Their eyes widened as they scrolled through the list of names, laughing at ideas like Data Kit. Hannah Witkowski has been going by the stage name Devi for a year, but recently, she and her boyfriend/producer, Samuel Culp, discovered another Devi on Spotify, one with millions of listeners. So, with her self-titled debut recording due out Saturday, Witkowski needed a name that captures the haunting sounds of the seven songs on the record. The duo came up with YOKYO.
The EP includes six originals and a brooding cover of The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.” Songs like “Sad” are a blend of moody pop and EDM stylings, while “Flower” is a menacing techno track that demands listeners to “make poor choices,” as Witkowski sings.
While she is serious and straight-laced, Culp is goofy and boisterous. That dichotomy seems to work for the couple, who have been dating and working together for more than a year. They claim that they “just clicked,” like it did when they stumbled upon the new name.
“We were texting about our dog, Tokyo, and Hannah accidentally called him ‘Yokyo,’ ” Culp said. “And I was like, ‘Who the fuck is Yokyo? It’s cool, but who the fuck is it?’ ”
The pair have bonded over the struggle to make electronic music in a town in love with rock and country. They both know it is going to take much more than an SEO-friendly name to attain success. The first step is to make good music, then hope that people fall in love with that music.
“At this point, it’s just about getting heard,” Witkoswki said.
Like Culp, Witkowski’s roots are in country. Early in her career, she bounced from genre to genre before becoming Devi, an electro-pop artist who announced her arrival in 2018 with the Britney Spears-inspired single “It’s Devi, Bitch.” At first, she hated the song.
“I talked her into it,” Culp said, flashing a fiendish “I told her so” grin.
Culp shares Witkowski’s devotion to electro-pop. He decided to try his hand at electronic music after witnessing its popularity at Lights All Night, a long-running touring Texas EDM festival.
“I saw 18-year-olds making $30,000 for one show,” he said, “and I was like, ‘What the fuck am I doing with my life?’ ”
He bought DJ equipment around the time he met Witkowski, and the pair began experimenting. YOKYO’s debut EP is an attempt to follow the lead of Billie Eilish. It’s a brand of dark pop with electronic influences and tracks that feel tangentially connected by YOKYO’s brooding sonics. Tunes like “Stax” include lyrical boasts like “I’m a high roller,” while brimming with grimey, anxiety-inducing beats.
Both Culp and Witkowski are quick to defend the genre from jabs that it is not as valid as the other, more popular styles in Fort Worth.
“People won’t outright say they don’t like it, but they’ll say things like, ‘It’s interesting’ or ‘It’s different,’ ” Witkowski said. “They’re stuck in that genre of music that’s been popular since the ’60s, and if you don’t play an instrument, you’re not a musician.”
But according to Witkowski and Culp, they can make better money DJing than they can playing live sets as YOKYO. Once, they made only $25 for a YOKYO performance.
“There are just not a lot of people doing the electronic thing in Fort Worth,” Culp said. “And I think it’s partly because this style just doesn’t have the support.”
That is why the duo has started playing more shows in Dallas and are hopeful for a Texas tour. Of course, the ultimate goal is to get signed by a record label. When Witkowski speaks about this, she talks like a harried veteran on her last legs. Like many aspiring musicians, she and Culp are pouring their resources into the music, manufacturing live shows with lasers and moody visuals to match the music.
All of this seems to point to an obvious conclusion: Even though she has technically just arrived, YOKYO’s days in Fort Worth seem numbered. Is the plan to leave?
“I won’t comment on that,” Culp said slyly. He and Witkowski shared a look, and she playfully slapped him on the arm. As if on cue, Culp laughed.