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Maze 28 [Interview]

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Hailing from Albania, Mario Zefi aka Maze 28 has emerged as one of his country's most hotly tipped progressive house artists. In just three short years the Durres resident has earned support from Antrim, DJ Ruby, Ruben Karapetyan, Dosem, Nick Muir, Paul Van Dyk, Stan Kolev and more, while his melodic creations have found a home on Droid9, Juicebox Music, Mango Alley. Now, following a remix of Rockka's 'Operator' (via Mango Alley), Maze 28 makes a welcome debut on RKP with 'This Is Just A Dream EP', alongside remixes from Hernan Cattaneo & Marcelo Vasami and Fabri Lopez. 

Progressive Astronaut caught up with Anton to learn more about the release of  ‘This Is Just A Dream’, his studio process, DJing, future plans, and more. Enjoy.

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

Hello guys, first of all thanks for having me! Been feeling very relaxed these days as I have been traveling with my family to several interesting places in the north of Albania lately.

The last track I listened, which I have been listening a lot actually for the past couple of weeks is “Ruben Karapetyan – Ambered” I love oriental elements and this track has a great mix between Progressive House and Oriental.

How was your summer and what are your plans for the coming week?

This summer was great actually. My first 2 track-EP on “Mango Alley” called “Redux / Flux” was released and it blew up. It really gave me a big boost and it was supported worldwide by the biggest names like Hernan Cattaneo, Ruben Karapetyan, Subandrio and more. I also released “Abyss Rhythm” on indian Label “Juicebox Music”, part of their “Fables Vol.2 VA”.

During this summer I took the opportunity to travel and go to places I never been before here in Albania.

I am happy to say i also got my Bachelor degree in “Multimedia & Digital Television” and I will start pursuing Masters degree later in October.

Do you consider yourself a DJ or producer first? And which do you enjoy more and why?

I consider myself a producer first. That’s how I was connected with electronic music. I am 21 y/o today but I have been producing music since 11. As DJ I started learning when I was 19 y/o. To be honest i always enjoyed and still enjoy Producing today, more than DJing. I work a lot on my tracks and I always try to bring new stuff to my music, while maintaining that signature “Maze 28” sound, which is fun actually :)

Take us through a typical day, what does a day in the life of Maze 28 look like?

I wake up everyday at 7 AM and the first thing i do is watch Anime. I am not a weeb but I enjoy anime a lot. Then its music. I work on my music every day, I usually split it into 2 sessions of 3-4 hours. I work on a track at a time, it helps me concentrate better on the track I am working. Then after I finish the track I had in work, i start a new one. Sometimes i would be doing work related to the agency I am part of, MA For Artists (By Mango Alley), or my work as A&R of Albanian label “Best Pro Records” owned by my friend R10(Al). Then afternoon comes and we as a family go out to spend some good time together or eat pizza. Then in night i sit and watch movies or anime again.

Talk to us about growing up and living in Albania, it’s not a country you hear much about in terms of electronic music so how did you discover the music and how has living there affected your musical taste and the music you make?

Albania has been enthusiastically embracing a lot the Electronic Music culture over the years. Every year there are events hosted, and big names came to play here like Armin Van Buuren, Eric Prydz, Boris Brejcha, Hernan Cattaneo, Guy J, Argy and more.

I personally got hooked to Underground Electronic Music after discovering the Albanian Electronic Music Radio “Best Pro Radio” in 2019.

Until 2019 I used to produce mainstream music, which I never got to release. In 2020 I started releasing music as “Maze 28” in their label “Best Pro Records”, were now I work as A&R.

What are some of your best memories from first going to clubs? Were there specific nights or sets that really made you feel you wanted to pursue electronic music?

I remember the first time I went to a club, it was an event were my friends R10(Al) and Project Placebo played. I was a great experience, also from the fact i had the chance to witness some of my music being played live. The crowd reaction is something i will remember with my heart. It made me feel the need to work more and more with music and push myself beyond my limits.

If you were a tour-guide for nightlife in Albania, what would be the clubs you’d take the people to see and what local DJs do they need to hear?

Albania has some amazing local artists which they dedicated themselves to the beautiful world of Electronic Music and I can mention : TEELCO, Air Bajko, R10(Al), Flurald & Project Placebo. As for Clubs, there are not many dedicated clubs to electronic music, except Tunel and Folie, but there are weekly events in both clubs and a lot of festivals and similar events throughout the year, especially during summer time when festivals bring bigger names.

If you are not DJing or socializing at clubs, where do we find you? And doing what?

You can find me at home working on music or in the university I study. It’s fun studying Multimedia at my university, because it has all the necessary equipment to learn from.

When you were first getting started in production did you have someone help you or are you completely self-taught? And what would you recommend new producers do to help with the learning curve of production?

I started producing 10 years ago, when I was 11. It was only me, FL Studio and Youtube Tutorials for years. Had to learn everything by myself. But ofcourse over the years i met with new people related to music and we got to share the experiences we have with each other .

What I recommend for new producers is this, analyze reference music, try to understand how several elements are used in a track, try to reference good quality music but not to copy it.

I personally feel there is a limit to how much you should reference a track, afterwards it will be a copy or a shadow of another track. That helped me a lot and I am sure it will help new producers too.

You have a new EP ‘This Is Just A Dream’ out now via Ruben Karapetyan’s RKP imprint. Tell us a bit about the release and who’s been playing it so far.

I consider this EP to be the most important EP i ever released. It consists of 4 tracks: the originals “This Is Just A Dream” and “Nightcrawl” and 2 amazing remixes by Hernan Cattaneo & Marcelo Vasami and Fabri Lopez.

The main track “This Is Just A Dream” was actually started a year ago, and it had only pad atmos and the vocal. I wanted to create a vibe i had in mind back then and i left it untouched, only to complete it when the right time comes, because those elements really touched me deeply.

Now the track showcases the blend of my “Peak Time” Progressive style, together with the deep atmospheres and vocal.

Second track is “Nightcrawl”. It’s a darker track, that has some gloomy elements and laser sounds to maintain that dark vibe, and also some groovy bass layers that complement each other.

For now the only people playing the release is : Hernan Cattaneo, Ruben Karapetyan and Myself. We haven’t started sharing it yet.

The remixers on the project are exceptional, coming from Hernan Cattaneo & Marcelo Vasami and Fabri Lopez. How did you go about choosing the remixers? Was this something you were involved in with the label? And why are those particular artists a good fit for these tracks in your opinion?

The remixers are exceptional and their work for the EP is amazing. The selection was done by Ruben itself, to which I am always grateful for. Seeing the results, i can proudly say that these artists are the perfect fit for this EP.

Hernan and Marcelo did an amazing job taking “This Is Just A Dream” to a deeper level or Progressive House. I literally play the track on repeat every day.

I also love what Fabri did in the remix for “Nightcrawl”. The remix is far more energetic that the original which I am sure it will be a go-to track for many DJ’s out there.

This is your first project for RKP which is a very new label, what made the label an attractive home for your tracks?

During June, i was invited by Ruben to do an EP for RKP, and from a previous interview Ruben did, he said that RKP will have 5-6 releases a year, so I made it my mission to make the best possible EP I could for the label.

To be honest I am very happy with myself and the result of the EP, also for the fact that i am releasing it on RKP .

RKP is a label that releases music by big names in the industry, and me being part of this label makes me proud a lot.

Let our readers inside your studio for a moment, what is your current setup and what studio tools are featured heavily in your recent productions and more specifically your EP for RKP?

My studio is very basic. I only have a laptop, a LX49+ midi controller, Yamaha HS5 speakers and a DDJ-SB3 controller.

For my EP I used a lot a plugin called Hive. Basses, leads, pads, plucks for both tracks were made using Hive, and its my first go-to plugin every time I am working.

Let’s talk about production a bit more 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 in writing music for you? And more specifically, was there anything which inspired the tracks on your RKP EP?

My inspiration in general to me comes from other music or a vibe i have in mind, and I always try to cooperate that inspiration with my style. I enjoy making music that has deep and dark elements, preferably no main melodies, and i also like music with ethnic sounds.

“Nightcrawl” was spontant, but “This Is Just A Dream”  has its roots from a inspiration i got a year ago from a old remix Stan Kolev did for a track called “U R Dreaming”. That “Dream” theme really got me hooked, which resulted in the first demo of “This Is Just A Dream”.

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

Honestly I prefer doing everything myself when it comes to producing. I feel I want to have full control in the creative and technical process of making a track.

But if its mixing, I’d wish I had someone to do it for me and save me time haha.

Now let’s talk about DJing for a moment, it’s a unique discipline at the border between presenting great music and creating something new with it, between composition and improvisation to an extent. How would you describe your approach to it?

I give attention a lot to mixing in key, its cruicial for progressive house, because we tell a story and take people to a journey with this genre, doesn’t matter if warm up or peak time.

I also enjoy playing my music, afterall its what got me to where I am now. My sets are based around my music a lot, but ofcourse i love including music from producer friends too. Its good to support the people around you.

How much prep do you put into your sets? Or are they completely spontaneous?

It takes a few hours to prepare a set, but improvisation is key because afterall we are DJs. Sometimes its not meant to play what we originally planned.

Can you tell me a bit about how your work as a DJ has influenced your view of music, your way of listening to tracks and perhaps also, your work as a producer?

My journey as a DJ has deeply influenced how I approach music. It has broadened my understanding of music genres, rhythms, and crowd dynamics. I now listen to tracks with a discerning ear, focusing on beatmatching and mixability, which has influenced my production work.

I draw inspiration from dancefloor energy to shape my music style, sound choices, and arrangements.

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?

My festival would be:

  1. Alex O’Rion
  3. Ruben Karapetyan
  4. Hernan Cattaneo
  5. Subandrio

Current top five tracks?

Ruben Karapetyan – Ambered

Schiller – I Feel You

Tali Muss – Vetenim (Teklix Remix)

Rockka – Black Sands

Alex O’Rion – Cuba Libre

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

I watch lots of movies, mostly horror movies, but one of the movies that left me speechless because of the ending was “The Mist”.

Apart from music, what makes you happiest?

What makes me happy is that there are people in my life who helped and are helping me, and I want to thank them all.

First I want to thank Ruben Karapetyan, he is the person that opened the door of his label to me, and gave me this opportunity to be on a EP together with Maestro.

I want to thank Alex, the owner of Mango Alley. He is one of the few people that i fully trust in the industry. He made me part of MA as core artist of the label and part of MA For Artists agency in a very short time. He has been kind and helpful every time I had a question or request.

I will be grateful to both Ruben and Alex, for the help and push they are giving me in the industry.

Of course there are people from my country Albania that really did help me as well.

R10(Al) is the one who taught me DJing and many other things regarding the industry. He also gave me the opportunity to release my first ever track on his label “Best Pro Records”.

TEELCO is no exception, he helped me a lot as a DJ & Producer. He has been DJing for a very long time and helped me see the industry as a DJ, not only as a producer. He also got me some very nice opportunities as a producer, which of course I will be grateful.

What does the remainder of 2023 hold for you in terms of releases and gigs? Anything you can share with us?

 I have some EP’s coming up, including some remixes by big names in the industry. Also soon i will be announcing the upcoming DJ gigs i will be Headlining.

'This Is Just a Dream' is available now via RKP: https://shorturl.at/eitH6

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