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Electric Daisy Carnival

[EDC 2014]

Q&A: Producer/DJ Maya Jane Coles’ artful subtlety is a welcome contrast to the usual EDC bombast

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Maya Jane Coles
Annie Zaleski

Electric Daisy Carnival features dozens of acts that emphasize flashy, flamboyant performance elements—and not quite as many artists of a more subtle variety. That’s why the inclusion of producer/DJ Maya Jane Coles is so refreshing.

The London-based musician is a deliberate, thought-provoking throwback to the U.K.’s minimal house and dark techno scene of the early- to mid-’90s; her mixes—including a recent commission by London club/label Fabric—as well as her dubstep-influenced music, produced under the name Nocturnal Sunshine, are dank, glitchy and mesmerizing. Yet Coles makes the familiar her own. She sang on her slow-boiling 2013 artist album, Comfort (alongside guest vocalists such as Miss Kittin and Tricky), and has created artful electro remixes for acts such as Gorillaz with her She Is Danger collaborator Lena Cullen.

Above all, the triple threat is also a fluid, flexible musician guided by the groove. “Compiling a mix for commercial release is always a tough one, as it kind of works in the opposite way to how I DJ,” she told Vice. “When I DJ, it’s all about spontaneity; a back and forth between the crowd, and the energy I’m feeling.”

Read on for Coles' thoughts on her second album, musical inspirations and more.

You recently were able to do a Fabric mix, which is quite an accomplishment. How did you decide to approach your entry into this series and what did you want to achieve with it? I have lots of early memories in that club from way before my career took off so it was definitely an honor to be asked to do it. I wanted the mix to represent the kind of set I would usually play in the club. My sets really vary quite a lot depending on where I play so it was nice to create something with a specific atmosphere in mind.

You said in a recent interview you are halfway through making your second album. How is the music coming together? How is it different than your debut, Comfort? It's definitely different [in comparison] to Comfort. My music is constantly evolving; I think that's natural for any artist. I probably notice the differences less myself because at the end of the day, for me, it's always just my own music and it's what comes naturally. But for anyone that has certain expectations, it may be much more of a surprise, I don't know.

What inspirations — musical, personal or otherwise — are influencing your new music? I can't pinpoint it to one thing, as I listen to such a variety of different stuff.

Now that Comfort has been out for a while, are you satisfied with the music on it? What would you change about it now, if anything? Yes I'm satisfied with it. I mean, it's easy for me to get sick of my own tracks, but I wouldn't change anything on it because it marks and represents a specific time and place for me and I wouldn't want to change that.

On Comfort, you sang on a lot of tracks. What was your approach to adding your vocals? How did you want your voice to interact with your music? I just love writing melodies and whenever I'm working on tracks, I have top lines that naturally come to my head so it's often easier for me to lay them down myself than to rely on someone else doing it for me. I've never been a serious singer or anything. It was something that just came later and I was like, why not?

What did the additional guest vocalists add to the music on Comfort? Why did you choose the particular people to sing over your music? As I'm a producer first and foremost, I wasn't comfortable singing on every track myself. My vocal range is limited and I have a very specific tone and style. The artists that I asked to [sing] all have really different vocal styles and approaches so it was nice to get a real variation on the album.

What made you first interested in music when you were a kid? Were there specific artists or bands that inspired you? I was a real hip-hop/R&B head when I first got into music. The amazing stuff from the ’90s. And then I really got into trip-hop, which is probably what really influenced my productions the most. Then I got into the club stuff when I was about 17 and it was a mixture of everything that really carved my sound. I listen to absolutely everything though. I'm very open minded. There's something cool in every genre.

When did you know that music was what you wanted to do for a living? Was there a specific turning point or experience that tipped you off? I started messing around making music when I was 14 [or] 15. I played a few instruments growing up so I guess I had a bit of a head start. From age 16, I knew it was what I wanted to do as a career and never looked back. I've always been super-driven so if I really want to do something, I do everything in my power to make it happen. A lot of people would tell me, oh, you should think of a Plan B, the music industry is tough, and stuff like that. But I always had faith that things would fall into place. I never take it for granted, though. I appreciate that not everyone is able to do what they love as a career so I'm always grateful for it.

At EDC, what can people expect from your set? Are you doing anything special for this particular appearance? I try to make every set special, I hope! I'm looking forward [to] playing in Vegas for the first time. It's quite surreal to think that I am going there as an underground producer/DJ. I thought the same when I played in Atlanta last year; the underground scene in America has definitely started to reach a far wider audience and the crowds let you take [there], which I like.

What's your current dancefloor-filler during DJ sets? Any particular track, artist or style really resonating with audiences? I like to keep my set fresh each time for both the crowd and myself so it's always changing.

What are you looking forward to most during your first Vegas visit? I may stick around of a few days and see what kind of trouble I can get myself into!

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