The undisputed queen of deep house ..
Success often gives you the platform to further yourself. Without garnering the respect of their audience, many artists aren’t afforded the freedom of expression to push their artistic merits onto a zenith beyond the style for which they initially made their name.
The term ‘deep house’ and Maya Jane Coles have become synonymous in the last year and a half. The connoisseur’s choice of the numerous house music strands has seen dance floors run later and a return to a style of music the quick-fix, super-drop musical experience simply cannot compete with in terms of depth and substance. As interest in house music has grown steadily, this sound as much as any has emerged with real resonance. Coles stands at the crest of the wave.
From her breakthrough release, the hypnotic What They Say, subsequent releases such as Focus Now and the statement-infused Don’t Put Me In Your Box EP have cemented her as a producer of the utmost quality. The success of her music, coupled with a DJing schedule which saw her stock rise to the highest echelons of European dance venues, equated to the lofty position of 9th Biggest DJ Of 2011 in the much coveted Resident Advisor End Of Year DJ poll, one ahead of the king of German techno Ben Klock, one below the king of German house, Dixon. An incredible degree of recognition, but at the same time richly deserved.
So much of what makes Maya Jane Coles such an interesting artist is explored on her debut mix CD release for DJ-Kicks. Sure, the deep house staple is there, but the dubby sounds taken from her early exposure to the rawest, fledgling forms of dubstep make a startling appearance two- thirds of the way through the mix in the form of her Nocturnal Sunshine alias. Featuring a tracklist with very little in the way of household names, the mix showcases her as potent selector of choice cuts away from the obvious. The Coles signature, characterised by echoes, tech and emotive chords forms a solid and engrossing backdrop, but the variation built around the ‘deep’ blueprint is superb. The blend essentially heralds one of the most varied mix CD’s that Crack has heard in a long time. It’s a wonderful late, late night listen.
The mix is perhaps the first Coles release to have showcased this breadth of taste and character, and while her DJ sets do this on a weekly basis, there is palpable excitement in Crack Towers at the fact her near-complete album will showcase this ‘other’ side. Only the most exceptional DJs and producers are able to separate out the club music for which they are often known and create albums which stand alone as pieces of work. Now this DJ-Kicks compilation has hinted at her diversity, expect something altogether different on what will be Coles’ biggest release to date. For those who’ve put her in their box, it’s safe to say her most interesting material is yet to come.
Straddling the sadly still existent gender divide in electronic music, there’s no doubt Maya Jane Coles is the most exciting female artist to emerge from the electronic music spectrum in some time. Her distinctive alt- rock, almost punky image is combined with an urbanness that easily distinguishes her from the crowd, her slight frame and good looks combining in a potent combination far removed from the poster boy DJ or the tech-geek stereotypes. Of course, the gender question continues to be an inevitable talking point in such a male dominated industry, but so is any aspect to your character that makes you stand out, whatever the industry. If Coles’ tattooed torso was in a punk band she’d be less of a surprising entity; the fact that there is literally no one prominently making electronic music who looks anything like her is likely to work in her favour. It’s certainly an industry where difference is celebrated.
As mentioned before, Coles is now at a level where she can flower beyond her initial explorations. We hope she can continue to expand the fresh air she’s breathed over a corner of electronic music with such style.
There are obvious pressures that relate to ‘blowing up’ as quickly as yourself. How has your meteoric rise in the last year changed your lifestyle, and has Maya Jane Coles the person been able to keep up?
It definitely takes some adjusting, but I don’t really think about it too much, I just want to focus on doing what I love. It’s an incredible feeling though, when you’ve been working hard towards something for so long to suddenly be able to stop and think, ‘I’m actually doing it now and people actually care!’
What is it about the strands of house music emerging since 2010 that is really connecting with audiences?
That’s a pretty big question, as house music is such a broad genre. I guess in recent years there has been a change in the faces of DJs and what they represent. There has been a big wave of new breed, younger producers and DJs that young people can relate to. The fact that there are so many sub-genres within house music also gives it a lot of space and freedom to evolve in different ways.
Have you always been a fan of the deep house sound? How did your production technique end up veering towards that particular strand of house music?
Since hearing deep house for the first time I’ve always been drawn to it, but I’ve also always liked stuff that wouldn’t necessarily be classed as ‘deep’. I’ve generally steered towards the less obvious sides of musical genres when it comes to listening. I’ve always gone out of my way to find interesting and unique music rather than being satisfied with the stuff that is fed to the masses. I guess I’m pretty open-minded when it comes to music so I’ve never just been into one thing and I hope this translates through my productions.
Do you think you’ve coined a particular house sound that makes you easily identifiable? If so, where do you go next?
House music is only a portion of the music I make. My main focus right now is my album, which covers a lot of different sounds. I wouldn’t really class it as house. My music will constantly evolve through life; I don’t wanna put myself in a box.
We’ve read that you used to be into jungle and drum & bass before you ended up attending more in the way of house nights in the “right places”. What were the first house nights that opened you up to this kind of music and where were these “right places”?
I wasn’t too heavily into drum & bass and jungle, but I always liked the more intelligent side of it and it was the first kind of music I started clubbing to. It was a very brief encounter though; I quite swiftly made the transition to house music when I discovered the underground side of it as drum & bass crowds weren’t really my favourite – a bit too hectic and often so male dominated. I started going to nights like Secretsundaze and Mulletover in East London, which opened my ears to lots of new music. Around that time in East London the party scene was really buzzing and exciting. I got really inspired and it totally influenced my music.
Do you ever worry about falling into a routine of playing the circuit and the same venues? Have you ever felt like control has ever been taken out of your hands as you’ve become a bigger name?
I don’t really worry about things like that. My career isn’t based purely on DJing, so I guess I haven’t really thought about it in that way. As for keeping control, it’s weird hearing more and more people talk about what you can’t control what other people say, but as an artist you always have control over what you choose to do with your music and career. I will never put myself in a position where I’m not controlling that.
How will your album vary from your previous output, having worked on EPs and singles in the past?
The album is almost finished, and it’s by far my most important project to date. It’s not aimed for the club. It showcases me as an artist. I have a lot of collaborations on there too as it’s mainly song-based electronic stuff, very moody and quite emotional. I guess that’s all I can probably say in words to describe it, as I wouldn’t want to categorise it into a specific genre. It’s just personal music I enjoy creating but it definitely still ties in with music I have previously released. It’s been an ongoing project and some of the tracks on there are actually from a few years ago. I didn’t get into production through club music, so I guess this is more along the lines of what I was making before that, but with a hint of the club based influence.
Can you tell us all about your Nocturnal Sunshine project and where the inspiration for it came from?
Dubstep was really interesting when it first emerged in the UK. I went out a few times to nights like FWD and DMZ and got inspired by the heavy bass and shuffley rhythms. My productions have always revolved around basslines anyway, so it was natural I was drawn to the music. People are funny about the word dubstep now so I don’t know what to call it, but ever since I was exposed to that scene I’ve always had tracks on the go that fit within the genre. It doesn’t necessarily always tie in with the other stuff I do and it is definitely more of a specific sound which is why I choose to release under the name Nocturnal Sunshine.
Did the success of What They Say surprise you, or did the fact it had been burning for a while mean you thought it might do well?
It totally surprised me. Of course I didn’t expect that kind of attention over the EP, but I couldn’t be happier about the success of it. It’s funny though, when one specific track gets so big you get a lot of people thinking it’s the only thing you are about. I don’t think that track particularly represents my sound as a whole, but it was nice to have a platform and from that point onwards I had a lot more people listening out for what I was going to do next, which was the best thing.
Your image certainly takes in colour from other cultural palettes that might not necessarily be related to dance music. Are you a fan of alternative rock and punk music?
Yeah I love rock and punk. I’m a fan of many different genres. I grew up in London, I’ve always had such a culturally diverse mix of friends and been around so many different scenes so I’ve been lucky enough to be exposed to a melting pot of music from a young age.
What have you gone for on your DJ-Kicks compilation? Is it a snapshot of the current Maya Jane Coles box, or more of an introspective selection?
It’s a bit of both. It’s quite a mixture of sounds, but that’s what represents me. I like listening to so much different stuff and the same goes with my productions, so it’s natural that what I play always varies quite a bit.
What was it about the DJ-Kicks series that attracted you to crafting a mix for them?
DJ-Kicks has always been one of my favourite comps. It’s so well respected and is definitely of a very high standard so I felt pretty excited and super honoured to have the opportunity to do one.
Your recent appearance at Bristol’s Just Jack party was a late treat and showcased you playing quite a hard-edged set. Does your set particularly vary depending on what time you’re on?
My sets vary depending on a lot of things: the crowd, the event, the place, the time, my mood, the atmosphere … it really is in the moment. I often cover quite a wide range of styles when I play and I don’t plan my sets before a gig so it can really vary.
How do you think your status as a female DJ affected your career? Do you think it’s made you stand out, or do you think it’s hindered you in such a male dominated industry?
Gender is always gonna be a topic that pops up, but I don’t think it’s that important to think about. I just want to be respected for what I do without my gender being part of the equation. It shouldn’t matter whether you’re male or female cause at the end of the day you’re still doing the same thing. It’s just what’s in your pants that’s different!
What other female DJs and producers do you respect and why?
All the iconic ladies in the underground dance scene that have worked hard to get where they are and made a mark for themselves are a massive inspiration, including people like Anja Schneider, Ellen Allien, Miss Kittin, Magda …
In a year of so many highlights can you give us a couple?
The main highlights for me this year have been more on a personal level. Working on my album and collaborating with some really special artists, also meeting and working with some really inspirational people.
What are your summer plans and have you taken any time off in the last two years?
I haven’t really taken any proper time off. I’ve been working too hard at trying to build something for myself. The right time will come for me to have a proper break, but for now I’m too busy! I don’t mind though, I’m a workaholic I guess. I love what I do so it’s hard not to be.
Does it say “Jude Law” in What They Say? It flippin sounds like it does.
Yeah, Jude Law’s PR company got in touch with me and offered a healthy fee for using his name in my track. How could I refuse?
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Photo: Filip K