VTSS: In Conversation

Cutting her teeth as a resident at Warsaw’s infamous Brutaż party and Jasna1 club, the Polish born DJ, live performer and producer VTSS (real name Martyna Maja) has swiftly established herself as a force to be reckoned with, securing a packed touring schedule and a place on the Discwoman booking roster. Despite having only released three records, VTSS has definitively laid out her sound, her productions becoming a frequent fixture in the sets of DJs focusing on the harsher end of the techno spectrum. Her debut Self Will EP released last year on SPFDJ’s Intrepid Skin label was a clear indicator of this sound: uncompromising and driving EBM tinged techno, primed for the peak hours.

The popularity of acts like VTSS demonstrates how the last couple of years have cast a spotlight on genres at the fringes of more conventional techno, including electro, EBM, and more. These tastemakers continue to shape and reinvent the sound of modern techno, often looking back towards the raw sub-genres that typified much electronic music of the late eighties and nineties. Maja’s most recent release on Berlin label Repitch Recordings sees her join the company of industry heavyweights such as Mike Parker, Sleeparchive and Umwelt. Identity Process is a record that reflects a broader trend towards a harsher and faster sound in contemporary club culture. The EP sees the producer return to the realm of peak time weapons, with four tracks that each combine the intensity of the nineties with a clarity that sounds altogether modern. We caught up with her to discuss her developing musical process and the shifting landscape of club culture.

In another interview Lina (SPFDJ) described your sound as ‘to the point’, clearly influenced by EBM and hardcore, is that a good description?

Yeah, well… looks like bae knows me well. Of course it’s still techno, not actually EBM nor hardcore. I often structure my DJ sets or specific transitions this way, from more bassy crunch EBM vibes, through techno, to more hardcore and rave vibes. Naturally that got transformed into my productions as well – mixing those influences in the middle ground of techno.

Who and what have been the main influences in shaping your current sound?

There’s a lot of names, artists and tracks, but I’d rather blame it all on my beloved hometown of Warsaw. The music scene there is really vibrant and I learned so much musically just by being a part of it and being involved with not really club scenes, but party scenes around local crews. My more DYI, lo-fi, EBM, electro, or more ‘leftfield’ techno’ influences come from parties like Brutaż (later also Syntetyk) and friends around them.

Then there was the more techno club scene with venues like Jasna1, where my residency allowed me to explore how to manage all my ideas and moods, learning to chill sometimes and work on how to make one whole coherent sound. And of course the crucial part to my musical education (lol) are the mother and fathers of the Polish gabba revival – my friends from Wixapol, where I played quite a few sets using a couple of semi-serious monikers like ATOPA DJ, Princesses of Hardcore or DJ Księżniczka (DJ Princess lol). I guess that’s where I also learned not to treat music that seriously and don’t forget the fun factor.

Your touring schedule has been crazy over the last year, how do you manage this on top of production?

Unfortunately I don’t. I have many deadlines to meet soon and over the last two months I’ve been in Berlin where I live for probably only ten days. I gave my lovely friend and agent the nickname ‘No Chill Charles’, but I guess he’s not the happiest with this because he himself recently offered me some time off this summer haha. He’s the best though haha.

On the bright side when I’m in the right ‘location’ and headspace it goes quite fast so I know when that happens there’s not going to be a problem. Especially because I’m working on some really sick collaborations and that’s what I want to focus my energy on later this year. Since I’m a lone wolf, working on music with other people has never been my strong suit, but I’m kinda obsessed with self development these days, so overcoming my inner obstacles sounds like a fun challenge to me, and for sure will result in some wicked music.

You’ve said once before that you sometimes struggle to deliberately make music for a release, and that you prefer to record material from a live set. Would you consider yourself first and foremost a live performer?

I did consider myself mostly a live performer for sure. It’s maybe changed a bit in the last 6 months though, since I’ve managed to develop a more personal way to dj, technique and style-wise. However the main way I still make music is working on a new live set for five days and bouncing out the stems, which I can use for the next couple of months in my track making process.

My current live equipment failed me so many times over the last couple of years so our relationship is kinda shaky these days. My best friend Kamil always says ‘live is live’, however with touring so much I find it impossible to spend enough time on my live sets as I used to and would want to. And also my hardware nightmare – MIDI always fucks me up. I considered getting that tattooed at one point, probably as a tramp stamp. I really enjoy the hell out of djing these days. That happened mostly by learning all the more and less known functions of CDJs and playing a lot of tracks by my super talented friends or my own. Maybe I just need to change my live setup? I’ll try to explore all that this summer.

Congrats on your Repitch release! How do you think your production is developing as you make more music?

Thank you, I’m really happy with that one. We started working on it July or August last year and closed it in March, so what happened in that time was really an identity process for me, as the release is named. I always considered myself a really quick learner, though a really lazy one. So with making more and more music I kinda know what I want and how to get there right away. To be fair I was never much of an explorer and experimentalist, I never got hooked on weed either lol. Me and Lina (SPFDJ) are both hard bitches, we know what we want and we just do it/get it.

In terms of music production it just gets easier with transforming an idea from my head to sequences and sounds. The more I make music the more I appreciate and learn from other styles and genres and different approaches. I’m really happy about that because many people get stuck in their own styles and even when they experiment, it’s only within some ‘mind cage’ – lol that sounded dramatic – that they are putting on themselves.

There are flavours from ’90s techno and rave embedded in your productions, what is it that attracts you to that sound?

I would say what I was missing in techno 4-5 years ago was the energy. Of course I had my share in listening and even playing more hypnotic techno sounds (or producing) but it was never really my thing. As a not even low key anymore gabber head, obviously I love the faster tempos hehe. And most of all – seriousness in life or in music was never my strong suit- the vocals, the silly sounding samples and just basically FUN is what I would say attracts me in how I see this period in music the most.

How has your involvement with Brutaż shaped the way you work now as a performer and your attitude to club culture?

It grounded my belief about how important underground club culture can be in one’s life, how it can actually change it, the way it changed mine, and how this silly sounding concept of parties can be such a uniting and bonding experience. It’s the underground and politically involved club culture that shaped me, helped me grow as a person, find my voice, not only musically, and helped me overcome inner obstacles like social anxiety and feeling isolated.

It seems like local scenes beyond Berlin are receiving more attention internationally, like Brutaż in Warsaw, Fast Forward in Copenhagen or Cxema in Kyiv. Do you think electronic music will be more outward looking in the years to come?

Hopefully yes. While discussing booking ‘strategies’ with a DJ friend of mine, I realised how important and gratifying as a performer it is for me to be invited and welcomed to those local communities. Sure, playing those ‘prolific’ shows – big festivals or more big room venues is nice, usually well paid lol and ‘important to your career blablabla’ because they are covered by press but it’s usually the local scenes and communities (not the money and press coverage) that are the ones who are giving the energy back, and make this exhausting lifestyle feel really special.

What are you looking forward to for the rest of the year?

I’ve never been to Katharsis, it seems like the perfect fit for me so I can’t wait to play it this year. I’m coming back to my beloved Unsound with a new live show, and it’s my first time at a few festivals in my home country like Audioriver and OFF festival. I’m finally playing a b2b with SPFDJ for the first time in September in Berlin with more shows W O R L D W I D E lol to follow. I’m also looking forward to see my mum get married in August, she’s the fuckin best.

Identity Process by VTSS is out now on Repitch Recordings.

Buy it here.

WordsJess Cohen

Feature Image: Martha Michalak

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