Over the last few years, UK producer Yak has become known for his dynamic, polyrhythmic soundscapes. Making his debut on Orson’s Version imprint, an established label which has become famed for its shattering records, it wasn’t along before Yak was picked up for dates across the UK – supporting artists such as Objekt, Pangaea, Daniel Avery and Jane Fitz. This year, he will be tackling the festival circuit with dates at Dimensions, KALLIDA and No Bounds. With further releases on Brotherhood Sound System, Le Chatroom, Time Zone and 3024 over the last two years, it’s no surprise that Yak has been picked up by the world-renowned Belgian label R&S Records – a platform home to releases from Aphex Twin, James Blake, Nicolas Jaar and Lone. Making his mark with the ‘Termina’ EP, it’s a bold release from the fast-rising producer who provides five boisterous records, ready to set the dancefloor on fire.
As his recognition continues to build and rightly so, we catch up with Yak to discuss his first experiences with rave culture, his approach to a club residency and ways to overcome procrastination.
What was your first experience with electronic music and rave culture?
I didn’t really start going to proper underground raves until I was about 20 whilst I was studying for my degree in Sheffield. I loved clubbing before then, but everywhere I went tended to be your typical student nights playing chart hits, and I hadn’t really been exposed to much good dance music. A few of my mates brought me along to some house nights which eventually led to techno and garage raves at the bigger warehouse venues – at that point, I was instantly hooked. The vibe at these nights was so much better than the club nights I used to go to and the music sounded so fresh to me, especially as someone who’s favourite genre before then was prog metal.
Have there been any notable events or perhaps releases that helped kick start the Yak project?
I don’t think I can pin it down to one particular event or release really; pretty much all of the early raves I was going to got me hooked on a load of different styles of dance music – from techno to house, to garage, to jungle, to grime – and everything in between. It was a culmination of the different styles and new releases that I was discovering and on a constant look-out for at the time. I got into DJing pretty soon after going to these raves and it felt so cool to me as it was something entirely different from previous experiences I had of playing instruments. The ability to combine two of my favourite tracks into something new and fresh when getting the blend right and just seamlessly listening to the tunes I loved for hours on end was so addictive. After about a year and a half of mixing for hours every day, I was sure that it was what I really wanted to pursue, and that’s how Yak started.
You helped co-found the Sheffield party Pretty Pretty Good which has really gone from strength to strength in the last few years with global recognition. How did the party start?
It started as a drunken conversation with my mate Dan on a night out. We both had a load of artists in mind that we really wanted to see yet no one locally was booking, so we thought it would be sick to try and bring them up to Sheffield. We’d both been to a lot of raves between us at that point, and knew what we thought made a great party so we decided to start our own.
Why did you make the transition to the front of house as a resident for the party?
At the time I was studying for the final year of my degree, running parties, DJing and I’d also started producing my own tunes. I just didn’t have the time to do all of it, so, unfortunately, something had to go.
What have you learned from your residency so far? Do you feel that it’s testing you to experiment more with your DJ sets to keep each set exciting?
For sure! I’ve always been into heavier tracks so playing peak time is something that came pretty naturally to me, but the residency was so helpful to me in terms of learning how to play a good warm-up set. Figuring out how to slowly ramp-up the energy and read the dance floor is so much more rewarding when you get it right in a warm-up set. It’s also helped me dig far and wide for tunes that I probably would have never discovered or played-out if I was just playing peak or closing sets all the time. Also, getting to chat to some of my favourite DJs and getting to see them play up close has been so valuable in improving myself as a DJ.
Having recently supported Tama Sumo for the Alternate Cuts party, did you play an alternative set? If not, what genre/sound would you focus on for your alternative set and why?
I didn’t play a particularly alternative set that night – Tama was on a broken beat vibe, and I decided to keep things a bit funky on the warm-up before her. Since I’m into a load of different styles I try to go across the spectrum during my sets, but if I had to pick a sound to stick to for a whole set that I don’t usually get to play out as much, I’d probably go for some 140 bits that have come out recently. I’ve been playing a lot more in the 140 region, so doing a whole set of that would be banging!
With releases already on Version, Brotherhood Soundsystem and 3024, you’ve now landed on the acclaimed R&S Records. How did your relationship begin with the label? What are some of your earlier discoveries of releases on R&S Records?
They hit me up after hearing my Version release, and I’m so grateful that they did because it’s one of my all-time favourite labels. Obviously, R&S is home to some legendary releases from the likes of Aphex Twin and Outlander, but some of their more recent stuff like the Tessela – Bottom Out EP and the DjRum album have been hugely influential on my music.
We’re completely obsessed with the EP – a pretty weighty 5-tracker – how did the concept for ‘Termina’ come about?
Thanks so much! I’d been experimenting with a load of different styles of songs at the time. They were all very percussively driven and I’d also been focusing on making tracks that would bang on a club sound system, but also had subtlety and smoothness to them and I wanted that to come across on the EP. I’ve always had percussion as the focal point of my production but counterbalancing the percussion with elegance and subtlety of synths, ambience, and little background noises make the difference between a track that goes off in the club and one that takes you on a musical journey. The aim was to make tracks that will get you dancing in the rave but that you’d also still want to listen to at home through some nice speakers or headphones.
Was it easy for you to find your style of production or did you experiment a lot before releasing your first track?
I tend not to think about my style too much really, I just make whatever comes to mind and then I can usually tell whether or not I’m happy with where it’s going. I feel like if I focus too much on what my “style” should sound like, it’s easy to end up making songs which sound samey. I like to try and combine different elements from different genres I’m into and as soon as I create something that sounds fresh and exciting to me, then I’m happy to put it out. I make tunes across a lot of different styles, many of which just sit on my hard drive once they’re done – I’ve got dozens of grime, footwork, gabber and other tracks in different genres that I just make for myself as sort of practice, and this really helps to build tracks that I’m happy to release.
Could you talk us through some key records you’ve come across in your life that you have a strong connection to and the story behind them?
The albums that I’ve probably listened to the most and have been the most influential in the early days were Sikth’s ‘The Trees Are Dried Out Wait for Something Wild’ and ‘Death of a Dead Day’, as well as Protest the Hero’s ‘Fortress’. I’d never heard anything like those albums before, and the technicality and energy of all the instruments were mind-blowing to me but there was still real soul to the music too. A lot of the stuff I used to listen to from that era I find hard to get into now since my tastes have shifted, but those albums are timeless to me and I still put them on pretty often now. In terms of electronic music, Swamp 81 has been a huge influence on me; the first Swamp record I discovered, Boddika’s “Steam” EP is still one of my favourite releases and holds up to this day. Heat was the first track I heard off the EP and I remember getting so excited by it because I’d not really been exposed to rolling bass/broken beat dance music before. I also remember hearing Randomer – Freak Dub and Pangaea – Hex in the club and losing my shit! I spent ages trying to track down the IDs online before finding both of them on the same day whilst going through Hemlock’s discography and feeling like Christmas had come early.
Outside of music, is there anything else that inspires your productions and mixes?
Yeah definitely, I’ve always believed that everything you’re into has an influence on your creative output, and taking a break from making whatever it is you make to watch a show you’re interested in or to go out for a walk in a place you like gives you the energy to get back into the studio refreshed. I’ve made it part of my daily routine to go out for walks into nature, and that’s helped my creative output a lot. I’m into surreal and alternative comedy like Tim & Eric, On Cinema, Limmy, Eric Andre and loads of other bits on Youtube too, and I feel like that sort of stuff definitely has an influence on my tastes. I also think certain video games and films with great soundtracks and atmospheres has had an impact on how I try and create ambience and energy in my productions and sets.
When it comes to your spur of the moment ideas, those lightbulb moments, do you have a notepad on you at all times? Or do you have another preferred method for jotting these down?
I often come up with drum beats in my head and if I’m not at my laptop I’ll quickly create a voice clip on my phone and sort of “sing” the beat into that so that I don’t forget it. Though to be honest, I think most of my good ideas just come out accidentally or spontaneously when I’m in the studio.
What are your other hobbies/interests? What’s your favourite thing to do when you’re not focused on music and having some downtime?
The majority of my time is either spent in the studio, DJing or digging for new tunes. When I’ve got some time outside of that there’s a load of shows I’m really into and I spend a lot of time browsing videos on Youtube too. If I’m at home I’ll usually be playing some video games with something playing in the background. If I’m out it’s usually either hanging out with mates or just going for a walk somewhere nice to clear my head.
Do you find that you’re easily distracted when it comes to working? Do you have any tools or routines in place to help prevent procrastination?
Yeah honestly I’m really bad with procrastination if it’s something I’m not really interested or invested in. So if I’m doing that I’ve got to shut everything else down like my TV, decks, other tabs on my browser and have some good background music on to stop me getting distracted by things around me. If it’s something I’m really into though I can happily do it for hours on end without stopping for days in a row which has helped me with my DJing and production for sure.
‘Termina’ by Yak is out now on R&S Records – buy here.