Soundtrack to My Life — Denver Artist Yugs Searches for Identity Through Music


Welcome to 303 Magazine’s exclusive brand new series, “Soundtrack to My Life,” where we delve into the personal journeys of performing artists in or around the Denver area, as expressed through their music and curated playlists. Each month, we’ll choose an artist to create a themed playlist based on feelings, emotions, or thoughts they’ve experienced throughout the month.

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This month, we’re excited to spotlight the talented Yugs as he navigates and shares thematic patterns of “identity” present in his life. As we explore his playlist through classic tracks like Sonic Youth’s “Incinerate,” Pharcyde’s  “Runnin’,” or Isaiah Rashad’s “Heavenly Father,” we’ll also get insight into what makes Yugs tick through his own tracks like “Nostalgia,” “Makes Me Anxious,” or his latest release, “Tears on My Bed,” when it comes to music and inspiration. 

So sit back, press play, and immerse yourself in Yugs’s rich tapestry of sounds and emotions. You never know, you might just discover a new facet of yourself along the way.

303 Magazine: Your first response to a theme was “Lost,” can you explain what led you to the theme of identity following your first choice? 

Yugs: I think the themes of “lost” and “identity” go hand in hand — I’ve been dealing with some seasonal depression this winter, trying to find my footing after a major breakup of seven years last year. It has me asking myself those classic questions like, “Who am I on my own?” I haven’t been on my own since I was 19, and I was a baby then. It’s weird. I feel both lost and excited to discover who I am, which is reflected in the songs I chose for “Soundtrack to My Life.” 

303:  As you explored “identity” in February, could you share some specific experiences or emotions from this month that influenced your musical choices?

Yugs: I went to the Fresh Fruit!/Nicki Walters/Silver Screen Fantasy show on Friday, February 16th, at Skylark. I heard “Incinerate” by Sonic Youth come on the speakers between sets and had to Shazam it. The first line just immediately caught me: “I ripped your heart out from your chest/ Replaced it with a grenade blast.” It captures that intense, debilitating feeling of heartbreak that comes after a breakup. 

303: Aside from your tracks, what song did you know you had to include on the playlist and why?

Yugs: “Aruarian Dance” — I listen to this song every day, so I knew I had to include it. It’s from my favorite producer of all time, the Japanese producer Nujabes, the godfather of lofi hip-hop, who made it for the soundtrack of the anime Samurai Champloo. It’s a song I turn to when I’m feeling lost because it’s warm, comforting, and hopeful at the same time, which is how I want people to feel when they hear my music. 

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303:  “Nostalgia” was released in 2021 but reflects on a time before. What made you pick this track as part of  “Soundtrack to My Life?”

Yugs: I found myself coming back to this song because I was feeling a bit lost. When I feel lost, I find myself looking to nostalgia because it’s a comforting feeling, but it’s also an easy feeling to get stuck in. The song “NOSTALGIA” featuring local Denver rappers Trayce Chapman and Jon Rubio, explores how we look backward to inspire us to move forward—how we can use our past to make a better future. The song starts with the Gamecube startup theme (unlocking that core memory of playing Smash Bros Melee) before jumping into verses from Trayce and Jon, exploring how they use music to channel the pain they’ve been through to move forward. 

303: How did you see the concept of “identity” evolving or shifting for you during February or in the build-up to the month? Has this evolution already manifested itself in your music?

Yugs: It’s definitely manifesting in my music. My next album, Dancing In My Room, is a breakup album all about rediscovering and reinventing your identity in the different seasons of your life. I’ve been working on this album since 2020, in the heart of the pandemic. The album has changed a lot since then, just like I’ve changed a lot since then. I feel like your room represents your mental and physical state—when your room is a mess, you’re usually a mess, and when you clean your room, you’re getting your shit together. When you’re dancing in your room, you’re connecting with your soul, your heart, and your identity.  

303: How did you relate to “Runnin’?”

Yugs: “Runnin’” by The Pharcyde is a classic produced by J Dilla, the other godfather of lofi hip hop. It’s about standing up for yourself and how you “can’t keep runnin’ away” from your bullies. I related to “Runnin’” in the way that you “can’t keep runnin’ away” from your identity, from who you are. For me, that’s being Jewish, being pansexual, having Chilean roots, having OCD; the list goes on and on. I feel that to be happy, you have to own all the parts of yourself, especially the parts that feel uncomfortable. 

303:  “El Gringo” and “Un Amor Violento” bring cultural richness to your playlist. Being a Chilean-American artist and Spanish lyricist, do you find that your cultural background plays a significant role in shaping your sense of identity? Does it clash with your artistic identity?

Yugs: My cultural background plays a huge part of my artistic and personal identity. I am proud to be a Jewish-American artist with Chilean roots. My mom, Gabriela Kaufmann Gottlieb, was born in Santiago, Chile, after her parents escaped the Holocaust in Germany in 1939, which is why I look like a gringo, but I’ve got that Latino in me. She’s a professional pianist, just like her grandmother and great-grandmother before her, and she’s where I get a ton of my passion for music. 

I visited Chile almost a year ago after I quit my 9-5 job to pursue music full-time. It was my first time going in over six years and it was a transformative reconnection with my Chilean identity. My prima hermana (which means “cousin that’s like a sister”), Deby Kaufmann, showed me the ’90s Chilean band Los Tres, whose song, “Un Amor Violento” (“A Violent Love”) struck a chord for me. I’ve covered this song a few times with my good friend Fruta Brutal — who is also a Jewish Latino artist from Ecuador. Every time I play it, it brings me closer to both my Chilean and Jewish roots, which have a heavy influence on my music.

303: Your latest release, “Tears on My Bed,” sounds like a place we’ve all been. Care to explain what brought you there and how it relates to your theme of identity?

Yugs: “Tears On My Bed” was a song Citizen Tempest and I wrote about wanting to change after a breakup —feeling broken and angry with yourself for your destructive habits. It relates to identity in that it’s about the messy process of picking up the pieces of your identity after a broken relationship—figuring out what fits and what doesn’t and how you have to be real with yourself and channel your feelings.

303: Looking back on February and your curated playlist, what insights or revelations about your identity have you gained, and how do you hope listeners will connect with and interpret your musical journey?

Yugs: Don’t be afraid to keep reinventing yourself. It’s a scary world out there, and it can be easy to feel alone, scared, and numb to the status quo of being an adult in 2024. Try to find the light wherever you can–whether it’s in music, art, dance, or the community around you, and you’ll find a bit of yourself, too. I hope you enjoy this musical journey.

As Yugs’ journey through the intricate melodies of his life unfolds, it becomes evident that the quest for self-discovery is not a linear path but a labyrinth of twists and turns. Yet, amidst the uncertainties and complexities, Yugs reminds us that it’s perfectly alright to lose ourselves in the pursuit of understanding who we truly are. So, let the music guide you and remember, as Yugs is discovering, it’s the journey of getting lost that we often find ourselves.

Keep an eye out and ears open for Yugs upcoming album, Dancing in My Room, which will be released in July. Be sure to like this playlist and follow our Spotify account for more local curations. 

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