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Credit: Michal Murawski

Recognise: Avtomat

A fixture in Poland’s underground club scene, DJ, producer, vocalist and graphic designer Avtomat brings an anarchic industrial edge to their wildly varied and intricate DJ sets. Alongside a blazing mix for the Recognise series, Ben Murphy talks to him about activism, Polish folk music and playing Berghain

“I never wanted to play a set that would bore me if I was on the dancefloor,” says Avtomat, explaining his all-encompassing approach to DJing. “I’ve always jumped between genres and I feel like it works to my advantage, because I have a really strong all-killer, no-filler policy, so it’s a lot easier to find these strong tracks with these really characteristic elements that will catch the listeners’ attention and make them dance.”

Avtomat’s sets are wildly varied, bouncing between styles and tempos with an irresistible zeal. The Polish DJ, producer, vocalist and graphic designer, based just outside Warsaw, solders together everything from electro and grime to jungle, UK funky, house and garage, peppering in pop re-edits, deconstructed club tracks and their own vocals along the way. Underpinning it all is a live-wire DIY feel that stems from his early love of metal and industrial music, and an irreverence towards dance music norms. “In the last 10 years the scene has started to open up to the possibility of hybridisation, and taking from all the genres that you want and you like, which is really what I always used to do since I started DJing,” says Avtomat (real name Kajetan Łukomski). 

“I never thought it was interesting to play only house or only electro or only jungle, because I feel like after a certain amount of time, these genres start being quite repetitive, and once they get a formula, all of the tracks start sounding very similar. I try to find something different and in-between.”

For well over a decade, Avtomat has honed his style in the underground, growing their fanbase with DJ sets in Poland and across Europe, and releasing experimental dance records on labels like Fonografika, Tańce and London-based 51-53. Last year’s ‘Lamenty’ EP saw him placing his vocals upfront over glassy synth textures and rattling club beats, while his bootleg merging Happa’s ‘Clipped’ and Madonna’s ‘Frozen’ added a glacial sparkle to a classic pop vocal. ‘Gusła (Human Rites)’, meanwhile, sounded like the bleep techno of Sweet Exorcist reconfigured as deconstructed club.

Over time, the dance world has caught up with their forward-thinking approach to DJ sets and leftfield electronic beats, and Avtomat recently played Berghain for the first time, along with various other shows in Berlin and London. “Once you’re inside Berghain, the club really lives up to its hype,” they say. “It was kind of a big thing for me to play at 6am. To be able to have fun until then and not fall asleep, and not lose any energy levels, was a bit of a challenge, ’cause I don’t do stimulants. And then to have Jennifer Cardini jump in after 9am, I was so starstruck that I fucked up my last transition, I was like, ‘Oh my god!’ She’s a legend.”

Photo of Avtomat shirtless and leaning back. They are under a dark green light
Credit: Krystian Lipiec

Avtomat’s increased visibility has brought new opportunities, including DJ mixes for some of dance music’s biggest outlets. In their blazing mix for DJ Mag’s Recognise series, they swerve from high-speed rave breaks and electro into hypercolourful pop edits, wobbly garage and beyond. His recent mix for RA saw him foregrounding vocals from Polish traditional folk over machine beats, an idea he’s explored before with productions for the Pleśni project. For Avtomat, this is a way to celebrate his country’s musical heritage, as well as add life to the sometimes stiff world of electronic dance.

“I’ve been into traditional music probably since 2011,” he says. “In 2012, we started this project called Pleśni, which is a bit of a play on words (‘pleśń’ means ‘mould’ in Polish, while ‘pieśni’ means ‘chants’). I composed very minimalistic, bassy electronic music to make space in the mid-range for the vocals, and we sang these polyphonic traditional songs to it. I’m really into the emotion this music conveys, and how universal it seems to be. That is one thing that feels lacking for me in club music, because sometimes electronic sounds can be a bit dehumanised and cold, so it brings the soul back. Not like appropriating some other culture, but using what we have here.”

Along similar lines, Avtomat makes a point of including tracks by other East and Central European artists in their sets — something he feels is lacking in a scene that tends to prioritise producers and DJs from the West. “I’m just showing people, ‘Hey there’s something more here, behind the non-existent Iron Curtain. It’s there for the taking and, in the days of the internet and globalisation, it’s within the reach of your hand’.”

Previously an active member of Polish feminist-queer collective Oramics until his other commitments took over, and a co-founder of Ciężki Brokat, a queer cooperative in Warsaw, Avtomat has endeavoured to spotlight LGBTQ+ artists in his home country, both with party line-ups and charity compilations, standing against the increasingly authoritarian and right-wing government there. A committed anti-fascist, they have consistently used their platform to speak out for causes they believe in, even when it has been to the detriment of their own career — as when he railed against club owners in Poland for hosting ‘plague rave’ parties during the worst months of the pandemic. “I think the fact I grew out of the anti-fascist movement, and playing in squats and very leftist environments, it makes me feel like I owe it to people to maybe broach these subjects in an approachable way, and tell things how they are,” says Avtomat.

Growing up in Toruń, central Poland, Avtomat got into music initially via his parents, who played records by the likes of King Crimson and Kate Bush at home, and also through the Eurodance he heard on German TV channels. He later got into metal and played bass and sang in a band, before industrial, Skinny Puppy and dark electro came into the picture. But it was one fateful club night that changed everything. “One time I spotted posters for an electroclash night, and I was like, ‘Oh, this must be pretty much the same thing, so I have to go’. It turned out to be a totally different thing — mostly old-school electro, a lot of vocoder and Italo disco and stuff like that. People spinning vinyl instead of playing stuff from Winamp, which was also interesting. I got really into that, and shortly after I started pestering the DJs to show me how it was done, and I befriended a couple of them, and they let me play at their parties.”

Nowadays, Avtomat views his own DJing as an art, one to which he dedicates a lot of time. They often use a drum machine to add electronic percussion to sets, and move between CDJs and vinyl, while adding vocal ad-libs. Playing a conventional set is a little too easy, he reckons. “If you’re a musician, DJing isn’t really that complicated,” says Avtomat. “So I try to keep it interesting. It’s easy to fall into a routine mindset, so I try to avoid that by mixing it up a little, and then I help the audience as well to broaden their horizons.”

Listen to Avtomat's Recognise mix below. 


Dominika Biernat ‘Monolog Kadetki B90’ [PL, not on label]
Lubomir Grzelak ‘Organ Dream’ [PL, unreleased]
Belk \Request Denied’ [UK, Crazed Behaviour]
Edghar ‘HAMAM’ [BY, self-release]
wh0wh0 ‘bamb00’ [PL, Coastline Northern Cuts]
Kitty Sarcasm ‘Stek Bzdoor (prod. OSKIMORON)’ [PL, self-release]
Kray x Harka ‘Sound Boy’ [UK, upcoming]
SOPHIE ‘HARD (Riiku Bootleg)’ [UK, unreleased]
Paszka ‘żabol’ [PL, Gin&Platonic]
Avtomat ‘Unholy (Tатусь Гуляв)’ [PL, upcoming]
jeremixyz ‘xyz1’ [PL, BFF Music]
Krenz ‘TANDEM BOX (feat. Dj Zeten)’ [PL, self-release]
Danny L Harle & DJ Mayhem ‘Interlocked (WE ROB RAVE REFLIP)’  [UK/PL, unreleased]
Avtomat x Cristóbal Tapia De Veer ‘Black Lotus, White Lotus’ [PL, upcoming]
‘Caroline Polachek ‘Sunset (a capella)’ [US, Perpetual Novice]
IKARVS ‘HYMN (Avtomat Houseless Edit)’ [PL, upcoming]
Barbatuques ‘Baiana (Disaffected Bootleg)’ [UK, self-release]
Josi Devil ‘Breathe Easy’ [UK, Nervous Horizon]
Krenz ‘USŁYSZAŁEM GŁOS (105 - 139 BPM)’ [PL, self-release]
Fatima Al Qadiri ‘Is2aleeha (feat. Bobo Secret & Chaltham)’ [US/IR, Hyperdub]
Piezo ‘Sensory Overdraw’ [UK, ANSIA]
Florentino ‘Loka’ [UK, Club Romantico]
Imami ‘Contrapposto’ [UK, Tessier-Ashpool Recordings]
Hey ‘Muka! (a capella)’ [PL, Warner Music Poland]
Avtomat ‘Pierunie’ [PL, upcoming]
The Prodigy ‘Mindfields (Re:drum Remix)’ [UA, self-release]
Caroline Polachek ‘Bunny Is A Rider (Nikki Nair Edit)’ [UK/US, unreleased]
Ifi Ude ‘Tato, Tato (feat. Bart Pałyga & Marcin Lamch)’ (POGAN Remix) [PL, Ifi Ude]
SVET ‘GNIW’ [UA, self-release]

Want more? Check out Poznań-based DJ and Oramics member Monster's Fresh Kicks mix and interview here, and dive into FOQL's selection of experimental electronic sounds from the Polish underground here

Ben Murphy is DJ Mag's contributing editor. Follow him on Twitter @benlukemurphy