Russian-born Israeli musician Yuli Fershtat aka Perfect Stranger has come a long way in the last 20 years, something recently celebrated by the release of the epic triple-CD 11 on leading label Iboga Records. Now based in California, Yuli flies all over the world to play his unique blend of genre-defying psychedelic progressive tribal tech trance (and all things in between…), as well as producing his signature tunes and running Digital Structures, where he’s just released his latest At The Crossroads Vol. 6 comp.
The brainchild of multi-talented London-based Turkish musician Bahar Canca, Psy-Boutique Festival is a magical intimate gathering on the coast of Turkey. Restricted to just a couple of hundred guests, this year’s edition is on a stunning private beach at The Bay Beach Club within a rare 50,000m2 sweet gum tree forest. The most productive converter of oxygen you’ll find in nature, it’s the only life form that’s stayed the same for over 65 million years! Suffice to say, it’s a very special place and the incredible line-up hand-picked by Bahar is only going to make the festival the most special yet.
With Yuli headlining Psy-Boutique 2018 and playing an exclusive 2.5 hour set on the Sunday night, we tracked him down to his cupboard in Cali where he now produces his tunes…
Hey Yuli, thanks for taking some time out to answer a few questions ahead of your set at Psy-Boutique Festival at the end of May. I first met you backstage at the Glade 2008 and have loved your music and followed your career ever since.
My pleasure, Glade 2008 was such an amazing experience for me, I will never forget.
Over the last 10 years you’ve taken your music to incredible new levels, playing at the coolest festivals and parties all over the world, consistently releasing amazing tunes and flying the flag for progressive psychedelic techno. This all culminated recently in 11, your awesome triple CD compilation featuring so many highlights and remixes from a veritable who’s who of dance music. How did you come up with the concept of 11 and did it take you long to put it together?
I think it was a mutual culmination of Iboga and myself, while not so gently pushed to it by Shahar Bar Itzhak the Israeli Trance Encyclopaedia… Looking back it wasn’t really complicated.
Firstly, that wasn’t the first 3CD album I made, the previous in 2012 was made of 3CDs as well, so we didn’t have the scary part and it was technically very clear as we’d done it already. Regarding remixes – I’ve always had a lot of remix propositions and normally psy trance artists always had good fun remixing my tunes, so eventually we had more than 2CDs could carry.
Regarding my own re-works – I was doing it anyway, so by the time we came to an agreement and how this should be done, I already had more than I needed in terms of my own reworks. It took us around a year to get everything wrapped, mainly because of Merv that wouldn’t submit the bloody remix on time LOL!
You say in your sleeve notes for ‘Monolith [Revisited]’ that ‘Yuli of today is different than Yuli of 5-10 years ago’. How do you feel you and your sound have changed and evolved over the last decade?
I think things didn’t change as much as they became rare… It’s still perfectly strange music, it’s just instead of 15–20 new original tracks a year there is 1 or 2…
Going back much further, can you remember when you first fell in love with dance music? Did you come from a musical background, or was it something you had to learn when you decided to produce?
I come from a family of pianists from my mom’s side, so I had to learn the piano very early in my youth. It wasn’t a question of whether I want to. Today, I am sorry I didn’t take what my mom gave me freely; this knowledge is priceless and saying no to it at a certain stage was a mistake.
However, I did learn a thing or two, that I found useful later on when making trance music. I fell in love with dance music in Goa in early 1993 for the all obvious reasons.
What were your musical influences growing up? And now?
Probably the first music that actually blew me away was on vinyl brought by my mom from Hungary back in 1976 and that was ‘Oxygene’ by Jean Michel Jarre. I didn’t know back then that what I heard was electronic, but it sounded like nothing else and I couldn’t stop listening to it. It’s still one of my all-time favourites and I love to listen to it on planes.
I was also a big addict and consumer of progressive rock or psychedelic rock, and most of these bands still sound fantastic today. Most of my music is totally inspired by psychedelic rock of the early ’70s and late ’60s.
While 11 celebrates the last 11 years of your musical journey, you actually started DJing 20 years ago in 1998. Did you always want to be a DJ when you started out, or was it something you fell into over time? Were you self-taught, or did you take lessons?
I never wanted to DJ. I was ‘raped’ into performing (don’t cry for me but that’s the truth). Funnily it came supernatural to me and the rape went really well, in this case at least I understood that it’s probably my calling and only had to live with the fact that it’s me on the stage and lots of people dancing.
You once described DJing in a trancentral.tv interview as “the best job in the world”; do you reckon that’s still the case? If you weren’t a DJ and producer, what do you think you’d be doing?
If not the best job in the world it’s probably one of the best ones – look people pay me and pay my flights to get to places all over this planet to play music. This has to be awesome. The older I get the more awesome it gets, apart from the flights and the time I have to spend away from home. But it’s still so incredibly amazing this whole thing that bitching about the flights feels inappropriate…
Music aside, I am a certified acupuncturist/Chinese herbalist. I didn’t do that stuff apart from occasionally Shiatsu massage for about 15 years. I guess I would do that. If not that then an Uber driver maybe?
You and your family relocated to California a few years ago. Is life in Cali as glamorous as in the movies? Do you go jogging on the beach? What does a typical day on planet Perfect Stranger involve?
It’s only me that relocated. I bumped into my future wife while gigging in La Jolla/San Diego and later officially in Tulum at the Mayan end calendar Time and Space event. We created the family later on…
We live in the relatively colder part of Cali, the Bay Area weather is ridiculous – there is an ocean and it looks amazing, but unless you are one of those crazies that goes kite surfing it’s way too cold in the water all days of the year. We do walks in the Marine and hikes in many amazing wild nature places there are to offer here (one of them hardly 300 meters walking from the doorstep) so yeah, I figured that the Bible got it all completely wrong and the Garden of Eden is not in Mesopotamia but in North California…
How does the scene in the States compare with that of your native Israel? Do you find you’re having to travel more for gigs or are there enough local parties to keep you inspired?
My move to California was the worst financial decision I could make back in 2013… I indeed do find that I have to travel like three times more in order to sustain my artist life – there is a reason behind the fact that even American-raised trance artists eventually find themselves living elsewhere and not in the USA – the scene here is very underground, and mostly can’t afford the headliners as they used to perform everywhere else. There are commercial parties here too, that pay well but they are very rare, in comparison to Israel, for example.
The reason for that, I figure, are in the strict drinking laws in most of the USA, so that every party ends around 3AM. When most of your club events go from 9pm to 3am, you can’t sustain a big and growing scene ‘cause people get hooked on trance the morning after, that mostly can’t happen in the US. So for the good and the bad the scene here will be awesome and little.
Moving to Cali must have meant setting up a new music studio from scratch. What sort of set up did you go for? Do you have a favourite piece of kit at the moment (or is it a secret…)?
I went from a fully equipped awesome studio that I built myself and followed me for a decade (it was built in a shipping container, so it went after me wherever I moved) to making music with headphones in a cupboard more or less. The things you do for love!
Your unique mix of techno and progressive psy trance has been called “the ultimate brain candy”. Did you always set out to create a new genre, or was it the side-effect of mixing up so many of your favourite sounds?
I never planned anything special, but just did what I felt was touching me personally back then and ever, before or after. Actually, I can’t do it any other way – so yeah it was a side effect and I guess a bit of luck in timing. When I released Free Cloud and the music that followed and maybe a few tracks before that album, that incorporated techno inspired elements combined with trance/progressive compositions, it was very fresh and inspiring to many trance listeners. I still travel so much because of these tunes – amazing story.
As well as performing and producing music, you also run Digital Structures, a Swedish label you took over and now release some of the most cutting edge psychedelic techno around on. How did this come about and what’s new in the world of Digital Structures at the moment?
Around nine years ago, I came up with the idea or a wish to share my musical vision through a label that I own, and Peter (the owner of DS) wasn’t doing much with the label, so I asked him if I could buy the name… I thought it would be great to continue this name, even in a different direction than the days of its early fame, but still keep it booming new music out as it should.
We had a fantastic 2017, with a lot of new partnerships and a pile of awesome releases, and I think we will continue at the same pace at 2018. I just released a compilation here.
Having travelled the world playing your music at the most awesome festivals, released so many epic tunes and practically invented a new genre, there must be so many highlights of the last 20 years. What would you say are the ones that stand out the most?
It’s really hard to comment and not leave something else forgotten. I am so lucky just to participate in all of these events – let’s just go for the all the three Total Solar Eclipse festivals I had the honour to participate in, out of which I will choose my first one, in Australia 2012. Both sets that I played there were so amazing and so many happy funny out of this world moments happened there.
And is there anything you still really want to do that you haven’t done?
I really want to sleep a full eight hours at night time, for say one year long. It won’t happen I guess.
If a movie was made of your life, who would you ask to play the leading role?
Forrest Gump without a doubt. But he is not an actor huh? Tom Hanks then.
In a clip for 11 you say that making music is a bit like solving Rubik’s cubes on a daily basis. Is this your general approach to the creative process?
I know that what goes on tour is supposed to stay on tour, but you must have seen some pretty funny shit during your life on the road. What’s the craziest story you can share?
It has to stay on tour…
Festival time is almost upon us in the Northern Hemisphere and you’ve got some juicy events lined up over the next few months, including Psy-Boutique Festival in Turkey at the end of May. Do you approach more intimate events like Psy-Boutique in a different way to the big festivals like Boom and Ozora?
I treat small parties the same as I treat big parties. The main difference is during the act you can actually communicate with single persons on the dance floor, and it makes it very special. Not that in big parties you can’t do that, but it’s way harder to focus attention, and normally because of the distance between the stage and the crowd in most of the situations, it’s harder to personally feel.
Are you going to be able to stick around and relax at the beautiful resort on the beach – or will you need to get home to your family?
Originally, I was supposed to come with my family… But we can’t do it right now unfortunately… So I won’t be spending much time at the resort event I wanted to because I was kidnapped to play a gig in Israel on the same weekend… DJ life is not that comfortable sometimes, but as I said bitching about this is a crime.
What are the three things you never go to a festival without?
Two USB sticks, one passport and a bunch of friends to party with.
Finally, if you could say just one thing to 20-years ago Yuli, what advice would you give him?
It’s a trap.
Big thanks for your time Yuli! I’m very much looking forward to seeing you again at Psy-Boutique!
Thank you so much Tara, I loved answering these questions and can’t wait to have some fun in the sun a little more than a month to go!
Don’t miss Perfect Stranger headlining Psy-Boutique Festival alongside an all-star line-up that includes DJ Lucas, MarcusHenriksson aka Minilogue, Ben Coda, Nanoplex, K.I.M. aka Filterheads, Aliji, JOURNEY aka Jay OM, Giovanni Calemma, Nikki S, Dario Jd, Bahar Canca, Gino Sonica, DJ Ipcress, Neill Moore/NEO, Ramizes, DJ Ebru, LiquidRish, Foose, FlibbertiGibbet and many more!
Advance tickets were still available at the time of writing from the Psy-Boutique website. You can either bring your own tent or opt for the high tent option where everything is set up for you and you just need to rock up and party on the beach!