Although we first became acquainted with Leila Youssefi, aka lvlup kid, via her involvement with Space Milk, we've quickly come to find she's an elaborate muralist and painter whose unique perspective additionally informs her delectably selected mixes.
In roughly the last two and a half years, Leila has exhibited her own art, created a design for KCRW merch, painted a mural at Sofi Stadium for Superbowl LVI, not to mention numerous other large- and small-format paintings in the LA area and abroad. All of this just scratches the surface on who Leila is as an artist and as a person though, so be sure to take a look at her website here as well. That being said, it's a pleasure of course to get some of her thoughts here.
Although you currently reside in California, this is only a piece of your story. As you've put it, you were raised learning an Eastern culture, while being raised in a Western one. Can you tell us more about this experience?
My family is part of those that fled at the time of the Iran-Iraq war & the Islamic Revolution of ‘79. I’m the first generation (for who knows how long) to be fully Persian and fully American by birth. Because of this, I know Persian culture tangentially - through ancestral stories or physical remnants of a different Iran. I’ve at times had to “learn” my culture rather than embody it instinctively. The older I get, the more I know and can actively claim that part of myself. The territory still comes with the old one-two of never feeling enough for either side, but it also comes with the freedom of determining who I am at a deeper level. I’ve frequently heard a similar story from other hyphenated-identity kids—we're out here breaking the boxes we never checked in the first place.
You recently returned from an extended stay in Berlin, which coincided with other personal and global events that influenced your experience. What can you share about your journey abroad?
The day Jina Amini was murdered was one of my first days in Germany. When media outlets quickly began to forget, on the ground in Berlin the revolution was still in conversation. I’d never seen a place so candied with daily street art activism, and so passionately organizing protests or opportunities for learning. To say I was inspired is an understatement. I’ve since found Berlin to be a story of success against all odds. It has been destroyed, rebuilt, reconfigured, and revitalized more than it would like to admit. Quite literally, Berlin has converted multi-floored power plants to clubs, bunkers to art galleries, war to peace, disruption to unity, and toxicity to new growth. I initially set out with the intention of delving into the art scene, but what kept me there for 6 months was the city’s resilience and transformational resolve I began to know and deeply respect.
Although I'm certain many of your murals and paintings hold significant meanings, I'm curious if there are any that stand out from the rest for you personally?
During my time in Berlin, I created a mural in a bunker outside the city. The bunker was previously used as a Cold War nuclear depot by the Soviets, but now is an art & music space (naturally). Given the opportunity to create an art piece in one of those Berlin-specific revamped locations, it became blindingly obvious that my theme had to be transformation. The mural appears as a cross section of soil behind the wall of the bunker. Between hypercolored patches of dirt & stone are nuclear missiles, love letters, children’s drawings, jewelry, and army paraphernalia. Many elements and characters of the painting are sopping in a toxic, neon green, meant to emphasize the cleansing of spirit, and the physical/emotional turbulence of the bunker's past. The mural is above all an acknowledgement of where we have come from and where we are headed.
What are the connecting threads between music and painting for you?
Music and painting for me are part of the same thread; narrative. Whether it be audio recording my grandfather describing his childhood in Iran, or illustrating what happened last night—stories of the past and speculative future have always held my curiosity. While painting is the only form of artwork that can be experienced all at once, media like movies or music can be understood as time goes on. Just like a story; sound unfolds over time.
How did you meet and become involved with the Space Milk folks?
A few of the Space Milk friends used to be my neighbors in college. The house music bumping from across the way caught my excitement, and I soon found many of them to be my best mates. It happened naturally from there. We wanted an excuse to party together where no one could tell us to turn it down or shut it off. That’s how we started playing music in the mountains. A generator, speakers, & decks were all we needed. No one knew what it would turn into, but our community really enjoyed the events so we just kept it going. I think all of these smaller arts collectives will be retroactively seen as somewhat of a counterculture to society’s current (and persisting) emphasis on “fruitful” ventures. Even if it costs us money and time we don’t have, it still makes all the sense simply because we get to be with one another.
A mutual friend mentioned you have an interesting relationship with voice memos. I'm curious if you can share any of these recordings, and tell us more about your audio journals, so to speak.
At first I was just messing around with my friends. I would record myself saying individually targeted phrases, then slyly mix them in - living for the double take & big laugh that followed. That’s the main thing about the voice memos, adding a bit of cheekiness and humor. Besides the trolling, I like to keep audio momentos of where I’ve been. I enjoy hearing what the atmosphere on the dance floor was like after the fact. To mention a few; this mix for Peace Portal has samples recorded of church bells on my bike ride to the bunker, Roza T & D. Tiff closing Barbarella’s Discotheque, OK Williams & Peach early hours in a cafeteria turned sweaty dance hall, a recanting of a long night for a dear one across the pond, and my first time at Panorama Bar. I have 101 recordings on my phone at this moment.
Now that you're back in the states, what is on the horizon for you, artistically and otherwise.
I’ve got my first artist residency coming up this summer in Santa Barbara, where I’ll be collaborating with environmental scientists to make an art + science combined mural. We’re also hosting a Space Milk event in June at Ventura’s CTRL Disco. To be transparent, I haven’t put Berlin in my rear view, and I’m scheming ways to go back for shorter or longer stints. For now, I’m very happy to be here. Thank you Peace Portal for the platform to share music & stories—it’s so very necessary!
Big love & gratitude,
About the mix:
This mix is all sounds of my fall & winter in Northern Europe. Anything in there is music I’ve been lucky enough to hear on a dance floor or while thumbing through record bins, with a sprinkling of voice memos to help inform what those moments might have been like.
|| ***…..Biking along, listening to church bells filter to muffled bass as you approach a behemoth concrete building, booming inside of possibility. Soon, vibration becomes realized as melody, and you find yourself on an end of summer, windy dawn in Tisno. Day breaks as you arrive to a dance floor drenched in soft, morning light, shimmering. Three-story tall windows rattle to your right, and the blinds flicker shut. Darkness arrives without emphasis. You feel your feet firmly on the ground, on a klubnacht far away.....*** ||
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