The Russian-born, Berlin-based artist made her biggest track in five minutes, and says she could finish 1,000 in six months. Aurora Mitchell talks to Anastasia Vtorova about her playfully irreverent take on dance music.
Vtorova currently lives in Berlin, following spells in London, Manchester and Nottingham, but she grew up somewhere entirely different: Russia. Living through the country's instability throughout the '90s made for a difficult upbringing. "It was really tough," she said. "One day you'd go to the shop and there's nothing there, there's no food, nothing." It took Vtorova a while to appreciate the country she was born in. "Every time I go back to Russia to visit, it's kind of tough for me because I remember times when there was hunger," she says. "Growing up, my mum was a single mother. Going to school, we didn't know what was going to happen tomorrow because it was so unstable."
As a teenager, Vtorova once told her mum that she was babysitting, but she was actually going out to her first concert: Slipknot. "Years later she was like, I knew. I was like 'oh my god you did?' She was like, 'I'm so shocked you lied to me.' I was like, 'it's Slipknot!'" The first track on Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat., the masked nu-metal outfit's debut album, stood out because of its weird noises and sounds, which connected with Vtorova at the time. "It's exciting to see how people are wearing masks and showing themselves as artists, it's performance. That's really something I've took on with Machine Woman, the performance part, the imagery I do is influenced by Slipknot. In a way, it's bringing in a character which might be coming from some kind of post-apocalyptic world where robots took over and there's this Machine Woman."
The arrival of Eurodance and acts such as Scooter also shaped Vtorova's taste when she was younger. "You're hearing one thing and suddenly you're exposed to so many more new things!"
A memory of that excitement lives on in her SoundCloud page, where one of the first things you come across is the Scooter quote: "It's nice to be important but it's more important to be nice" from his track "Move Your Ass." It's a quote that speaks to Vtorova when it comes to the music industry and how people within it interact. "If you're trying to be kind to people, it definitely comes back to you."
She thinks that lots of the attention she's received is because of her constantly sharing and loving other people's music. One producer that she's formed a particularly close bond with is the London-based artist Object Blue. After they met in the smoking area of Corsica Studios and interacted online, Vtorova began sharing Object Blue's work. They were soon exchanging each other's productions via email.
"Very naturally we became friends. Not just two producers talking about music, but two people talking about life, emotions, all that. I think it helps that she's a very honest, open person who sends a lot of dog memes and therapist jokes." They're set to write music together while Object Blue visits Vtorova in Berlin.
Working together with other people hasn't always been a natural fit for Vtorova. She started out in noise and experimental bands. While studying at Westminster and Goldsmiths University in London, she would answer ads on Gumtree for bass players. As she puts it: "There would be lots of dudes usually in a room and they wanted to have a female in a band because they were all obsessed with Sonic Youth or something." She wrote music for one band, and people would approach her afterwards to talk about the political nature of the work. "I'd go, 'Well actually this was about sex!'" Playing in bands made her realise there was something missing for her and she wanted to form her own project that took her love for noise and experimental sounds into a more electronic realm.
Vtorova started making music with a loop pedal, sampler and her own vocals, but it was when she started using her computer that her rapid rate of production really took off. After taking an evening class in Ableton at Goldsmiths University, she could finish a track in an hour. "I've seen it a lot in people who work on a track for six months," she says. "In six months I've got 1,000 tracks!" Vtorova says it took only took five minutes to create "Camile From OHM Makes Me Feel Loved," one of her most popular tracks.
With access to her phone and computer at most times, Vtorova rarely goes a day without making music. "I get sad and upset if I don't create music for a long time, a few days for me is a long time," she says. "With the tools that I have, they can be really easily accessible at any time, unless I go to the jungle… maybe I'll suffer then but I haven't been to a jungle yet. I work in a very sporadic, weird way. My studio could be on a bus home with lots of screaming kids but I have my headphones and a free drum machine download on my phone. That's me."
When Vtorova's made music, she'll send people her demos via WhatsApp. "It's a ridiculous way of sending stuff," she laughs. "They say, 'This is nice, but can you send this to our email?' I'm like, 'Yeah, yeah, maybe but it's already been signed, you're too late.'" She organises her music into folders, with names such as "bro house," "tech house," "techno," "techno hard" and "super super hard techno." "I started making it more organised because the names of my tracks I'm like, what is this? I'm writing a song about Berlin kebab. I looked at the date, why was I writing this? Because I was with my friend and having a kebab and might have seen a very cute guy and I decided to write a very happy track about kebabs."
Due to her fear of flying, Vtorova gets nervous before she gigs, often not sleeping the night before. When she arrives at the hotel, she'll take to making music in the hotel room. "I'll finish the track at 8:50pm and be putting it in my set when soundcheck is at 9." She's not apprehensive about putting music that's so freshly made immediately into their set. "I guess that comes from playing in noise and experimental bands. If things don't work out, it's more fun seeing what's going to happen."
At one show, all 150 of her loops played at the same time. "You're like, 'How do I stop this very quickly?!' But it's not being afraid and come back and say, I have done this, I am enjoying doing this so let me come back. No one's perfect." This message extends to the connection she has to her own music, which she likens to her own family. "For me, it's like if I had children, we'd have different personalities but my music is the same so my tracks are like my children, they're not perfect but I love them." Her glitching palette of sounds manifests in their different personalities, whether that's 140 BPM techno, her jazz-inspired side or fizzing tech house punctuated with air horns.
Vtorova has had particular fun with that last genre in her track titles, such as "I Want To Fuck Tech House" and "I Tattooed Tech House On My Butt." "For the record, I haven't actually tattooed tech house on my ass," she giggles. "I think it's more about conversations and how people take themselves seriously, how people discuss tech house in a certain way. It's tongue-in-cheek but also a reflection of conversations I have in real life or on the internet about music."
Vtorova's discography so far, which includes records on Technicolour, Where To Now? and Peder Mannerfelt's self-titled label, represents just a fraction of the countless demos and tracks that live inside her various hard drives. "In the same night, I can make anything from 80 BPM to 142 BPM, that's my thing. There's always so many different directions and I'm constantly blowing in every different direction." As one of the more prolific producers currently working, she's revealed only the murky surface of her strange world so far. "I'm a machine woman," she says, "I'm multitasking!"
Prolific artist that she is, Machine Woman put together an EP just for this feature, which you can find here.