Artist to Artist: Nene H and Poly Chain
As a way to foster cross-cultural collaborations between Ukrainian artists and like-minded creatives from around the world, Kyiv’s ∄ – a non-binary, safe space with a mission to elevate emerging artists – have launched Standard Deviation, a multidisciplinary label operating at the intersection of music, art and publishing.
For the inaugural release, STDEV welcome local Kyiv composer and DJ Poly Chain and Berlin-based producer and live performer Nene H for a split EP that channels the dark electronic sounds core to ∄’s events.
Individually both have been making waves in their respective countries and beyond. Starting life in Poland, Sasha Zakrevska’s Poly Chain project has seen her play live at events and venues like Unsound, Sanatorium Dzwięku, CXEMA and DYM, while her productions, predominantly in album form, have found homes on Transatlantyk, BAS.kolektyw, Mondoj and Into The Light, alongside Bartosz Kruczyński.
Also known for her intriguing and hypnotic live sets, Nene H struck up a relationship with ∄ and Sasha after playing the club just before lockdown. Having become known for her no-holds barred approach to techno, which has been showcased via her performances at Atonal and Boiler Room, she’s also notched up a string of releases over the last few years for the likes of SPFDJ’s Intrepid Skin, Bedouin Records and Seagrave.
Ahead of the release the pair chew the fat about classical training, recycling old ideas and the effect that the pandemic has had on their lives and the industry at large…
Poly Chain: We have at least two things in common, its a short curly hairstyle and piano classes. What else could be a reason that STDEV would choose both of us for a split album?
Nene H: Hahah I think stdev is aiming to build a strong Ukrainian scene, elevate the local artists and give them this platform where they can come together with international artists with certain values who represent what they stand for. This is where we meet. Plus I hope our curls also have something to do with it :)) I didn‘t know that you were pianist though. Did you study music?
Poly Chain: So yes, piano class with an old talented Jewish teacher, who read notes as we read texts. Do you think music school was helpful? The way we produce tracks right now in Ableton or whatever, when you don’t need to know notes.
Nene H: Well I got in conversatory and started studying classical music when I was 13 already so I only made music all my life and nothing else, which is of course helpful but classical music is a very complex thing and it was more liberating to get out of it for me. Note system is a western classical music system, actually music is otherwise never made with written notes. It is quiet normal in any other genre. Look at jazz for instance, or Indian music or African music. It is all about hearing, feeling and playing, so it is a more natural, intuitive way of making music, when you don’t have the western musical notation. What kind of relationship do you have with your productions? Do you plan a lot or is it more intuitive?
Poly Chain: Sometimes I hear music in my head in the morning when I get out and run immediately to record the melody, or simply doing it via Animoog if I am not at home. The planning comes when it comes to arrangement. But yes, basically I just jam and tunes comes out. The most difficult part for me right now its mixing. How long does it take for you to make a composition until you’re satisfied?
Nene H: It changes every time. I used to take too long but it is getting quicker now. My fastest track I finished in one day, but I don’t know if I am ever satisfied though. I just learned to let go at some point, because otherwise I feel like I am going insane because you never stop thinking how you can make things better, you know. Do you feel the same way? Are you ever satisfied with a piece you make? Is it only me or is this a thing? I wonder honestly! If yes how long does it take you?
Poly Chain: My fastest one I finished in six hours with all mixing process, but because of the pandemic it’s still not released. I guess I feel the same, especially with tracks which I already released. I can’t listen to it anymore. But there is also another thing, when I come back to tracks which I made in 2014 or earlier, I found there super cool ideas, something I can use now. Do you also have some music which you recycle ?
Nene H: Oh we have a mutual thing going on there. I have quite the similar experience with my stuff too. I kind of made some sound banks now, things that I go back to. But mostly I try to make something else, because of the excitement of learning more about ways of producing. But right now with all that is happening, it is quite tough to keep yourself motivated. You are also an autodidact right? Are there any possibilities to learn about mixing or producing in Kiev or do you have some friends you can exchange knowledge with?
Poly Chain: I learn Ableton by myself but on my musical way I found so many interesting people who helped me improve my skills by sharing tips. Right now there is a music school in Kyiv called Module, maybe you know it, Nastia Vogan, the resident of E is giving lectures there. They invited me to give some lectures about production and I am super nervous about that. I had experience with lectures before, in Poland with the Oramics crew, but it was only about my hardware setup. From a DJ point of view I guess the best learning tip is to play b2b with as many people as possible. You said before about the “let go of the track” way of thinking and I remembered the futuristic manifestos. The pieces you did yesterday are not on time anymore, let it go and run into the future, that’s the vibe.
Nene H: So true. Giving lectures are very good way of learning and reflecting about your own process of how you work. I think it is great that you are doing it! I met so many people along the way who don‘t want to share their experience with others. It is very private to them, but I am also more into sharing and interacting.
Poly Chain: Maybe they simply have imposter syndrome haha
Nene H: Hahah wow that’s deep man
Poly Chain: Ok so maybe next question can be a bit less deep. As I remember from German “Beste” is the best. Do you feel like it on the stage?
Nene H: Hahah oh girl god no! I am just focused on doing the best I can, you know. How do you feel about playing? Do you like playing? Do you miss it?
Poly Chain: You saw the situation in Kyiv, there is still parties going on but with less capacity and mask / antiseptics / distance. Right now it’s illegal, but you know, there are places in the world where raves are illegal with the pandemic or without. My personal experience with performing is like in my childhood in music school. You’re always nervous about performance. With a DJ set it’s totally different, it’s more about the interaction with the crowd. I love it and I can’t live without it. It’s been there so long with me in different forms, classical music then band then electronic music, so I can’t live without it. But since we are near my hometown in the conversation. If you stay longer than a weekend, is there anything special you’ve heard about and you would like to visit in Kyiv? And what is your general impression?
Nene H: I think Kyiv club is already the best club in the world (yes I said it! sorry not sorry) and it represents a hopeful future for club culture. The younger generation is so most interesting to me, I think the scene is so special and so promising. And about Kyiv in general, I am interested in Ukrainian history, it is rich and people have been through some shit, so I see something common in that sense with my home country Turkey. I think this is also one of the reasons why I can connect with people so well there. I truly deeply love it. It is so nice to be part of it.
Poly Chain: This is love.
Nene H: What do you think about Kyiv scene? I know we did a party with restrictions there, but right now it’s become hard again. I heard there are more restrictions. Do you think you will be able to play in winter?
Poly Chain: There are some new hardcore restrictions right now and we, the scene, had a protest near the Parliament (verkhovna rada ukr). Many people already adapted to new rules to save their jobs and survive. We have also much less support from the government than the EU, in the beginning of the pandemic our president cut the cultural budget by around 70%. The scene itself is quite interesting but still not very united. For example there are more famous woman DJs in Ukraine then man. The only thing that I miss is some cameral experimental concerts, there’s not much of it here. I guess this conversation can go forever haha, like at a good afterparty…
Nene H,: Safe! haha
Poly Chain: How does it look right now in Turkey with the club scene during lockdown?
Nene H: You can forget about it. The numbers in Turkey don’t look very trustworthy, I think it is worse than it shows. But I see labels kicking off and it looks like people are using this time productively, so I am very happy to see that because there is nothing much left than trying to make the best out of the situation, you know. How are you with the whole thing? Could you keep your motivation and good vibe with your work? Or did you struggle a little in this time with being productive?
Poly Chain: I always had waves of “oh how cool I made new tracks” and “fuck what I am doing” and it’s nothing to do with outer world. I am used to hard work in both states. Also there is so many topics in this sick world I can write my sad electro songs about. Do you have your motivation secret?
Nene H: Haha I love a tough girl, especially when they are tough to themselves. My motivation secret is to survive. I am used to this survival mode kind of thing but this one came right at the moment when I was just getting comfortable finally after years of hard work. So it was a little disappointing and a bit tiring emotionally. Sometimes I wake up and try to remember the reason I am in this. It is a struggle sometimes, but it happens to everyone and it is still a lot better than many peoples struggle. So no complaints, just continue working, right??
Poly Chain: I totally get you, I had all my regular bookings and started again to plan some tours abroad – then pandemic started and it totally fucked me. But yes, we’ve done music all our lives. Nothing can stop us.