Photo: Emily Kinsolving
In her short time in the NYC underground techno scene, this diminutive Russian-born dj (and soon to be producer) has already left her mark. Known for her driving, yet deeply groovy sets, engineered to make you dance, Mary Yuzovskaya is continuing to build her techno career both here and abroad. We caught up with her before she leaves for a European tour, stopping off at Tresor Jan 20th.
CGNY: Hi Mary! So let’s start off with how you got into techno? You’re from Russia yes?
MY: Yes, born and raised in Moscow and have been playing classical piano since I was three years old.
CGNY: So you were a musician from an early age?
MY: Yes, I even worked at a theatre when I was a teenager - played piano there. My musical education was classical. I took a jazz class by accident once: I signed up to another class but they put me in a jazz class by mistake. I took it out of curiosity, but I have always been a classical kind of girl. I did listen to all types of music tho, I went through very different musical phases but I got into dance music only after I started to go out..
CGNY: Where did you go? Was there a thriving techno scene in Moscow?
MY: By the time I was old enough to go out, it was not as crazy as it was in the 90s. There was this club which used to be legendary but I think no one outside of Russia remembers it by now. It was called Mix Club. It was a tiny room with a little dance floor, a little bar and a hallway with a couple bathrooms. It was supposed to be just a club, but it was obviously after hours. It was the only club in Moscow that not only was officially open but also served alcohol until noon. I’m coming from the generation that was raised on this club. There I met a lot of cool musicians and made lot of friends in the music industry. I really wanted to play there but to get a booking in Mix was harder than going to the moon! However my third or fourth gig happened to be there. I played there a few months before it closed, so I’m lucky I got my chance to get involved.
Mary playing Cielo 2016
Mary playing Cielo 2016
CGNY: So you go to the club, you’re dancing, you’re listening to the music. Did you just say "I’m going out to buy decks and records" or did you have a friend who had a set up already? How did you get started playing?
MY: I had friends with turntables and really nice music taste. They had all this music that I knew nothing about, most of it on vinyl. They had a big influence on me. At that time I didn’t even have internet at home, the information was not as available as it is now. Yet I got very exited and started doing some research. And this is how I discovered a whole new world of labels and musicians. Soon after that a friend of mine went traveling and left me her turntables. After that I bought the mixer and speakers.
CGNY: You said you have a masters right?
MY: Yes in psychology. I like doing research and I like reading. If I wasn’t in the creative profession I would be doing research full time. Research in music wasn’t an exception - I got very much into it.
CGNY: So your gig then at Mix Club, you’d already accumulated vinyls for yourself then?
MY: I had a pretty decent collection by the time I got first booked. I started collecting records maybe three years before then. I was buying records for quite a while, but it was very difficult for me to mix, I was struggling a lot, was very nervous. Of course I played at some birthday parties at my friends apartments but I wasn’t even pursuing proper bookings because beat matching was… let’s just say it took me years. A friend once told me: if you practice every day for two hours straight during one year, you’ll be good to go. I took her advice and spent a year mixing for two hours each day every day. No excuses. And in a year I gained much needed skills and confidence.
Then there was a tough time in my life. I was going through many changes and I decided in order to distract myself I should make DJing actually work. Since I was born and raised in Moscow and knew absolutely everyone there, it was easy for me to find bookings. Even though my mixing was bad, I started really quickly getting these afterhours and closing slots because the records that I was buying and playing were way too trippy for opening. So I skipped the opening slot faze and went straight to closing.
Photo: (Blind Techno - Trans Pecos)
CGNY: So kind of straight in with the signature Mary Yuzovskaya sound?
MY: Yes, deeper and hypnotic!
CGNY: Maybe what we consider ‘harder’ here but yes deeper and hypnotic.
MY: There are so many people who play way harder than me. I don’t feel like I have the right to call myself a ‘hard” techno dj.
CGNY: Well it’s a subjective genre anyway because you can play harder techno at a lower bpm!
MY: When people who play minimal or tech house say they play techno it annoys those who play actual techno! As a person that clearly is on the deeper side of techno I feel bad to say “I’m a hard techno dj” because there are people who actually are!
CGNY: So then you’re gigging around Moscow. So what brought you to the US and how long have you been living here?
MY: Before moving to US I lived in Berlin for a few years. My career was going well and I started to play outside of Moscow a little bit. Political situation in Russia was frustrating and I felt that if I stay in Russia I won’t reach my goals. Now, I think it doesn’t matter where you are, it matters how you work and what you do. Politically Russia still scares me, I don’t feel like going back, but creatively you can be successful anywhere.
In 2009 I moved to Berlin. There I went to school and I worked at a couple labels that are more on the minimal side. I had some bookings too. However, few years in Berlin were the least productive times of my life. I got comfortable there, I got lazy. The city is very affordable and you can have a really nice life without working your ass off. There’s so much going on that you get picky and sceptical, you forget how it is in other countries. I love and miss Berlin, I love Europe. But I got very slow there. Moscow has a lot in common with NY - very fast, expensive, stressful. People are always in a rush. Berlin is the opposite. There are parks and lakes, people ride bicycles and take their time. After living in a fast crazy city I couldn’t resist all the laziness.
I moved to New York in 2013 due to family/visa/immigration reasons. My German visa expired and I didn’t get the new one even though I tried. At the same time I got the Green card for which I applied 12 years before I actually got it. I never thought it would happen. When I applied my dad was already a citizen and I was a little girl and I was just going with my family. By the time I got the interview I was already older than 21 so it was tricky but there you go! Since I couldn’t get another German visa, I had two options: either go back to Russia and lose the Green Card, or go to US where I’ve never been in my life. I knew like 2 and half people here! Was a tough decision and I was very miserable in NY for the first year or two.
When I realised that I’m moving to NY I got so lost I abandoned music completely. I thought there was nothing going on in US. I thought that life is so expensive here that I will just have to find a proper job and get over it.
Mary playing Twice as Proper with Dino Sabatini
CGNY: Become a therapist or something – a techno therapist!
MY: Something like that! I canceled all the bookings that I had. I didn’t play anywhere I didn’t listen to dance music. I was listening to music just not club music. But then I started to go out a little bit because you know you’re new in town, you have to meet people. Meeting people, chit-chatting with them and then it’s “Ok let’s meet up this weekend and play some records together”. I started to get my first bookings in New York. I felt like “Okay well I haven’t done it in over a year but sure why not!” Very quickly I got back on track.
"I think it doesn’t matter where you are, it matters how you work and what you do"
CGNY: And where was your first official gig?
MY: At Sublimate’s NYE party. It was one of their first parties, at a loft. They didn’t sell tickets to this one; it was just for friends and friends of friends. I knew maybe three or four people at the party. It was the first time many people heard me. First gig at a club was at TBA I think… and you heard me at Aphotic for the first time.
CGNY: Yes that’s right – my friend Greg (Blind Colors) had said to me that I needed to meet and hear you! And you get many introductions like this but when I heard you play I was like ‘Yes I can understand why he wanted me to hear/meet you!”
MY: Thank you! Aphotic is an event where a lot of people say from the same musical community heard me for the first time. I did have a lot of nice gigs by then - I played at Resolute, Output or Verboten and they were all fun. But actual Techno crowd discovered me at Aphotic showcases. I met most of my NY techno friends at that space, made many professional contacts. Clearly Aphotic is the party that put my name on the NYC techno map.
CGNY: That’s great to hear! So now you’re working with New York Trax booking and Nicole and you’ve got your first European tour coming up?
MY: First in a year and a half. When I just moved to NY, for the first two years I was going to Europe every six months and playing there, having 3 or 4 shows in 3 weeks. But then for a year and a half I could not travel because I was working too much. Now I’m finally going back to Europe in January, I’m very exited!
CGNY: And playing at Tresor?
MY: And playing at Tresor! Jan 20 so whoever is in town should definitely join us!
CGNY: Very exciting – one of my fave clubs!
MY: Yes it’s going to be fun!
CGNY: So what are you thinking about before and when playing your set? What are the ideas behind track selection? When prepping, do you sketch it out in your mind ahead of time?
"I try not to be snobby about vinyl. I think what matters at the end of the day is how the set sounds, whether its cdjs or vinyl or whatever. I think it’s a tool that we use and everyone should use the tool that works the best for them."
MY: I pack my bag carefully. I like to think ahead while DJing - have a couple of following up records in mind in advance. I like when it goes up and down, gets deeper and then harder. As a DJ I like to create a trip. The vibe on the dance floor is changing, your mood is changing, your activity is changing and in two hours that you survive, you hear a variety of stuff. Of course, I also improvise - I might play records that I didn’t plan to play, yet put them in my bag “just in case”. That’s why It’s important that I have enough room in the booth to arrange my records. Sometimes it gets stressful if the spot is tight and I can’t find the record that I need.
CGNY: You had never any interest in learning on cdjs?
MY: I only play records. I had Traktor for a year with control vinyl. It wasn’t a good experience. I couldn’t remember the tracks because I got used to know the records based on the album cover. The computer was dying on me on every show. I was so freaked out that I wasn’t thinking about music, I wasn’t thinking about the crowd. I was thinking “Please don’t die, please don’t die… oh, my set is over? Finally, what a nightmare”. I try not to be snobby about vinyl. I think what matters at the end of the day is how the set sounds, whether its cdjs or vinyl or whatever. I think it’s a tool that we use and everyone should use the tool that works the best for them. I mix vinyl better than coded records, cdjs even scare me! So I chose vinyl to provide the best results.
CGNY: Once you can get a hand with carrying the records!
MY: People are very helpful.
CGNY: How many is in your collection?
MY: I have about 3000 in Russia and here about 700.
CGNY: So what’s going to happen to your Russian records? Are you eventually going to move them all here!?
MY: My mom brings me a few every time she visits. And before the iPhone era she was bringing the worst ones because she was just grabbing whatever she could put her hands on! And now she sends me a picture and I tell her whether I want this record or not.
CGNY: So who are the artists that you are playing out a lot or that you like at the moment?
MY: I like all the artists from the labels Semantica and Ilian Tape. Love Stockholm LTD…Chronicle… I also like relatively new labels that are coming up – Cory James and Soramimi’s label Dusk Notes, Arthur Kimskii's label LAG. I pay a lot of attention to new stuff that’s coming out as there are some new (relatively) names to watch, like Michal Wolski or Qindek. If we’re talking about classical producers, Donato Dozzy was the one that I’ve been following since I bought my first record. I heard him playing in 2008 in Berlin. He was playing outdoors on the river. The weather was shit but it was so good. He created an amazing vibe and I have very bright memories of that afternoon.
CGNY: And do you listen digitally or?
MY: I buy everything on decks.de. This is in my opinion the best record shop. For each track on the record they have two minute clips you can listen to. If we’re talking about home listening, the good old soundcloud helps and my favorite Shirley and Spinoza radio, check it out - such a trip. It’s the weirdest and craziest selection of non dance music. http://compound-eye.org/
CGNY: So now you’re pretty much full time as a dj. Is your goal to keep doing that? Are you also going into production?
MY: I am working on production a lot, but I’m still not satisfied with the results. I have a bunch of finished tracks but I’m not happy with them. I set myself a deadline until the end of December: I’ll just work on music as much as I can and in January I’ll choose what sounds best… It would be great to make 20 or so tracks and then choose 5 that I’m happy with and want to show to people.
CGNY: Well you’re too busy now with the tour etc.?
MY: December looks quiet. Perfect time to catch up on production. Right now I’m working on samples, building my unique library. My friend PJay (NYex) used to have a school in Manhattan called Analog Recreation and he had all these vintage synths, Eurorack, drum machines and whatever you want. The lease expired and he had to move out so the last couple weeks before it closed, I recorded most of his machines. Now I need to build proper samples out of what I recorded. By the end of November I want to finish working on the samples and the whole month of December just work on tracks. My main goal, of course, is to DJ “full time”. I work hard on it, but you never know what can happen, so you should be prepared and flexible.
CGNY: Agree! Last question. One techno track to hand to a visiting alien! What would it be?
MY: Hard to choose one, to be honest. I like this record - Alderaan CONTINUOUS LIMIT EP. I play all four tracks of this record and always have it in my bag. https://soundcloud.com/insula-records/sets/alderaan-continuous-limit-ep
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