Get Familiar: SOPHIA BATOVRINA
Born into an artistic family in Moscow before choosing her own adventure, multi-disciplinary creative Sophia Batovrina has been a pivotal figure within Amsterdam’s contemporary creative scene since the early 2000s. Arguably considered to be one of the godmothers of Dutch streetwear, her journey has taken several turns to get to where she is now. Patta's very own Lee Stuart and Victor Crezée took some time to sit down and get familiar with her to find out where she has been and where she is going.
Photographer: Eugene Berkovski | 3D Art: Roxi Basa Diamand | Styling: Pilar Madimin & Masumi Lee | Hair: Dinu Commendant | Makeup: Samuel Does
Lee: We have known you since way back and one of the first things we know you from is being one of the Dutch Streetwear pioneers as well doing so many other things and now we get to know you as a musician. Can you take us through your career and all the different disciplines that you have taken on during your adventures?
Sophia: I would have to start very young to take it back because one of the life missions that I’m on now has to do with something that I started when I was very small. One thing that I do is that I work with people now in a very deep way. I help them regain some serenity again, some personal free choice, some self-love and I do this by teaching people meditation, helping them with their psychological issues. I started meditating when I was around 8 years old. I got into this when I was young and I started because the mom of my best friend taught us when we were 8. We would do affirmation tapes and I would go into really deep trances and I would speak to my grandmother. When I was around 16, I started to write poetry and this is also something that came back. I performed some spoken word at Palabras, Paradiso, Bitterzoet around the time I was 18. Even then I was thinking about music but I was too shy to sing at that time.
A year later, I went to New York and I was at a Dead Prez concert where I met Farida Sedoc and I knew her. I was like “Damn, I know you, you’re from Amsterdam”. So then we started hanging out, this was about a month before 9/11 and then we came back to Europe and we became best friends and we started chilling all the time and we had friends on the Buiten Brouwersstraat that were always there. Gee was living there and so was Farida, Kid Sublime, Dimmy, the whole crew, Edson & Nica were living next door as well. Then these riots came up on Mercatorplein, between the North African youths who were fighting with the police. My dad was super political so I was always super socially minded. I had that “fuck this shit man” energy in me too. Shouting “fuck the police” and think yeah we should do a T-shirt with “fuck the police” written on it in Arabic. That is kind of how I got some press in the city which I thought I was super fly and of course, Farida and I thought we were the dopest chicks in town - totally not humble at all hahaha.
Victor: So you were born in Amsterdam?
Sophia: No I was born in Moscow, and when I was 1 year old, I moved to New York and I was there until the age of 5 before relocating to Amsterdam with my mother and stepfather who was Dutch. While my Dad stayed in New York with my grandparents. So I spent most of my summers there. There was this summer when I was about 20, maybe 21 years old when I was there and we were hanging out with the Supreme guys and Gio was there and so we told him that we wanna do these t-shirts and he told us that we should speak to Chris Gibbs from Union. So we went and met with him. I took the t-shirts with me and went to meet him and he loved them! He wanted everything we had. So I gave him about 30 t-shirts or something like that and after 2 days he called me to tell me it's already sold out.
Victor: I’m sorry to interrupt but I don’t think you mentioned the name of the brand.
Sophia: Oh it was called Dashiki - inspired by the African garment. It also had a lot of meaning within the Civil Rights movement which I believe that Farida was very much a part of the continuation of celebrating blackness with her art which is something that was also very much a part of the brand even though I’m a white Jew. I love black culture so for me it was a given to title the brand Dashiki. So yeah, it was wonderful that we sold out - a bunch of Japanese people bought it and then we saw in a magazine later that somebody had copied it in Japan with exactly the same print so we knew it was a success. Following on from this, we did a bunch of shows, it was quite a lot of fun but we were super young so I guess we must have been about 24 when we wanted to explore more into other realms. And we were super irresponsible with money. We would get some money and think about getting some new stuff and then we would spend it on parties.
Lee: That pattern is very recognisable, I know that one.
Sophia: So that was it and then Farida went to art school, I tried art school but it didn't work for me. I went to art school too for a year, I went to HKU, absolutely not my thing. I think that what would probably categorize me the most is that I’m kind of rebellious and quite headstrong so everything that I have done in my life has probably been my own initiative and my own experimentation - following my own path and that was not always easy. It's quite scary sometimes but then I found what I wanted to do and that was styling so I asked Venus Waterman if she needed an assistant because I thought she was the best stylist in Amsterdam.
I got started doing that and I did that for quite some time but that was also not really what I was looking for. So then I heard about this school called Hello Academy which was like a private school for people that wanted to be Art Directors. And yeah, I thought to myself and realized I wanted to do that - I just want to have my ideas happen. I had dropped out of high school at 15 so this was my way of seeing if I was as smart as my peers who had stayed in school and gone on to university or something similar. I always wanted to challenge myself just to know if I can do this even though I dropped out. So I did it and got in! Got a full scholarship from them which is super cool. There were only about 15 people in the class. Lorenzo was in my class. I don't know if he knows I got the scholarship because that was meant to be a secret. Because everybody had to pay 15,000 euros for the 9-month course.
Lee: Haha, I think you told me back then!
Sophia: Yeah yeah, I told a couple of people because I was kind of proud of that, you know? So then, I realized that Art Direction is kinda lame because most of the time you are selling sausages and peanut butter and I was kinda not sure about heading down that road. Also, I started awakening around then, I must have been about 28 years old. I started realizing that I’m selling stuff to people that they don’t need. There is this whole illusion that if you don't buy stuff then you can’t find happiness. And I started uncovering my conditioning. I started questioning a lot of things that I was doing and the things that I had ambitions for forever since I started building from the age of 16. This made me question if this is what I wanna do and I guess it is normal around that age. So I tried a few things and then I moved to Moscow and I was a creative director at a women's magazine which I loved and then art director at a creative agency and then I had a burnout. After two years, I had an accident with a friend where I thought she was going to die, so then I came back to Amsterdam. By now I was 33 and I started at zero. If anybody would ask me how I was I would say I was like a newborn animal that had just crawled out of an egg. I didn’t know who I was or where I was going. So I decided to just party!
Lee: Fair enough
Sophia: I was like fuck it, my relationship had ended after 11 years, I lost a very close person in my life and I had this accident and I didn't know what was going on. So I just thought to myself, let me just escape, let me just escape reality, I feel like shit and what I know is how to act cool, be cool, party. This is what I know. This is how I can escape and put on my mask. At a certain point, this was not working so I even had to dive deeper. Went all the way down and I started working on myself for the first time. I started looking at my youth and how I grew up and looking at the abuse and the trauma that was there. You know there was a reason I dropped out of school when I was 15 because nobody gave a shit. Nobody was taking care of me. It was time to look in and realize I had a tough time as a kid and it was important to see how that formed me. What were my defensive mechanisms, what was my pain, what were my triggers and what was I hiding from in my own shadow? So my full transformation started there and yeah it took some time, took a few years to rediscover myself. In the meantime, I studied to be a body-oriented psychotherapist. It was an experiential study so everything we were taught, I needed to filter it through myself. I needed to understand because most of us have experienced trauma, bigger or smaller and it's about compassion that you can truly feel for yourself and others. for people, you need to know what it felt like. I would nitpick every little thing that happened to me to save me. By saving me, I was able to be more myself, more authentic, more loving, more real, more open and also more vulnerable. All of the things that make you more human. I was living in a very egocentric place. I was hiding and I'm not saying that I wasn't myself but more naked now - if that makes sense
Victor: Definitely, after this, you started studying as well and started working with people and now you also do a radio show, can you tell us a little bit about that?
Sophia: I have been working with people for about 4 years now and years of Holotropic Breathwork Sessions as Inner Care. and I’m just generally very curious. I want to know about people. That is why I love working with people. I want to know, you know? Like who are you and what are you doing? So when I heard Echobox was starting up and they were looking for contributors, I was really excited and I wanted to do a show. I wanted to talk to people so I wrote to them, pitched an idea and I got in so I was super stoked about that. I'm about 5 shows in now and what i do is i invite people that have something deep to share. These are people usually from my own field where we discuss different universal timeless human values and we listen to music and we have fun.
That kinda explains who I am because I love the depth but I'm also super silly and love clowning around next to loving culture, music and all of the things that I used to do and they are a major part of what I do now. So the last show we did we had somebody playing sound bowls and for the rest of 2022 we have some exciting shows coming up. I discovered that my voice is something that I really love to use.
Victor: Hence the music making?
Victor: I wanna go back a little bit because you obviously have a strong connection with Russia and you have lived there for quite some time. What did you get up to over there?
Sophia: Being born in Moscow and leaving at such a young age, I hardly spent any time there since I was always in New York. I felt a pull to discover Russia. So then I started working for this company who were the biggest online independent platform for youth culture and city life. We had over 27,000,000 visitors per month which was insane and they were setting up a new platform for sexy smart women called Wonderzine. I was the head of International Communications. I actually went to visit Berlin when Lee was living in Berlin because I was talking to people and making links. When Wonderzine started I became the Creative director which was great. I got to interview Tilda Swinton, Grimes and got to do some really cool stuff. I was there where I met my best friend Rita who lives between Los Angeles and Moscow. The main thing I was doing in Russia was connecting with family that I hadn't met before. I met my grandmother and grandfather whom I had never met before. Even though here I live kind of a creative and adventurous life, back in Moscow a lot of my family are famous actors, artists and writers. It showed me that a lot of the things that I love were not coming out of nowhere and that it really came from my roots. My grandmother was a ballerina, she was married to a famous choreographer behind Swan Lake which is still performed in really important theaters, who also happened to be a cousin of famous composer Tchaikovsky. There was a lot of really rich culture. While I was there I also learnt to write and so much more.
Victor: Would you say that it sparked something because I remember when you got back you were really into your Russian trap music and you started to dabble a bit with making music yourself?
Sophia: I actually did a show for Know Wave, with Yuri Katowskey and Rita Zubatova of Russkiy Attraction, we did maybe about 8 editions and every month we would showcase Russian music, in all genres! So that's how I got really into digging for these sounds.
But then making music myself was my dream, that's something i wanted to do all my life. Even back with my ex boyfriend in his studio when we started dating we never made music because we only would argue so then i just kinda forgot about it. It was just a dream and I still didn't see myself doing it. I thought I'm too this or I'm not this, I'm not that. In my mind I was never good enough. Then in 2020, during the lockdown, I really needed to spark some joy into myself so I just thought I needed to make music. I had already started with a friend of mine, Stef de Haan (De Reunie) who works a lot with Caribbean Beauty. We actually worked on a track with the 3 of us. But he was pretty busy with his own projects so it never went anywhere so then I was looking for other people I could work with so then I reached out to Rimer London who told me to come by and he showed me this folder of Italo songs he made 10 years ago but never made anything with them. So i started listening through these projects, picking out a few songs and I’m not sure if it was from him or from me but we thought it would be pretty funny we took these Italian songs and performed them in Russian. At this point I had never written in Russian so I took the challenge and within an hour we had a song! Something really magical happened there and I really enjoyed it so much.
Victor: Is that the first single that came out?
Sophia: It's not the first single, it's ‘smerilas’. We put that song on the EP though. Paduski was the first single. It was really exciting for me because I love to experiment and break new ground for myself, so I try with every song to bring something contrasting. I always want to bring something that contrasts with the music. I wanted to do something that was contrasting in the themes and I wanted to do something which contrasted with my voice. I feel like I really made that happen. I feel like every song has its own flavor which I really like. I know not everyone speaks Russian but one song is about what would you do if the world would end and another song ’Padushki, the first single, is about tongue in cheek sensuality.
Photographer: Gijs van de Veerdonk | 3D artist + postproduction: Aira
Styling: Anne Baarslag | Hair & Make Up: Christine Marie Kat | Nail art: Daniel Smedeman | Clothing: Naomi Tarazi
Sophia: “Glubina’ goes “I look like everyone else but in me there is depth that goes to the bottom of hell” so that one is really about the darkness that everybody carries inside themselves, either they see on the inside or project outside. Everyone has an angel and a devil inside them, you know? The last song is about ‘Otvet’, the answer to the freedom call. I guess that for me in this practice, I feel like i can really express myself the most. I can bring everything I love together. I his I feel complete.
Lee: When you were dreaming of making music was it always this sound that you were dreaming of or was there a sound in particular that you could see yourself doing?
Sophia: I always wanted to do something experimental, where different sounds could meet. Personally, I love 808 sounds but if I were to use the drum machine, I would want to make something dreamy with it. I’m a double Pisces which means that I'm super fluid and Moon gemini, very dreamy and I swim between different dimensions. So this is a part of my soul I want to bring with me. Poseidonna is like sharing a sacred piece of me. I like to tap into the inspiration that comes from the center of me and it can translate in any fitting symbolism. Which is quite broad for a goddess.
Lee: You succeed in that - I didn’t know you had it in you. Knowing you and how you approach what you do, I’m not surprised but it is definitely a new side to you that I didn’t know but looking back i think I’ve heard you say in the past that you wanted to do music.
Victor: The work is super melodic and it seems to come very naturally to you. The project is called Zhazhda, could you let us know about the name and who is behind it?
Out now on Magnetron Music
Sophia: So Zhazhda means ‘Thirst' in Russian. The Poseidonna project almost has its own vocabulary that I am trying to bring with me. I guess I have to keep bringing in the new words, kinda like Paris Hilton with “that’s hot” I could say “that’s soaking’. I’m trying to create this super wet world you know, Poseidonna - alway wet. So Zhazhda its coming from that wave. This project is just myself and Rimer. I’m meeting Tom Trago later today to dive in the studio with him for the first time. I’m super open to working with other people, I really want to try different vibes, styles, languages. I’m really at the beginning of this chapter and at the same time I don't want to put pressure on it because I just want to enjoy it. As long as I can just express myself.
Victor: Another form of expression for you! And you have just released a visual treatment for the lead single from the EP which is really amazing I have to say. Can you tell us how the video came together?
Sophia: Together with Petrovsky and Ramone - we shot some super nice stuff with clouds reflected on water and they were just trying this set out so it just really came together. I really wanted to jump on a cloud and float around. So you see me, Poseidonna, rolling around floating on a cloud and then I'm pouring water on myself and then I end up down in a water world. It's very symbolic about how I feel in life. I love clouds and I love water and I love reflections on water. So i wanted to incorporate that into my visuals. And for that release Viola Renate made the Single Cover, which I love so much! We then went and made some visuals for the next track which is out now. I work with a really cool young team and I worked with a really cool 3d artist called Aira. It was collaborative but it was a similar concept about water falling down. What I'm really trying to say is don't listen and don't pay too much attention to what is normal. As a woman there are so many restrictions, this super big hurdle of ageism where people will always tell you you’re too old to do something. You need to look 12 to be successful and so on. Like please do you, get inspired and stop waiting. Even though, I'm brave and I'm doing this now there was always some kind of fear that wasn't even mine, it was projected on to me. And I do not want to live up to other people's norms. I don't wanna do that, I wanna inspire people from all walks of life to find what really matters and makes you happy, whatever the outcome may be. The judgements you have about yourself in your head, tell them to shut up and go do what you want. Do what is fun and what is pleasurable, it makes you feel proud of yourself and also in this whole process I have seen so much support from people. We did this performance and it was so heartwarming. I didn’t know what to expect, I didn't know if people would show up, it really touched me.
It just mean a lot, especially right now when were all so far from each other, it just made me so happy that everybody said that they loved it and had such a nice time.
Victor: It was a great night, I miss those nights
Sophia: Me too! I want to bring something that i was missing and lovely to feel all those people that come out for you.
Victor: It's not easy to stand there and perform your first show in such an intimate setting.
Sophia: Yeah there was about 80 people there, no stage you know, so its like face to face and I got my best friends in the front row.
Lee: I was wondering if there was anything you have learnt from this current phase of creativity?
Sophia: Follow your intuition and follow your joy. Be honest with yourself and do what makes you happy. What is really your heart's desire? It's not always easy and it takes some time but just start. Start anywhere because thats the beginning. Make baby steps towards where you want to be because there will be a tipping point where your dreams start to become real.
Oil on canvas: Sergei Batovrina
Lee: Do you think you goals have changed since your journey began?
Sophia: Yes, I remember around the time I had my burn out, I was focused on status and not so much creativity. I was more focused on heading up the career ladder than what I want to say as an individual. We don't really change from when we were children. As a child i loved to sing, draw, dance and hang out with friends and that is exactly what I still love to do. I love being alone and I love being with my dog. I think the goal that never changed is to stay curious and discover new things. It's really the red thread throughout my life - discovering things myself. You can tell me “don’t touch that you’ll burn yourself” and I would still go touch it because I need to burn myself to know that I burnt myself! So then you know, ok i didn't listen to my intuition.
This is my journey. But at the same time I do want validation, I’m not like Buddha, I want people to say “oh that's cool what you’re doing”, it's not like I'm some kind of egoless person. I’m a human and every human wants to be seen. It's about the connection. I was excited when you two wanted to interview me because I have known you both for such a long time now. It makes me feel seen and appreciated. I think that feels normal. When I was young, I felt too cool to say I wanted to be part of a group but I do think we all want to be part of the group. We would crack jokes about people who were trying so hard to be accepted into groups and I think my perspective on this has changed now. Its super valuable to belong to a group of like minded people who feel safe with them and know that they have your back. I think that Patta for example is really important for the city because it was a platform that linked a lot of what was happening in Amsterdam culturally.
Interview by Passion Dzenga