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Mazayr [Interview]

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Manchester based producer Mazayr has been experimenting with electronic music for well over a decade. As a drummer in his youth, Mazayr’s love for rhythm and groove eventually found its way into electronic music. After years of perfecting his craft the UK artist made his debut just eight months ago with a release via Magic Moment. Mazayr’s emotive musicality and exotic, dance floor friendly grooves then caught the attention of Canopy Sounds, Cigarette Music and The Purr, which have served as landing for his transcendent sound going forward. Already a regular in Beatport’s highly competitive and influential organic house charts, his most recent release ‘A Place Of Wonder’ (c/o Canopy Sounds) topped out at #2, while enjoying an extended stay in the Top 10. Now embarking on the most anticipated project of his young career, Mazayr adds Musique de Lune to his resume with a three-track showcase entitled ‘Hypnose de la Lune’. We had a chance to catch up with Mazayr for an interview leading up to the release. Enjoy!

Hi Mazayr, thanks for joining us. What is your current mood and what was the last piece of music you listened to?

Hey, thanks for having me! It’s a Sunday afternoon so I’m pretty relaxed at the moment. The last piece of music I listened to (according to Spotify) was ‘Purness’ by John Cosani on Hoomidaas. I’m currently working through a backlog of tracks from the past year I haven’t had a chance to listen to properly yet. Very thankful for some thorough playlists on Spotify that collate all the releases.

What are your plans for the coming week?

I’ll be finishing off a track for an album I’m working on at the moment. Plus, some prep for a set in Ibiza later this month where I’ll be playing at Destino Pacha for Ibiza BPM Radio’s 3rd anniversary party.

Can you name five tracks that were important in your musical development and why they are so significant for you?

I’ll try and do this is in chronological order of when they impacted me.

  • Moby Dick – Led Zeppelin. My Dad introduced me to Led Zeppelin when I was quite young and John Bonham’s solos encouraged me to learn how to play the drums.
  • Toxicity – System of a Down. This song will be forever engrained in my memory, as I played it for a practical music exam at school. From one of my favourite albums of all time as well.
  • Happiness Happening (Lange remix) – Lost Witness. I can’t put my finger on why I love this track so much but it’s one of the only trance tracks I still revisit from time to time.
  • Peace of Conscience – David August. I discovered this track in my early twenties and realised that my taste had started to mellow. From this point on, I spent the next 10 years exploring music from a range of electronic genres that probably shaped the producer I am today.
  • Everything You Do Is A Balloon – Boards of Canada. I could have picked a dozen tracks from these two. I went through a short phase of struggling to connect with music like I had in the past, which I think was a result of me not making any music. Boards of Canada partly inspired me to start creating more seriously again.

How did growing up in the UK influence your music taste and direction? Or did it at all?

I’m not sure it shaped me massively from a dance music point of view, but I feel like it set me on the path to hunt for more alternative music. My teenage years were spent in Northampton, where there wasn’t a great deal going on. So, when I was more into bands, I used to see acts like Enter Shikari and Bring Me The Horizon in tiny backrooms of pubs. It was pretty cool to see the bands grow from humble beginnings, over the years. But it also gave me the bug for the sense of community that comes with more underground music. I started to crave the feeling of being in a like-minded crowd, which ultimately inspired me to seek out other genres in the same vein.

Who from your home country inspired you the most when you first discovered the music?

Going back about 15 years now – when I first started learning how to DJ – I listened to a lot of trance. I think I’d got bored of listening to the ‘classic’ mix CDs that were essentially always the same bunch of tracks but in a different order. Then I eventually stumbled across Eddie Halliwell and he was a big inspiration of mine. His style was a bit different, with more house / electro elements I guess, and that introduced me to tracks like ‘Hit Girl’ by Sébastien Léger. I feel like that was a bit of turning point for me as I started to go down the rabbit hole of finding new artists that I still love today, such as Booka Shade and Jody Wisternoff.

When you were young you were a drummer and you found a passion in rhythm, how did that passion evolve into electronic music?

I always loved how percussion had the power to transform the feel of a piece of music. I started to learn drums from the age of 11 at school. From that point on, I never really focused on melody or learning how to read music properly (although I still managed to get an A in Music, somehow). I think electronic music became a bridge between the two, as I could focus on the rhythm and beats while exploring new styles of music, without needing to learn how to play it.

What are your favourite venues to play in the UK and why?

I played Sankeys, Manchester a couple of times which was amazing after seeing so many DJs there. More recently I’ve been really enjoying playing at Once Was Lost Bar in Preston. They have an amazing courtyard for day parties, and we can really experiment and get creative with our set. I recently did a nine hour set there and it was the most fun I’ve had in a long time.

You have a new EP ‘Hypnose de la Lune’, out this week on Musique de Lune, tell us about the release and please walk us through the production process on one of the tracks, whichever you like.

I wrote six tracks over a ten week or so period, and these three felt like they naturally clicked together, so they sounded great as an EP. My production process is pretty much always the same, unless I’m working on a remix. I’ll work out of Maschine first to build the main idea. I try to have all the elements I need already written in Maschine before I start working in Logic. Then, once I transfer to Logic, I build out the arrangement, automation and finishing touches. Some take longer than others. I think I finished Antares in about 5 days, which is really quick for me. I remember finding a groove with the percussion and bass quite quickly. Then, the marimba riff came next, and I built the rest of the track around that using the same instruments from the other two tracks on the EP. I do this quite often; delete the MIDI from previous projects, then mix up the tempo and key to see if I can produce a few tracks that could work well together.

This is your first release on the label, what made it the right home for your original material straight away?

I’d been following Musique de Lune before the record label started up as they consistently have great artists and events on. Once I heard some previews of their debut release, I had a good feeling about it and was really excited to send them my tracks. After working with them now, I know it was a great choice – the team are amazing to work with, and they work hard behind the scenes.

What does your set-up look like? Do you favor physical gear over digital? And what studio tools featured heavily in the writing of these tracks?

Mainly, I do everything with plug-ins and VSTs, however I couldn’t live without my Native Instruments Maschine MK3 now. I dabbled with music production over the years and always struggled writing anything melodic, to the point where I’d get really unmotivated to make new music. This helps me keep everything in key and I would struggle to work without it. So, naturally, this played a big part in making these tracks.

Let’s talk about production for a moment, where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play? And was there anything that inspired the tracks which make up your ‘Hypnose de la Lune’ EP?

I’ve always been quite creative. I love having an end product that I can look at and think, ‘I made that’, whether it’s a DJ mix or an original track. I think more recently with electronic music though, the inspiration comes from my own experiences over the years in the crowd, listening to other artists. I want to create the same experiences for other people with my music as I can relate to that feeling. There was no specific inspiration for the EP itself. I simply sit down every day and see what happens!

For you to get started on a track do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called ‘visualizations’ of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?

I’ve tried to control the output of my creative process from the start, and I find it frustrating. I don’t think I can. So, I usually start with a key and tempo – I discover the rest as I go along. I think it’s important to get the main idea down quickly, without any judgment – following an instinct or a gut feel on the sound and direction. Then, when the bones of the track are in place and feel right, I spend the majority of my time fleshing that out into a full piece of music.

Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?

My ritual is usually getting the kids to bed so I can lock myself away in the studio! I tend to get more into the zone at night when there are fewer distractions. I wouldn’t say each track is a reflection of the headspace I’m in during the creative process, but I think my best work happens when I’m relaxed, and ready to get in the zone. As much as music acts as a meditative process to help me clear my mind, I need some level of calm to start the process.

Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite, I think. What marks the end of the process for you? How do you know when a track is done?

This isn’t something I struggle with too much. I set myself deadlines that I tend to stick to. I’m pretty process driven, and I’ve been told that my creative process is part music, part project management. So I work through a checklist, especially during mixdown; once that’s done, I typically use feedback to make any final changes.

Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you’re satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?

I’ll always revisit a track if I get good feedback. And I have just mixed down a pretty old track of mine for the 3rd time this week! But, it’s not something I do a lot. I tend to go with my gut and stick to the creative decisions I made at the time. I think you can end up with diminishing returns if you spend too long messing about with something that was probably good enough in the first place. When your skills evolve and your style changes over time, you don’t want to constantly hold old, finished work up to a new standard.

What I have started to test, however, is leaving the initial idea / loop a while before coming back to it, something I picked up from an interview with Eelke Kleijn. It’s definitely easier to be more objective on whether an idea is good after spending time away from it. Then you can be more confident investing some time in finishing.

How much road testing or friend feedback is done before you’re ready to say a track is finished? And who is someone you share your new music with first for feedback?

The first person to receive a finished track is always Rich Towers, as we’ve been learning together and working on our music alongside each other for years. So, we spur each other on and give each other honest feedback. Luckily, I’m also part of a great music community online called Finish More Music that has monthly feedback sessions, and the feedback is always very thorough.

What is the task you enjoy the most when producing and what would you prefer someone else to do?

Definitely the idea generation at the start. That’s when I feel myself get into a flow state and everything falls into place. I find the arrangement is make or break for the track, as some good storytelling is what makes a piece of music great. It’s usually a frustrating part of the process for me but it’s so important that I want to do it myself. I’ll probably explore outsourcing mixdowns once I’m happier with my own skills, so I can focus more on writing music.

What would be a musical extravagance for your studio you would pay for, if you were very wealthy?

I’m conscious not to introduce new things into the studio as I don’t want to disrupt my workflow by spending too much time learning (plus I’m tight for space!). But I’ve always liked the idea of learning a hardware synth inside out and making as much music as possible with it.

If you could set up an event with a line-up of five artists of your choice, who would you book and what set times would you ascribe to the artists?

Probably wouldn’t work in practice but, as it’s hypothetical, this would be the running order. A mix of artists I’ve not had a chance to see, with a couple of my favourites…

Boards of Canada
Kora (hybrid set)
Hoj
Michael Mayer
Sven Vath

In your opinion, what’s the biggest risk you’ve taken and what made you do it?

Good question! I’m pretty risk averse, which isn’t always the best trait for creativity. I decided to move to Spain with my Dad at 17 after leaving school at 16. I worked a boring office job for a year and almost stayed in the UK. Then last minute I decided to go back to school in Spain. That’s where I met my wife and some of my best friends, so it definitely paid off. It also set me off on a completely different path, which eventually led me to Manchester to study further. Moving abroad took me out of the comfort of my hometown and allowed me to meet new people – many of whom introduced me to genres and styles of music that I hadn’t experienced before.

What’s a book you’ve read or film you watched that has left an impact on you, and why?

I recently read The Artist’s Journey by Kent Nerburn over a few days. It was a fascinating insight into the mindset of creatives and confirmed all the mental battles I’d experienced in the studio are normal. Everything you feel about your work is typical of other artists in every creative field. Definitely recommend.

What is one superpower you would like to have and how would you use it?

Teleportation! I’d use it to visit friends, family and events around the world without having to travel.

Apart from music, what makes you happiest?

My beautiful wife and 2 daughters!

What does the remainder of 2022 hold for you? Anything you can share with us?

My main focus for the rest of the year is increasing my production output. I’ll be busy in the studio writing lots of new material for 2023, as I’ve had some very exciting requests over the last couple of months. In terms of releases for the remainder of 2022, I’ve got a combination of remixes, EPs, VAs and an album that I’m really excited about. All on great labels I’m looking forward to releasing with!

‘Hypnose de la Lune’ is available now via Musique de Lune: https://bit.ly/3AhN3J8

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