The London Producer-DJ Gets Personal Before Her American Debut
The deepest beats fly from the mind of a small girl with an owl tattoo. It sounds like a storybook, but it’s the true life of Maya Jane Coles, the London producer who started DJing in clubs before she could legally drink in them. Now 24, the fashion-forward artist of part-Japanese descent cuts a unique figure at her DJ gigs in usually male-dominated clubs and festivals all over the world. It’s an image overshadowed only by her fluent mastery of both the beats and the decks, skills that have had her crowned her the seventh best DJ in the world in 2011, according to the electronic music mavens at Resident Advisor.
Originally a hip hop head, she turned to drum and bass and jungle before falling for the sophistication of underground house from luminaries like Anja Schneider — a mentor who eventually released Maya’s EP, Beat Faster, on her label Mobilee. Maya’s breakout track, “What They Say,” topped online dance music retailer Beatport’s charts for three solid months at the end of 2010, and the What They Say EP that followed established her as house classicist. Her depth and attention to detail continued to reveal themselves through Don’t Put Me In Your Box and Hummingbird.
Fundamentally a craftsman, Maya’s perfectionism extends not only to her writing, arranging, recording, and mixing, which she all does herself, but to her album cover art, which she also designs and illustrates. Her depth is matched by her breadth: throughout her short but concentrated career, Maya has shown a diversity of sonic interests — in addition to her work as Maya Jane Coles, she puts out more two-step and dubstep-laced tracks as Nocturnal Sunshine, and also puts her dark shine on pop hits as She Is Danger, an “alternative bass pop project” with singer Lena Cullen.
Maya is flying even higher in 2012. After an intimate gig in NYC earlier this year, Maya is setting off an official American coming-out this week at the World Music Conference, with four headlining sets in Miami. In addition to this April’s drop of her new DJ Kicks compilation, the first commercially available mix that Maya has released, the year promises the release of her debut full-length album. Never one to stay to a formula, Maya’s first long-player will be another departure: allegedly it’s 90 percent vocals tracks and aimed squarely at an intended audience outside the club. It’s one more scene that Maya looks to dominate with ease.
Read on to learn her greatest weakness, how she battles her nerves before gigs, and the story behind the owls on her chest.
Your owl tattoos are so beautiful. When did you get it? Was it to commemorate anything? And did it hurt more or less than your tattoos on your arms?
Thank you, I’ve only had it for a year. I’ve had my tattoos done during periods in my life I have wanted to mark. Being a creative person I’ve just always wanted to use my body as a canvas for art. There’ll be plenty more in their own time. And yes chest tattoos definitely hurt more than arm tattoos!
Last year, you were chosen as DJ of the year by Mixmag, as well as ranked 9th best DJ in the world by Resident Advisor. During moments in the beginning of your career when you needed a boost, did you ever fantasize and about being on the cover of Mixmag?
It’s always been my aim to go far with my music. I’m a firm believer that if you have the right mentality, are determined, and stick at what you love doing, you will eventually get to where you want to be. There’s just no telling how long that could take. I still always had so many of those doubting days. It’s hard not to when you put your everything into something and have those periods where it feels like nothing is moving forward. But giving up has never been an option because I wouldn’t be happy settling for something else. Music is my biggest passion, there’s never been an equal alternative for me. But things like being on the cover of magazines and winning awards etc. definitely seem so surreal until they happen. And even now it seems pretty surreal for me!
Your music is so polished and thoughtful, while also having a great beat – it’s part of your allure. Are you a perfectionist, and do you ever have to force yourself to let some mistakes go?
On one hand I can be a real perfectionist, on the other hand I can be the opposite. It really depends on my mood and what it is I’m working on. A track always has to be past a certain standard for it to ever reach ears that aren’t mine.
What is the cheesiest pop song you’ve ever loved?
I used to like the Spice Girls. But hey who didn’t?? haha
Tell us about your first ever gig – were you nervous?
Hell yes, I was nervous! I think my first ever gig in a club was at AKA bar (part of The End) in London back when it was open. I was 17, and that same week I was playing the opening of the Roundhouse. It took me years to not get nervous before gigs. But it’s very different back when nobody knows who you are cause there are no expectations. People would get totally surprised after hearing a set, looking into the booth and seeing that it was some young girl that wasn’t even old enough to be in the club! Haha. But once you start playing to large crowds that are all there specifically for your music there’s so much more pressure. I still get nervous before playing certain places like big festivals, etc. But then once I’m actually in the booth or on stage playing I get in the zone and it overrides everything.
You not only produce as MJC but have several other monikers you release music under, as well as a live act. And you tour as a DJ too. What’s your secret to keeping all this stuff straight?
I don’t know really, I just can’t stop making music. I produce too much stuff to be able to just release it all under one name. I’m definitely a workaholic. But it’s never really work cause I love what I do.
And conversely, what would you say is your worst habit?
What would your advice be to young girls who want to produce but get intimidated by how male-dominated the scene is?
Never get intimidated by it! To be honest, I’ve never felt intimidated by the fact the industry is so male dominated. It’s a question people ask all the time. I think people think about it too much. I mean, when I was younger I did occasionally get guys not taking me seriously when I said I produced music, but that never put me off. The music always speaks for itself. And now there are more female producers than ever before, hopefully that will keep increasing.
Berlin-based producer Emika told us she’d never recommend going to University as she did (“No. Do not study how to be a producer. Get your ass onstage, get your hands on gear.”) How have your experiences helped/hurt your progress?
I totally agree with her. I tried university, but dropped out after a year. That’s just my personal experience though. It didn’t help me with what I was trying to do. I’m definitely not saying that is my advice for everyone. It just took away from my creative time and at that point I was working so hard to build my career that it really wasn’t helping. This industry is not something you learn from a book or lecturers. You have to dive in there and experience it for real.
What was the last good movie you saw? If your life were a movie, would it be a romantic comedy, a cartoon or a suspense/action movie?
If my life was a movie it would be totally twisted and unpredictable. I’m not into typical action films or cheesy romance movies. I enjoy really psychological weird stuff that kind of messes with your head, or pretty slow paced films where nothing much happens but totally based around interesting characters and real life.
You’re of Japanese heritage. What’s your favorite Japanese food?
All of it!! I LOVE Japanese food.
Maya Jane Coles DJ-Kicks is out April 17th through !K7 Records.