Welcoming London-based legend Maya Vika to the 909 series <3
Maya Vika is one of those people whose passion seeps through everything they do and is kind of infectious to be around. Co-running the experimental / leftfield electronic music label TT alongside DJ Pitch, Maya Vika joined the team in 2021 after being sent a social media call-out to help manage the label. Since then, Maya has been an integral part of the label, helping across everything behind the scenes and most notably working alongside DJ Pitch on the A&R to curate their release schedule and pull together exciting and interesting compilations such as ‘Precursive Sequences’ and ‘Preset Resets’ – tapping into very specific sounds and scenes across the globe. Alongside their role at TT, Maya has been working with Keep Hush as a marketing and events manager helping across social media, editorial and event curation, most recently assisting with the debut Keep Hush event in Bogotá. Through everything, Maya’s focus is to champion the underground and give a platform and voice to those who aren’t usually presented the opportunity.
As a DJ and radio host, Maya has an incredible to approach to discovery of new music, constantly digging for new artists across various platforms, most notably Soundcloud. This is evident through their DJ sets and radio mixes which often break the boundaries of relying on a specific genre or scene, instead they channel all of their influences in such a creative way that it comes across completely seamless, giving an amazing glimpse into their musical history. An example of this is in the accompanying mix for this interview which Maya explains, “a reason for why I love music so much is that I strongly associate it with certain moments and memories in my life. Whether that is people, formative events, periods of time or places. The tracks that I have put together for it signpost some of these, recalling experiences, memories and people that I care or have cared about in my life. When I set out to record it I wanted to capture something that was reflective, thoughtful, taking the listener on a journey. Even though parts of it are imperfect I feel like it does capture some of the turbulence and resulting feelings of reflection that I have been feeling recently.” It’s one of my favourite mixes that we’ve had the pleasure of hosting with its very personal and thoughtful approach which comes across as a stark reflection of who Maya is.
Below we catch up with Maya to dig more into their musical history, getting started in the industry, and approach to label curation and DJing.
Hi Maya, how are you doing today? What have you been up to lately?
I’m good thanks 🙂 been a super busy year so far, lots of super exciting TT releases from all over the world, upping the DJing slowly and leading big international projects for Keep Hush such as the recent Bogotá livestream.
Starting from the beginning, did you grow up within a creative environment? Was there music playing around the house when you were younger and if so what would you usually be listening to?
Kinda yes and no. Neither of my parents are super musical but my mum’s side of the family is Tartar Russian, so I think that’s part of why she’s always pushed forward a culture for appreciating live music, particularly classical. I’m really privileged in the fact that my family invested the time and money to help me do this and take me to concerts from a young age. When I was at school she encouraged me to learn piano and violin from an early age, complete all the grades as well as regularly take me to classical concerts in London.
Initially being forced to practice felt like a bit of a chore, but as I got older I really found a love for the piano and took an interest in some composition, especially when I took music A-Level. I was quite into Chopin and Russian composers such as Rachmaninoff. I would have his 3rd piano concerto on repeat and dream of being a concert pianist ahah. Alongside the classical stuff, my dad introduced me to more of the Rock leaning side of music. For example he’d always make me play ‘Let’s Dance’ by David Bowie with him on Band Hero.. later on I became very obsessed with him because I think this was a nice memory for me. We’d also go to jazz concerts as a treat in London, so that sort of stuff would be on my radar too.
Who was the first artist or band that you were a fan of?
Wow I feel like this question has made me think a lot. It definitely has a lot of layers to it so I think I’m going to split my answer into 3 moments that stand out to me. Also, because I’m really indecisive haha.
So, my earliest memory of hearing an artist and becoming particularly drawn to them would be when my mum would play her CDs in the car for long drives. My ‘fandom’ for artists at this time was centred around being obsessed with singular songs from their albums. So for example ‘Friday I’m in Love’ by The Cure or Arcade Fire. I associated these tracks with certain moments when I was growing up, so I think I see them as more of a nostalgia trip rather than proper ‘fandom’. These tracks are also special because they also became important to me in a later stage of my musical development. I associate them with other memories particularly during school years with one of my closest friends, Holly. One of the first people with whom I found that I could share and explore music in a really similar way with.
The second moment was when I started buying my own music. I got really into Lady Gaga, and ‘The Fame’ was one of the first CDs I bought. The Monster Ball Tour was also the first gig I went to and it honestly blew my mind. It wasn’t just a musical gig but a proper show with all the outfits and carefully put together performance. After hearing her live I got into her music more and explored her discography, diving deeper than I’d ever delved into any artist before.
However I’d say that the first moment that I was really a proper fan of an artist, not just their music but also their ‘personality’ and aesthetic was Lana Del Rey. Despite some of the problematic parts of ‘Ultraviolence’ this album was important to me and reminds me of some key transitional moments in my life. I love how my answer is basically 2 femme presenting icons !
Was there a formative moment growing up, whether that’s seeing your favourite band live or an incredible DJ set, that led you to this path?
I think I kind of answered this in relation to live music, however in terms of hearing a DJ set that changed it for me must’ve been when I was in college. I started clubbing as soon as (maybe a bit before lol) I turned 18, but when I was first old enough to start going to clubs, most of the stuff that I would go to (in Southampton) would be DnB/ Jungle raves and not for the right reasons. This was during a more hedonistic time for me when I used clubbing as a way to let loose as a result of having strict parents.
In terms of a formative moment musically it has to be at Bestival in 2017. It was the year when there was a huge storm during the festival which meant that the site turned into a mudslide so lots of my friends left early. I decided to stay, despite getting all of my belongings stolen from my tent during the night.. On the final night we headed to a stage a bit earlier before seeing Andy C and happened to catch most of Melé’s set, who I’d never heard of at the time. I remember his set so vividly because I’d never really listened to house / techno music in a rave setting. I remember videoing when he played God Made Me Phunky and some other tracks too just so I could search them up after. I’d never really experienced DJ sets as a mode of music discovery so this was a big pivotal moment for me. Although this isn’t really the vibe of music that I am super into or DJ now, it really opened my eyes to seeking out a club/ event for the music rather than just to party. It meant that I moved away from Spotify and started to inquire into new forms of digging that were more tailored to underground electronic music. (no shade to people that use spotify to discover music, I just found my algorithm quite limiting and favouring certain genres / artists). I also subscribed to newsletters for record store sites such as Zwart Goud and listened to a lot more ‘digging’ focused radio such as the backlog of Gilles Peterson shows on Radio 6 and others on Worldwide FM. I also actually started following editorial pages like untitled 909 too. The personal and unpretentious approach to writing about music on your page really resonated with me and helped me to discover a lot of artists / labels and allowed me to develop my own style of writing that I now use across all my work in music 🙂
You work across TT and Keep Hush as well as DJ, how did you get started in music and how did you land these roles?
So I moved to London after uni with the intention to get a job in music in any way possible. I studied Economics & Spanish but had no intention of working in anything economics / business related. I think my year abroad studying music in Colombia gave me the confidence to focus all my energy into forging a creative path in my career. Up until I met Rob (DJ Pitch) I’d just been working at clubs or club centred spaces and trying to meet music people through this.
I’m super grateful to have met Rob because becoming part of TT was honestly my first real entry into the music industry. He’d put a call out on his story in December 2019 asking for help with the label as he was struggling to run it himself. I replied to the story thanks to excel dj <3 who actually sent it to me. I explained to Rob that I was super passionate about the underground music scene and had been a fan of TT and loved its unique approach as a label. He had received quite a few responses so told me that he would be doing an application process for it. I actually saw that the label was putting on a night at the Haggerston that week so decided to go and give him no choice but to put a face to my name haha. After that he got back in contact with me and asked to go for a coffee with me. I thought this was going to be an interview so I spent days and days making a huge spreadsheet of notes on all the TT releases and a spreadsheet of all the labels/ artists that made up my taste at the time. I was so nervous because i’d read so much about the label and felt mad imposter syndrome for even having a shot at helping to run it. Turns out it wasn’t even an interview and I’d already got the job hahah..so I learnt that taking the initiative to go the extra mile really does help 🙂
What draws you to DJing as a creative format? What does it allow you to do?
I got into DJing during uni. I went to Warwick Uni and lived in the student town, Leamington Spa; however, there wasn’t really much of a clubbing scene. This meant that most of our motives were house parties where students would be DJing. I’d always end up right at the front of the room watching the DJ with so much awe and desire to do what they were doing. It took me a while to build up my confidence. I felt that the space was very male dominated. Most of the DJs were men and as a result would be the ones running the DJing lessons. I actually already had naturally developed a habit of regularly digging for music and organising it into meticulous playlists by genre, mood etc. I realised I was halfway there and had just as much if not more to say for myself musically than the people dominating the spaces. So I think taking the step to buy a controller and just teach myself to DJ was an outlet for me to share the huge range of music that I had accumulated over the years and to hopefully make other people feel as happy as I do when listening to it. This did mean a lot of dodgy mixing initially as I have never wanted to limit myself to one genre as a DJ. I felt that it wouldn’t represent my eclectic relationship with music honestly.
How does DJing feed into your roles at TT and Keep Hush and vice versa?
Getting more into DJing during uni and my year in Colombia increased my obsession with digging and platforming a huge range of artists in my sets. I always wanted to be the person that ppl ask for IDs from, or follow my playlists or seek out recommendations. I love the feeling of facilitating other people’s music discovery. I think this is because my personal relationship with DJing has always felt like it is more about the tune selection rather than the actual blending. I’ve always been a bigger fan of sets that may be less conventionally ‘well mixed’ but include a wide range of music and take risks. I love it when genres from all over the musical spectrum are put together in a way that makes sense when the tracklist is considered as a whole. I think this really feeds into my approach at TT and Keep Hush, as I am constantly listening to a huge range of music on various platforms in order to stay in touch with the current scene as well as always trying to learn more about what makes up these scenes and discovering musical pockets that I may have never even heard of. Thanks to the internet we now have unlimited access to almost every tune in the world. I do find this overwhelming at times but the variation in what I discover on a day to day basis continues to surprise me and drive me further into my love for music and DJing it out.
Considering the reverse, co-managing TT and my role at Keep Hush have both helped my DJing in many ways. I’ve become a lot more open to different sounds and taking more risks with my mixing as well as learning to be more aware of the space that I am able to occupy as a privileged person. I think being exposed to and researching a wide range of music, scenes and collectives from all over the world has definitely helped me to understand the importance of evaluating the space that my musical contribution takes up. Drawing the line between appreciating the sounds that I discover and choosing what sounds I think are appropriate for me to play out is something that I think is important. I don’t want to play sets entirely made up of music from scenes that I am not part of or that I don’t fully understand. I see the label and Keep Hush as a more appropriate outlet to properly appreciate and platform these scenes. I’m not a big enough DJ to help someone’s artistic career by just playing out one of their tracks. I’m lucky that my roles at Keep Hush and TT offer a much more effective opportunity to platform artists from all over the world. That’s why putting together the first Keep Hush livestream in Latin America / Bogotá and being able to platform some of the city’s amazing underground talent with a local community built space was a powerful moment.
What is your approach to managing TT? How do you work with DJ Pitch on the releases and parties?
We are actually very organised with planning our releases, we’ve got a good system that we follow and make sure all the moving parts are sorted out way ahead of time. We obviously find artists as we go but I am very happy to say we’ve got the rest of the year mapped out pretty much. DJ Pitch taught me everything I needed to know about managing a release from start to finish. I’ve also picked up so many useful skills by learning as I go. I think we work well together because we both have the same desire to platform artists from all corners of different scenes. Since Rob has taken a slight step back, I have been doing most of the managing & A&R. Because I am digging on a weekly basis for music, I am always on the lookout for new artists that could find a home on TT. The amazing thing about the label is that it isn’t really guided by any strict musical criteria. Rather, I feel like we try to put out music that is unique to that particular artist that maybe wouldn’t fall under a conventional umbrella of sound/ genre. If I hear someone I like on Soundcloud I usually ask them for demos and send them over to Rob. From there, we collaboratively decide whether we can make a release work. The freedom and breadth of sound that we are both open to is definitely reflected in the discography of the label. I would never want to put an artist in a box by restricting them to a certain genre/ sound. If an artist is confident in their own sound then they usually are a good fit for TT.
The next release on TT is from artist and painter salama – what is your routine for finding new music and artists? Are there any go to platforms that you’re always checking out for discoveries?
I found salama on soundcloud, which is my main platform for artist discovery. I don’t really have a routine for finding new music/ artists per se. I think I’ve managed to build up my Soundcloud feed quite well over the years. I’d initially made a habit of scrolling through it daily but working full time has made that harder so I try to do it every other day. I probably follow at least 5-10 new people every time I do this based on who people are reposting or prems that come up on my feed. Sometimes I like to set aside some time just to fall into a Soundcloud hole and can end up with 30 tabs open. If a profile stands out to me I’ll usually add a track or 2 to my TT A&R playlist. I like to keep tabs on their activity and keep them in a bank at the back of my mind until the moment feels right to ask for demos/ incorporate them into the flow of releases that we have lined up. Radio also played a big part in my earlier days of music discovery. As mentioned, I was a big fan of Gilles Peterson’s bbc6 radio show & his Worldwide FM shows. Through that I developed my love for digging and also a love for discovering music through labels. I started following online pages for record shops that I would check on a weekly basis to discover new labels. From that, I’ve managed to curate my Bandcamp following pretty well and have made a habit of going through all my ‘new release’ emails for the week. There’s so much good music out on a weekly basis and it’s cool to appreciate the curves of other labels’ or artist’s releases. I think keeping tabs on a variety of labels has helped me to understand the function that such a platform can serve and as a result allowed me to develop my own tools and approach for doing the A&R for TT.
You’ve previously pulled together compilations for TT, such as ‘Precursive Sequences’ and ‘Preset Resets’, what is your approach to curating compilations?
My approach for both of these compilations differed slightly, but in general when I work on more focused curation like this I like to have a loose concept in mind, putting together artists that are already on my radar and then work from there.
For the ‘Precursive Sequences’ comp, I wanted to bring together artists from all over the world that had been on my Soundcloud radar and that share a similar vein of sound that I can’t quite put my finger on, at least in my mind. What I love about that release is that it brings together producers that are making moves in their individual online scenes in Chile, Bolivia, Israel & Uruguay. For example, D4N1 and Electric Smile I discovered separately but after reaching out to D4N1 she told me that her and Electric Smile were Soundcloud mutuals from the same online circles in Bolivia. They were keen to use this opp to make a track together. To me this really represents the power of online communities – allowing for different micro-scenes to shape their sounds and then to somehow end up on my radar and to come together for a compilation on TT feels really special to me.
Curating ‘Preset Resets’ I took a slightly different more genre focused approach. I had a few artists on my radar that all shared a similarity in taking ‘preset’ bass focussed genre sounds and moulding them into their own (at least for me !). Bringing together all the artists really made sense to me as they are all in similar sonic circles and make music with their own fresh spin on well known genres such as grime, drill & bassline.
Where do you look for sources of inspiration outside of music?
When I initially looked over the questions I genuinely had no idea how to answer this, because I immediately thought that I don’t know how to draw or do anything ‘hands-on’ art related despite being able to visually curate /direct..
To get back to the question, one night when I was experimenting with cheffing something up, I realised that cooking is a huge creative outlet for me. I see it as a combination of science and art hahah – I’m a big textures & tastes person, so trialling different combinations is the same as composing, DJing or producing – at the end of the day it’s all about creating. In the same way I DJ to share my love for music with others, I think cooking is very similar. To me it’s a love language bringing together a group of good friends to share a meal together. There’s nothing more I enjoy than inviting my friends over for dinner and spending a whole day preparing food for them and seeing how creative I can get as I rarely like to follow a recipe. I can happily spend the whole day in the kitchen, playing tunes (usually the latest Gilles Peterson Radio 6 show or a mix that I’ve saved in my huge ‘mixes’ playlist on Soundcloud haha). I think music and food pair naturally tbh, not to bring up that classic ratatouille moment but honestly an iconic moment on TV really capturing the close relationship between food and experience – sonically and visually. Being in the kitchen is one of the times I can fully switch off from my phone/ socials. I think it’s like a state of meditation for me. A purely hands on activity, just me, the ingredients, tunes and maybe a glass of wine haha.
Sharing food is a community centred value for me, not just the process of eating it but sharing a moment with other people you love and it’s such a privilege being able to do it so freely. Similar to going out to enjoy music in the club, sharing an album with some friends or being part of a bigger musical scene / movement.
You’ve also pulled together a mix for us, what’s the concept behind this one?
I started prepping for it quite a few months back, putting aside tunes in my weekly dig as well as going back through old rekordbox playlists. I knew that I wanted the mix to be personal, reflecting a balance of old and new tracks, ones that have inspired me in the past and that have helped to shape my music taste as it is now. As well as including a mix of more recent releases from my favourite artists & labels at the moment was also important to me.
In terms of concept, I wanted this mix to be a reflection of my journey in music and how far reaching my love for it is. A reason for why I love music so much is that I strongly associate it with certain moments and memories in my life. Whether that is people, formative events, periods of time or places. The hour attempts to capture as many of these moments as possible. I have currently been going through quite a reflective period so I was keen to get this across in the mix. I’m also quite a closed off person so it feels nice to be able to record something more personal like this.
I practised so much for it initially hoping to record the mix on some CDJs at the roundhouse house (big ups the creatives membership) but after lots of sessions i never managed to bring myself to actually start recording. I think I needed to be in my own space so I ended up doing it in my room on my little sb3 controller (so maybe that explains some of the dodgy blends). But to be honest I think it was a good exercise in learning to not hyperfocus on perfection and rather to focus more on the tracks in order to get across a certain feel for the mix. I think I may have not been able to have do this if I hadn’t recorded it in my own space – so some parts may be rough around the edges but I think the musical journey of it is a good representation of me :- )
To delve a bit deeper, I’ve included tracks from various artists for certain reasons. Quite a few artists / tracks from the mix were featured on my now defunct instagram page (@abejaselecta) for musical recommendations. I created the page when I first moved to London as a means to focus my creative energy and as an outlet for sharing music which actually ended up helping me through a hard time. Finishing on the j g b track felt right for me 🙂 I’ve also included a track from a Russian artist, Dj Sablemilk. There’s lots of sick really low key labels that I’ve come across in Russia. I’d never really delved into these scenes before I started DJing as my musical discovery in Russia was mainly associated with classical so it feels nice to recall my background in this alternative way for the mix. I was also keen to feature an unreleased track from someone really special to me, one of the fiercest & most powerful female artists in Colombia who I’m lucky to call my friend, ANTO<3 (watch this space). I also wanted to include a track from the legendary Sistema Solar. For context, Dani Boom (one of the members) is actually ANTO<3’s dad who I met in London this year. Older generations passing on the torch to the next wave of artists is something that I find as super important. Keeping genres alive and ensuring their constant evolution and growth rather than becoming stagnant. Including both of these tracks felt like a statement of this to me.
I don’t think that I need to go into the details of any more of the tracks’ context because most of it is personal to me and associated with happy, sad or pivotal moments in my life. Explaining these in detail wouldn’t make sense to anyone else because some of the emotions or moments that these tracks evoke I couldn’t even put into words. I would rather that the mix conveys the ability of music to act as a strong vehicle of memory its overall journey and hopefully maybe even allow the listener to associate / recall certain memories too.
Do you have a different approach to preparation for club sets to online mixes whether that’s for a platform or radio show?
That’s interesting, in terms of the prepping/ digging for music before a set or a gig I am extremely methodical and don’t really like to differ from the structure that I have developed. I’ve got a really efficient way of quickly sifting through lots of new release emails, stuff in my wish list , soundcloud likes and bandcamp basket. I then like to sort everything on Rekordbox into BPM folders and within those, different categorising playlists. It’s important to me that my music is sorted well and easy to find – especially if I haven’t had time to listen/ get to know the tracks as well as I would like before a gig. I find it easier to find stuff based off vibe / genre inspirations / crossovers and then to pair stuff from there – it allows me to have control over the curve of the set or mix.
In terms of more focused mixes like radio or for a platform I can be my own worst enemy. I’m a massive overthinker, so I have the tendency to hyperfocus when practising to the point where I plan blends and sort the tracklist before the show/ mix. I’ve slowly realised that my mixes usually flow better when I’m not putting this pressure on myself and I just follow the directory of my usb. I did end up roughly planning the order of this mix because I had so much I wanted to include and cover, as well as making sure it blended as well as possible haha..but at least i didn’t plan the transitions haah so, growth !
Is there a staple track in your DJ sets at the moment?
Hmmm to be honest I change up the tracks I play pretty much every time I DJ, apart from more ‘tool-like’ tracks. I like to do a fresh dig before every set as I find that keeping my library fresh is important to make sure I keep up the energy and excitement in my sets. If I’m itching to show off the new tracks that I’ve discovered it generally means that I will play a better set. If that excitement isn’t there I feel like I resort to previous blends / recall moments that I’ve already gone over in the past. That said, my favourite track at is one that I included in my NTS mixes for TT in May, CHOCA – TATIANA IS A BARB . I will definitely be playing it again when I next play out. I love including a euphoric ‘building’ track in my sets. I find it rare to find a track that has so many layers to it that also serves the function of giving the set a needed breather when transitioning between sections.
What are you most looking forward to this year?
This year we’ve got a lot of exciting TT events planned and some really cool releases including another comp that I’ve curated coming out at the end of the year, so keep your eyes peeled for that.
I feel like after working in the industry for just over a year now I’m finally finding my feet and learning more everyday about what I’m good at, what I like and what difference I would like to make in line with the values I hold as a creative. I think I’m finally building the confidence to start becoming more independent and to build my own projects that I’ve had in the back of my mind for a while. I want to focus on making the changes & pushing for representation of more women/femme & less represented / privileged people in musical scenes from all over the world. There are so many people that deserve to be shouted about and discovered. For me this is the most exciting thing about my involvement in music and that drives me to continue and grow my contribution within it. I’m looking forward to exploring this more through my own independent work in certain places / scenes that maybe need it. I’m also setting myself an internal deadline for the end of this year to restart producing (after learning during my time in Colombia) as I feel like this is another avenue of my love for music that I’ve yet to fully unlock.