An exclusive mix and interview with Dmytro Fedorenko, presenting the Kvitnu record label based in the currently war-torn Ukraine.
Ukrainian record label Kvitnu (translated as ”blossoming”) and its founder Dmytro Fedorenko (a.k.a Kotra) are giving us a smooth mix featuring recent and upcoming records from artists on the Kvitnu roster. The mix is followed by an interview with the man behind the label, where Fedorenko unveils Kvitnu’s identity and mission, as well as gives us some insight into himself.
Kvitnu started almost 10 years ago (2006) and was originally focused only on the production of Ukrainian artists. However, the label quickly expanded and became international in format, adding artists from Portugal, Italy, Finland, and beyond. Pan Sonic, Sturqen, or Plaster are only a few noteworthy names on their catalogue. Along with the regular label activity, Kvitnu also acts as a multi-platform outlet, which organizes regular events, special live projects, and International festivals. Some good examples of this are the international Kvitnu Fest and the Detali Zvuku festival.
Justinas Mikulskis: The whole world is following the events in Ukraine. Could you comment on what is happening out there through your perspective and how it affects the music industry.
Dmytro Fedorenko: It's like a big fire came to Ukraine and changed so many things in our lives. It still does. First the revolution, now the Russian invasion. I would say that it's the biggest challenge for all of us throughout the past 23 years.
During the revolution there were a few moments which seemed to me the most important and impressive of my whole life, and I am happy to have had a chance to go through all of it, even though some memories of the events on the streets are still very hurtful. Sometimes I think that before this revolution I was a naive and infantile person who has now awakened, in some ways at least. Without exaggeration, our Winter revolution caused some mystical and maybe even religious transformation in me, and, as far as I know, for many of my friends here as well.
Now we have this new kind of war with Russia, who finally decided to restore their imperial lands and to fix “historical mistakes”, and went into Ukraine. Nowadays a common conversation between friends over here is about which self-defense class is attended by who, has so-and-so purchased a shotgun or not yet, what emergency backpack complect is better and where to read about first aid for the wounded. No hysterics, just pragmatic and tired preparation for the worst scenarios. And it all affected the music industry of course. During the revolution it was hard to think of organizing any kind of events, when people are getting shot on the streets and your country is bleeding. Some clubs almost stopped making anything, many guests cancelled their shows, many projects were postponed indefinitely. Only some small “friends only” micro events are happening, I would say, to unlock the emotions for a moment.
JM: How did you get involved in the music and entertainment industry?
DF: In more or less the usual, “classical” way. I first got involved with my friend's band, then left live music and turned my attention towards machines and made my first electronic works. I decided to release my own music and some years later found myself releasing other artists’ music. I did my first events just for myself and somehow got to curating big International projects and festivals. With many of my projects I was a kind of pioneer in Ukraine, so maybe it was that special thing which not all artists experienced in countries with, let's say, a more established entertainment industry than we had in Ukraine at that time.
JM: What was the initial Kvitnu vision and how has it changed?
DF: I had a pretty sharp vision of what kind of sound I wanted Kvitnu to have. The Kvitnu concept was quite simple and could be formulated in simple phrases – to release blasting experimental music with sound that is intelligent and interesting to listen to, and at the same time explosive, wild and rude, so as to not to make it background music. Zavoloka created a slogan which described it in the best way possible – High Blood Pressure Music label.
Another thing was that I wanted to open the way for new names with Kvitnu. I was thinking that this could be the only way to really build a unique face for a label - by growing together with your artists.
Both formulas worked for me. I admire the sound of Kvitnu and I managed to discover some amazing artists, who were the ones to actually create this sound for the label.
JM: Did the awards Kvitnu won at Qwartz Electronic Music Awards somehow change the label’s situation in the global context?
DF: They did.
First of all, thanks to Qwartz, Kvitnu got a very good audience in France. I think today
France is the first or second most-numerous listener of our music of all the countries we ship our releases to. Thanks to Qwartz, France loves Kvitnu and Kvitnu loves France. And also Qwartz made our local media look our way. It's not that we were unknown in Ukraine before Qwartz, it's more that we received attention from regular, traditional media, who had never payed any attention to such music, but finally realized there was something serious happening in Ukraine with that music scene.
JM: Where and how did the idea of creating and curating a festival emerge? Could you elaborate a bit on what the ideology behind these festivals is, and on what the principles they’re based on are? Where can people find more information about them?
DF: It all started with small events I promoted mainly to present my own music and music made by my friends. It appeared that there was good audience interest in these concerts, and all events were successful since the very beginning. Later I started to invite International guest artists, the audience liked it more, and at some point me and some of my friends from the experimental dance scene decided to take a risk and make a big event with many guests. This is how in 2005 we created our first International festival called Detali Zvuku (details of sound). And that was an explosion - a 15-hour-non-stop event! Every blog and every forum was discussing it, there were only positive reviews and responses from the audience. It was clear that people were hungry for any kind of bizarre live sound. For a few years it was pure pleasure to make truly experimental music events. The more unusual and hard-to-listen-to the act on stage - the better the listeners reacted. Many of our guests told me that they hadn’t felt that kind of atmosphere for ages in their own countries. People still trust us, and when they see the Kvitnu logo on a poster they come even if they don't know our guest very well. In our situation we managed to provide really good promotion for many new and not very famous Ukrainian artists. At the beginning the main criteria for a festival’s program was simple – to present very different artists with a distinctive approach and vision to the Ukrainian public. I wanted to tell the audience that music could be very different. Throughout an evening we could combine an academic electroacoustic performance with minimal techno-ambient, and some breakcore noise – it all fit together nicely back then.
After the latest Kvitnu Fest in 2011, however, where all the Kvitnu artists were gathered together without any headliners, my vision of events changed. It was literally the best event I had ever made and the audience confirmed it with their reaction afterwards. So I don't care about special headliners anymore, I don't care for who is the most trendy face and who is the most relevant artist at the time. Educational motivation does not interest me anymore either.
Now I only want to organize concerts and festivals with the artists and the music I love and am sure about. Kind of a no-compromise selective attitude. Same goes for the label.
JM: There is no doubt that a lot of hard work is involved in the music label business. What were the biggest challenges you faced?
DF: To be honest, I can't recall anything super complicated. Kvitnu is growing naturally and each new task comes as general evolution, so there has not been anything shocking yet. I am also not part of this trendy whining that “everything is bad with the music industry today”, and I really like how everything changes and brings new unknown tasks. I am enjoying it a lot.
JM: Who are the people presented in your catalogue? Are they your colleagues, people you met along the way, or inspiring artists that you heard live? How are you related to them? What is special about them?
DF: As a matter of fact, almost all Kvitnu artists came to the label after sending their demo recordings. We got to know each other through music first of all, and later became friends. There is one thing that I admire in all Kvitnu artists – they are complicated, crazy people. Each has a very distinct vision of what music is, and that is what I like the most.
JM: You are a productive musician too. Does your knowledge in sound design help you decide which artists to release?
DF: Maybe, but sometimes perhaps it interferes with label-related decisions, I don't know. When I started writing my music, one older artist told me that good musicians listen to music that is different from what they create, and also good musicians try to find sounds they’d never heard before, whether it be from other musicians or anywhere else. I’ve held these simple guidelines in my head ever since that time, and they also inform my thinking about new releases for Kvitnu. I try to find something what I’ve never heard before and have never tried doing myself.
When I am busy with the label I can't make music, and when I am into making music I am not good with management. Both things are divided naturally within me. Creating and managing are very different energies for me. So with the label growing I need to spend more time on it, and therefore less time making music. It’s a real dilemma, an inner conflict between two good things.
JM: Could you tell us more about yourself? The art, movies, books, activities that interest you most? Where do you get your inspiration and inner strength?
DF: I am an art idealist for sure.
I always learned from artists who worked and lived on the edge, as well as those who were articulating the personal transformation which can be achieved with music and art in general. This personal inner transformation is always my main artistic goal and creative motivation.
JM: Who is responsible for the visual presentation of releases and how much attention do you pay to it? How important is it to you? How do presentation and design contribute to the release?
DF: Designs are usually made by Zavoloka. She takes care of the label’s visual presentation in general, even when she is not working on specific artworks. We do not accept art that doesn’t pass her aesthetic control. Of all Kvitnu processes, I never have to worry about this: we discuss the idea of an upcoming release and soon I can pick the best possible cover for it.
And we also like to collaborate with other designers. From time to time we receive offers from visual artists who like Kvitnu and work with similar aesthetics.
We both, Zavoloka and me, like explosive music and have a mutual understanding of how it should be presented. And we both agree that Kvitnu will never do cheap printed jewel cases or inlay cards with some primitive graphics or bad photos. If we do physical art projects, their visual and musical aspects have to be equally good. Otherwise, why print and press it?
JM: Could you tell us more about forthcoming releases and why they are special and exceptional?
DF: This year we are going to release at least four new names on Kvitnu – Isolat Pattern, Mauri, Mingle and Ujif_notfound. Maybe there will be even more.
Also, right now we are working on new material from our old headliners. Later this year we should have a new album from Plaster, a new album from Matter, one or two works from Sturqen, probably something from Zavoloka, and I will finally release plenty of my own tracks under the Kotra pseudonym which have been waiting inside samplers for months.
The special thing about new names is that I can’t predict the reaction from the audience and I feel like going through some sort of a test – did I make the right choice? A very special feeling indeed. And as for our old partners, like Sturqen, Plaster, Matter - I am sure it will be a blast, with every one of their new tracks.
JM: What other record labels do you admire? Why?
DF: Staalplaat, Sähkö, Alku... I don’t always like the music they release, but I love labels with non-compromising attitude, who present their unique vision of sound and art. I strongly believe that as long as labels with these extreme attitudes exist, there will always be something interesting and inspiring to listen to. All my musical self-education came from music released by small, but strong underground labels with an extremely subjective understanding of art.
01. Matter - Aplitude
02. Sturqen - Ruivah
03. Mauri - Biosca
04. Mingle - Afterdark
05. Plaster - Terminal
06. Zavoloka - Vilna
07. Malfinia Ensemblo - Lumo
08. VNDL - Gory
09. Ujif_notfound - Rect100
10. Asolaar - Interceptor
11. Kotra - Spiv Zolota
12. Isolat Pattern - BLK.HSE
13. v4w.enko - Re3
14. Vitor Joaquim - Filaments of Devotion
15. Binmatu - Crystylys III