“Have you seen Emily In Paris, and how they portrayed a Ukrainian girl in it?” — In conversation with DJ Ana B
If you’re into electronic music, you might have heard of DJ Ana B because of her Hör set. Not only was the set amazing, but it also went viral because she burned a photo of Putin at the end of it. I caught up with Ana last month when she was in Berlin. We had a long conversation about the Vogue shoot everyone was talking about at the time, reclaiming her Ukrainian identity and why music has always been political.
Nastia: I’m a huge advocate for being vocal and using any available channel to speak your truth and stand up for what’s right. I feel people these days are afraid of being vocal because of “cancel culture.” Everyone is scared to be judged, lose their followers or gigs, or simply even stand out with an unpopular idea – those ignorant social politics prevent people from speaking out.
KALTBLUT: It’s incredible how quickly the sides have shifted. What this war has shown is that some people on the left have come out to support Russia, which I didn’t think was going to happen.
Nastia: It makes no sense. You cannot be left wing and not see the imperialistic attitude that Russia has had for hundreds of years, terrorizing other nations. This same kind of attitude was acknowledged and addressed everywhere in the West. But the world has never addressed it with Russia, which is shocking.
KALTBLUT:From a Western point of view, I think we’ve all closed our eyes.
Nastia: It is shocking to me that most Westerners ignore the terror and genocide of millions of people Russia has caused by colonising their neighbouring countries right in front of our eyes and continues doing so to this day. Russia is doing exactly what France, Portugal, or Spain did hundreds of years ago. That has been addressed and stopped, yet the world chooses not to apply this same approach to Russia. Why?
KALTBLUT:Everything at the moment seems very ideology and identity focused. I’d like to talk to you about Olena Zelensky’s Vogue photoshoot. There’s a massive debate at the moment whether the shoot is distasteful, or not.
Nastia: Behind this photo shoot is a brilliant Ukrainian team. I personally know some of the people that worked on this shoot. I feel proud looking at these photos. It gives me the joy to see that this shoot was executed in such a meaningful way. As a Ukrainian woman, I feel seen, and I feel heard. And that’s really what the shoot was about.
It is triggering to see people criticising something that brings joy to us Ukrainians. Especially right now. We never see a Ukrainian woman portrayed in such a beautiful and strong way on the cover of the western media or any media at all. Then, we see all these Western intellectuals completely switching the focus.
Those are the same people that didn’t express any kind of concern when the photos from Bucha came out. When we see Russian bloggers go to occupied territories, blogging and glamorising the horrific results of the full scale invasion of Ukraine – everyone seems to be okay with that. It makes no sense to me.
KALTBLUT:Can you bring yourself to look at those photos or videos anymore?
Nastia: We’d love to be able not to see these photos because they’re traumatising. They’re horrifying to us. But, it’s hard to close your eyes and ignore them when people live this nightmare in real life. Although, I watched the video this morning, and in hindsight, I wish I hadn’t seen it.
Nastia is talking about the video, which appeared on pro-Russia Telegram channels on the day of our interview, 29th of July. The video appears to show a Russian soldier castrating a Ukrainian prisoner while other soldiers are abusing him. Read the Guardian’s report about the video here. Please note, the video is incredibly graphic and distressing.
It’s terrifying, specifically when your family, friends, and loved ones are there right now. This could happen to anyone, including me.
Seeing those pictures and videos is the most horrifying thing I’ve ever experienced. That’s all I can say. But you can’t turn your head around and ignore what’s happening. There’s a sense of guilt. And this feeling is even worse.
KALTBLUT:Guilt because you’re not in Ukraine?
Nastia: Yes. Every morning, you wake up, have your coffee, and start feeling guilty that some people might not even be able to drink water this morning. You try to stay social and go to dinner with your friends. But there’s a constant feeling of guilt. Though, I also feel it’s a healthy feeling. It is called compassion, and it is important to me to feel this way until this nightmare is over, and my people are safe. It also reminds me that our brave men and women fight for us to have these normal moments. And I am deeply grateful every time I think about them. I hope that makes them stronger too.
Every morning, you wake up, have your coffee, and start feeling guilty that some people might not even be able to drink water this morning.
KALTBLUT: I’m curious, how have you been treated as an Eastern European in the US?
My actual name is Nastia. That’s what my parents and friends call me back home. Then I moved to New York, and for someone who, at the time, didn’t speak English well and felt insecure about engaging with people, it was easier to introduce myself as Ana. I didn’t have to explain anything. My DJ name is still Ana B. But now, with everything going on, I think to myself, no, my name is Nastia. If that’s too hard for people to remember, they’re going to have to learn it.
But now, with everything going on, I think to myself no, my name is Nastia. If that’s too hard for people to remember, they’re going to have to learn it.
It’s a sense of reclaiming your identity. I want to talk about your DJ career. You’ve posted a story where you said you’ve received a lot of criticism from people saying that music shouldn’t be political.
Nastia: Anyone who knows the basics of music history should know that music has always been political and will always be political. Specifically Techno. If you open any sort of Techno history book or even just the Wikipedia page, you’ll see it all started with being political. Look at what was happening in Detroit, Chicago, and even Berlin. Those are all facts. I think people just choose to ignore it, because it all comes down to having uncomfortable conversations with people in the industry.
People don’t want to burn bridges. I knew that by choosing to speak up, I would probably lose a few professional connections. You see how divided the music scene is right now. The more you speak out, the more you get people annoyed. And they obviously don’t want to book you or work with you. It’s easier to be quiet.
I believe silence is violence. When someone comes to my home and hurts my friends, my family, and terrorizes my people, or anyone really, I will be vocal. The Russians that came to Bucha, Irpin, Mariupol, and other Ukrainian cities are scary people. They are violent murderers, rapists, and looters. There is official evidence of thousands of war crimes committed by Russians in Ukraine already.
I get a lot of messages saying it’s not all Russians, and I know that; I’m not saying all Russians are like that. But there has to be some kind of collective responsibility for all the atrocities they’ve been doing in occupied territories. There’s clear collective guilt, response and responsibility, and Russians are not doing much about it. And that is inhumane.
I’ve heard the same thing from quite a lot of people already, it’s unbelievable. I want to thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us, Nastia, I really enjoyed our interview.