Name: Mary Yuzovskaya
Occupation: DJ, producer, label owner at Monday Off.
Nationality: American
Current release: The latest release on Mary Yuzovskaya's Monday Off label is the fourth part of an ongoing various-artist compilation series, featuring contributions by Ruhig,  Blazej Malinowski, Craft as well as Mary herself.  
Recommendations: I recommend checking out People Like Us. And a collection of short stories “Slaves Of New York” by Tama Janowitz.

If you enjoyed this interview with Mary Yuzovskaya and would like to find out more about her, visit her on Instagram, Facebook, and Soundcloud.

Monday Off · Various Artists vol. 4 - MOFF010

Can you talk a bit about your interest in or fascination for DJing? Which DJs, clubs or experiences captured your imagination in the beginning?

At first, as a young teen that was not allowed to go clubbing by strict parents, I wanted to be a radio DJ that has a show about electronic music.

Later, when I gained access to the clubs, I realised that being on stage is even more exciting than being on the air.

What made it appealing to you to DJ yourself? What was it that you wanted to express and what, did you feel, did you have to add artistically?

I played piano my entire childhood and teenage years. I had a lot of experience performing on stage, such as acting, as well as playing piano in the theatre. Falling in love with electronic dance music made me want to showcase it too.

I don’t think I had anything artistic to add to the already existing scene, but I had this very specific music taste I wanted to share with others.

What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to DJing? Do you see yourself as part of a certain tradition or lineage?

Programming is key! I always wanted to be good at it and I practiced a lot to become fluent at engineering sets on the go instead of just mixing music. Also EQing - it has to be thought through and delicate. One shouldn’t be able to say when exactly one record transitioned into another.

Of course, there were plenty of DJs that inspired me to do things a certain way, but I don’t know if I can consider myself a part of any school or tradition.

Clubs are still the natural home for DJing. What makes the club experience unique? Which clubs you've played or danced at are perfect for realising your vision – and why?

A clean and powerful sound system, a strong line-up and smart lighting.

If you have good artists playing on a good sound, a good crowd will follow and will create a vibe to remember.

From DJs composing their own music or DJ mixes as albums to albums constructed like DJ sets, there is a long tradition of cross-pollination between DJing and producing. Can you talk a bit about how this manifests itself in your own work?

I think being a DJ makes me a better producer. The things you learn on the dance floor are very useful in the studio.

What role does digging for music still play for your work as a DJ? Tell me a bit about what kind of music you will look for and the balance between picking material which a) excites you, b) which will please the audience and c) fulfill certain functions within your DJ set.   

Digging is everything! I love record shopping.

I pick the music that a) excites me and c) fulfils certain functions within my set. In regards to b) - you can’t really please everyone, people have different desires. However, if you are true to your sound and only play what is genuinely your favourite, sooner or later people with similar tastes will discover you and start coming to your shows and support you.

I think it’s more important to connect with those who love the same music you do, rather than trying to please those who have a different vision from yours.

I've always wondered: How is it possible for DJs to memorise so many tracks? How do you store tracks in your mind – traditionally as grooves + melodies + harmonies or as colours, energy levels, shapes?

I’m not very good at memorising names of the tracks and artists, I do remember the names of the labels quite well. So while I’m playing a set at a club and searching for a specific record, it’s usually the label name that I have in mind. And, of course, the artwork. That I always remember.

For example: that record in a red jacket, with big letters, the track that is on the side where the tree is pictured on the label sticker - that’s the description that connects with the music 100%, I will find that record in my bag in seconds and that type of memory never fails me.

Using your very latest DJ set as an example, what does your approach look like, from selecting the material and preparing for and opening a set? What were some of the transitions that really worked looking back?

My approach is always the same - pack your record bag wisely, tune in with the crowd, know where you are going but don’t be afraid to experiment, don’t rush into things, take your time.

When I play at the clubs I bring more records with me. Live streams with no real audience are more pre-programmed than the club shows. Therefore, in order not to break my back I bring the very minimum.

How does the decision making process work during a gig with regards to wanting to play certain records, the next transition and where you want the set to go? How far do you tend to plan ahead during a set?

I don’t plan the actual sets ahead, but I put a lot of time and thought into what records I bring with me to the event.

When I’m playing at a club I rely a lot on the vibe and the people on the dance floor, we are building the set together in a way, but I do think two-three records ahead, because DJing equals storytelling for me, so I’m always going somewhere. I would say my sets are quite strategic.

Kode9 once said: "I prefer to hear tracks in the mix together for extended periods of time, and I like to hear the tension between two tracks." What's your take on that?

I agree. I also enjoy long transitions and nice unhurried EQing.

Even if tension between tracks is not a goal for you, pieces can sound entirely different as part of a DJ set compared to playing them on their own. How do you explain this? Which tracks from your collection don't seem like much outside of a DJ set but are incredible effective and versatile on a gig?

All the records in my collection seem special to me, otherwise why would I buy/play them?

But I agree that some records “behave” very differently in different environments, depending a lot on the sound system, the party, the mood, the hour … I think that’s proof that music is alive and a job of a DJ is to sense and predict how a certain track will impact the audience at this time and place.

In terms of the overall architecture of a DJ set, are you looking more for one consistent level of energy or a shift between peaks and troughs – and why?

That depends on the time slot, as well as the crowd and their state of mind.

I  like slow build-ups and careful energy shifts, and I am not a fan of jumping from one thing to another abruptly. But what are those shifts and how the energy levels change is something that needs to be improvised on the spot.

Online DJ mixes, created in the studio as a solitary event, have become ubiquitous. From your experience with the format, what changes when it comes to the way you DJ – and to the experience as a whole - when you subtract the audience?

My approach to programming doesn’t change, but it’s almost impossible to improvise without a live audience. Making eye contact with the dancers at the party can give you some “right here right now” ideas that won’t come to you when you are on your own.

Advances in AI-supported DJing look set to transform the trade. For the future, where do you see the role of humans in DJing versus that of technology?

I think it will stay as it is - sure, technologies are changing, but at the end of the day it’s a human being, with their energy, music taste and vision that makes us, as listeners, engage in a set.

Let's imagine you lost all your music for one night and all there is left at the venue is a crate of records containing a random selection of music. How would you approach this set?

Oh boy, I would probably have a heart attack … You know those nightmares when you dream of being back to school, attending an exam and being unprepared or something like that? And you wake up in horror. Losing all my music scenario sounds like that type of a nightmare. (laughs)

Jokes aside, I am, as a DJ, pretty much my record collection. My taste is very specific and super narrow - I’m not eclectic at all. I also put a lot of thought into programming the set; in order to do that well, you need to know what records you have with you and what you could do with them.

That being said, playing from a random crate is something I would never do.