Yegorka isn’t like other labels. Their catalog—which includes a lo-fi, guitar-driven noise album, intimate digital ambient played on Asian instruments, and a French touch revival project—looks, on the surface, like one of the least cohesive around. But the label’s founders, Tobias Lee (A.K.A DJ and producer Why Be) and Dan Denorch (who founded the highly-influential Janus parties and record label), are used being misunderstood. For the last several years, they’ve made a name for themselves pushing an idiosyncratic club sound that juxtaposes hyper-regional dance music with experimental sound design and a truly “anything goes” mentality.
Yegorka is the evolution of this same idea. Pushing past hybridized club music, the label is what happens when the head-rush of international influences collide and shatter, giving way to new forms. I met Why Be on a balmy afternoon in Berlin, and, in between discussing East Asian fashion trends and eating deep-fried fish nuggets, he explained how he and Dan are reshaping the record label landscape to fit this peculiar vision.
Yegorka seems to operate on a different wavelength than other labels. What’s your role, and what’s Dan’s?
My role is to find the music and help the artists as much as possible. Dan’s role is to tell me that I’m right about all of the stuff I’m doing. He’s the back end of it, working with distributors and making sure everything works.
Everything is based on a common idea that we don’t have to talk about anymore because we’ve known each other for so long. But we have to agree on everything. Every decision I make, every idea I get, I make sure that he’s completely in line with it.
So it’s pretty collaborative?
It is, but in a more telepathic, symbolic way. We have the luxury of knowing each other. He knows what direction I’m trying to go in, and if I go too far, he’s good at being the realistic voice in my head. He’s also good at seeing something, sharpening it, chopping off a toe or heel here or there and perfecting it. He’s good getting the essence out of the work—and helping me limit myself, which I have a hard time doing.
When working with the artists, what’s your level of involvement?
Every artist has different needs and their own vision. Some artists want to have a conversation about every aspect of what they’re doing, and some completely do their own thing. I really try to stay out of it as much as possible. I don’t mind helping someone, but I always want the person we’re releasing to be the brain behind the project. I trust in the music, and I want that person to flourish as much as possible.
None of the projects on Yegorka really sound alike. Do you see the projects fitting together under the umbrella of a cohesive idea?
I do, but I also refuse to allow myself to define that. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I felt that all of the projects fit together. The only “cohesive umbrella” everything falls under is my gut feeling. They’re all people that I think can do something unique. Besides that, they don’t really have anything in common.
The only thing I can say is that you could be someone that I’ve known for ten years or that I met yesterday, but if I have a feeling about you, that you can do something special—and if I believe in you, and I can’t always explain why that is—that alone would make me trust you enough to release your music.
Emiranda’s My Face is the one project on Yegorka that, to me, evokes feelings of nostalgia—specifically for the French house era. Where do nostalgia, progressivism and futurism fit into Yegorka?
Emrianda was especially funny to me because Dan and I are both older than Tove (Agélii, A.K.A Toxe) and Timur (Tokdemir, A.K.A Mechatok), and we didn’t even have a “house moment” ourselves. It was never something we explored. So when I heard the first demos, it was funny to me that they somehow got into it—that they found this pool of artists and this music so interesting. I know people who are into house that, when I sent them My Face, would mention that the song lengths and structures weren’t right. They’re too short, and there’s supposed to be a really specific build-up. They’re emulating a sound you could trace back, but they completely rewrote this style in their own way. That’s where, for me, progressivism or futurism comes in.
Where do you see bod [包家巷] fitting in to all of this?
bod [包家巷] doesn’t fit in anywhere, and that’s why I love them. There are so many things I don’t understand about bod [包家巷], like their music and the person they are. And that’s also where a lot of my attraction to it comes from.
To me, their music, especially the stuff we released, sounds so much like the European post-rock that I listened to in high school. There’s something about the motion and the subtlety, this longing in the tracks, that’s super post-rock. But it was created by a Chinese person from Arizona, on Chinese string instruments, singing and playing by themselves. When I first heard it, it felt so specific to me, but I also couldn’t place it anywhere. They’re also unpredictable, and they work so hard. When we got in contact, they’d already planned a video and offered to release three times as much music as we eventually ended up releasing. Someone who works their ass off will always have my respect.
Yegorka does something I’ve rarely seen before: You drop a single track as a catalogued “project.” What’s the reasoning behind this?
Sometimes artists only send one track. If an artist goes in a new direction, sometimes an idea only drives them to make one or two tracks, but those one or two tracks could be amazing. This is a way to let an idea exist.
We like to look at every release as existing on its own premise. We’ve even let people limit their output to the essence of the idea. But it’s always tailored to who you are. Every release is different. People are different, and we don’t believe in telling anyone what to do.
So you don’t want to water down ideas just to stretch them out.
Take Oxhy‘s “Psalms Of The Khori-Puma (ft. Elysia Crampton)”, for example. It was a very specific vision he had for one track. The track, idea and aesthetic were so on point. I’m not going to turn it down just because I, as a label person, would prefer to have a full EP. I will let that piece of music exist in its own reality.
We basically try to look at it like how would we want to get released ourselves. We may be too idealistic about it, but that’s the goal. Everyone from the person who masters it to the person who makes the cover art has to be happy about it and not feel used. I would not have started a label if that wasn’t the goal. That’s also why we don’t do physical releases. That’s just not what we care about. If the goal wasn’t at least to pursue a new model, we wouldn’t have done anything at all.
How do you feel about people viewing your progression from the club space to a more open-ended, experimental atmosphere? Do you feel like the club is still the home for this music?
This curve is definitely the general assumption of how my and my peers’ careers have evolved, but to be quite honest, we started like this—in the open-ended, experimental way. When I started DJing, I didn’t even DJ. I was only DJing my weird noise music because that was the easiest way for me to play it, and that was the only way a lot of us started to get bookings.
The club side of our music also had a different feel about it when we started, which is also why the Emiranda thing was so interesting to me. It was a club moment that wasn’t mine. It wasn’t a moment I’d generated, and it wasn’t something that I could directly understand. I never got what Timur and Tove were trying to do, but it was their moment.
I have the general belief that you can play whatever you want to in the club. None of my friends have ever depended on a four-four kick to get something going in the club. It’s the DJ’s or the artist’s job to stitch it together in a way that can trick people into dancing to it or thinking that it’s club music, but if you listen to half of what people play, it’s not even actual club music.
So for you, the club is just the best way to showcase something on a larger, more streamlined scale?
From a European point of view, clubs are spaces that are open forever, have good sound systems and tolerate a lot of ratchet behavior. I’m not saying you have to be into that or participate, but I love that it’s an option.
A lot of people that didn’t feel popular in high school now have a space where they can exist the way they want to exist. They can look the way they want to look and sound the way they want to sound. In those terms, the club is a very important part of what we do. And since the clubs, more and more, are opening up to something that isn’t just tech house—and as long as the space can be used in our way—they are important spaces to me.
Do you feel like Berlin is Yegorka’s home, or could the label exist anywhere?
It could have happened anywhere, but on the other hand, Dan and I wouldn’t have become friends or collaborators if it wasn’t for Berlin. Neither Dan or I are German or from here, so Yegorka is an inherently Berlin thing. Had we not come here for whatever reason we did, he wouldn’t have booked me in the early days. Berlin created the foundation for us to be able to do what we do in this way.
How do you feel about Berlin and the way the music scene has changed since you first came here?
I literally change my opinion about it every six months. I can’t say anything definite about how I feel about it because it keeps changing. That’s probably why I still like living here. If I knew what was going to happen in six months or a year, I would probably get fed up. Anyone who’s ever had a career or creative boost here has also had a point of time where they had to deal with the opposite. Berlin is a great place for you to get to know yourself dealing with different situations—creatively, financially or existentially. It’s not always that fun or educational or meaningful, but you figure out how you feel in both your happiest state and darkest hour. And there’s a rawness here that I love that I can’t find anywhere else.
Have you fully transitioned into being a label manager, or do you see yourself releasing on Yegorka in the future?
I have so many friends running their own labels that I have so much respect for, but looking at the overall environment, I would definitely say that the next place I see myself releasing would be Yegorka.
I spent so much time on the label in the beginning that I forgot about myself. I woke up and realized I hadn’t done anything for like, six months. That’s what I live from, and the fact of the matter is that no labels are making money—plus we particularly are not gaining much profit. It should be a healthy division, but for now I’m happy to bleed for the cause.
Is there anyone that you’re excited about right now or people that you see doing interesting things?
Yeah, there are two people that I’ve been really curious about. I’m always impressed with people who do things that are easy to fake or emulate but at the highest level. Pope and 0comeups both do this beatless noise-ambient that’s currently very popular, but to me they are doing some of the best. I can listen to their stuff over and over again, which is unusual for me. Any ambient or noise music that actually catches your ear is always special. It’s so easy to warp out a sound and put some white noise and distortion on it. I find it interesting that I love every single track that they make.
Where do you see Yegorka going in the future?
I have stuff lined up, but we have no idea what direction it’s going to go in. That’s part of the idea behind the label. We have so much passion and so many ideas, but we’re not settling on anything. Dan and I have a very specific way of doing things, and as long as we’re both smiling and breathing, I think we’ll figure it out.
I want to make every project as ambitious as possible but tailor it to who we’re releasing and what they want out of the relationship. Sometimes people are insecure or introverted and not really trying to get in everyone’s faces. Sometimes you can push them out there, while some people push themselves. I just want to keep it as open as possible.