UMA are a husband and wife duo from Berlin who make floating experimental electronic-pop music that is as distinctive as it is infectious. Ella & Florian Zwietnig have crafted a meticulous world enveloped in delicate unusual melodies, insistent and uncompromising rhythms and off-the-wall electronic soundscapes. Their idiosyncratic sound likely owes much to Ella’s atypical background for an electronic artist, having studied classical music and singing in various choirs. The band’s EP ‘Drop Your Soul’ is the perfect statement of intent, showcasing the band’s experimentalism in the vein of Animal Collective alongside the warped melodic sentiment of Bjork.


We met up with UMA at Sonar festival straight after their fantastic set. They talked about the playing at Sonar, their hometown of Berlin, the huge benefits of the Red Bull Music Academy and being a husband and wife duo.

How was your time at Sonar been?

We enjoyed playing. It was a bit rough today, we had to get up very early and had to soundcheck at 8am. And it’s Sonar, it’s big and important. It’s very stressful for a new band like us (laughs). It’s our first Sonar and we’re staying for the whole time. We really want to see Darkstar and TNGHT, which is tomorrow night. (laughs). We saw Liars yesterday. We try and see every show we can. We just played a festival with Diamond Version and met them there so we’re going to see their set. They’re from Berlin too.

What are views on living and being a musician in Berlin?

It is becoming extremely touristic, that is the main change in the last five years. Sometimes when you go to the subway on Friday night at 1am it is fuller than it is at rush hour. That is Berlin at the moment, everyone is going there. On the other hand it’s really nice because there are so many people going there and it’s becoming a really international place – there are lots of areas where you don’t hear a lot of German in the streets and that makes it nice. A lot of the participants of the Red Bull Music Academy with Ella moved to Berlin too so we now have a circle of musicians friends where we get all of our remixes from. There are a lot of interested people who are really open to music and culture. Everyone goes to Berlin because it is not so expensive as London and Paris but that is going to change soon. When I first visited Berlin in ’94 it was just mindblowing, I’d never seen anything like it before and as soon as I visited I knew I had to live there. Back then, no one wanted to go there because it was so fucked up, but that was the appeal because it was so special.

Do you feel as though there are noticeable scenes in Berlin?

There’s not a real scene as the city is so big. There’s a big techno scene obviously but there’s no real live scene. It’s a DJ and club town. We don’t see ourselves as part of the dance culture or the DJ scene.

Who should we be looking out for in Berlin?

Claude Speeed. With three e’s – that’s very impotant. He’s going to release an album this year. He’s one of the guys that was at the Red Bull Music Academy.

So you participated in the Red Bull Music Academy, how was that?

I (Ella) did it in 2011. I applied with very rough demos but they liked it I guess. We had two crazy weeks and I’m still not over it. It was like a kindergarten for two weeks. They give you food, support and invite crazy successful musicians to tell you stories. It is an amazing thing. The support they give is a little like the support art collectors give to artists. They build a whole music town, with accommodation and studios. The best thing was the community they build and the networking. Most of us participants just started to do musical projects so it’s good to talk to like minding musicians. It was the craziest two weeks.

N.B. Red Bull Music Academy is a world-travelling series of music workshops and festivals, inspiring up-and-coming artists and giving opportunities to perform and collaborate with living legends.

How is touring together as husband and wife?

Touring is fun. It can be really stressful at times when you live and work together. It’s hard to separate work life from personal life. We both have really strong egos (laughter) – it’s not a problem for us that we fight like hell over music but the reward we get from it is easily enough.

I’ve always liked the idea of husband and wife bands…

There are some real great ones. Sonic Youth, my most favourite one was Broadcast. Peaking Lights. We played at Field Day last year and they had their child with them. We didn’t find the time to hang out with them but we saw them backstage with their child who had ear protectors.

You perform with real instruments which makes you a minority at Sonar, has that been a conscious decision?

It’s become very important for us to incorporate real instruments into the set with the recording of our album. We had some gigs in the beginning where I was only controlling the sounds with virtual synthesisers and sounds. But it’s boring and soundwise it’s not where we want to go. I’m a guitar player and I love to play and have that feeling on stage. I hope it adds to the fact we love playing live. At some point I’d really love to have a setup like Hot Chip ¬– they were all playing their instruments live. I think that might be a direction for the future to have a few more people on stage. Not to miss out on the electronic sound but to actually play live. There’s a lot to evolutionise our sound (did I make up a word?)

What’s coming up next for UMA?

next weeks we’re going to finish the final recordings. We just wrote the songs last autumn and wrote all through the winter. Then we had this live period so we had to rehearse. It was great to play the stuff live before recording them. It changed a lot. We’d love to finish these songs as quickly as possible.. We’ll hopefully be playing in London soon too.

Live set from Sonar