At Coachella and Beyond, DJ Maya Jane Coles Can Move a Dance Floor

AFTER COACHELLA, MAYA JANE COLES GETS SET TO RELEASE HER DEBUT ALBUM, COMFORT, IN JULY. By Jimmy Lee, photo by Thomas Knights.

 

When Maya Jane Coles takes her spot in front of her laptop, a mixing board and two turntables at illustrious venues such as the 2013 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, her slight, just over 5-foot frame is hard to see behind all that equipment from across a dance floor. You can barely make out her asymmetrical haircut, with the left side of her head shaved close, floating above the top of the MacBook Pro.

But then she drops a house beat and a pre-recorded male voice offers up a brief introduction — “Give it up for Maya Jane Coles” — and immediately there’s no mistaking her presence, because the crowd is soon a dancing frenzy, like the night she deejayed at the downtown Los Angeles club, Exchange L.A., back in March. From just after midnight to well past 1 in the morning, bodies are in constant motion, and overseeing it all, with her head bobbing to the beat, as if nodding in approval of the hip-shaking as well as the lip-kissing between couples that the insistent rhythms seem to engender, is Coles.

Amid today’s landscape of globe-trotting DJs dispensing irresistible dance grooves, Coles is distinguishing herself with the ability to move a dance floor. But being a club DJ isn’t even her primary focus. “I definitely consider myself a writer and producer first and a DJ second, though I couldn’t live with either,” says Coles.

Born in London of British and Japanese ancestry, Coles grew up in a household hearing Jamaican dub and reggae, Brazilian bossanova, French classical and American jazz, courtesy of her music-loving parents. She learned how to play the guitar, drums, cello and saxophone, even though “I’m not great at music theory; I’m better playing instruments by ear,” she says. So Coles taught herself the bass and keyboards, as well as how to use music production software.

By the time she was 15, she was using that knowledge to produce hip-hop and trip-hop tracks. The electronic dance music that she would come to create resulted from a growing girl’s partying ways. “I would say I started making more electronic music after I started going clubbing in East London at around 17,” says Coles.

“I was just really inspired by the music and wanted to create my own take on it,” she adds. “Making music is my favorite thing to do in life; there is nothing I would rather do.”

Coles has remixed artists from Ella Fitzgerald and Florence & The Machine to Massive Attack and Little Dragon. “I just listen to the track and decide if I have a good idea for it that I think can take the track into a new space,” she says. “Where possible I try to be respectful of the original, too.”

She has also crafted recordings that forgo the pounding beats of a club track for songs with a more relaxed, seductive vibe. And she’s also applying those keyboard-, guitar- and bass-playing skills to her own original creations, which will be part of her debut album, Comfort, scheduled for a July 1 release.

“It has tracks on it that were started four years ago, to tracks that were literally done a week before mastering,” says Coles. “So it’s been a really long process until I got it to a place that I felt happy enough to draw a line and say, ‘Finished.’”

Comfort will also be released on her own label, called I/AM/ME. “I didn’t have to make concessions creatively,” says Coles. “I like the satisfaction of doing it all myself and knowing I had full control of the outcome. Making an idea in my head come to life or reshaping an idea into something new is the most exciting part of the process for me.”

 

This story was originally published in Audrey‘s Summer 2013 issue. Buy it here.