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The artists of the Red Bull SonarDôme stage

We met Yakamoto Kotzuga, Dj Lag and N.A.A.F.I. before their live performances

The artists of the Red Bull SonarDôme stage We met Yakamoto Kotzuga, Dj Lag and N.A.A.F.I. before their live performances

One of the words we used to define the latest edition of Sónar Festival was multicultural, and the three artists we're about to describe are the living proof of this. Three different artists with three different backgrounds but all united by one platform where they first started sharing their music: the Internet. From Italy to Mexico and South Africa posting their creations online allowed them to build a career and to make their music known even abroad, an incredible journey that has now taken them on the Sónar Redbull Dôme stage. We're talking about Yakamoto Kotzuga, Dj Lag and N.A.A.F.I. and here's what they told us in Barcelona. 

If you ever google Yakamoto Kotzuga this is the first result you’ll find: guitar, controller and endless outer space. The Italian musician, composer, and producer Giacomo Mazzucato answered the question about his favourite artists by quoting Shlomo and Clams Casino: Kotzuga's songs make you want to stop for a moment and close your eyes, watching the film we call life stroll in front of us. It is no coincidence that this Italian artist also makes soundtracks, such as for one of the most successful series on Netflix, Baby, because whilst composing he already imagines the music, he’s making immersed in people's daily lives, just like a movie.


#1 The first question is probably the most obvious: where does the pseudonym Yakamoto Kotzuga come from?

Very simply it is an anagram of my name and surname because my initial idea was to sample oriental sounds, then I changed my mind, but I still kept the name as it was because it creates curiosity. I thought it was a good idea, rather superficially, but above all, I chose it to stay anonymous. Every now and then I find myself again playing in a mood that refers to Asia, especially when it comes to video aesthetics.

#2 Do you dedicate yourself to other things besides music?

I'm finishing the music conservatory in Venice, where I’m studying electronic music, even if my approach is not absolutely academic.

#3 How did you get into Sonar?

I was invited to play on the Redbull stage because last year I was selected for the Redbull Music Academy, which was the very last edition ever. I had to answer 50 questions with drawings, rankings, and a psychological test. I still can't believe I made it to Sonar.

#4 Do you see yourself making music in Italy?

The cinema industry in Italy is still ok, I devote myself a lot to the making of soundtracks, even if in reality the biggest movie companies are abroad. In terms of rap and trap, Italy is kinda aligned with other countries, I worked with Ghemon and Mecna and I happened to work with new names, even I don't know if anything will ever be released. I think about making the music I like, I've always had a bit of hip hop and trap music influences. It could be cool to add them pointing towards other directions, a little further away from what you can see me doing now. I have also worked a lot in advertising, I will always try to work as a producer, even though I don't feel like one yet, at the moment I’m focusing more on the artistic side of Yakamoto Kotzuga's project. 

#5 In order to writing music do you have to feel like Kurt Cobain?

Yes, actually it is from the sad moments that I take the biggest inspiration because I let myself go and write the best tunes when I’m depressed. I like Shlomo and Clams Casino, who have composed a lot of stuff for other musicians but always maintaining their style, which remains recognizable when you first listening to them. I’m really fond of Clams Casino as he uses unique vocal samples, I believe it's important to find your own language and make it your own distinctive trait. 

#6 How do you see yourself in 50 years?

I really enjoy working as a producer and I would like to continue in this direction, as well as with soundtracks. I've never done DJ sets, I never learn to mix tracks, but who knows if I’ll find myself DJing at some point.

music, which is a South African techno music genre, comes from the poorest areas of Durban, made with cracked sounds of Fruity Loops. The name itself means something like “bang” or “ricochet” – is an evolution of homegrown South African deep house and the local hip-hop/house fusion known as kwaito. 
Dj Lag is the biggest and most famous representant of Gqom and its sound is growing so fast, that Beyoncé herself wanted Dj Lag’s beats for her track featuring on Lion King: The Gift album. Beyoncé has said that for her it was important that the music was no only performed by the most interesting and talented artists but also produced by the best African producers – this soundtrack is a love-letter to Africa”. 

#1 For you it’s a unique experience travelling all the world and taking Gqom abroad, your example is so inspiring, there a lot of opportunities coming from Africa right now.

Faka also featured some Gqom music in their set on Thursday here at Sónar, their DJ is a friend of mine. Durban is taking over the World, Babes Wodumo’s song featured in the Black Panther movie soundtrack, I’ve just produced Beyonce’s track My Power. Everything is changing so fast. I think the first people to notice my music were in London, so when I first started doing productions with Craig and Nan Kolè (GQOM! OH label), then I travelled to China, Japan, South Korea and people knew my songs there, I was just so happy.

#2 It’s finally happening, just like Drake you started from the bottom, you deserve it! What’s next for you? 

I’m planning to release an album next year, my dream was to get Beyoncé on a track and it has just happened. She came to SA last December, and during her gig she played one of my tracks. Then the next day one guy of her team came to Durban and asked for my number, he wanted to meet me, and then told me that Beyoncé was working on a project, but didn’t tell me which one, and then I sent the beats over and yeah, the track has been released today!

#3 The internet can be a crazy place, it allows so many underground emerging artists to get known and it must have helped to you to reach out to the rest of the world straight from South Africa, right?

At the time I didn’t know the right platforms where to push my music, I only posted links on Facebook and allowed people to download tracks for free, now it’s my job and I didn’t think this could happen

#4 Are you helping young emerging to release tracks now that you’re an established artist yourself?

In Durban they steal tracks, I’m trying to save other guys from people who steal their music claiming as if it was made by them, as just did to my tracks, I don’t want this to happen ever again. I got lucky I’m so well known outside South Africa, and no one dares to steal my tracks anymore. 

#5 Now you’re a big name in your country, you’re like Beyoncé in South Africa! You deserve it!

Thank you, but I’ll just stay humble, I worked so hard to get here and this is just the beginning.

Mexico City’s N.A.A.F.I (No Ambition And Fuck-all Interest) is a club night, record label and squad of individual artists that hold wild parties with slick sets across Latin America and beyond. Their scene is a symbol of the new freedom spreading through underground clubs across the world thanks to Internet advent. Mexico has given to them the ideal space to develop a new party scenery. As for the future, N.A.A.FI (which they say actually stands for Navy Army Airforce Institutes) say that they “see it becoming more professional and diversifying its formats. Maybe film, research, editorial. It’s also a project that is growing with our age and needs."

#1 You come from Mexico, where they throw parties in abandoned warehouses in the middle of nowhere far from residential areas, which I find very fascinating – how did you manage to get know abroad worldwide? 

The DYI scene was very different at the time when we started the label, we had to invest a lot of time and resources hiring clubs and running our own nights. So basically now the scene is much more full of events as the clubs, we saw this as an opportunity, the clubs don’t rely on their own identity they book people who organize the parties who then book the people who are meant to play at the party, and we had the blueprint idea of this. How did we get to the international scene? I think we had as a mindset to make it a label, since the beginning we got in touch with people abroad, acted as if we were already there being a proper running working label, we replied to any message on SoundCloud and the first promoters that booked us, now are grown up and work in the music industries like curators, music agents, so many know us thanks to the time we invested in the connections we made.

#2 You lasted for so long - how?

The most complicated thing, in South America it’s like a telenovela, in any job, very hard to keep friendship away from the business. At the core of N.A.A.F.I. we are 5-6 people, we worked the label as a brand, each one of us have a different role, one takes care of the production, another one of the djing, the showcases, the collaborations with fashion and art galleries.

#3 How many gigs have you played abroad?

I played in New Delhi, Hong Kong, I’ve just come back from Asia. We as NAAFI we have a golden following in Asia, they love us and we go back and forward very often. After we got back to Mexico, we started getting a consistent recognition also from Mexican brands and we got more and more involved in advertisement and commercial projects. It was difficult, don’t get me wrong, but in the end, everything settles in the best way possible.

#4 How do you make a living on music?

Making the collaborations is crucial, the club kids become models, photographers, the network of the people that started like fans, now do us favours cuz they are grateful for the good time they enjoyed in the clubs at our parties. We never set goals for our project at the beginning, we want to make a living out of it, but we gave time to time to grow without rushing it. It was never on top of the list-making money, we were just making weird music and more and more weirdos joined our movement and we grew strong.

#5 You’ve grown like a tree, it looks like in N.A.A.F.I it all fits very well together. 

We take care of our fanbase depending on the country where we are. Now that the crowds are getting bigger, the Instagram post for Mexico need to be done at 3 AM whilst we are in Europe. And yeah and it’s contagious, the definition of N.A.A.F.I. is that something even better comes after. We played in Milan at Weriddim and at Tempio del Futuro Perduto, with Paul Marmota in Turin at this kid’s event who discovered us on SoundCloud, Rapala700 aka Giad, and the consistency pushes alternative forms of art on the Internet and makes real-life connections. That how it’s not difficult to know someone that knows someone knows someone else in any city in the world we travel to. We always find people related to us and it just draws more and more organic attention to our project.