062 - Atariame
Originally from Izhevsk, Russia, Natalia Salmina is currently in year six of an ongoing travelling adventure that has taken her to many parts of the world. Connecting with local artists and scenes, borrowing whatever equipment she can find at each stop, playing shows and DJing at parties along the way, it's a lifestyle that continues to manifest in her creative output under her recording alias Atariame. Following her graduation from the Red Bull Music Academy in 2018, guest mixes for NTS and her recent album for Constellation Tatsu, Natalia continues to develop her artistic identity - one that is built more on intuition and guesswork rather than traditional musical mechanics and taught process. It's this approach that gives her music such loose structures and a charmingly DIY aesthetic.
She takes cues from wide range of sources, from fragile folk, to ghostly ambience and dreamlike electronica, often placed alongside her aching vocal drones. All those assets are featured across the 30+ minutes of new original music on her wonderful Métron Mixtape. Loosely strummed guitar gives way to shimmering synths and her reverberating spoken word. Natalia approached the creation of this set like a DJ mix, each track glides into the next to form one long-form piece of story telling.
With an upcoming cassette release lined up for later this year it'll be fun to see where her travels take her sound next.
I spoke to Natalia about travelling, her inspirations and her plans for 2019. You can read the full interview beneath the artwork below.
Love the mix Natalia, thanks so much for putting it together. What was the process of making this new music?
Thanks! Well, the whole idea of blending the styles of ambient, downtempo, noise, folk and pop music came to me when I started DJing. I didn’t realise that I can DJ and that it’s fun before I actually tried it just out of a curiosity on a female music producers meetup in Berlin — which I also joined out of curiosity because a Russian artist Rosemary Loves a Blackberry was playing there, and I had had no better idea about how to make connections than just joining the lineup. During that set I was actually just putting some of my favourite underground tracks in a VLC player and was glad about the way people reacted and asked me what was that I was playing.
Basically, when I DJ, I want my set to be a journey with many different moods and spaces. For me it’s not a story of mixing, it’s a story of contrasting, but still in my own manner. I want people to feel anxious and then blissful in a short time. Too little excitement these days, I guess?
Then I applied the same idea to my mix of my own original music. I recorded synth lines with my synthesiser Waldordf Blofeld, which I’m really comfortable with, and I can just play it as if I play a piano. It’s very user friendly, and I can easily improvise with knobs and filters, but still it has some surprises, and then I’m too lazy to read a manual anyway, so sometimes this synthesiser takes me to a musical space where I’ve never been before.
Then I mixed the records with my demos of folk songs, and then just played all over with different records I had. I say “just”, but it actually took some time re-recording stuff and getting rid of resonances. Nina Kravitz frequently tells about this beauty of spontaneous records, but when it comes to my case, my actual spontaneous records don’t sound as exciting as I want them to be. What I really work with my music on is about making those spontaneous records perfect.
When did you start making music in general - was this always something you wanted to do?
Making music was quite natural for me all the time, since nobody ever told me how to do it the right way since I was a kid. Sometimes people say to me “I want to make music, but I don’t know how”, and I’d be like: “Oh, do you really need to know _how_ to make it?”. But I guess, the same applies to me if we talk about other fields with which I’m not comfortable personally, as I feel totally lost in programming, for example.
However, this very thing about not having to know _how_ to make music actually has led to that I’ve been constantly re-inventing the wheel, and I still feel that I need to learn more about the technical stuff. For some years I’ve been happy recording songs on my dictaphone and mixing it with reversed Nurse with Wound tracks in Audacity. I didn't use any other tools because I just didn't know about them. The good thing was that since I wasn't advanced, I had no other way than to invent my own music without copying anyone. Ah, okay, I tried to copy Kim Gordon's way of singing, but I couldn't and had to stick to my own, lol.
On the other hand, then I had that very big FOMO about music production, as it seemed that other people are much more professional in it and that they do some magic work I can’t understand. Actually staying in Red Bull Music Academy last year in Berlin has helped me a lot, as I saw how other people work and worked with sound engineers on my songs. I saw that there’s no magic to it, but you really need to listen good with your ears, and not with your phantasies. So about what I always wanted to do: I've always had inspiring music ideas, just can't get tired of them. But then maybe I'll dedicate my whole life to learning how to transform my music ideas into something listenable. Life worth living.
Who are the people, or what are the things, that most inspire your creative output?
Oh many other music, and many other people! I try to disconnect my sound perception from the cultural or any other background as much as possible. So I love random street musicians as much as I love other records.
Right now I’m just listening to my playlist in which there’s everything from EBM and nostalgic hard rock to African house and outsider Russian trap tracks. I’m fond of melodies, and I suppose I physically cannot follow a track without any melody, but at the same time I developed a more sophisticated taste for unusual production, so listening to simple voice and a beat doesn’t feel exciting anymore. And then even listening to that same Aphex Twin’s “Xtal” beat in other tracks is not as exciting as it was for me for the first time. So I’m getting more picky, but still very open.
You recorded this mix in Moscow but you travel quite a lot living in different places around the world - has this changed the way you make music?
Well, travelling itself is not as fancy as people may think of it. When I travel, a lot of my energy and time goes into finding a decent and affordable place and way to live. So I actually have less time and energy for making music. However, I’m now staying in Thailand which is super comfy to live, so I’m just making it up for the music and I try to record all day through on my days off.
What I really love among things that travel brings to my music is my music vision. I collect music from every part of the world, I frequently go to local gigs and hang out with local producers. I must say, it’s quite hard to find something unique anyway, but when I find it, it feels much more precious. Well, everything can be googled nowadays anyway, but then what’s this life for — googling? And then I actually hate googling. I could find what a loop station is from the internet and YouTube, but seeing it for the first time during my first trip to Berlin at a breathtaking live set of Lake Felix was much more exciting.
What else have you got planned this year?
I plan to put out a new record which is still a surprise, which has a breathtaking story to it, and which is quite different from all the stuff I’ve been releasing before. No, really. I’m also heading to South Korea soon, and still looking for ways to play or DJ there, please hit me up.
And in the meantime I’m staying in Asia and finish up another record with folk songs and then I want to play with some dance tracks and rhythmic noise. Sounds like too many things, but actually it's just working on tracks in my own manner with different textures.
Any musical recommendations for us, perhaps some other Russian artists we might not be familiar with?
There are many talented producers in Russia. Much more than I know or can imagine. I try to listen to new music, and then it still feels like I live in a bubble of my friends and labels that I already like. Haven’t been listening to new stuff for last months though, and I probably missed a lot of other cool stuff.
This label was among my favourite discoveries last year: https://120-130bpm.bandcamp.com/album/limited
Then my friends just put out a dark synth and shoegaze record: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=OLAK5uy_lWYo9mekL7g7fPtGgOz4y1IPsvK1JI40U
And then yesterday I’ve been singing along to this track, and still can’t get it out of my head: https://soundcloud.com/masterskayalab/04-mustelide-zver