Meet Maya Jane Coles, the dark star of the underground jetting in to BMI
What’s On teams up with pals Hype to preview Maya Jane Coles in Dubai at Blue Marlin Ibiza UAE on Dec 11. Read a Maya Jane Coles interview.
Artists like Maya Jane Coles don’t come around very often. A modern day real deal DJ and producer, she’s managed to maintain an enigmatic air of mystery despite being catapulted into the global limelight…
There’s a dark, almost gothic sense of humour to Maya Jane Coles. Recalling the spooky video shot for her track Everything, she grins: “The space we used had the most amazing props. It was like a medical lab – you could film some really cool horror movies there. There were brains in jars, loads of taxidermy, old bones…”
At 5’3” with chic, closely cropped hair, high cheekbones and carefully placed flicks of black eyeliner, on first glance she might not look like the kind of person who gets excited about brains in jars. On second glance, however, the piercing through her septum, the chunky copper chain that’s almost too big for her slender neck and the chestplate tattoo, depicting two owls, that can be seen peeking out over her grey v-neck, tell a different story.
Ever since Maya Jane Coles shot to fame there has been a dark edge to her productions. In retrospect, even the infectious vibes of her breakthrough track, What They Say on Paris label Real Tone – the tune that proved the catalyst to her career – contains a thread of melancholy. It’s perhaps apt given that when it was released she was down on her luck and penniless having just had her production equipment stolen during a burglary, and it seemed as though her music career had all but been terminated before it had even begun.
Fortunately What They Say changed everything. She backed it up with a string of quality releases and DJ sets, and then, seven months after its release, picked up her first ever UK music magazine cover shoot in 2011. Since then Maya has become firmly established as underground royalty, maintaining an air of mystique and taking complete control of her image and career path. Now with over 15 international magazine covers to her name, she has played in more than 30 countries in the last two years, from Japan to the United States and everywhere in between. On top of that, she’s racked up remixes for the likes of Tricky, Florence And The Machine and The xx and a debut album, Comfort, that was without question one of the standout electronic records of 2013.
London-based Maya Jane Coles was born into a musical family: her father is a graphic designer who ran a small independent record label and had a stack of heavy metal mix tapes, her Japaneses mother – who brought Maya up speaking only Japanese to her – has a passion for Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix. In her early teens she was a keen footballer whose coach tried to convince her to go pro. But when she heard some of the music coming out of Bristol at the time, everything changed. “Massive Attack’s Blue Lines and Portishead’s Dummy really made me want to start trying to make my own music,” she says. The first tracks she produced were improvised using her dad’s video editing software and a CD of loops and beat samples.
By 15 she had enrolled in a music course at a youth studio, and by 17 won a £10,000 grant aimed at developing creativity in London’s most gifted kids. “Another girl had invented a tiny self-cooling fridge for use in Africa that could be made for around 30 pence, so I was really lucky,” she says.
Comfort was born out of collaborative projects with artists including Tricky, Kim Ann Foxman and Miss Kittin, plus singers Karin Park, Nadine Shah and Catherine Pockson. “I wouldn’t have put the album out any sooner because it takes such a long time for a producer to create and be happy with your own sound and to be unique, and happy with the technical side of things,” she says.
Control is important to Maya – indeed she composes, produces and engineers all her own music. “It was a long process to get the whole thing done, there was a lot of changing of tracks,” she muses. “I just wanted it to be perfect, but it was never going to be perfect – as an artist, you always see little flaws, so nothing ever will be. When do you stop working on a track? When is it finished? Sometimes there is no end – you could work on something forever.”
Discussions with “numerous major labels” also delayed the album’s release and, eventually, it was decided that it would find a home on Maya’s own label I Am Me, with distributor Kobalt Music Services in charge of circulating the LP.
Asked which track was the gel that brought the album together, her response is swift. Easier To Hide, she says, provided the key inspiration behind the whole thing, that pivotal moment every artist needs in order to progress. “At the time I finished Easier To Hide I felt like it was my best track to date and I was really happy with it. I thought, ‘This is what I want my album to sound like.’” That ‘MJC sound’ is predominantly moody, dark and sombre in places, but emotive and melancholy – a sound which has become Maya’s signature, emphasised on the album by the low BPMs on many of the tracks. And the spooky videos that accompany some of her releases.
Maya’s first introduction to clubbing was at 15, at the now defunct Key in London – “though my first real exposure to house music was going to secretsundaze and Mulletover when I was sixteen,” she says. “I was lucky to even know that parties like that existed – I thought I hated house music!” Her break came when she hooked up with Dogmatik label owner Alex Arnout on MySpace, then bumped into him in person at secretsundaze.
Maya’s growth as a DJ has been steady over the past few years, from small basement gigs in Liverpool through to the huge stage at Ushuaïa in Ibiza. Her focus never slips – she enjoys the music just as much as those watching her, yet she’s not one for showboating. Maya remains concentrated and cool throughout her gigs, even when she’s tearing the roof off the world’s greatest clubs. Her prowess on the decks has certainly increased as the years have passed, with many of her peers claiming she dropped the best set at the 2012 Miami Winter Music Conference. Not only did she enchant the entire crowd at Villa 221’s Last Resort event but she also managed to catch the ears of techno king Sven Väth, who promptly invited her to take the throne at his legendary Cocoon night in Ibiza.
Another milestone came in April this year, when MJC was handpicked to deliver a mix for the fêted Fabric compilation series. The resulting Fabric 75 mix blends through various deep house and techno cuts such as Dense and Pika’s remix of Erotic Discourse and Yenk’s track Basement, along with Maya’s own previously unreleased tune Premonition. And earlier this month she returned to Anja Schneider’s Mobilee label to release a three-track EP. From The Dark follows on in Maya’s unmistakable style from her 2011 Mobilee release, Beat Faster, this time with the addition of vocalist Moggli.
While a glance at Maya’s gig calendar – which sees her heading to Blue Marlin UAE – or her remixes and collaborations may suggest a burgeoning list of industry contacts, Maya is keen to stress that her extended family is what’s most important. “All my close friends are the same people I’ve known for years, who don’t care about who’s hot in music or celebrity culture,” she says. “They’re the people I surround myself with: creative people, but not industry.”
It seems Maya is very keen to ensure that ‘the industry’ doesn’t become her world. Sure, she gets on with everyone – there’s no animosity towards her peers – but the importance of her real friends far outweighs the relationships she has with any industry associates. “It’s so important to me to be able to live that life that I lived before [the DJ fame]. You see so many DJs who lose that side of their life completely and find that the only friends they’ve got are people they work with and people who care about the DJ lifestyle,” she observes. “If you were to ever step out of that you can find you have nothing.”
It’s an impressive outlook for a 26-year-old who has found herself thrust into the limelight in such a short space of time – particularly as it’s not just her private life that she keeps such tight controls on. She has a hand in every aspect of her career including the artwork for her releases (most of which she creates herself), her own label I Am Me, and the family vibe of the team around her. Mysterious, thoughtful, determined and just a little bit spooky, no wonder she’s become dance music royalty.
Blue Marlin Ibiza UAE, Ghantoot Al Jazira Island Hotel, Dubai; free. Thursday, 8pm to 3am. Tel: 056 1133400. Taxi: Ghantoot Al Jazira