With the scales finally tipping in the world of electronic music, female DJs finally seem to be reaching the same level of ubiquity as their male peers, no longer seeming like such a novelty. Ukrainian DJ Nastia is but one example. She’s an insanely in-demand DJ - when she caught up with us in Berlin she was set to perform for the fifth time that week. Right after our photo shoot and interview, she had a few hours before her set at Watergate to squeeze in the recording of her BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix, an important benchmark for any DJ, typically an assurance they’ve made it to the big leagues of the underground.
Despite playing huge clubs and festivals, she has managed to stay true to her underground roots, and this is especially evident in her Essential Mix. In many mixes, selectors can be lazy, choosing to remain comfortable in their usual sonic confines, not straying far from their inbox and its promos from the usual suspects. Instead, she digs deep and weaves effortlessly through techno, drum and bass, and electro. Born and raised in a small town in Ukraine called Fashchivka and currently based in Kiev, she has no plans to relocate to obvious hubs for electronic music like London or Berlin and remains excited about what her home country has to offer in the worlds of music, fashion, and more.
Born in the late '80s, her music education started in the '90s. While she claims she “missed the beginning of the whole thing” when it comes to electronic music, her taste nevertheless became robust from an early age. She first got into groups like Enigma, The Chemical Brothers and Prodigy, and fondly recalls buying the CDs and cassettes of movie soundtracks. As a child, she was always the one dancing the most during on-stage performances. Dancing “was not a passion, it was a must,” she explains. Moving from school stages to clubs when she was thirteen, Nastia fell in love with Ukrainian nightlife. It was only a matter of time before she made the shift from dancing to DJing, making friends with local DJs and getting one of them to show her the basics, which she says she picked up with ease.
That was back in 2005, and in September of that year she had her first headlining gig at a club in West Ukraine. She distinctly recalls how much of a big deal it was to her. “I was so nervous. My hands were shaking so much it was hard to mix.” The next year, she became a resident at Kazantip, a prominent Ukrainian electronic music festival that took place in Crimea from 1992 to 2013. Nastia felt DJing was her only option to travel the world, and early on in her career she was afforded the opportunity to see parts of Ukraine outside her village.
Unlike a lot of underground DJs out there, Nastia mostly eschews the standard head-to-toe black uniform, opting instead for colorful pieces from designers from her native Ukraine and the rest of Eastern Europe. She loves Vetements, helmed by Georgian-born Demna Gvasalia, interpreting many of their designs as “protests.”
“Sporty, not so sexy. I’ve never played in high heels, of course. Whatever I wear, it has to comfortable first of all but it also has to be nice, not boring, like a black T-shirt and black jeans,” she explains when asked what she likes to wear while DJing.
Although she's always been fairly fashion conscious, her sartorial considerations were taken more seriously when she started dating her current partner, who is a Ukrainian politician and former journalist. She started paying more attention to Ukrainian designers and bought high heels for the first time. Except for Comme des Garcons x Nike sneakers, everything she wore was one hundred percent Ukrainian. Her sleek black leather backpack was by Kiev’s Konstantin Kofta, “He's doing something outstanding, creative, something you've never seen before in your life. Things you can’t even imagine being made into a backpack. Crazy shit,” she exclaims about the designer.
She proudly represents Ukrainian design when she’s on the road - whether she’s taking a much-deserved break after a gig in Ibiza, digging for records in Detroit, or on stage at a festival in front of a huge crowd somewhere on planet Earth. While she’s adapted quickly to the jet-setting DJ lifestyle, she refuses to forget her underground roots and remains eclectic and unpredictable in her selections.
“I never follow any particular genre. I can mix anything, from dubstep, drum and bass to techno, minimal, experimental, electronica, it it doesn't matter. If I like the track, I find a way to mix it. If I play in one genre I get bored so quickly,” she explains, “Every time you come to listen to me, it will be different music.”
Nastia takes the same approach to both fashion and music: she’s uncompromising, unique, and unafraid to let disparate styles interact with each other. Whether it’s or a soft flannel shirt paired with a sculptural leather backpack, or a hypnotic techno anthem mixed into a disorienting jungle track, in her methods of self-expression, Nastia has a harmonious way with juxtapositions, making her emergence from the underground all the more exciting.
For more of our features, check out our Q&A with Novelist, where he discusses political activism, the future of grime, designing hats and more right here.