INTERVIEW | The Underground Youth
So stoked to have the incredible Olya Dyer share some thoughts on all things music photography with us! Not only is she the drummer of Berlin post-punk band The Underground Youth, but she is also a very talented graphic designer and video director. And the good news: they are going on tour in September and we can't recommend enough to see them live!
Hey Olya, can you give our readers a brief introduction about yourself and your band The Underground Youth?
My name is Olya Dyer. I am an artist coming from Russia via the North West of England and currently residing in Berlin. My husband, Craig Dyer, started The Underground Youth in 2008 as a lo-fi project, heavily inspired by the lyrical genius and musical simplicity of Bob Dylan. In 2012 it shaped into a live band in which I joined on drums. Throughout the years the sound and the members have changed and evolved and now Craig and I found ourselves in the great company of Max James on bass and Leonard Kaage on guitar. We’ve just released a new long play ‘The Falling’, which marks number ten in our discography.
So you are part of the band, you design gig posters and you shot videos for The Underground Youth. What came first and how do you balance these passions?
For me, music is art and art is music. In 2007 I went on my first overseas adventure to the United States of America and that’s when for the first time ever I went to a concert of a band that I actually loved. It was so raw, pure rock’n’roll, full of sex and leather jackets. I got obsessed with the atmosphere the band had around them, which translated so well into the visual side of their music. There was this precise simplicity, which is so iconic, undisputed, complete and just plain cool. Upon my return back home, I got involved in what I used to call ‘Omsk Rock’n’Roll Bohemia’, where everyone had a band. Like they always do, in every city in every country. So I just offered to work on the visual side of things. Meanwhile, I borrowed an old Soviet drum kit from my friend, which could only just fit in my bedroom. I was still living with my parents, in a thin-walled khrushchyovka. As you can imagine, I am in a lifelong debt of gratitude to my family and our neighbours for allowing me to bang my drums and cymbals day in, day out. I’ve not stopped ever since.
What does live music mean to you? Both from the perspective of playing yourself but also of someone going to gigs.
It’s a passion. When I’m playing drums on stage with the guys, I am completely in that moment. It’s eager, it brings me into some sort of transcendental state, in which there’s so much strength and I give myself into it. I expect the same when I go to see a concert, I need this raw feeling and emotion. It can be thunderous, or it can be tranquil, but its presence must be felt. For me a musician goes on stage to share something with the audience, whether it’s a piece of themselves, or a piece of a performance. And as long as it’s honest and not withheld back, I’m in!
What makes a good live photo for you?
Live photography is hard. There’s a split second when the band, the audience, the sound, the atmosphere, the light, are all spinning in frenzy. And a live photographer is the one to capture this moment. And when later someone sees this photograph, it should be able to spark one’s imagination, make them want to relive this fraction of time, at which they may have not even been present. And that’s what in my eyes makes a perfect live shot. People get lazy and share mediocre pictures for the sake of it. And it takes away so much from live photography as art, It’s like a good authentic restaurant gone fast food. The refined quality is crucial.
If COVID-19 permits, you will go on a EU tour starting in September. Do you have any plans on bringing a tour photographer with you, or invite photographers to selected gigs?
.We’ve had our photographer friends join us for a few days to capture life on tour and our live shows. We also have a few outstanding photographers who come to our gigs in their cities of residence, like Andrei Musat in Bucharest and Eric van Reem in Frankfurt, there are too many to name! The way we travel, it’s not always possible to bring a photographer with us for the duration, but we are always happy to share a photo-pass or a guest list with anyone who gets in touch.
Have you experienced differences in the countries you toured when it comes to live music photography?
Venues, promoters, audience, hospitality and a general atmosphere differs from country to country and city to city. But I would say that the live photography standards mostly remain the same. There’s this mutual respect going on between a band and a photographer, which is rarely crossed. I’ve been playing for years now and only once there was this photographer in Barcelona, who climbed on stage and literally stood next to me as we were performing. I found it quite disrespectful, because these things should be discussed in advance.
We saw that you often work with photographer Joe Dilworth. How did you meet, how would you describe your relationship and working with him?
Joe is brilliant! He’s a brilliant photographer and a brilliant person. I met Joe in 2016 after a show in Bassy Cowboy Club, we got talking about Wigan, Brexit and all other important stuff. Joe is a pure talent, he’s got a perfect eye for a perfect moment, which as I’ve mentioned above is so important. He’s a master of his art. Joe also has this warm friendly aura around him, which makes you feel natural and relaxed in front of his lens when it comes to a band photography. We did an interview together for 8MM Magazin, and Joe couldn’t put it more perfectly himself, ‘People I’m working with aren’t models. It may not be very comfortable for them, they might just freeze up in front of the camera’. I must admit, it can definitely happen to me, but not when working with Joe.
Your visuals are very consistent. Most of your images are black and white. Was that ever problematic when working with other / new photographers? Or is it in general harder to find photographers who can visualize your aesthetic?
I guess I find black and white photography more appealing and relevant to The Underground Youth, which speaks the language or our band aesthetics. Saying that, we are very open to experiments and working with different photographers. A month or so ago, we had a photoshoot in KEYI Studio for KEYI Magazine with Grzegorz and Izabella and it was fantastic. The guys are so creative and easy to work with, I’m really looking forward to seeing the final result!
Do you have any tips for other musicians on how to find their own visual style?
Be bold. Easy!
Can you tell us more about the creative process behind the video for “Letter From a Young Lover”?
The idea came from my admiration of Man Ray’s photography and Paul Éluard’s poetry. I wanted to recreate this mysterious, alluring, slightly intimidating atmosphere which you are so tempted to be a part of, but that also leaves you startled. This visual concept perfectly resonated with ‘Letter To A Young Lover’, with it being quite dramatic but not in a completely serious way. When I prepare to work on a video I have these vivid images in my mind, which I never put down on paper. I think that way it leaves more space for creativity.
Can you share some (maybe never seen before) outtakes or BTS with us and tell us why you picked this image?
This photograph was taken by Oliver Kaye in München on 24th March 2018. I chose it because, on one hand, it appears to me somewhat chaotic, and, on another hand, it reflects our strong bond within the band.
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Cover-Image: © Joe Dilworth