Rising: PYTKO is pushing herself into bold new worlds
PYTKO recorded her debut album in a wardrobe.
“I removed all the clothes and made myself a tiny studio. I captured all the vocals – everything,” she recalls of the unconventional space in which she brought her delicately eerie 2022 debut album, The Way We Blush, to life. The London-based, Warsaw-born singer – real name Julia Pytko – and producer has since expanded her set-up in a new flat in Brixton, away from the “hectic” shared house she created that first project in.
The nine-track album features desert-hot psychedelic guitar from her Moroccan collaborator and friend Moumen Rais, whose electric meanderings wrap like tendrils around her vapour-thin vocals. On standout tracks like Golden Scales, Flowers and Save My Day, Pytko’s voice sounds bruised and intimate, buried under layers of foggy, ambient soundscapes. Meanwhile, the glitchy mysticism of Silent feels like a bridge between dimensions, showcasing her deft skill for experimental pop melodies.
But it’s everyday sounds that form the core of Pytko’s electronic mosaics. “I remember how fascinated I was with the idea that you can record sounds. You can record a plane or the sea, bring it to the studio, then completely manipulate it. There’s something very romantic about being able to process sound to your liking,” she says, remembering the first time she got her hands on a portable recorder.
Pytko now carries her TASCAM DR-100 with her everywhere she goes. Currently, her ears are tuned into “the sounds of malfunction, anything bleeping or glitching” and she has diligently amassed a “massive” library of raw recordings, regularly sifting through these to root out nuggets of gold. She smiles when she refers to these clips as her “creatures” or “living things”.
Pytko knew from the age of four that she wanted to pursue music. Her uncle owned a seaside bar in Jurata, on northern Poland’s Hel Peninsula, that would host live music during the summer. It’s where she fell in love with the choral drama of Polish sea shanties. “I was so hooked! I couldn’t believe that something so good existed,” she quips, revealing that she used to steal microphones from the bands in an attempt to join in. It wasn’t until 2016 that Pytko decided to follow her creative impulses in earnest, when she enrolled to study Music, Sound and Technology at City, University of London; a crucial move that armed her with the confidence to hone her artistic practice. She was determined to push herself as far as she could go. “My biggest fear is not being bold enough in music,” she admits. “I’m always trying to conquer that to get out of my comfort zone – to achieve this boldness, in my own sense.”
Released on Erol Alkan’s Phantasy label, The Way We Blush distils everything she learned during that baptism of fire – which included exploring new sonic aesthetics. The Silent EP, released as a precursor to the album, features an exquisite remix by Bullion, which transforms the song from a macabre, synth-led cut into a soaring, tender-hearted anthem. Pytko remembers bursting into tears when she first heard it. “I loved it. It was just so lightweight. The way my voice sounded – I could never imagine it could be such a beautiful thing,” she gushes.
Pytko has carried this warm-hearted spirit into her latest release, the two-tracker Knees/All Pretty Wishes of Mine. Here, she enters a new chapter, reflecting on her new “peaceful” love life and living situation through the shimmering vessel of synth-pop. Visually, the EP also brings her love of makeup into focus; the cover artwork, an abstract, expressionist delight, was painted using out-of-date blusher and eyeshadow.
This lighter, more playful direction has done nothing to dampen the rawness or complexity of Pytko’s soundwork. It’s an approach that she tells me she will carry within each release, in its own subtle way. “There is just something about getting uncomfortable that I really love,” she says with a puckish grin. “The day only gets better if you just get up and do something uncomfortable in the morning.”
Sounds like: Dream-pop meditations that soothe and unsettle in equal measure
Soundtrack for: Evenings spent alone
File next to: Carla dal Forno, Lucrecia Dalt
Our favourite tune: Save My Day
Find her: @juliapytko
Knees/All Pretty Wishes of Mine is out now via Phantasy