WORDS

Exploring the many sounds and styles of Urbanstep

This one’s all about U.

Not you. But U…

U for Urbanstep, a Latvian artist who’s been hammering away at his game for 10 years, flexing around the dubstep / trap / EDM axis, picking up a whole load of national recognition in the process: Forbes’ Baltic 30 Under 30, a Latvian Grammy nomination and even production work on his country’s Eurovision submission. In the last five years he’s also become a successful promoter behind the country’s well-attended multi genre Rave Reborn / Rebellion events.

Urbanstep (real name Juris Graubergers, but he prefers Yuri) has eyes on a much wider prize, however. His focus set on the universal / international recognition, via his label and events he’s continually collaborated with international artists ranging from the likes of MYKOOL to Micah Martin on his label Urban Stars Records, bridging the worlds of his own burgeoning scene in Latvia with the rest of the raving world.

More worlds are being bridged by Yuri seemingly by the day. Following his ambitious Stages album last year, he’s now revealed two new aliases: Deep U for the deeper music lovers and Real U on a hip-hop tip where he reveals yet another skill; spitting bars. All part of his own unique universe (or Urbanverse as he describes it) we thought we’d call him up and find out more. U know the score…

What’s the scene like in Latvia? Take us there…

The scene here is good. We have quite a few DJs here. Not as many big producers though. Me and my team have been making events here for the last five years. Not the biggest. Maybe 4-500, sometimes 700. Most are indoor. In general the culture here isn’t as a developed but we’re working on that. I’m trying to make bridges with the rest of the world and bring as many DJs and producers over. We have a really developed neighbour: Estonia. They have a thriving scene there, D&B specifically.

Yeah there’s loads of great acts that have come from Estonia. Let’s get your journey; your first release was Silence Of The Lambs. Take us back to 2012.

That one is so old! I was very inspired by UK dubstep in a major way. Katy B – Katy On A Mission was the first tune. I loved that record, I heard it on radio and checked it on YouTube and kept seeing this word dubstep. I said, ‘What is this dubstep?’ So I searched for it and UKF came up abd I found so much amazing music.

Go on. How old were you?

Well I’m 28 now so I was like 16 or 17. I was D&B fan prior to that. Pendulum days, Hold Your Colour, all that stuff. I was a big fan of them and then dubstep came out of nowhere and it blew up didn’t it. Good times.

It had such an influence on you that you launched your label Urban Stars…

Yeah. Originally it was a platform for myself to release music. I tried hitting up labels but no one was interested in my music, so I released it myself. I started to send out my stuff to channels and build up a bit of community and a solid catalogue. 10 years later… Still going I guess!

Going strong! Was there a point where you could feel it coming together or levelling up?

Yes. When I started to treat it as less of a label and more of community and a platform for other artists to build their own names. I’ve worked with so many artists from every corner of the world. Australia, Canada, America, Austria, UK etc. Some of them were starting out at the time – like Micah Martin who is working with guys like Zomboy now. He worked with me on his earliest releases. Also Extra Terra. We worked together in 2014 and he’s on Monstercat now. Tryple made a remix for me and he’s been on Never Say Die and Disciple. So proud of them.

You worked with MYKOOL early doors, too…

Yeah he’s a good friend of mine. He was with me almost from the beginning, like 2015 or something. I’ve had him over here to perform in 2018. Very talented guy.

What was the first international collaboration you did?

It’s interesting. I always aimed at the world and never wanted to just be a local artist. My first album Welcome To Wonderland scored very high in Beatport charts of all genres and that album has artists from Sweden, UK, US. I was all over the internet. Plug.DJ was big for me – Monstercat & Tasty made their room, I was hanging round there making connections. I knew Muzz from early days, Krewella from early days, Zomboy from early days. Very old school now.

Plug.DJ RIP! I read in an interview with you that you had been fighting for survival and things were very bleak at points…

If you only knew! I still struggle now. I deal with intense pain that haunts me each day. It’s still super hard. But I somehow got a hang of it. Taking meds helps – it doesn’t help the situation but it helps me operate at least.

Sounds painful. Is it chronic pain syndrome?

No, it’s since childhood. I’ve had issues with my backspine since I got in a car accident wen I was around 5-6 years old and even got stuck in a wheelchair for three months and it messed up my body growing. It created lots of problems after that. And sitting next to PC for 5-10 hours, never really exercising. It leaves a mark. The thing is, I can get so into things. When I like something I’m completely into it. I never cared what happened around me – but it’s understandable, my reality wasn’t particular nice or all flowers.

Escapism!

Exactly. And that was the only option. The people around me didn’t inspire me. It was hard to be around my family because they had completely different mindset. We’re an ex USSR country, a very different mentality , we were thrown into modern capitalism. They didn’t understand how to live in this world which changed overnight. I don’t judge them. I’ve spent a long time studying psychology and sociology and history to dig deeper into why people are the way they are. I’m a human being, I get angry at things, but first of all it’s all about understanding. That helps. Helps a lot.

Yeah I’d imagine. Your generation sets the benchmark. You’re an artist. You’re showing how to have a creative lifestyle.

Oh the resistance I had to face when I started! The first year I had to survive on one euro a day. I was starving, and yet I was obsessed with making it in music. I’m good at that –  getting obsessed and doing something a lot. It’s good to chase dreams but if you don’t achieve them it can end up with bad things. Like a lot of people who don’t live their dream end up becoming drug addicts or alcoholics. You end up somewhere or nowhere, not in the middle.

You’ve ended up somewhere… A Latvian Grammy nomination!

Well it’s interesting. I’ve never worked on a national scale but these things came along. I did a lot of work in the community throughout time. That nomination, though, that was for an album I made in 2020, which was a tough year. It was very hard and it resulted in the album. It scored in a lot of charts and streams, so I submitted it to Latvian Grammy board (Zelta Mikrofons). I had hoped it might win. I felt the message was strong. I wanted to reflect the situation we were all going through and my own situation and bring together all the genres that inspired me. It’s called Stages  for a few different reasons. It reflects different music stages but also stages of the development of humanity, of a person, of myself as an artist. I was combining everything I knew into one big concept.

How do you follow something like that up?

Technically I’m working on STAGES 2, but right now my focus has shifted towards making a lot of drum & bass, have huge amount of tracks on the way. I also plan big releases as Deep U (deeper electronic music) & Real U (rapper).

Have you always rapped?

Technically I’ve always loved rap even before electronic music. I was around the culture, I was a judge in rap battle league PANDA in Riga. In 2020 we were all on a lockdown, so freestyling during small underground parties became a habit, at some point that led to REAL U. The first track came out and is doing pretty good. I also have quite a few solid producers doing remixes.

And you’re promoting events, let’s wrap up with a little about them…

I started making events at the end of 2017, I right off the bat did it in a tricky way – I found a promoter doing solid raves in Riga, we linked up and started a new series. At first I thought that by running my own events I could be the headliner and I could practice performing as well as feed my own ego, but over time I’ve learnt to appreciate the community and it became way more about building culture, as well as family.

Nice!

I have to be honest. Things changed and I love the culture and I feel I’ve developed a lot more and I can help others. Because when you help people you help yourself.

And you bring people together

Yeah totally and bring other styles together. Originally it was about electronic music, but then I started inviting people from rock & rap as well and just mash us all together.

Anything big coming up over the summer?

Well we’ve just done the first D&B boat party in Latvia, 2nd one is actually coming on 30th July, but the biggest thing right now: I’m doing my own festival. Its four stages – a drum & bass stage, a dubstep / trap stage, a house/techno/garage stage, and of course a hip-hop stage. It will happen on 12th August, just a few days after my birthday. There’ll be a lot of local artists and a few others coming from abroad.

A lot going on!

Oh yeah a lot of stuff. There’s so much more music to come, more events to come and more options to showcase what I can do. This is what I love to do – put on good events, help people, write music. This year I’m planning to release three albums as (or at least EPs) – Urbanstep, Deep U, Real U. The idea is to tie them up into one big Urbanverse. It’s a brand that represents three main philosophy points: Freedom of expression – you don’t have to be tied to any genre or style. The way of the warrior – no matter what happens in your life, no matter the obstacles, you can win. If it feels like the world is breaking for you, there’s always a way out. And the way of the seeker – always looking for something, always searching, never stop exploring. The universe always has something to offer. That’s what I base my brand on. That’s how I live.

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