Words by:
Photographer: Amy Peskett
Styling: Marko Vrbos
Styling Assistant: Bryony Salter
Hair: Chrissy Hutton
Makeup: Yoi Wan Kong

This article is taken from Issue 129. Get your copy now via the online store.

The club is often considered to be an escapist space. But some artists call for all-out dancefloor confrontation. VTSS is one such figure.

The Warsaw-raised DJ and producer, real name Martyna Maja, has a back catalogue filled with tracks that are energetic and danceable. Nonetheless, Maja’s productions skew more towards feel-bad than feel-good. A dangerous cocktail of sounds blending an EBM sensibility, industrial textures and cranked-up, hair-raising BPMs. This is techno interpreted by someone who isn’t afraid to create friction.

Talking over Zoom from her London flat and dressed in a Sega Bodega t-shirt, Maja is tracing her musical awakening – and the answer is telling. She recalls a dance competition, of all places, when she was 14. Her friend performed to Aphex Twin’s To Cure a Weakling Child, unleashing the uncanny classic onto an unsuspecting room of teenagers. “I was like, ‘What the fuck is happening with this music?’ That song just stuck in my head for years.”

Top: VEREDAS, Jewellery: G6C, Fur worn as skirt: Adam Jones, Shoes: Natacha Marro, Tie and belt: Stylist’s own

This moment exposed Maja to a whole new world of music, and set her on an indirect path towards becoming the artist she is today. A journey that involved vocal training (a throat condition shelved her plans to sing professionally) before she started exploring DJing and production. But another roadblock – this time in the form of familial pressure – led her to pursue a degree in law and economics (“my parents wanted me to be a grown-up,” she laughs). She eventually pleaded her case and dropped out in favour of a sound engineering course. “Luckily, it worked out, because I’m not sure if I would be able to deal with my parents [otherwise]. They’d be so pissed off, they’d probably make me go back to law school.”

Maja began attending parties in Warsaw as an underaged teenager during the era of fidget house – “the most annoying music style ever” – before gradually becoming enmeshed in the city’s swelling club scene. It was here that she discovered genres like EBM, techno and electro, and got stuck into a number of roles – from running events to working the bar – alongside DJ residencies with Brutaż and Jasna 1 during the latter half of the 2010s. This 360-degree view of the industry has shaped Maja’s understanding of the club as a communal experience powered by an ensemble cast, rather than a one-person act built around whoever happens to be headlining that night. “It’s not about you [the DJ] being the star – everyone builds the night and creates the experience for the people who paid money to be a part of it,” she enthuses.

Jumpsuit: Poster Girl, Ties: Feyitimi Majekodunmi, Jewellery: G6C, Sunglasses: Tom Davies Kent, Shoes and headscarf: Stylist’s own

While Warsaw provided Maja’s musical education, it was a move to Berlin in 2018 that saw her career flourish. The same year she released her powerful, industrial-imbued EP Self Will via SPFDJ’s Intrepid Skin imprint, followed by the rave-ready, EBM-techno merger Identity Process. These releases cemented her distinctive approach to techno, clearing the way for milestone after milestone: from playing lauded underground festivals like Unsound and CTM and dropping a Resident Advisor mix to joining the Discwoman roster and getting behind the decks at Berghain. Throughout Europe, Maja found a community within crowds looking for a more urgent techno experience. The harder and faster, the better.

But this period wasn’t all positive for Maja. Describing the Berlin scene as “cliquey, both musically and in terms of people”, she confides that she felt stifled by the city’s austere techno culture. “I was always a bit more playful and adventurous, which would sometimes get me into trouble,” she says. “Obviously there are a lot of expectations, especially with stricter genres like techno.” What exactly does she mean by trouble? “Oh, just people saying things online about how I should be eliminated from the techno scene,” she replies flippantly. “You know, I can’t imagine being so serious about any music genre that you’d send threats to people that play differently to how you like – just go to another party.”

Dress: 150mg, Headscarf: VEREDAS, Jewellery: G6C and Sweet Lime Juice, Tights: Nona The Label, Shoes: Tabitha Ringwood, Scarf: Stylist’s own

While she still has plenty of respect for people in the Berlin scene, this kind of negativity forced Maja to self-edit and suppress her creativity. Since moving to London in September, 2020, she admits to feeling more free in her professional life and personal life, something which is also reflected in her style. Graduating from minimalist techno fashion, she’s more of a maximalist these days – “I’ll go to clubs in a suit!” – which matches her no-holds-barred approach to music. She’s even collaborated with Milan label A Better Mistake on a capsule collection.

She eagerly recounts her experiments with nail art and facetiously claims to prefer watching The Real Housewives over listening to new music at the moment. In short, it’s clear that she has no time for techno’s self-ordained gatekeepers. “A few years ago, I was wearing all black because I was told you can’t stand out when you’re doing this job. You have to be anonymous,” she recalls. “Regaining control of how I’m being perceived, owning my femininity and playing with it however I want, has given me so much confidence.”

Dress: 150mg, Headscarf: VEREDAS, Jewellery: G6C and Sweet Lime Juice, Tights: Nona The Label, Shoes: Tabitha Ringwood, Scarf: Stylist’s own

This newfound freedom has energised Maja, who tells me she’s no longer concerned about the opinions of others. Not only is she preparing to dust off her vocals for a new live set, she’s also fresh off the release of Projections, her debut EP for Ninja Tune sub-label Technicolour – which Maja describes as “slower electronics, nothing really straightforward [and] clubby”. It’s a refreshing change of pace from the previous dancefloor-focused experiments with which she made her name. Within this liminal space – where the rough edges of techno and her softer aesthetic interests collide – is where Maja feels her most authentic self. These days, she’s only hopeful that it connects. And if it doesn’t? Well, she doesn’t seem fazed. “A lot of people that are used to my music might not agree with [Projections], but that’s OK. Maybe others will follow me on my journey.”

Projections is out now via Technicolour