Just when you think you have her figured, Maayan Nidam is the kind of artist that will switch up on you and charge off in a whole new direction. From her roots in Tel Aviv to settling in Berlin, Maayan quickly forged a musical path for herself through a rich spread of projects and releases, most notably rising to prominence under the Miss Fitz moniker at a time when minimal techno was yielding its most creative and inspiring output. Likewise the Laverne Radix alias and collaborative projects suchas Mara Trax (alongside Vera Heindel) spoke of a mind brimming with ideas to unleash.
Of course though, dance music is where Maayan’s musical trajectory has stemmed from, and her love of undulating grooves is ever quenched by her work as a DJ. With selections that span the ages without fear of switching up the vibe, she may be as wilfully esoteric on the decks as in the studio but she always strikes the balance to keep from veering into self-indulgence. That is, after all, the test of any great artist, to entertain and challenge in equal measure, and Maayan Nidam has that approach locked down. Maayan played one of the sets of the year at the Palladium poolside in Lower Parel, and took the time out to answer some of our questions ranging from artists taking a stand to what drives her as a producer and DJ.
Your Facebook fan page status (in the second week of December) said that you returned from a memorable weekend in Turkey at Wake Up Call that doubles up on its nightclub status with raising awareness on various issues through the arts. Were you following the goings-on in Turkey earlier in the year? Do you think that DJs can / should take a stand? Have you ever been confronted by such a situation?
Ever since the first time I arrived to play in Istanbul, around five or even six years ago, I felt a very strong connection to the place as well as to the people of our scene that reminded me a lot of the people back home in Tel-Aviv. There’s so much culture over there, so much art and music, the heart melts.
My friends from Turkey were talking about the changes in the country long before they went out to the streets. I’m talking about at least two years before when women I know started feeling discomfort from the growing religious authority.
Then, when the riots started I was following with the rest of the news. I had a chance to go there again at the end of the summer. It was Ramadan and the good people of wake-up call went outside of the city to an open-air venue on the beach.
On the way there I had many questions to those same people that went to demonstrate at Gazi Park day after day. I was told about the exhaustion side by side with unification even with parts of the Turkish society that were considered foes for ages.
Knowing the Istanbul scene to be quite small (most parties I’ve played for were for 100-400 people), it was heart-warming to see that more than a thousand people got in their car and drove for about an hour outside of the city to come together.
It was so great playing music to all those heroes (that’s what they are to me) that went out of their comfort zone and into a very dangerous situation in order to protect principles of fine and free living. They managed to achieve a difference that even the occupation movement failed getting.
I personally felt sympathy with the Gazi protesters because at the time of the occupation movement, I felt like I could, as a known DJ, to bring our scene together as a community. I arranged a demonstration in Gorlitzer Park in Berlin on 11.11.11 with the help of many good friends and colleagues that woke up super early on the first real cold day of the year and ran around carrying, driving and playing music. We invited everyone to a free park party at 11 in the morning to demonstrate our power in gathering.
I wanted to show how well we are connected, that we can rely on each other and that we can survive and also thrive as a self-reliant society instead of struggle alone as the threat to our basic freedom needs was rapidly being replaced with a false need for financial and political security.
So I guess by now you understand where I stand when it comes to taking political stands as a musician or as a DJ.
At the time of organising the demonstration, some ignorant schmucks were writing to me to leave politics outside of the club, to let music just be fun and forget about everything else. For me that was a bunch of bull-crap. Music is and was always an immense force when it comes to personal and global revolutions and even more so now when the underground club scene from all over the world is so well connected. At the time I didn’t even take a political stand, all I wanted to support is our freedom to gather and our freedom to play music and dance outside in the park. If one takes these rights for granted, one obviously does not know what’s going on in the world.
Both your sisters played the piano and guitar, and I read that your dad saved a lot of money for a great sound system in the house. What kind of music did you grow up listening to? Did you lean towards picking up any instruments as a kid?
My childhood home had the radio on at any given time. The music was not commercial like it is today. It moved from pop and rock in the morning to a show called Magic Moments. It would play old classics from the ‘40s and ‘60s every afternoon as I got back from school. Later on, I was playing different tapes from my big sisters. My oldest sister had lots of Israeli rock and the younger one had ‘80s pop like Modern Talking, Ah-Ha, stuff like that. As I became a teenager and started collecting vinyl, I ‘borrowed’ my dad’s Pink Floyd records, a Dire Straits album and also one from Rod Stewart. He’s more of a rocker even though him and my mom absolutely love dancing to Ray Charles, Elvis and other giants from way back when they were teens.
I used to imitate my sisters and pretend to play the piano like I thought they did. But when I grew up I was taken by the guitar and played the acoustic guitar for a few years, and later on moved to electric. I also dabbled in drums but lost interest quite fast. From my experience, the most important factor in learning an instrument is having a great and passionate teacher and I was and still am lucky to be working with a few that really care.
You’ve said that your inspiration for music among other sources also comes from your intense dreams where you “dream of sounds and even full songs.” What’s the last full song that you dreamt of and did you manage to get back into the studio and recreate details from it? Do you write down your dreams? I’ve had this recurring dream over the years where I’m back in school during exam time, feeling fairly confident about cracking the paper, and the bell rings signalling ten minutes to the start of the paper, and for the life of me, I can’t find the classroom I’m assigned. Do you have any recurring dreams?
I dream sounds and music all the time but I never manage to recreate them as the memory fades so quickly these days as I jump out of bed in the morning eager to start the day.
In the past I could keep a memory longer because I stayed for hours in bed, lingering in the dream world but even then, I could remember maybe one line out of a full song and it wouldn’t make sense like it did in the dream.
I learned to accept it though, even while dreaming, I will realise it is not real and I can just enjoy it for what it is.
I have a recurring dream that is very well known to DJs. In that dream I try to DJ and I can’t mix, the mixer won’t work, the record will break in half… There’s always something preventing me from mixing. I looked it up and I found out that it’s because the mind is unable to create such complicated actions like reading or mixing. I had this dream so many times though that I can clearly remember, later on, the tracks I was trying to mix and I somehow manage to play the next song after one has ended. It’s funny because in real life I don’t get that stressed about running out of time or not playing; yet in the dream it feels like my life is depending on it.
I recently read this book titled ‘Can Poetry Matter?’ where one of the essays talks about why poets continue writing poetry when there is no money and the audience for it only shrinks every year, eventually positing that in the absence of both, it must be fame that every poet aspires to. Stretching the concept a bit, (since the audience for electronic music is nowhere as tiny as poetry), what is it that drives / inspires you to create and produce music?
For a long time I felt like music is all I have and that without music there’s no life. At a certain point though it wasn’t enough. I needed more answers that music couldn’t give me. I’ve been searching and researching ever since and at times I was almost rebellious against the power that it’s had over me. I stopped producing for a long time. I was still gigging but not with the same enthusiasm like I had before. All I wanted to do was read, watch documentaries about the universe and learn about anything, collecting small bits of information from all over. Like a puzzle, so I can start seeing larger chunks of the big picture. For a while it was enough for me and I felt satisfied but not too long after, I felt once again the urge to create. This time it wasn’t for me, for my own indulgence in self -expression. This time it came from feeling inadequate, living in a world full of inspiring people and here I am not contributing zilch. I felt that I could die in peace only had I left something beautiful to the world, something inspiring for others and it didn’t have to be music but this is what I know best so it’s a good starting point.
I’m still working on that and everything I make these days part of the process, getting closer and closer every year.
You’ve said that you rewire your studio every six to twelve months, so your way of working out a track changes all the time. Do you have a fondness for any particular gear in your studio?
The growing popularity of electronic music in the past two decades brings us into unknown turfs but we can still look at what is already familiar. If you think about the best album from your favourite band, you know that you will recognise their sound any time, yet every song sounds different. That’s because the guitar is not always the same guitar and you have a different effect pedal and the pedal has different settings. Also, the singer will use his/her voice differently. That’s the same principle I use in the studio, using the same machines or instruments in different ways. I adore the Linn Drum but it has a very distinct sound so sometimes it will lead and sometimes I will use it just for background percussion. I can pass it through a filter or give it a massive reverb or delay and just like that make it fit an acid house track or a dub-by and distant sound. So I guess somehow the most important equipment I have is pedals and effects, because they keep changing my sound. I also like the way I lose control over them and at some point I’m not the one making the music, the machines do.
Some of her favorite songs with a small quote :
Article written by Kenneth Lobo