Music Festivals

YUGS Embraces Nostalgia on His Second Album

Yoni Gottlieb, aka YUGS, is dropping his sophmore album.
Yoni Gottlieb, aka YUGS, is dropping his sophmore album. Katiria Rodriguez
Some are born musicians, some become musicians, and some have music thrust upon them. The latter was the case with Denver-born and -raised Yoni Gottlieb, who is about to release his second album as YUGS.

"My mom is a pianist, so there's a big musical influence in my house. It was like, 'You're either going to learn an instrument or you're not going to be in the house.' They told me that when I was eight, so I was like, 'All right,' and picked up guitar and piano," Gottlieb says, laughing. "It wasn't really my thing. I didn't like practicing, but then something clicked around high school, and I started composing my own stuff and was like, 'Now I'm actually interested again, now that I'm making my own things.'"

He continued to experiment with making lo-fi electronic music while attending the University of Pennsylvania and released his self-titled debut album in 2019. Now 24, he's back with a just-released sophomore album, Nostalgia Ascending, and will make his festival debut at the Underground Music Showcase.

Nostalgia Ascending is a departure from his lo-fi origins, giving him a chance to show off how his music has evolved since his debut.
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YUGS will play the Underground Music Showcase.
Cam Welch
"I mixed, mastered and did everything with YUGS, and it was a cool experience and I learned a lot — but what I kind of learned with this process is that my best strength is producing," Gottlieb says. His upcoming album was mixed and mastered by DJ Deuce, a legendary Denver DJ, giving the whole project a sophisticated polish. "On a sonic level, it sounds a lot more professional," he notes.

On Nostalgia Ascending, Gottlieb dabbles in many genres, with support from a wide variety of other artists.

"I had two short features on YUGS, but this one has Trayce Chapman, Jay Triiiple, Benjamin Elias, Jon Rubio — all these features that bring out the character and meaning of each song," he says.

"It's swimming in genres," he continues. "Where YUGS was mainly lo-fi, this album has jungle in it. It has house in it. It has phonk, which is like a Memphis rap style, trap and hip-hop. I wanted to have an album that had something for everybody. Even if people are more into EDM and house, they'll have something to listen to on this. People more into hip-hop have stuff to listen to on this, and if you just like lo-fi, there's that, too. Multiple genres in one album, but with a cohesive theme, which is nostalgia."

Gottlieb invokes childhood nostalgia on his new album by using soundbites from movies and video games he enjoyed as a kid, like Legend of Zelda and Forrest Gump.

"I was really inspired by nostalgia," he says. "Stuff I grew up with, video games, playing my GameCube with all my friends, watching old movies. I incorporate different samples from video games and movies throughout the album to try and represent that.

"I like nostalgia because it's something that you can escape into," he continues. "You feel safe thinking about the good old times, but the whole reason for the album, why I called it Nostalgia Ascending, was because the things that we think back and fondly remember, we can also use to inspire us to move forward. Almost like looking backward to go forward. Not just to escape, but to get to your best self."

While Gottlieb's music is often pleasant, easy listening, it's also much more than that.

"I always explain my music as dreamy but also grounding," he says. "It's real. I don't make it just for escapism. I want people to be able to empathize and connect with and vibe with and dance to my stuff. It all comes from a real place.
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YUGS dreams of the past.
Cam Welch
"I don't know where I would be without music," he adds. "I live, breathe, inhale, exhale music. I deal with anxiety and OCD, and music is really my way out. It's a good outlet to process what I'm going through. It's like a language, almost. That's the beautiful connection part of it. I can meet someone and not know anything about them, but if we like the same song, we can connect about that because we felt the same thing."

Gottlieb is thrilled to be able to converse in the universal language of music with a live audience at this year's Underground Music Showcase.

"I'm so excited," he says. "I'll be honest — I haven't done anything bigger than an open-mic gig before. I'll have a lot of the features there to perform their songs, make it really interactive. I'm stoked. I'll incorporate video game stuff and have a projector playing old videos and stuff in the background. I just can't wait to really run with it."

YUGS performs at the Underground Music Showcase from 7:20 to 8:10 p.m. on Friday, August 27, at Baere Brewing, 320 Broadway. Nostalgia Ascending is available to stream and download on all music platforms now.
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Cleo Mirza is a real-life Daria Morgendorfer who worships at the altar of Missy Elliot. She left the East Coast to live vicariously through Colorado's drag performers, and only returns for the pizza. Cleo has been a contributing writer for Westword since 2019, covering music, arts, and cannabis. She loves white wine, medical marijuana, and her possessed chihuahua, Rudy.
Contact: Cleo Mirza