How Russian DJ Julia Govor Found 'Open Possibility' in New York
Photo by Sasha Smolina
When Julia Govor moved to New York three years ago, her reasoning was simple. "Love," she answers on a recent video call. She repeats the word: "Love."
Govor, who is from Russia, met her husband, producer and composer Kamran Sadeghi, at a festival in Europe. He was the only guy on the dance floor wearing sunglasses at night. "I thought, this is so rare," she recalls. When they first started dating, Govor was still based in Moscow. Eventually, they set up a home base in Berlin. However, when Govor's visa expired, she was unable to renew it, so, they headed to New York. Govor recalls the advice Sadeghi gave here upon moving, "My husband told me, 'Julia, when you're going to move to New York, you have to have your goal because you can get lost very easily,'" she says.
She took that advice and, in just a few years, New York ignited Govor's career. "I've never been so productive," she says. She unleashed the solo track "Litmus" early in 2015 and has also worked on collaborative projects with other artists, including Synchronized Swimming with Sadeghi. And she sounds smitten with New York as she mentions "the most beautiful and cool looking people" she sees while riding the L train from her East Village home. "It's so intense to be here," she says, "but in terms of creativity and energy of the people and possibilities, it's such a great thing."
Since making the move, Govor has landed some choice gigs. A few days before we spoke, she played the Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival, opening and closing for dance music power couple Laidback Luke and Gina Turner. This weekend, she plays Time Warp U.S. at the 39th Street Pier, joining an heavy-hitting line-up that includes Seth Troxler, Sven Väth and a rare Stateside appearance from Ricardo Villalobos.
Govor learned how to rock the party when she was all of six years old. The daughter of Russian soldiers, she was living in a small military town when she tagged along with her sister to a youth-oriented dance party with her tapes. "I ended up helping the real DJ put the tapes on," she says. Later on, Govor would DJ at school parties. Her professional DJ career, though, didn't start until 2009, when she landed a gig playing at Moscow's Arma17, which she describes as "one of the most beautiful and power clubs" on the planet. She preferred the after-hours sets, playing as morning rose and the club still filled the dance floor. "The most powerful thing is the crowd," she says. "There's no talking on the dance floor. They dance."
She also worked as a TV journalist, focusing on the music news. While she says it was fun work, journalism wasn't her passion. "I felt like I was always living the life of other people," she says. Plus, she prefers making music to writing.
It wasn't all that long after her move to New York that Govor scored a dream gig. She had the chance to open for Jeff Mills at now-defunct club Sankeys. Govor, who typically closes her eyes while she plays, recalls turning her head and catching a glimpse of the Detroit techno legend listening with his eyes closed. He later gave her one of his records, which she has hanging on a wall, and complimented her set. Govor still speaks of this night — "the most important gig of my life," she calls it — with enough excitement to make the listener feel like it happened yesterday. Perhaps she's not the only one who was so deeply moved by that party. She says that people still approach her at techno parties like The Bunker and mention how much they enjoyed a set that is now a two-year-old memory.
Performing is part of Govor's background; as a child, she sang with a Russian military band. However, she does not consider her time behind the decks a performance. Instead, she says, it's a "meditation."
"It's not a spectacle, theater to watch," she adds later in the conversation. "I think everyone should play music with eyes closed. The people on the dance floor should dance with eyes closed."
She is frequently booked in supporting slots in the U.S., prepping the crowd for the headliner, and says that gives her a chance to set the pace for the party. "I build the night," she says. She prefers to start with "experimental" sounds and gradually bringing up the energy level, connecting the tracks with long, often subtle, mixes. She enjoys spinning on vinyl, but as she learned at a festival that she declines to name, sound systems now often don't mesh with the vibration-sensitive turntable set-up.
Her time in the studio is similar, she says, where she can work without distraction. "You're searching for specific sounds that have a strong connection with your heart or specific feelings," she explains. She started out working with Ableton Live and continues to use that in connection with other sorted gear, including vintage pieces like Korg synths and the classic Roland TR-909 drum machine.
Govor's forthcoming track, "Open Possibility," sounds like a space where the ocean meets the dance floor, with a faint synth sound in the background that seemingly mimics the gentle rise and crash of waves and a repetitive clang in the foreground the brings to mind images of ships. Govor doesn't mind the seaside interpretation of the song. In fact, she says, it's similar to her view of it. "It's a track of hope," she says. "It was the hope to find myself and the hope to express my feelings and introduce myself to people." The vinyl only EP will feature remixes from Sadeghi and Villalobos.
It's not her first release, but it's one that comes at a particularly poignant moment in Govor's career and a means of helping her connect with more people who appreciate her cerebral approach to dance music. "It's my hope and it's my door to show the world," she says, "to show all of the people, 'Here is Julia and here is my open possibility.'" It's also a message to listeners, she adds, "that everyone has their own possibility to do whatever you want."
Julia Govor plays Time Warp U.S. on November 21. For ticket information, click here.
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