Photo: Press (Mary Yuzovskaya)
F. Scott Fitzgerald once quipped that American lives did not have second acts, but Mary Yuzovskaya‘s American life is already the second act in her career as a DJ. After cutting her teeth in her native Moscow during the minimal era, Yuzovskaya first relocated to Berlin and then somewhat involuntarily to New York, where she has since become a staple in the regional scene thanks to her residency at the (in-)famous Unter parties along Volvox, Pure Immanence and others. In her mix for the Groove podcast, the Monday Off founder showcases her knack for hypnotic yet driving techno.
Moscow’s techno scene has been receiving a lot of attention in recent years. You started out as a DJ there more than a decade ago and have since moved to New York via Berlin. How was the local scene like when you were taking your first steps, and what prompted you to move elsewhere?
Around the time when I first started going out to parties, then record shopping and later playing my first gigs at the clubs, there wasn’t much techno going on. Mostly it was house, deep house, electro, synth-pop and then minimal techno, of course, which later branched out to minimal house. I myself started as a minimal techno DJ. My earlier sets were influenced by the productions of Carsten Jost, K. Lakizz, Vincent Radar, Lawrence, Efdemin and then later by Cio D’or, Donato Dozzy, Tadeo, et al. While there were bigger festivals and events in Moscow, it still had more intimate, smaller venues and less big rooms or warehouses at that time. The first big one of that era that comes to mind was Arma 17, which opened around 2008 if I remember correctly, and was hosting some events with big international line-ups and a few dance floors, but at that time it wasn’t a club that’d be open every weekend – only occasionally. There were some after-hours and clubs that would work legally until noon or later every weekend, that’s how I got into this whole concept of the “morning” sound and “morning” approach to DJing. Some promoters were throwing illegal summer open airs in the suburbs of Moscow, too. Looking back I’m slightly horrified that they were so bold to do it, but surprisingly there weren’t that many issues with the cops at those forest raves, which now seems like an absolute miracle. I left Russia due to its political climate, not because I was searching for better parties. Unfortunately my home country is not in its best shape. It felt safer to go.
Moving to New York wasn’t an entirely deliberate development in your life either and in fact you stated that you “abandoned music completely” over that, at least club music. What drew you back to the music and the scene?
Record shopping! It’s true, my move to the US was a result of me not being able to extend my German visa and getting a Green Card that same year after being in line for twelve years. I didn’t want to go back to Russia and I didn’t want to lose the immigration status in the US, so I had to relocate. New York City is one of the greatest cities in the world, but it’s also not an easy one – it takes time before you start falling in love with it. As an immigrant, I had some hard times at first. When it became clear that I couldn’t stay in Berlin any longer, I got so upset I canceled my upcoming gigs in the EU and wasn’t even trying to find anything in the US, either. However, I never sold my turntables. Instead, I shipped them from Berlin to NY. When I settled a bit after the move, I got back to my record shopping routine to cheer myself up. Ordering online and receiving packages with vinyl was usually the highlight of my week. My record shopping at that time wasn’t oriented towards any clubs or gigs, as I really wasn’t planning to go back to DJing, I was just purchasing the type of music that I was missing here – which, coincidentally, is the type of music that I play. Then I started slowly going out and meeting people who also collect and play records… A few home parties with new friends and few months later, I got my first official NYC booking. The rest just followed.
Nowadays, you hold a residency at the infamous Unter series for quite some time now. How did you become a resident there and how would you characterise the Unter parties?
Unter is an underground queer techno party featuring some of the best in both local and international talent. It’s always fun and dark, there’s always a great crowd to play for and party with. It provides a special atmosphere and a safe space. I met the Unter crew back in 2016: Ari (Volvox) and (Pure Immanence member) Nick Bazzano heard me play at the Twice As Proper after-hours at 407 and really liked my set. A few days after that party, Ari stopped by the record shop where I worked at that time, Halcyon, to introduce herself and we became friends. A couple of weeks later, Seva reached out to book me to play at Unter’s first Birthday Party. In half a year, I was offered the residency.
In 2017, you founded the Monday Off imprint. What is the concept behind the label?
My goal was to create a platform for the type of sound that I like the most. Trippier, hypnotic, “late AM” techno, sometimes ambient, plus psychedelic artwork – I wanted to press records that I would’ve purchased myself. I didn’t start the label until my creative vision was absolutely clear, but once I knew exactly how it should sound, feel and look, I got to work. Monday Off is pretty much an extension of my DJing. It is engineered to host music that I would play in my sets – I especially enjoy being a curator. The label originally wasn’t planned as a platform for my own productions; in the beginning I wasn’t considering to put out my tracks at all, neither on Monday Off, nor anywhere else. But then I convinced myself to allow my music to see the light of day.
So far, you have only released two tracks of your own, both on mini compilations released through Monday Off. You actually have a classical training, so it is almost surprising that you haven’t debuted as a producer earlier. Are you a perfectionist?
Oh, I am indeed a perfectionist which is pure torture for me and everyone around me! And yes, I see how it can be surprising. However, even though I am classically trained in piano and music theory, I’m painfully bad with computers. It took quite some classes, workshops and time to get over my software anxiety. I’ve still got a lot to learn and I’m scared to death of my poor laptop, but the encouraging thing is that I’m capable of making tracks that actually sound exactly like me. Aside from allowing myself to take the time to learn, I feel like one’s approach to building their portfolio is very important. I’d rather have less music out but be sure that I squeezed the best out of myself and gave it 200%, instead of having a big catalogue of releases I’m unhappy with. I’m all about slow yet steady progress in everything I do.
As a DJ, you strictly play vinyl. Why?
Because I love records so much I simply can’t compromise – not that I’ve never tried, by the way. My whole world, my entire universe revolves around vinyl. It sounds crazy but it’s true.
What was the idea behind your contribution to the Groove podcast?
While I planned this mix to be as trippy, deep and psychedelic as all my mixes or DJ performances, I wanted to make sure it’s dancefloor-friendly, too. It consists of some of my favourite records at the moment, and also includes a couple of tunes from some of my friends. It’s vinyl-only, it’s hand-mixed, it’s recorded in one take – I hope you all enjoy what you hear.
Last but not least: Where can we see you behind the decks in the near future and what are your plans as a producer and label owner?
I’m playing in NYC at Public Records on November 29 with one of my favourite producers – Blazej Malinowski – and on December 14 in Berlin at the Pornceptual soiree extraordinaire. I’m excited for both events. Stop by if you are around and stay tuned for more upcoming dates! Monday Off has two records scheduled for 2020. To keep it mysterious I won’t share that many details for now, but I will say that my music will be on it, too. Someone who already made an appearance on the label will return, and I’m excited to welcome some new artists to the roster – but I can’t tell you yet who that’s going to be. You will find out soon though! Other than that, I’m spending as much time as possible in the studio, working on my first solo EP, and I hope you’ll get to hear more of my productions next year – I’m looking forward to see you all on the dance floors somewhere sometime soon.
Stream: Mary Yuzovskaya – Groove Podcast 233
01. Wata Igarashi – Moonlight (Midgar)
02. Mod21 – Black Blood (Edit Select)
03. Oscar Mulero – Sangre II (Falling Ethics)
04. Michal Wolski – Interior Representation (Kynant)
05. Fabrizio Lapiana – Stokehole (Attic)
06. Alfredo Mazzili – Equilibrium (Edit Select)
07. Skryptöm Collective – Nördik (Skryptöm Records)
08. Patrick Siech – Astral Node (Parabel)
09. Denise Rabe – Don’t Leave (Stroboscopic Artefacts)
10. Emika Elena – Spiral Light (Human Lessons)
11. Ruhig – Sciame (Midgar)
12. Hoedus – Black Bones (Anechoic)
13. Anthony Linell – Nylon Metal (On The 5th Day)
14. Abstract Division – Fear Of Loneliness (Dynamic Reflection)