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Artist Spotlight: Wyro continues to resist conflict through creativity

Born in Ukraine and raised in Russia, Kirill Kalashnikov aka Wyro opens up about the hardships of war, making music on the road and advocating for peace

  • Amira Waworuntu
  • 20 July 2023

For Kirill Kalashnikov aka Wyro, the (rest of the) world has become his haven; literally and figuratively. Born in Ukraine, he got into the world of music-making back in 1999 while living in the Russian city of Surgut. Being surrounded by snow and long, cold winters only fanned the creative flames within him, pushing him to expand his sonic palette by experimenting with FastTracker audio software.

Falling for the energetic tempos and gritty, intricate basslines of jungle and drum’n’bass, he first released tracks under the name Implex, which got him to the stages of renowned gigs such as ‘The World of Drum&Bass’ and ‘Pirate Station’ in Russia plus Georgia’s KaZantip.

Fast-forward 14 years later, he’s come into his own as Wyro and with a new alias comes a new outlook on music. He’s now ventured into the deeper side of minimal house and techno, employing numerous hardware synths, including a modular case and a few classic Junos and Moogs.

Unfortunately, the passing of years also brought change of a most unfortunate kind; war. In February 2014 the Russo-Ukrainian conflict began, forcing millions to seek refuge in other countries around the world, including Wyro; “When you read in the news about another building being bombed in your dad’s city, you can’t really think about compressing a kick drum.”

Driven by a passion to continue spreading peace and positivity through creativity, Wyro is not one to stand down. Since the war started, he’s travelled to Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Turkey, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Israel, Morocco and Georgia, working in five different studios to finish up his newly released LP, ‘Focus’.

Armed with a laptop and headphones, he composed the 11-track album while mostly in Southeast Asia. In it, Wyro serves sounds created from his former studio in Moscow, displaying his knack for metallic, elegant and minimal techno-tinged resonances. Released via his own Engineer imprint, the hardware jams serve as a form of escapism from the divisive state of the world, taking your mind straight into the warm embrace of an underground nightclub and its sonically inebriating slice of electronic indulgence.

Get to know more about Wyro in our interview below while digging into his emotive release.

Hi, Wyro! First and foremost, tell us the story behind the name!

My surname is Kalashnikov, which is associated with a gun. Since my music is not about any kind of aggression, I didn’t want that connection, so I had to come up with a nickname. I wrote down the letters whose geometry I liked the most on paper, looked at them, and made an abstract combination. "Wyro" sounds like a mix of the words "wire" and "weirdo" too, but it's just a happy coincidence.

Can you share your thoughts and experiences of being half-Russian and half-Ukrainian, especially standing in the middle of the conflict?

That's quite a tough topic. I used to say I am 50/50 Russian-Ukrainian, but today I realized it's wrong. My passport (which is basically just a piece of fancy paper) says "Place of Birth - Ukraine," "Nationality - Russia," and there’s also a page that says "UK Global Talent Migrant." My grandmothers told me stories about the migration of my ancestors and it’s all very widespread and complicated. So, the more I think about nationality, the less I want to have anything to do with the whole concept. I just want to be free.

Talking about experiences, the last 15 months have been extremely hard. I feel like I’ve aged an extra 10 years! It used to be one place for me — winters in Siberia, summers in Zaporizhzhia; same language, same country, friends and family in both places. Suddenly, there’s hate, death, and broken lives all around, and it's because a few "professional" politicians can't come to a fucking agreement. It's very sad, very disappointing, but it also made me focus and work on my own thing harder than ever because I feel that when your world is demolished, the only thing you can do is step away and start building a better one.

How has the war affected you as an artist? Has it impacted your compositions in any way?

First of all, it's much harder to find the mood to create music now, obviously. When you read in the news about another building being bombed in your dad’s city, you can’t really think about compressing a kick drum.

Also, I don't have a studio anymore; my synths are spread between three different countries, and I have been working with the sounds I have recorded previously or created on my laptop. On some days making beats is still fun, I am trying to squeeze as much as possible during those.

Read this next: Thirst for freedom: Kyiv’s queer clubbing community returns to the dancefloor

How did you get into electronic music production?

My parents bought me a nice Casio synthesizer when I was about five years old. It was kind of complicated but fun; it had different rhythm programs, some chord progression presets and you could even choose the type of waveform to play with. I discovered that any melody could be recreated just by using my ear, and I had many hours of fun finding the right keys for Disney songs, among others.

Additionally, my parents made me go to dance classes and take guitar lessons for a few years. Then, a friend introduced me to FastTracker 2 — one of the first digital audio workstations — and I got completely carried away forever.

In your opinion, is it possible to leave out politics from music?

Yes, I believe that all people should have the right to decide for themselves what to do with their lives, their careers, and art — this is a fundamental law of a free society. Forcing peaceful artists to alter their essence and jeopardize their lives is simply unethical, particularly when done from the comfort of a couch at home.

Since the war started back in 2014, you've been in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Turkey, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Israel, Morocco and Georgia. What was making music like while constantly moving from one place to another?

I can assure you it was not easy! I think I managed to finish and release an album only thanks to falling in love with an amazing Irish girl. Also, I was lucky to collaborate with Saktu in his studio in Thailand, with Chiodan in his place in Romania, and with Roni Amitai in Israel. Made lots of new friends in music and outside of it too, they also inspired me a lot.

To be honest, I have always liked working on the road, in trains and planes. New scenery helps with ideas and whatnot, but too much travelling can drain you out of energy completely, as you can probably imagine.

Read this next: How Ukrainian clubs and collective are aiding the war effort

Any tips you can share with us for making music on the road?

Apple Airmax headphones with their noise cancellation are the best for planes. You don’t need any hardware really; software is enough, so travel light. Whereas for mixing and mastering, you can always finish the job in a rental studio or ask a professional to do it for you, so don’t stress about it too much!

Describe your sound as a DJ and producer!

It's either adventurous and groovy trips or trippy adventures of the groove…depending on the weather.

What’s the most bizarre gig you’ve ever played and where?

About 15 years ago, I played at a school graduation party in Saint Petersburg. One of the teachers asked me to put on her CD with Russian criminal ballads. It was absolutely mental and I've never had a corporate gig ever since (and don't plan to!).

Would you agree when we say that each country in Asia has its own distinct vibe when it comes to its electronic music scene? Can you share your experience immersing in the scenes of the Asian countries you’ve visited?

I can't call myself an expert in the field. I think, to truly understand it, one would need to travel and go out a lot in Japan, Korea, and China, which I haven't done extensively. However, I loved playing at Epizode Festival in Vietnam the most, and there are some nice house parties on the islands of Thailand.

Read this next: 13 pictures show the beauty & thrill of Epizode's Albanian debut

What’s the best club and/or festival in Asia you’ve played at so far?

My favourite club is Trax (Ahangama, Sri Lanka), it feels like home and their music policy matches my personal taste completely. My favourite festival is Epizode (Phu Quoc, Vietnam); amazing line-up, great design…everything was just perfect!

Tell us a story you never get bored of sharing!

It would be a story of Leeroy Thornhill from The Prodigy telling me how he played my track in almost every one of his sets for half a year. When I was a teenager, Leeroy’s face was all around my room on the posters. He’s basically the hero of my teenage years, so you can imagine how it felt for me to hear that!

So what’s next for Wyro?

Right now, I am working on a new live set, looking for vocalists and getting new hardware to improve my existing setup. Hopefully, playing live will become my full-time job and I will be touring the world with it, living my dream while making people dance!

Wyro ‘Focus’ is out now via Engineer, purchase it here.

Amira Waworuntu is Mixmag Asia’s Managing Editor, follow her on Instagram.

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