Few contemporary artists tour as frequently as Nastia, real name Anastasia Topolskaia. She was born into a "normal" family in eastern of Ukraine and was typically disconnected from music for much of her youth. Her first exposure came through movie soundtracks —"I was an outsider to club music so the first introduction came from the movies," she says—and she invested all she could in purchasing soundtrack tapes on the recommendation of one of her two older sisters. Later she discovered a radio station that pushed club mixes in the evenings, and she began recording this music onto tapes. Her love affair with electronic music was just beginning.
An interest in dancing blossomed through her adolescence; she had long been enthusiastic but a visit to a Donetsk nightclub served as a catalyst. "This is where I realized what I wanted and everything came into focus," she says. Upon finishing school, she enrolled at Donetsk University around which time she found her first job as a dancer in the city's "best" club, she recalls. " I loved to dance and danced well." After only a year, in 2005, she began teaching herself how to DJ. "I was really quick to get it," she recalls—despite those around her being skeptical as to her intentions.
Her career really took off around 2009, at which point her hobby "transformed into my profession and my way of life," she explains—and she became a resident of Moscow's now legendary Arma 17 less than a year later. She dabbles in production but her reputation has been built upon her skills in the booth rather than the studio—a rarity in the modern age. "I am not a producer. I am a true DJ," she says. "I know that my best skill is at mixing records." She explains that she's not had a weekend "off" for the past three years, and judging by her upcoming schedule it looks like she'll have to wait some more time before she's able to indulge in some prolonged downtime at home with her family again. Ahead of her performance at this year's Sonus Festival, taking place from August 19-23 in Croatia, Nastia caught up with XLR8R as part of our 20 Questions series.
1. Describe your surroundings right now.
I am on the plane. Lufthansa flight, business class, upper level.
2. What have you been up to lately?
I've been spending some days with my daughter touring in South America and the best thing we planned was a visit to Foz do Iguacu and Cartagena where we did maximum activities. This made our experience absolutely unforgettable. Traveling with my daughter gives me maximum motivation to make my tours interesting.
3. How has the electronic music landscape changed since you started out?
The thing is while I've been growing as an artist I've been changing scenes. It’s a process and you move constantly. You don’t play at the same places for the same people. I've been working hard and playing every weekend since the end of 2009 and the amount of gigs does not change, but the quality of them has been changing the more I grow, as better and bigger things I get. That means, for example, I am too far from that scene where I started. And I don’t know what is going on in Eastern European scene right now, like Russia and Ukraine, where I was really big from 2006 till 2012. Then I stopped playing in Russia and my home country because I was focusing on international gigs mostly. After that, I was building my profile in Europe and all other continents. One by one, promoters I was working with were coming for better things. What I am trying to say is that I have never had a complete feeling of one specific layer of the scene and so I've not been able to properly analyze it in the process. At the moment, it’s such a big question for me too, 'cause sometimes young DJs write to me asking what did I do in the beginning to push myself as a DJ, asking for tips and suggestions, and I realize those methods I did are too old school and that they don’t work nowadays. I guess I am not able to answer on this question.
4. What’s the last thing that made you laugh and why?
Right now, I am coming back from a South American tour with my daughter Uliana. She joined me for 10 days traveling in between Brazil, Argentina, and Colombia. We did five gigs together and some touristic activities, too. I had a lot of fun and laughed a lot with her, 'cause now she is 10 years old and she is still a child but in a very adult style and this combination is just outstanding 'cause you hear some really mature things from a childish face! My favorite is when I come back after the party; it’s early morning and sunshine is outside. We are packing, going for breakfast and heading to the airport—this time is the funniest! Sometimes we cry just from laughing!
5. What advice would you give to aspiring DJs?
I've always said it was very important for me to read books about club culture. Just any! I have a big collection at home, books about the techno-house scene, like the one from Laurent Garnier. I have one about drum & bass, the hip-hop scene, and Russian culture. It gives you a lot of information, history, and an understanding of how it became what it is right now. It’s always a beautiful journey through the years to back in the days, reading about legends and beginnings. I think it's good to get to know the whole thing from where it started before you do something yourself. Get inspired and choose your way!
6. How much time do you spend preparing for a gig?
It depends. Sometimes I feel ready without any special effort. Rarely do I really prepare my set; only for super important events. In these cases, I just create a separate folder with tracks I think would fit for the set, so it's easier to find music I need. I like to go through the whole Downloads collection on my laptop and make a selection. The last time I did this was for Time Warp, Boiler Room, and Ultra.
7. What was the first electronic record you owned?
Unfortunately, I don’t remember.. really.
8. Which artists are inspiring you at the moment?
I was thinking of that recently and I found myself focusing mostly on the girls. I like to see Peggy Gou, Nina Kraviz, Helena Hauff, Amelie Lens, and Honey Dijon. But my favorite will always be Margaret Dygas—she is a real master for me; her sets are always bringing me to another level of inspiration. Totally intelligent and always solid.
9. Which cities/venues do you enjoy playing right now?
This question hurts a bit, 'cause the one I loved most doesn’t exist anymore—it was Arma17 in Moscow. But now it’s definitely Closer club in Kyiv. The guys did a really great job in building the Ukrainian scene up along with other strong and respected promoters like CXEMA and Rhythm Buro. For me, the most interesting things are happening there now, because the local scene, club community, and resident DJs are surprisingly strong and united. This is an inspiration for me. I'm feeling proud!
10. What’s the most important consideration when selecting which booking requests to accept?
Quality of the event. We check the promoter, what he has done before, who was playing for him, how the venue looks. We try to get feedback from artists who have played for him already. And then we see if it’s worth doing. It doesn't matter how much money you get for a gig if the event is bullshit. Reputation comes first.
11. If you could go B2B with anyone alive or dead who would it be?
Recently I was playing b2b with my friend Anton Kubikov, who is a Russian pioneer of DJing. After that, we spoke about B2Bs in general and he said something that I agreed with. Nowadays, playing B2B with someone has become something fashionable in our scene. But for real it shouldn’t be like that. Playing B2B means having a short-term partnership; you both need to be on the same wavelength and it definitely has to be your friend you know and trust. So, to answer this question, I don’t have anyone in mind. The only person I am trying to build b2b relations with is Daria Kolosova.
12. If you could have dinner with anybody, dead or alive, who would it be?
Dalai Lama. I miss feeding my soul. Because of my intense schedule, I miss meeting teachers, soulmates, and spiritual guides. For me, it’s very important to have someone soulful and enlightened I can talk to. I need some extra light to live. For now, I only have my psychotherapist; she is an amazing teacher. But I believe Dalai Lama is truly an inspiration and meeting him would push me towards something I am missing now.
13. How active are you in finding new music—do you have a specific process?
I have a few ways to do it, simple ones. From artist to label, from label to label, from label to artist. Mostly Discogs and Beatport and mostly old records. I am not a big fan of modern sounds, unfortunately, but I do follow them, especially techno. If I find an interesting label or artist, I will go through their whole collection of recordings to be sure I didn’t miss anything!
How active? As active as the internet connection :) I can do that at the airport, at the hotel. At home, I can be very busy and mostly I check new records I get. But all I need is a certain mood, if you know what I mean. Sometimes I let myself be lazy a little, sometimes I push myself to do it.
14. How many records ahead to you plan ahead when performing?
Sometimes I see my set four or five tracks ahead, I just hear them in my mind. It’s quite easy to do, 'cause my setup is three CDJs and two turntables, so I can prepare the next steps very smoothly. And it’s not about planning... it’s all about feeling. Sometimes you flow, sometimes you think. You don’t flow every time, but if you flow then you don’t think.
15. You tour and play out a lot, but what do you do for downtime?
The thing is I am a very family-orientated person, so when I am back home I am maybe even busier than when traveling. First of all, I compensate for that time I was away with my husband and daughter. We do some family activities, I take care of my daughter’s school, with extra classes, and I join the daily routine. Then I need to do all the shops/banks/pet/business things. It’s already a lot, so I never rest at home—too many things accumulate while I am gigging, so I am busy finding solutions. Also I don’t sleep enough cause I wake up at 7:30 for my daughter. But if I have some little breaks, one free morning, I listen to my records and just check the news or read a book. I can also watch a movie— the basic things. But my dream is to do longer vacations and do something I wanna do for a long time; I just need to find the time for it. For example, I wanna learn how to meditate, I wanna learn how to do yoga, I wanna go to a specific camp for proper vipassana. This all will help me to do my downtime properly and with some positive results, instead of just doing nothing.
16. How do you keep fit and healthy on the road?
I don’t eat sandwiches and snacks at the airports and on the planes. I never did any drugs and only smoke joints. I sleep any free time I have and I always need a nap before the gig. The rest is just genetics!
17. What are your top three tracks that you are listening to right now?
Because summer is a high season, I really miss silence, so I don’t listen to music when I can avoid it. But I share with you three tracks I love to play right now.
First of all, I love the intro: "I don’t wanna fake bitches in the crowd tonight. I want some real bitches!" — and the whole track is so old school, it just makes me smile.
2. Thomas P. Heckmann "Dimensions-Disco" (Original Mix).
I find all music from Thomas exciting. I have most of his records in my collection. But at the moment this one is my favorite to play. Perfect festival track.
I have finished two of my last sets with this track. It was beautiful to close the party at Brazilian Warung Beach Club with this one, seeing the sun rising from the sea in front of the place.
18. Is the accessibility of producing music becoming detrimental to the electronic scene?
For me, yes, 'cause it’s harder to find something good in tonnes of "homemade experiments." In some ways, it’s good 'cause technology gives everyone the opportunity to create, but the other side is that there are so many people pretending to be producers now. These people think production is the key to getting bookings and so a lot of music becomes cheap, fast-made, and cheesy. The quality of production has changed and there is now a lot of rubbish. Everything has become too simple. Also, most of the music became too functional because of an ideas crisis; that’s why I search in archives and basically I do it on Discogs, because back on the day, music had to be a high quality in order to be released on vinyl.
19. What’s your favorite guilty pleasure on the road and why?
Food and spa. Food is an easy joy and I love to discover new restaurants around the globe. I usually search and choose them by myself and then pass the info to promoters. Every time I have to eat on the plane (usually I don’t, but with the long flights I have no option) I feel I am doing something wrong and I get sad a little because I respect my body and it’s better not to eat such a "meal." So when I arrive at the gig destination, I always compensate for bad times in the air with quality, fresh and delicious food.
Spa is a new pleasure, 'cause my schedule is the same intensity for years and my body gets tired faster, so I try to help and support my health. Also, my backpack is always very heavy (normally it’s around 10 kg) and caring records is not easy. I am really afraid of any back problems, so once a month I visit my orthopedist and I have a local massage as well. Then when I am traveling I try to get a massage if I have time for that, plus sauna plus pool.
20. What’s the first thing you’ll do after answering these questions?
Sleep! I am answering these on the long flight from Sao Paulo to Frankfurt on the way back home, and I was lucky to get an upgrade to business class, so I can lay down and sleep properly.
Nastia will be performing at this year's Sonus Festival alongside Charlotte de Witte, Rødhåd, Praslesh, Rhadoo, Sonja Moonear, and many more. This year's edition runs from August 19 to 23 on Zrce Beach, Croatia, with more information available here.