The Russian duo are among the most striking acts on Nina Kraviz's Трип label. Mariana Berezovska hears their story.
That would have been the end of PTU, had two of its members, Alina Izolenta and Kamil Ea, not challenged themselves to grow out the bedroom mindset and get to the front of what they call "techno's stranger sector." Today they are an essential part of Nina Kraviz's Трип label, which will release their next album, Am I Who I Am, this month. An anxious trip through acid, jungle and eerie labyrinths of noise, the album could be a soundtrack to a remake of Tarkovsky's Stalker, one in which the stalker not only walks and crawls but runs and dances in the zone—a rave in the room that grants one's innermost desires.
Kamil begins our interview by stating that he is "just an ordinary person," one without any exceptional talents. For him, PTU reflects years of hard work and practice. Alina is quick to object. "If there's no fire burning from within," she says, "no matter how much you invest in your craft, nothing special will ever come out of it."
When you come from a place hundreds of kilometres away from big cities and cultural capitals, you are pushed to create your own fiction and make the most of it. A self-deprecating sense of humour can be helpful for an artist to stay sane and hopeful in the bleak surroundings of industrial suburbs. The name PTU stands for Professional Technical Schools, a common institution for the working class youth in Russia who can't afford or don't want to study at university. It's both a social stigma and an everyday reality for Kamil and Alina, who were always outsiders in their hometown, yet strongly connected to their circle of creatives and local intellectuals, and aware of how lucky they were to get a proper education and push themselves out of their comfort zone.
"A friend came up with the name 'PTU' when he was walking towards our place one night," Alina explains. "Being called PTU for us means that what you see is what you get."
After several of their group projects fell apart in the mid 2000s, Kamil and Alina took some time off to reflect. Was it possible to make a career in music? Did it make sense to put out more self-released albums and practice live sets in the local clubs? But most importantly, was it even possible to do anything other than music? It took them two years to accept the challenge and push forward.
"When I was not on stage I felt uncomfortable," Alina says. "The stage can be scary sometimes, but when I am onstage, I am at home."
They worked regular jobs to afford the instruments they needed, but for Alina it was hard to lead a "double life." She decided to devote herself solely to music production, because she realised it was the only thing that interested her and the only job she could do properly.
"Making and playing music was a daily routine. If you are constantly producing and learning your instruments every day, you achieve skills whether you want to or not. So if you are truly interested in making music and also have a certain level or curiosity, sooner or later you will not only sharpen your skills but also start to formulate ideas."