If there’s one musical trend that can be said to define cutting-edge club music in 2019, it’s speed. There’s a new wave of DJs who are spinning techno sounds faster and harder than at any time since the late ’90s.
One of the principle figures of this wave is Polish selector VTSS (a.k.a. Martyna Maja), who has, after signing to Discwoman and moving to Berlin, quickly ascended to the global touring circuit thanks to her razor sharp productions—like the now twice repressed Identity Process on Repitch—and gut-wrenchingly intense DJ sets, as can be heard via the Boiler Room video below. We’ve previously featured her multiple times on this site, but now, following much-lauded sets at Katharsis, Berlin Atonal, Unsound Festival and Amsterdam Dance Event, TEB Poland editor Kacper Peresada met with her to learn more about her story.
Your career has really taken off since you moved to Berlin last year. How did you deal with the move, and the amount of touring that you’re doing now?
Oh, there has been ups and downs for sure. I’ve learned a lot about how much I can push myself and where my limits are. Aside from the exhaustion, it’s been amazing nonetheless. It’s really heartwarming when there’s such a cheerful and enthusiastic response to what I’m trying to offer. I know it’s such a cliché thing to say, but it really is, and it’s made developing a sleep disorder and swollen feet worthwhile.
After a year of moving around (I’ve lived in six places already), I finally have my own home which is making everything so much better. It’s only when you travel so much that you realize how crucial it is to have your own space to recharge and not depend on anyone.
You’ve gained a lot of attention as a solo artist, especially since the release of Identity Process this year, but you used to work a lot with other musicians and producers. Did it help you to see the way other people work? Do you still want to work with other people, or is solo work the best way for you?
I’ve worked in a few collectives, and I’ve done some local parties. I’ve also curated podcasts and workshops. It’s taught me a lot about the scene, and people in general, and I will be forever grateful for those experiences. I truly think everyone should go through all of these steps, and work enough for their local scenes, before touring internationally. However, they’ve actually led me to realize how serious I am about my own vision. Instead of convincing others that they should follow me, I now feel that I should just work solo and trust my own gut, which has proven to be correct about many things— that has been the greatest decision for me.
Ever since I started trusting myself, things have fallen into place. However, I still find it exciting to work with other people—just the right ones. For example, the process of putting a record together: I trust my instincts a lot, but it’s still really refreshing to get feedback and tips from people that I truly respect and who also have an interest in making the best possible record.
There are many people that are saying that they’ve started their own labels because they want to have more freedom, and I respect that totally. However, If you find the right artists to work with, collaborations can really take things to another level, where working solo wouldn’t get you. That’s why I’m really selective when it comes to agreeing to releases or even remixes—the right energy, a mutual respect and a healthy non-toxic environment are all crucial for me to squeeze my productivity to the maximum. And, as I might have proven already, I don’t do anything halfway.
Where exactly did your career start? How have your productions evolved since you first began making music?
I started in Warsaw, going to clubs that are now closed and getting more into the club culture. Before techno happened, I’d been going to clubs since I was 14—sorry mom. At first it was more indie, but then later on it was that electro-house/electro-fidget madness. Those times were weird as fuck. Long story short, I was already slowly “producing”, or rather exploring Ableton lol. I’ve been interested in techno for a while, and I told one of my DJ friends that I wanted to learn to play.
He said if I wanted to start, there was only one right way—to learn to play records. So after collecting around 50 (it seemed like so many at the time), I borrowed some old decks and a shitty mixer from other friends, and I played my first party two weeks after. I think the approach that my friend passed on to me at the very beginning was crucial to whatever is happening right now.
From very early on, it wasn’t just a passion or a dream to me. I remember I went to Unsound Festival a couple of years before I started playing, and that was when I decided to drop out of law school and go to sound engineering school. I started with Ableton—crying basically for an entire first month—then started exploring more, and a year after I started DJing, I played my first live act. That escalated quite quickly.
You also have some connection to WIXAPOL S.A., right? One of our editors saw you DJ at their party in Berlin.
Oh yes, they’re dear friends of mine. I’ve known them basically from the beginning of Wixapol, probably like five years ago or something. Not many people know that I’ve been playing gabber sets basically for as long as I’ve been DJing techno. Before it was more common and acceptable within the techno scene, as it seems to be at the moment. I’ve played solo for them, I’ve played in my duo as “princesses of hardcore” lol (shout to the other princess!) and I’ve also even worked as a bouncer there occasionally. I still play some old-school hardcore tracks in my sets and have some even harder influences, though I don’t really enjoy the hardness war that’s been going on lately.
When we write about you, we often place you in the context of a new wave of artists who have embraced higher tempos and harder sounds. Do you think that’s a fair contextualization, and what do you think of this movement in general?
I’ve always loved mixing up styles and influences, though, for me, the key to everything is balance. The same as in life. I know we live in complicated times and it builds up radical attitudes, also in music, but what I miss sometimes is some subtlety.
Recently, during a back-to-back set with SPFDJ, someone shouted “play harder”. That’s happened a couple of times (also in the comments on Instagram). I love to embrace my hardcore influences (or EBM ones), but it’s not a contest of who will fuck you up the most.
I like how techno is getting faster, harder and more fun. But when I’m DJing, I find it’s really crucial that I take the time to think about how I want to build my sets so that I can also slow things down so people can take a breath. It’s even silly to talk about it—I was taught that that’s what DJs are supposed to do, while a lot of new really hard DJs and producers are just about pummeling. But as long there’s crowd for that, then who cares how I feel about it.
I like some of it, but I try to balance everything, because I just find it too monotonous. After I played at Bossa Nova Civic Club in New York last May, someone tweeted, “VTSS gave NYC a master class in hard and fast but dynamic and mischievous DJing at Bossa Nova last night – hard n fast isn´t all about pummel pummel.” That is kind of my goal and approach to all that fast and hard music.
Even at WIXAPOL, the speed core only happens during the closing set haha.
You seem to really have an ear for intensity in your productions. What is your production process like?
I usually sit down knowing exactly what vibe and style I’m trying to achieve. There’s not much randomness in what I do, all is usually determined by a plan.
The more I learn, the less strict and “true school” I get about everything. I had Ableton only phases, then I was using only hardware and mixing analog or in REAPER. Now that I have a decent mastery of the tools, I just don’t care at all—I use the first thing I can think of that can transform my idea into a stem. It’s been a really long and turbulent process to get to this place, and there have been many ups and downs.
Of course, I want to develop and grow as a better producer, DJ and person, and I do it by listening to other people. Meeting and talking to the people who I initially thought I didn’t have much in common with has been the most mind-opening experience. I believe the future is in opening borders—both in life and in music. And there’s nothing I hate more in music than the “true schoolism” and whining about things changing. I think it’s really sad. We all have preferences; there’s no good and bad. There are places to listen to whatever you want. Live and let other live.
You also recently collaborated with Varg at Berlin Atonal. How did that come about, and do you have any plans for future music projects together?
Oh Jonas Jonas…I met him years ago. I think even before or around when I was just starting to make music. He was just having his first gigs outside of Sweden. Jonas has been sending me tons of dubs and upcoming releases over the years that I’ve introduced to my crowd. That includes the virally labeled “the new anti police music” by the Empire Line, which is NOT the title haha. (It’s out soon, yes!)
Varg and I had been making some music together (I also did a remix for him), Atonal found out, and they gave us this amazing opportunity to premiere our work there.
Our collaborative EP, VARGTSS, is almost ready. I find this collaboration and the combination of music and personalities really interesting—both for performing and music making. VARG kinda stimulates my more experimentally “adventurous” side that I had kinda buried lately under my more straightforward techno career.
However, I’m more aware of things like working the crowd and making stuff somewhat more banging. The energy between us is perfect, really positive and inspiring, and I really have huge hopes for the project. Though it might be just my thing for the Scandinavians talking haha (shout to my boo SPFDJ and the bbbbbb crew).
How did you become part of Discwoman?
We met in person at a panel during Unsound Festival; I met Frankie and Emma there. We kind of knew about each other already, but we had always missed each other at parties. I partied with Frankie that night, met her (by accident) for a hangover breakfast and we stayed in touch. Later, I met Frankie again last year, when I was visiting Berlin, and she said she’d been thinking about having me join the Discwoman roster.
It was a really hard time for me during that period, and I was in a really bad place in my head, so it took a couple of months to make that decision. That trip to Berlin was, however, a breaking point in my life. I realized that the bad days were over—that I was better. It was also then that I decided to take a chance and move to Berlin.
Social media is part of the life of an artist. Do you ever tire of it? Or do you see it as being completely natural for you?
There’s obviously two sides of this. It can get frustrating sometimes because some people think they know you. People expect an answer to every message, and it somehow becomes your duty to text everyone back, and if you don’t, some people get really aggressive and sometimes turn into your biggest haters right away. It’s really hard to maintain a personal life, work and be friendly, nice and responsive to everyone at all times. I try to answer as much as I can, but I already spend too much time on Instagram, and I’d rather get away from the screen to just look at the grass or listen to the bird that screams its throat out near my window every single day from 4 to 9 a.m.
However, especially now, I’m realizing how amazing and game-changing social media can be for every creative profession. You are able to reach out to people personally. It allows you to completely curate everything, so that you can show them who you really are (or who you want them to think you are). Back in the day you would need a press agent to get you an interview to talk about stuff, now you can just talk to your audience and get your message out there right away. I know that “kids nowadays” don’t only want music, but want to know the person behind it. The personality really matters, and I’m happy to invite the people in, at least just a bit, so if they want to, they can get to know me. Though, of course, music is what matters the most—to me at least.
I try to keep my social media a bit more real and down to earth. I’d rather use it to put my strong (lol, I’m aware) personality out there rather than post from airplanes or fancy dinners. Tbf, I find it a bit embarrassing to brag about flying so much in times like this, with this huge ecological crisis happening. Even if you work with a carbon emission company, should we really be promoting that lifestyle? As Frankie once tweeted: “Be the techno DJ you wanna see in the world.”
What’s next for you? Do you have any new releases or projects coming up? Anywhere we can see you here in Berlin or Warsaw?
I’ve just came back from Unsound, full of joy and inspiration for the next twelve months. I was trying not to overdo it until the end of the year, so I’ve moved my full releases for the next year, making remixes, splits and joining some great compilations.
The one that just got announced is “Atlantyda”, my track for Dax J’s label Monnom Black. It’s inspired by a track from the ‘90s with the same title by a Polish synth-pop band called Jauntix. It’s a really emotional track for me, and I’m happy to soon share it with everyone else.
I will be in my hometown Warsaw on November 1 for my own party, where I will be hosting Bjarki, a dear friend, in my home club of Jasna1. In Berlin you can catch my around my fav Säule/Berghain, and at this year’s CTM.
I’m really happy to be at this point where I’m surround by, and get to work with, all of the amazing artists that I grew up (as an artist) listening to, and to also have so many of them as friends. I have a few other projects coming up, like one with Randomer as BODY SUSHI, and I also have some releases scheduled for some dope labels by some amazing people. Next year though…I want to take things to a new level and have more of a tour around an album that I’m now preparing.
I also hope to work out more, take more walks, keep my CBD levels high, fly less, keep my friends around, keep my wifey happy and healthy and see my friends and family more often—simple life with VTSS.