us, and the vibe you were going for. It’s only Ukrainian artists, right? 

To be more precious, Ukrainian artists and labels ‘only’. There is one track by a German producer, but it is released on a Ukrainian label.

When the COVID pandemic began, I had the idea to record "Ukrainian-only" mixes. I wanted to support Ukrainian producers and labels, as they were facing a challenging time since their income mostly relied on events rather than record sales. By promoting their records on Aristocrats.fm, YouTube and in music media, I hoped to make the situation better. I hope the mood of the mix in general is optimistic. It blends folktronica with cosmopolitan beats, Ukrainian language with German, Italian, and English easily. It’s the way to find friends all over the world and proclaim the world a home without boundaries. 

Can you also tell us a bit about the artists you’ve featured here?

Most of the records have been published within the last two years, including my own. Some tracks are pretty old, like a lost tape from Frozen Jungle dating back to 1995, while others are brand new, straight from the factory. Some of these vinyls are personal gifts, some purchased from the artists – and of course it make it personal for me, to recall every moment.The most famous acts here are Onuka, The Maneken, Dakha Brakha with Katya Chilly, but the record itself is rare, this it was a promo, never on sale.

I think, these records –  it’s a stamina of the Ukrainian underground recording industry. To keep pushing forward no matter what. It's also a way to gain international attention for our culture, our country, and our experiences during the war. Consider this mix as a small contribution.

On a music tip, what else have you got coming up that you’re really excited about?

I'm a big fan of using AI, although these days it's primarily for the marketing development I'm involved in. I must admit, the music results haven't been great around here, but sometimes I feel the same with the recent Cercle or HÖR stream. However, when Spotify unleashes AI cleaners to wipe out the AI-generated music from its library, it's like witnessing an epic war of machines. Future is now!ашпре

AI-haters gonna hate. They'll argue that it will flood us with generic and artificial patterns. But ain’t we had such experience with artificial flavors, artificial textiles, or artificial people, who can’t feel and reflect the happiness of life? In any case, I believe some of us will harness these new tools to create more exhilarating content, extraordinary pieces of art, and truly remarkable achievements.

Keep up with Vlad Fisun on Instagram and on his website at vladfisun.com