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Strength and Wisdom Through Adversity: An Interview With Skymad

CW: Substance abuse, violence against children and women

Earlier this year, I spent some time searching for smaller SoundCloud artists to discover for my daily commute and personal work. During this time, I stumbled upon a page with the alias Skymad. The page was filled with beats that covered a variety of subgenres and odd sounds, like ambient lo-fi beats to VHS-filtered hip-hop instrumentals. Skymad’s music involves the dreamy and fantastical. He makes sure to stamp his emblem to the various genres that he approaches, like lo-fi hip-hop, techno, and trance.

I wanted to reach out to Skymad to get to know the man behind the murk. Behind the haze and mist is a somber but hopeful backstory of a young man who dealt with a history of abuse and isolation, and turned it into a story of growth, wisdom, and hope.

Who are you and where did you come from?

Skymad: My name is Ivan, and I was born in Yekaterinburg, Russia, in 1997. I struggled a lot during my childhood. My father made a low salary working as a welder, and my mother developed a drinking habit and stole from her friend’s home. I remember every detail from the age of two to today. When my mother was five, her mother was shot and killed by her stepfather. Whenever my mother would drink, she would consistently beat me and scoffed at me for loving my father more than her.

At school, I was an outcast. I was a poorly-performing student and was always bullied by students from parallel classes. For my eighth birthday, my father bought me a school desk, which I would paint all over after a while. During that time in my life, I did not know how to classify the difference between a DJ console, equalizer, or a drum machine, but the drawings on that desk would say otherwise. Once I got older, I realized that’s where I found my purpose. By the time I was seven, I would listen to artists such as Alicia Keys, 666, Jungle, Prodigy, and a Russian singer named Total Group, who would sink my heart with her voice and melodies.

Later, I became increasingly more immersed in genres like drum and bass, acid techno, ambient, and trance. My mother would listen to these genres and would bring home cassette tapes of various ambient artists. One in particular I’d listen to was Kuniyuku Takahashi’s track called “Island,” which I still listen to to this day. In 2009, I moved to an urban settlement and went to the College of Economics in 2013, studying to become a lawyer. In 2017, I went into the army and returned in 2019. Now, I work full-time and spend less time on my creative work due to changes in my schedule.

How long were you working on music for and what inspired you to start?

Skymad: In 2009, I found a disc with the program “Hip-Hop Ejay 6.” I tried to work the samples on it and it seemed pretty cool to me around that time. Six months later, one of my friends bought me FL Studio. That’s when I started to study music closely. At that time, I had no idea that producers like J Dilla or DJ Premier used samples for their music, I’d just assume all the instruments were composed by them and an ensemble. How wrong I was. I was known as “Inbx” back then and officially made my first Lo-fi track by the end of 2009.

What is it about lo-fi or instrumental hip-hop music that you connect with? Why do you prefer this subgenre from the others in hip-hop?

Skymad: I always preferred to listen to an instrumental version of any track, if available. It’s not so much the words that matter to me, but how much soul the composer of the piece put in, what emotion he wants to convey to his listeners, and the emotion he’s trying to express for himself. By 2014, I finally heard the type of lo-fi hip-hop music that resembled the music I was making back in 2009. I still make music because of my love for the genre and I believe that every day, many people will listen to it and find some sort of love and joy to fill their home with.

Where do you see yourself in the future with your music?

Skymad: I don’t like planning, because I know that in the future I can change my mind and start doing something else and leave music silently. I think what is important is the present time. Ingenious creativity is simple and spontaneous. You may disagree with this, but this is just my perspective and something I have experienced.

What artists or genres are you listening to now?

Skymad: Now, I’m listening to different genres of music. Creativity should be drawn from different sources. My favorites as of now are 1991, Angel 1, Jay Alpha, r0rcon, Sixclosedeyes, Feelth, Repeat Pattern, Thelonious Bong, Dakim, DJ Assault, Blame, 990x, Goops, Chris Clark, Svlbrd, Pat Methany, Hirazawa Susumu. I listen to these artists over and over again. I’m always looking for different music and get inspired by it.

Ivan is around my age, and allowing him to tell his story made me reflect on personal struggles and inspirations of my own. Hope and inspiration can come from any land in any timeline, which Ivan proves with his music and knowledge.

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