Name: Julia Matuss
Occupation: DJ, producer
Current Release: Julia Matuss's Absence Seizure, a compilation featuring favorites from the previously vinyl only catalogue is available from bandcamp.
Recommendations: Animation “Soul”
Dali “THREE YOUNG SURREALIST WOMEN HOLDING IN THEIR ARMS THE SKINS OF AN ORCHESTRA, 1936”
Michel Houellebecq “Plateforme” (2001)
If you enjoyed this interview with Julia Matuss, check out her facebook page for current updates and music.
When did you start DJing - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
In my country, Ukraine, we start going out early, usually. There was no age restriction, so at the tender age of 12 you could find me in a club 7 days a week, pretty much. It was my paradise :)
I dissolved in music and was very much into dancing … it was a way to express emotions, triggered by music through the body. Sometimes it feels like your chest is getting ripped open and your soul comes out, ahah. Best times, I live for this.
At the same time I was attending music school. All that, naturally, evolved into DJing and countless hours on a floor with equipment. As far as influences, way too many. I listen to a wide variety. If I really have to narrow it down, then Prodigy and Jamiroquai. In terms of DJs, it would have to be Armand van Helden and Carl Cox.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I never thought about it and never cared for it. I mean, originality ... I am, how I am :)
If you think you should be original, to me that already means that you are not. It’s something that you either have or you don’t. I never had the idea to sound like someone or something. One of my favorite expressions is ”copycats have nine lives, but no soul”. So, that’s where I stand with copying.
Neither did I ever try to cater to a particular style. My music is always born from inside of me, that’s all. If you ask my mom and my friends, they will say that I always had my own vision for pretty much anything and that’s not always a good thing, ahah. Sometimes, I am very lucky to meet people with a similar outlook, like Abe Duque. Maybe I can listen to advice and take things into consideration, but only from few people, that I have tremendous respect for.
As far as learning, there is no end to it, ever. I would like to learn as much as I can, using as many resources as I can get.
What were some of the main challenges and goals when starting out as a DJ and how have they changed over time? What is it about DJing, compared to, say, producing your own music, that makes it interesting for you?
The only goal was ever to express myself and find connections, hopefully. As far as challenges, that would be discipline and putting hours in. I get bored easily and always had a hard time sitting down for long time. Being a professional athlete definitely helps to stick to the schedule and becoming a robot, if needed :)
Talking DJing, the main challenge for me was to overcome stage fright, probably. Even when playing piano concerts as a child, I would black out the moment my fingers touched the keys and wake up to applause, hopefully … I still get butterflies and tremors for the first couple tracks, when I get on.
Talking production, the main challenge was to finish tracks. I lay out the main idea pretty fast and get very excited. Then, it drags on forever with adding little touches on and taking them out 🙈😂 But like everything else, it’s just practice, commitment and patience. I can’t compare DJing and producing, those are two completely different states for me. DJing is about taking music in, my emotions are formed by it and translated onto the audience. Production comes from my emotions, translates into music and hopefully, awakens things in the audience.
How would you define the job and describe the influence of the DJ? How are the experience and the music transformed through your work?
I can only speak for myself, but music is my cure for everything. I can enter any state of mind and modify my mind’s state with right track. There is nothing and no one else I have that relationship with and it’s magic.
So the job is to be a magician in some sense and make people feel things through the music. Some moments on the dancefloor are worthy living for. Experience helps to be more diverse and gives more pieces to the puzzle, creates bigger and better journeys in sets. There is so much music out there.
What was your first set-up as DJ like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
It’s always been about turntables. There's my first one, the ine I started with and then there's the last one I ended up with. It between, I tried every possible gear for DJing, as technologies changed. CDJs, Traktor, Serato, Maschine, Live and so on. I worked for the Dubspot music production school for several years. You had to know all possible variations of set-ups and ways it can go down, it was a must. At home now, I have turntables and an Elektron Analog Rytm.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
It depends on my mood. Sometimes I get lazy and comfortable with what I have, especially programs. Then I would have to disable others, to make sure I stay in the new, until I get comfortable there. Analog gear is more interesting, because it's more hands on and works for your inner child. A new toy. I like new toys :) Machines excel at endurance, but humans give it a soul. One needs another, for sure.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do life and creativity feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
Blending seamlessly sounds great, I would like for that to happen. For now, the past couple of years I’ve come up with a schedule that works for me and I do my best to stick with it.
Quarantine and lockdown gave me more time to do things that I enjoy and the possibility to work on self-improvement. Upon waking, I call my mom to see how she is doing. Because she is far away and I am worried about her. Then I pray. I spent sometime in a monastery and gave myself several promises, that I’ve been keeping so far. Praying is one of them. Lately, I got into breathing techniques as well. Then I work out, depending on the day, it differs. I do Pilates, yoga, cantienica and boxing. Then I meditate and finally, have “breakfast” if you can call it that - since it's already 3pm, usually 🙈😂 My breakfast has consisted of oatmeal mostly for the past 30 years … that came from hardcore training days, when I had to have something light, healthy and don’t think about it.
After that, for 3 days a week I immerse myself in music and the other 3 I try to dedicate to online presence. Answering emails, posting, etc. Then I make dinner, because I like to cook and I get creative. If I do it for someone, it’s even better. Afterwards, I'll maybe read a book or watch something. Then I pray and meditate again and go to bed, with the exception on weekends. Weekends are for the club :)
Let's say you have a gig coming up tonight. What does your approach look like – from selecting the material and preparing for, opening and then building a set?
It really depends where and what time. Daytime rooftop opening would be very different from a warehouse 6am set. I would prepare a big folder with tracks, which would could be a fit, in my opinion. Then I have about 30 favorite records, that I would carry with me all the time. I would always have records I made with me, as well. Several new things to test drive, of course. Then it’s all falls into place, once I am behind the decks - I’ll tell the story. It’s more on the improvisation side and a moment for me, definitely.
Can you describe your state of mind during a DJ set? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Excited and happy. Not sure about ideal, is there such a thing? As Dali said: “Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it”. Distractions are bad sound and set up, people bumping into tables. Luckily, it’s not often that you have to deal with that. No problem, if everything works properly - it’s a pleasure from start to finish. Alcohol can help to relax at first, but can be dangerous, depending on quantity.
What are some of the considerations that go into deciding which track to play next? What makes two tracks a good fit? How far do you tend to plan ahead during a set?
I have the two first pieces in mind, usually. Everything after that really depends. What fits depends on the energy level of the previous track, what’s happening on the dancefloor and where you want to take it from there. Sometimes I change my mind about opening tunes, right on the spot, as I see what’s happening in that moment.
How do playing music at home and presenting it in the club compare and relate? What can be achieved through them, respectively, and what do you personally draw from both?
At home, you just see what fits better together and how best connect two tracks. You get to know the music. Nowadays, people get quite creative with intros and outros, so you figure out better parts for mixing and practice your skills. So that when you are in the club, you can let go and just ride out the feeling. In a club there is an exchange between you and a crowd, a constant response flow, that you can not create at home alone.
How would you describe the relationship between your choices and goals as a DJ and the expectations, desires and feedback of the audience? How does this relationship manifest itself during a performance and how do you concretely tap into it?
You always reach for the stars and have best intentions. I like to take risks and am usually firm about my choices. That doesn't necessarily always pan out, but I think it’s worth it. When you take a chance on a track and it has crazy good reaction, it’s the best feeling ever. I would always rather do that than play it safe. Sometimes it falls flat, luckily not that often. Then I take it very personal, failures is another chapter for me, I don’t like to loose. But again, as Bruce Lee said : “Don't fear failure. Not failure, but low aim, is the crime. In great attempts it is glorious even to fail.”
Especially thanks to the storage facilities of digital media, DJ sets could potentially go on forever. Other than closing time, what marks the end of a DJ performance for you? What are the most satisfying conclusions to a set?
It really depends. If there is a great vibe in the room and nobody is playing after you, it’s a great pleasure to continue ... I think, the longest set I ever played was 11 hours. Happy and smiling people is a most satisfying conclusion
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I definitely appreciate art in many forms and shapes. Acting, ballet, opera, museums, traditional art in different cultures - there is no end to it and it blows my mind. I am very lucky to be alive and to be able to experience it.
Painters have always been a fascinating subject to me, Dali being a personal favorite. I have a magnet with the perfectionism quote I mentioned before on the fridge, as a reminder.
Here's a particularly good story about how art feeds back into every day life. Once I bought a poster of a Dali painting, that cost me 15 dollars, but was precious to me at the same time. I was so worried about leaving it on a plane, that I left my very fancy for that time MacBook Pro with 9 finished and unreleased projects in it. No back up. Gone forever. I went into a Great Depression, while spending several days at the airport doing everything possible and impossible to recover it. How is that for an art appreciation story 🙈😂?
Paintings ... I have a best friend and she is a great painter, so I always ask her how she does it? She asks me in return, how do I write music :) I say, well, it’s easy, it just happens … She says, well, same here :) So I guess, when you are an artist, you are always curious, what else is there and looking for connections and experiences. Art speaks to you on so many levels, gives you insight into somebody’s mind and soul. Always been healing for me, as well.