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"Fabric Has Always Been a Special Place:" an Interview with Maya Jane Coles

We spoke to the British producer about her fabric release, and whether we'll be hearing her sing in a club anytime soon.
May 12, 2014, 6:30pm

Fabric's two mix series (fabric and FabricLive) have long felt like a box that needs ticking on a DJ's career: a mark of slavish hard work turned success, and a seal of approval from London's consummate club. They're watermarks for quality amongst the deluge of online mixes and podcasts too; whenever a new fabric or FabricLive release rolls around, it has the air of a special event for both the DJ and the club. The list of recent fabric mixers certainly isn't light on pedigree either. Move D, Ben Sims and Sandwell District have all stepped up in the last year, so Maya Jane Coles isn't in bad company with her own entry, the 75th in the fabric series.

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Despite a career that has sky-rocketed since her club-conquering "What They Say" was released three years ago, her burgeoning status as a poster girl for the young British house renaissance, and releasing an award-winning DJ Kicks mix, Coles remains humble about her chance to do a mix for the club that holds a special place in her heart.

THUMP: Doing a fabric mix is a real cornerstone for an artist these days. Tell us about your thought process for the mix. How did it compare to doing other mixes to date? Did you feel a different weight of expectation when prepping this release? 

Maya Jane Coles: Compiling a mix for commercial release is always a tough one, as it kind of works in the opposite way to how I DJ. When I DJ, it's all about spontaneity; a back and fourth between the crowd, and the energy I'm feeling. It's different when pre-planning a mix, and having to go through all the clearance process with each individual track.

With this mix, I just wanted it to be something that reflected the type of atmosphere I would create during a gig. I kind of treated it like a mini fabric gig in my studio. I approach house and techno from a quite an eclectic perspective, so my DJ mixes always vary in style, but I like to think that there is a consistent feeling throughout.

You have the deluxe version of Comfort out now—how have you found the reaction to the album so far? It's quite unusual for a new producer to come out with a debut album and have it so widely acclaimed. 

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I was really pleased with the response. It reached out to listeners beyond the world of club music, and that was my aim, so I'm happy. The creative process for that album happened so long ago now so for me, right now, my head is much more wrapped up in the second album, which I am currently halfway through. It's sounding very different to the first. Albums are much more about a personal story, and will always be very different to the more club-based EPs and 12"s that I release. I guess I might have surprised some people with the direction I took on Comfort, and I will probably surprise people again with the direction of the next album.

What's in your record bag right now—the big club hits, and those more underground favourites? 

Ha! That would be telling! It changes so quickly anyway, as I always like to keep things fresh for myself when I am playing. I would just get bored otherwise, and then the sets would lose a lot of energy. I don't just listen to house and techno all day. There are definitely a couple of gems on the fabric 75 mix that have been in heavy rotation through my recent sets.

Fabric's two mix series (fabric and FabricLive) have long felt like a box that needs ticking on a DJ's career: a mark of slavish hard work turned success, and a seal of approval from London's consummate club. They're watermarks for quality amongst the deluge of online mixes and podcasts too; whenever a new fabric or FabricLive release rolls around, it has the air of a special event for both the DJ and the club. The list of recent fabric mixers certainly isn't light on pedigree either. Move D, Ben Sims and Sandwell District have all stepped up in the last year, so Maya Jane Coles isn't in bad company with her own entry, the 75th in the fabric series. 

Despite a career that has sky-rocketed since her club-conquering "What They Say" was released three years ago, her burgeoning status as a poster girl for the young British house renaissance, and releasing an award-winning DJ Kicks mix, Coles remains humble about her chance to do a mix for the club that holds a special place in her heart.  

THUMP: Doing a fabric mix is a real cornerstone for an artist these days. Tell us about your thought process for the mix. How did it compare to doing other mixes to date? Did you feel a different weight of expectation when prepping this release? 

Maya Jane Coles: Compiling a mix for commercial release is always a tough one, as it kind of works in the opposite way to how I DJ. When I DJ, it's all about spontaneity; a back and fourth between the crowd, and the energy I'm feeling. It's different when pre-planning a mix, and having to go through all the clearance process with each individual track.

With this mix, I just wanted it to be something that reflected the type of atmosphere I would create during a gig. I kind of treated it like a mini fabric gig in my studio. I approach house and techno from a quite an eclectic perspective, so my DJ mixes always vary in style, but I like to think that there is a consistent feeling throughout.  

You have the deluxe version of Comfort out now—how have you found the reaction to the album so far? It's quite unusual for a new producer to come out with a debut album and have it so widely acclaimed. 

I was really pleased with the response. It reached out to listeners beyond the world of club music, and that was my aim, so I'm happy. The creative process for that album happened so long ago now so for me, right now, my head is much more wrapped up in the second album, which I am currently halfway through. It's sounding very different to the first. Albums are much more about a personal story, and will always be very different to the more club-based EPs and 12"s that I release. I guess I might have surprised some people with the direction I took on Comfort, and I will probably surprise people again with the direction of the next album. 

What's in your record bag right now—the big club hits, and those more underground favourites? 

Ha! That would be telling! It changes so quickly anyway, as I always like to keep things fresh for myself when I am playing. I would just get bored otherwise, and then the sets would lose a lot of energy. I don't just listen to house and techno all day. There are definitely a couple of gems on the fabric 75 mix that have been in heavy rotation through my recent sets. 

Fabric feels like one of the last outposts of credible mix CD platforms in electronic music now. Do you think the commercial mix still has a place in an age of saturated blog mixes and podcasts? 

I hope so. I think what's good about the commercial mix is that it actually values the music more by putting a cost to it. The producers who made the tracks actually get paid for their work, whereas they don't on blog mixes.  A lot of producers make very little money indeed. It's so difficult at the start. It's important for fans to remember that a lot of struggling people need money from those tracks so that they can pay the rent whilst being a full time musician. Even on commercial mixes, producers don't make a lot of money. Very few musicians can make a decent living from what they do. I appreciate how fortunate I have been in being able to make a career from what I love, but I still remember how skint I was when I started out.

What about fabric's identity speaks to you? How do you find the club itself as a DJ? 

Fabric was one of the places that I first went out to hear underground dance music when I was younger, so Room 1 has always been a special place. It's great that the club has always maintained such strong line-ups from around the world, but still made sure new, local talent also got a shot.  

You've become known primarily as a house DJ, as well as a vocalist. Are there any other genres you are interested in trying your hand at in forthcoming material?

As a producer, half of the stuff I write is so far removed from house and techno. I think the core of my DJ sets will always revolve around those genres. It's the most comfortable tempo for dancing to in a club all night, and has so much room for different styles and movement with in the sound. I approach it with a pretty eclectic perspective anyway.

A lot of the stuff I play fits the tempo of house music, but I wouldn't necessarily call it "house." I've worked on a lot of different things in the last 10 years; collaborations with folk and rock singers, dub, hip-hop, R&B. I even enjoy producing ambient and classical compositions, and experimental electronica. There are definitely more avenues I want to explore.

Have you considered putting a live show together which incorporates your singing?

I've considered it, and have even done some live vocal stuff in the past with previous projects, but for me I'm not really comfortable singing on stage. I choose not to do it. DJing is my means of performance for the time being. I just like to use my voice as an additional instrument in the studio. I love writing melodies, but I've never really thought of myself as a singer.

You've already accomplished a lot in your DJ career—is there anything left on the bucket list that you still want to achieve?

I enjoy doing a lot of other creative stuff, so there's so much more I want to achieve. I love photography, painting, illustrating, fashion—I know in the future I want to explore those avenues a little more, but for now I just want to focus on one thing at a time. 

You can buy Maya Jane Coles' fabric 75 mix here

Fabric feels like one of the last outposts of credible mix CD platforms in electronic music now. Do you think the commercial mix still has a place in an age of saturated blog mixes and podcasts? 

I hope so. I think what's good about the commercial mix is that it actually values the music more by putting a cost to it. The producers who made the tracks actually get paid for their work, whereas they don't on blog mixes.  A lot of producers make very little money indeed. It's so difficult at the start. It's important for fans to remember that a lot of struggling people need money from those tracks so that they can pay the rent whilst being a full time musician. Even on commercial mixes, producers don't make a lot of money. Very few musicians can make a decent living from what they do. I appreciate how fortunate I have been in being able to make a career from what I love, but I still remember how skint I was when I started out.

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What about fabric's identity speaks to you? How do you find the club itself as a DJ? 

Fabric was one of the places that I first went out to hear underground dance music when I was younger, so Room 1 has always been a special place. It's great that the club has always maintained such strong line-ups from around the world, but still made sure new, local talent also got a shot.

You've become known primarily as a house DJ, as well as a vocalist. Are there any other genres you are interested in trying your hand at in forthcoming material?

As a producer, half of the stuff I write is so far removed from house and techno. I think the core of my DJ sets will always revolve around those genres. It's the most comfortable tempo for dancing to in a club all night, and has so much room for different styles and movement with in the sound. I approach it with a pretty eclectic perspective anyway.

A lot of the stuff I play fits the tempo of house music, but I wouldn't necessarily call it "house." I've worked on a lot of different things in the last 10 years; collaborations with folk and rock singers, dub, hip-hop, R&B. I even enjoy producing ambient and classical compositions, and experimental electronica. There are definitely more avenues I want to explore.

Have you considered putting a live show together which incorporates your singing?

I've considered it, and have even done some live vocal stuff in the past with previous projects, but for me I'm not really comfortable singing on stage. I choose not to do it. DJing is my means of performance for the time being. I just like to use my voice as an additional instrument in the studio. I love writing melodies, but I've never really thought of myself as a singer.

You've already accomplished a lot in your DJ career—is there anything left on the bucket list that you still want to achieve?

I enjoy doing a lot of other creative stuff, so there's so much more I want to achieve. I love photography, painting, illustrating, fashion—I know in the future I want to explore those avenues a little more, but for now I just want to focus on one thing at a time.

You can buy Maya Jane Coles' fabric 75 mix here