Kedr Livanskiy on freeing her true voice — and falling for Lord of the Rings

Moscow’s avant-pop sensation is back with a stripped-back, darkly effervescent fourth album, Liminal Sound.

1 October 2021

When Yana Kedrina — the Russian electronic musician and producer who performs as Kedr Livanskiy — answers questions, she is detailed and generous in her replies. So when she is brief and curt, you know there’s a reason for it.

“Absolutely not,” says Kedrina in reply to a question about her decision to place her voice front and centre on her new record Liminal Soul. After all, her 2019 album Your Need showcased her talent with club heavy beats and heady dance music. For her voice to be so prominent, naked even, on one track, “Boy”, singing in English for the first time – was it daunting? “Absolutely not,” she repeats.

Her response is an example of an artist certain of her ability and her vision, unburdened by expectation and unanchored from whatever sound or style she was defined by before.

The Moscow-based Kedrina is no stranger to releasing music and being met with a cold unaccepting response, finding herself an outsider. In 2016 and 2017, when she was finding her way in the scene, the Russian electronic music community wasn’t so welcoming. Prior to this she played punk rock music and fronted a band, before connecting with like-minded producer Flaty and pivoting to a synthetic sound unmoored from any particular sonic lineage.

“I think it’s normal, you can’t please everyone. Electronic music has become so much broader. Everyone has a place within it,” she says, looking back. “I grew up in the [electronic music] community, but then my life began to take shape separately from it, and over time that community itself disintegrated. I’m certainly nostalgic for those times. On the global scene, I am not part of any community. At the same time, I am right in the midst of it all: my friends are musicians, I collaborate with others, and give every opportunity to promote the music that is born here through my sets and mixes. I am not indifferent to what is happening [now].”

As even its name suggests, Liminal Soul once again finds Kedrina between the packs and out on her own. Taking inspiration from house and Burial-like breakbeats, it has more in common with gauzy dream pop than traditional dance music. It’s her voice that drives the songs more than the drum patterns — though dizzying programming is here in abundance too — often manipulated and multi-tracked. On “Boy”, she sings a melancholy lament as she leaves the nameless protagonist behind. Her voice is heavy and the words aren’t always discernible, recalling Elizabeth Fraser and the Cocteau Twins.

“I wanted to keep the singing on par with the message of the song, which is very direct, without any poetry, so it is delivered with simplicity and straightforwardness and doesn’t get lost behind metaphors,” she says. “This song has a specific addressee and conveys the things that I could not express personally, which were too difficult to explain in real life. It’s about understanding on a subconscious level that you and a person are not meant to be, although there is love. It seems absurd, but I think anyone who has lived life can understand this.”

Reflecting on her choice of singing in English, she says: “In Russian, the lyrics would sound very trite. But I didn’t want to complicate the language, because the Russian language can often be difficult and heavy, especially when you write words for music. I wanted lightness. Because even though the song is a sad one, it is important that it carries a sense of hope and acceptance. English is a different language — I find its simplicity striking. It felt it suited the song. More important, perhaps, than language is the intonation of the vocals, the presentation, the manner, and the music itself. Together, they can say even more than words.”

Mid-album highlight “Teardrop (Слеза)” plays like when IDM drifted within the birth of shoegaze — Boards of Canada meets A.R. Kane. Kedrina, fond of synesthetic comparisons (she compared Your Need to a rainbow) describes it all more abstractly: “Like twilight, sparkling, not with daylight, but with the light of the stars, the northern lights.”

The words “liminal soul” conjure the image of a spiritually transitional space that may seem a little too apt right now, amid the churning waters of 2021. But Kedrina sees the phrase as a much more layered summation of her intentions. “Musically, I feel there are a lot of familiar components in work that won’t let go of me, but at the same time there’s the pull of something new. Making the record, I recognised I was no longer in the past, but not yet completely reborn, so to speak.”

Reflecting on the current moment in time, she adds: “The old model of life is crumbling. A new one has not yet been formulated. We are perpetually in an in-between state, oscillating between the urban environment and nature, between the real world and the virtual — a soul in limbo.”

As she tells it, Kedrina’s soul has been rushing towards nature to bring her back to life. “It used to be the dancefloor. Today, it’s the contrary,” she says. “For creativity, I need total peace, silence, a view out of the window into an endless field. That’s when I can truly think, when the big ideas find me. In nature, somehow everything falls into place — what is important in life and what is not. It’s revelatory: it helps you see yourself, who you really are. There are a lot of things to do in the city but my channel is clogged if I’m surrounded only by concrete. I start to get really sick and feel really down. In the next couple of years, I am yearning to leave behind urban life.”

The awe Kedrina has for world-building is a window into her creative process, exemplifying her assuredness in giving herself over wholesale to the projects she’s invested in. She describes, in a frenzy, her recent viewing of a documentary of the making of the Lord of the Rings film series. “I would take for granted the world that was created from scratch for the film. I never thought about how it was done,” she says. “To think that thousands of artists of different backgrounds had worked on it: around 15 workshops were created for the production of orcs, of Rivendell buildings, of hobbits’ legs. Real wood craftsmen were hired to make unique household items. Each fictional race had its own historical costumes and ornaments — this kind of attention to detail really intrigues me. That is, creating worlds, whether that’s in painting, in cinema, or in literature. In general, working with such a passion is very inspiring. Today, I’m not so much interested in realism. I’m fascinated instead by the transformation, deconstruction, and the escapism of reality.”

It’s clear when she speaks that, despite finding herself out on a limb at times, what truly energises her is engaging with culture and her peers’ creative output. She speaks with vivid pride and excitement about her collaborators — working with Russian electronic group Synecdoche Montauk on Limimal Soul tracks, and on a potential EP with singer UZHOK, and with Flaty in a new project called KOSAYA GORA. “It’s not really dance music at all,” she explains. “It’s a return to total DIY aesthetics, a musical canvas at the intersection of folk, unhurried jam psychedelia, dungeon synth and experimental electronics, all made using live instruments — tambourines, guitar, wind instruments.” It’s obvious that she doesn’t want to fit into nice, neat categories. “I really do not want to drive myself into some kind of framework: I think it would extinguish all that I have to offer.”

Liminal Soul by Kedr Livanskiy is out now.

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