One Sunday morning in November last year, I was making a journey many will be familiar with – walking through the empty streets of Farringdon in the early hours in search of the tube home. I’d just left fabric, and by now it was around 10am. As friends and I discussed the highlights of the night, we passed a woman dressed in black discretely walking along the pavement in the opposite direction. After a couple more paces, we did a double take, turning to notice that she was carrying a record bag, and had also stopped on the spot. We all paused and gazed at each other in silence for a moment, before she made the first move. Hastily putting down the bag, she exchanged a heartfelt hug with each one of us, before thanking us for coming out and wishing us a safe journey home.
The woman in question was Margaret Dygas, who’d just closed fabric’s main room – a club she’s always had a strong affinity with. It was one of those ‘what just happened?’ moments, and an unexpected way to end the night. Saying this, her reaction to us wasn’t all that surprising – Margaret’s warm personality is one of the main reasons watching her play is so compelling, and her presence is always remarkably infectious behind the DJ booth.
Six months on from that chance meeting outside a meat market in the City of London, Margaret and I are in a Skype conversation discussing her time spent living in the capital. I’m well aware that she’s usually hesitant to give interviews, though I start by asking about one building in particular, which seems to have caught her attention. ‘I was working there from the beginning, kind of. Just hanging out. I used to do the tickets for Fridays. Shaun [Roberts, FABRICLIVE promotions manager] was my flatmate and he helped me out with the job, because you know how it is in London – any extra dollar helps. But it was fun! And at that point I was going for the Tyrant nights too. Craig Richards and Lee Burridge, you know? The two nights were totally different scenes. I really liked it. Drum & Bass, Hip-Hop, whatever else.’
It’s not hard to see why Margaret would be attracted to the wide range of styles fabric has pioneered. After being born in Poland and growing up with a keen ear for Hip-Hop and Michael Jackson in California, before discovering House music and the likes of Danny Tenaglia via New York’s late-night scene, diversity has always been something she’s embraced. You only need to see one of her Sunday evening sets in Panorama Bar – where she’s held a firm position as a resident since 2007 – to hear this in the range of stuff she plays. Anything from House, to Dub, to Minimal, to Techno will find its way into her record bag.
Margaret is also a part of Perlon, the tight-knit label who are as notorious for their obsession with sound quality (at this point, it seems redundant to mention Ricardo Villalobos’ eternal quest for audio perfection) as they are for their wild parties. Consider room 1’s engrossing Martin Audio setup, arguably the best club sound system in Europe, and it would be reasonable to assume that Margaret might have enjoyed spending time in the place.
Yet more than the music the club pushes, or the soundsystem it boasts, it’s the team behind the scenes she’s always identified with. ‘I helped out in the office, with flyers and stuff, so Judy [Griffith, fabric promotions manager] and I got to know each other a little bit’, she tells me, ‘but I was never the kind of person to promote myself, like ‘Hi! I’m a DJ!’ – I think she just came to this tiny place I played in once, and if you’ve met her you know how she is; she’s very sweet. I think one time, she just asked me. I think I played there without being on the flyer. It was just like a last-minute thing a couple of times, a warm-up. The first time I was on the flyer I was warming up for Sasha! I was so happy. I never expected it.’
Before moving to London, Margaret studied fashion in New York, which was still an exciting hub for creativity and the arts at the time. Of all the cities she’s lived in, it is life in the gritty east side of Manhattan and its burgeoning scene that she looks back on most fondly. ‘I went out to so many places; Twilo, Robots, Body and Soul, Cheetah. I was at Twilo every weekend actually. I feel very lucky to have caught that little glimpse of ‘the club kids’, I’m so happy that I saw that last underground cultural movement. I had the best times of my life there.’
Although fabric fulfilled her thirst for the underground, the romantic picture she paints of New York is a stark contrast to her description of London life; freelancing, extra bar work, and unaffordable rents – none of which are particularly conducive to an aspiring DJ’s career. Her first steps into DJing were helped by working in one of London’s best (now-defunct) record shops. ‘I used to just buy from second-hand shops, and then much later, I worked in Eukatech in Covent Garden. It was this amazing little shop, and I was kind of just working for records, which was cool because going to a record shop for the first time was really daunting! Especially for a girl – if I didn’t know what I was looking for I’d just get a bit intimidated.’
It’s not so much the answers she gives that tell me more about her, but rather the manner in which she answers them, which reveal an unfaltering modesty in both her personality and the lifestyle she now leads in Berlin. ‘I moved [to Berlin] so I could pay my rent and food, and have a simpler life. So I thought, even if I play twice a month, that’s all I need. An agency took me on, and I moved a little bit. Luckily I can still do this after so long. It’s a gift from the universe if you are able to live from what you really love. It’s unfair if people live their lives and never find that thing. Some things are harder to live from than others, but if you find something that you really love, and you get to live from that, even to the minimum, that’s enough! I wish everyone the same luck. It’s about finding that magic for yourself.’
New York and London provided Margaret with new discoveries of vibrant scenes, though she had already played in Panorama Bar by the time she moved to Berlin in 2007, which would be followed soon after by an offer of a residency slot. She also started playing regularly at famed afterhours haunts like Bar 25 and Club der Visionaere, which is still one of the city’s most revered clubs. These joints are renowned for their ramshackle charm, though, as with fabric, it was the friends she made which would influence her journey – not least one of the Berlin scene’s most respected figures. I think [we] must’ve [met] at Visionaere’, she recalls, ‘but he’s very shy, and I’m very shy. So for a long, long time we just said ‘hello!’ to each other and that’s it. He’s very gentle, very sweet, and very honest. He cares a lot for the music, the people on the label, and they are pretty much all friends, you know?’
This is, of course, her ode to Perlon, and more specifically the mastermind behind over 100 celebrated releases – Zip. It’s easy to envisage the pair exchanging such pleasantries for the first time, and the story of Zip hearing Margaret’s music for the first time is another endearing one. ‘It happened when my friend was here, in my house, and after hours of hanging out, it was just me and him left, and he was like ‘Come on, play me something.’ I was like ‘It’s not finished, really, but fine.’ and I gave it to him. I gave him ‘Invisible Circles’. And he was friends with the guys from the studio, the one that’s shared with Ricardo [Villalobos], and Zippy [Zip], and whatever, so that’s how it got there. I didn’t even give it to anyone! So it was a real surprise. I just gave him an unfinished thing.’
She might not come across as all that reserved behind the DJ booth (nor does she this afternoon, where she ends up asking me a number of questions of her own towards the end of our conversation), though it’s something that’s quite discernible in the music she makes; comprised of just a few elements, subtlety is always key. I wonder if this shyness explains her ambivalence towards the Internet too. On the subject of social media, she says, ‘If it was a nice party and the promoter texts me like ‘hey, thank you for coming’, I just text back ‘thank you, see you soon!’ instead of posting it to the whole world. I don’t think it’s not necessary in a way. We had a nice time, and we move on. I still have MySpace though, I post documentaries there. Things that are close to my heart, like politics and stuff. I heard a good lecture by Colin Wilson the other day. You know him? You should check him out.’
A quick browse of her MySpace reveals a number of YouTube videos recently shared on her bulletin; some music-related (‘Jeff Mills’ Exhibitionist Mix’), some educational (‘Why Vegan? Lessons from an Animal Scientist’), and some downright hilarious (‘Bill collector calls wrong number gets owned’). It’s all part of Margaret’s introverted quirkiness. This is congruous to her after hours sets of dubbier, weirder sounds too; whether through an unreleased Ricardo Villalobos ‘science project’, a Jazz interlude (a genre, she tells me, she enjoys listening to at home), or the sound of a locomotive steam engine in the middle of a set. ‘I made this song right before Visionaere, just to play it there. Because I don’t think I could play it anywhere else. It’s called ‘Sound Engine’. An unreleased one. I have quite a few vinyl from German television, they used to do sound clips, of like train engines, people walking, closing the door, a whole series of vinyl. I just did a little edit of that.’
For any other DJ, playing the sound of a train engine might be a bold move, though in Margaret’s eyes, it’s an almost accidental product of playing with sounds and testing the results. ‘My friend Tobias [Freund] showed me tapes of some very weird sounds,’ she continues, ‘and it was nuts. Nothingness. Experimental stuff that you cannot dance to. Just kind of trippy noises. I find it very inspiring that people are spending their time doing this. It has a very narrow public audience. So when you make it, you don’t think of anyone. It’s just for experimenting with sound. It’s like building something that will never be anything.’
This penchant for messing around sets her apart from the ‘minimal’ tag her contemporaries are often associated with. It’s not surprising that she sees such pigeonholing as a fruitless exercise. ‘It’s not that I’m bored [of the word], but it’s like, even the word ‘minimal’ is shy, you know? The word itself goes ‘Oh no! Leave me alone’. What is minimal? I have amazing records that would be considered minimal, but they’re still amazing records. And I don’t care. Play it and have fun! People go ‘Oh, that’s minimal!’ and ‘Look what dubstep turned into!’ But there are some amazing Dubstep records. It’s a shame that people are enclosing themselves because of a word.’
She reels off some of her favourite ‘Dubstep’ labels; Skull Disco, Hessle Audio, Livity Sound. ‘The English labels, basically. The sound, is like, the fattest. I don’t know what they do, but it’s just so… dark. Dark, dubby, and a bit more moody. Some moodiness is good!’
Moving on from Dubstep, I challenge her to find a word to describe her own music, though unsurprisingly she’s reluctant to oblige. I offer one instead, explaining that when she’s playing I often find it hard to read what’s going to happen next.
‘Spooky? I love that! That’s a nice way of putting it. But I’m telling you – I also don’t know what’s going to happen. But that’s just part of the magic.’
Margaret Dygas plays Gottwood festival, Carreglwyd Wood, Wales, 11-14 June 2015.
Words: Chris Williams
Club photography: Axel Masson