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Pleasureful rebellion: my name is not mata explores sensuality and finds beauty in darkness

Formerly known as Mata Hari, sometimes operating as, my name is not mata, refuses to coalesce into a definable form. As eclectic as they are danceable, her mixes are a kaleidoscope of jagged broken-beat, gothic industrial, feminist spoken-word, R&B and electro, each twist and turn sparking new, effervescent shapes.

Words by Hannah Pezzack

A beloved presence in the Dutch scene, my name is not mata is a former resident at Strange Sounds from Beyond and has made appearances on LYL, BIZAARBAZAAR, c-, Motion Ward, Red Light Radio, Future Intel and Rotterdam’s Operator Radio. On social media she is just as eminent and entertaining, posting niche music-related memes and cryptic track titles. Catching up just after the recording of her Dekmantel Connects stream with the legendary DJ Marcelle, we spoke about the joy of dancing and her desire to be authentic, especially when facing difficult times.

Hey there! How did the set go?

Hi! I hope as great as it felt in the moment. There were some chaotic bits, yet I can’t wait to watch it! Usually, I put a lot of thought into my mixes. But since I was going to go back-to-back with Marcelle, I wasn’t able to prepare definite transitions like I often try to do. We met up beforehand to go through some of the records I was considering to play, to make a cohesive aesthetic somehow, but both knowing it would be a wild ride regardless. Marcelle makes every decision on the spot, and it works! I, however, am a fairly anxious and hyper person so that approach doesn’t seem to go too well for me. Yet I’ve found if I can get completely in the zone then the fear can melt away slightly and sometimes even completely. During the stream I even forgot the cameras were rolling. It's so liberating if I'm able to let go of being self-conscious and just be entranced by the music entirely.

On your Soundcloud page, there is a quote from the song ‘Somebody Else’s World’ by the Afrofuturist musician, Sun Ra: Somebody else's idea of somebody else's world / Is not my idea of things as they are / Somebody else's idea of things to come / Need not be the only way / To vision the future. Can you tell me what that song means to you?

Sun Ra is a huge inspiration. He was initially the reason that I loved the name Mata Hari, which translates to “eye of day” in Malay, meaning the sun. Since “Sun Ra” refers to both the deity of the Sun as well as the Sun itself, that was my way of saying I’m deeply inspired by his approach to life and music. Everything about his work as a jazz composer, piano, synthesizer player and radical thinker has been so influential on me. Of course, I’m not saying that I’m remotely as talented as him, but I find a lot of meaning and especially healing in his worldview and art. That quote is particularly special because it’s about questioning the established ways of doing things and opening yourself up to alterity.

I recently started reading the biography of another Afrofuturist, the jazz-mystic Alice Coltrane. She speaks about her music as a way to reach the divine and to explore spirituality and cosmology.

That’s extremely present in Sun Ra’s lyrics as well as in the way that he dressed, which was literally out of this world. He didn’t identify with being from Earth and instead saw empowerment as coming from outer space or as an alien entity – being in The Universe. This was a guiding principle for the commune he started in Philadelphia that meshed together music with cosmic philosophy. We get so stuck on a fixed idea of what things should be, and Sun Ra was trying to move outside those kinds of limitations.

You don’t like being put in a box?

My ethnic background is complicated. One of my parents is a political refugee from Turkey and another is from Holland. At the same time, their heritage is also vastly complicated and largely unknown. I try to reject the notion of being half one nationality and half another. In my case, as in most cases, it’s just not true. I hate how damaging nationalism and borders are in this world. I don’t want to identify with either country; that doesn’t reflect who I am. At one point, I changed my Facebook to my Turkish nickname. A lot of people automatically assumed I was Turkish, but when I was using my legal name everyone thought I was Dutch. It always seems to be a case of either-or and, for me, it’s neither. I’ve always considered myself a world citizen and, when I met my biological dad in my late teens, he referred to himself as that too. The sentiment runs in our blood I guess. This was one of the reasons I changed my name to Mata Hari on Facebook – so that people would stop putting me into a box. Sadly, later on, I started to feel that the exoticism behind the persona Mata Hari, the erotic dancer, was slightly too problematic for me to identify with. Even my friends and family started calling me Mata in real life, so that’s where “my name is not mata” comes from.

"I try to reject the notion of being half one nationality and half another. In my case, as in most cases, it’s just not true. I hate how damaging nationalism and borders are in this world. I don’t want to identify with either country; that doesn’t reflect who I am"

Another moniker of yours is What does that refer to?

Pyruvic acid is one of the building blocks of life on Earth, and that’s the way that I see music. I have a theory that we need music to survive. Also, I used to be calledacid” by someone for the way I danced and well, I can be quite a sour person.

You seem sweet to me! I agree with your theory that music is essential to survival. Especially now, during the pandemic, music is not a luxury. We need it more than ever to connect us.

You have to keep dancing. I hope you are still dancing at home! The more I think about it, the more I can relate going to the club as a kind of ritualistic or even religious experience that’s been lost from our lives. Coming together with your friends and collectively dancing to syncopated music... I really do believe in the magic and healing power of this.

Do you know the cultural theorist Mark Fisher? In his essay Baroque Sunbursts, he gives a romanticised account of the ‘energy flash’ of early, pre-commercialised raves. He says we’re taught to be individualistic and compete with one another, but collective experiences of dancing give us a glimpse of living differently, allowing us to acknowledge that we’re part of something bigger.

Absolutely! I play a lot of music that has chanting to create a communal feeling. I love the sound of harmonised voices. If I could get people to chant as well as dance, wow! That would be another level. It seems to me that dancing, singing and moving collectively is innate to us – it’s in our DNA.

The chanting and choral samples go to dark places too. When I’ve been listening to your sets, I picture witches casting spells or mystics reciting incantations. Do you aim to create a dark atmosphere?

I am a very dark person which I don't necessarily see as a bad thing. A lot of my life has been rough and weird so I see it as being true to who I am. There is beauty in darkness – we need to embrace that. Constantly trying to be or appear happy doesn’t make sense to me. The pressure to be positive, even when you are not, is suffocating. I’d want to create a space where people can be free and just be authentically themselves. Contentedness instead of happiness is my goal in life. And even in the darkness, it’s important to find equilibrium through acceptance. Generally, I'm more on the sad end of the emotional spectrum and I’ve found peace with being that way. There is a realness to it. I suppose that’s why I don’t often play uplifting music such as house or disco... all the build and euphoria... it often feels fake to me. Maybe a shared feeling of sadness could be another way to experience connection? Honestly, bad feelings fascinate me, particularly online. Everyone tells me that I look exactly like the sad goth girl meme, she’s actually my profile picture at the moment. I even run this meme page called feelingketmightdeletelater mostly about being unapologetically sad. I’ve found people totally relate to it. I think it’s because I try to portray bad feelings as something that you can find strength in.

I found a mix of yours called Polyamorous Polyrhythms (great name). It opens with a sample of Lydia Lunch where she’s talking about her personal mantra: “pleasure is the ultimate rebellion.” Can you tell me a bit more about that?

Lydia Lunch is one of my heroines. For those who don’t know her: she’s a writer, activist, singer and instrumental figure in the no-wave moment in New York, who has been prolific since the 1970s. I played a song featuring her during my Dekmantel Connects set! It’s a chaotic industrial-style track she made earlier this year with Nicholas Jaar called ‘If you can’t do it good, do it hard,’ basically my motto! Back in 2015, on his label Other People Records, Jaar also re-released her 1990s spoken word album Conspiracy of Women. I’d recommend checking it out. It’s funny, actually, she came to play Amsterdam a few years back at OCCII – I had tickets and everything – but I got distracted making a mashup of an interview she did (talking about gender, love, sex and relationships) on top of a track by Wilburn Burchette. It ended up taking too long and I didn’t make it to the show.

"I am a very dark person which I don't necessarily see as a bad thing. A lot of my life has been rough and weird so I see it as being true to who I am. There is beauty in darkness – we need to embrace that"

Do you think there is a connection between desire, music and utopias? I’m thinking about Lydia Lunch’s view on feminist eroticism, or adrienne maree brown’s Pleasure Activism, where she makes the distinction between simply “surviving” and truly “thriving.”

The way we experience music, the way we dance to it, is often sensual. I want my sets to be like an intimate encounter: slow, fast, fragile, rough, unfolding, complex, even weird! I’m constantly thinking about how the world could and should be completely different. I don’t want to live in a society where success and basic survival can only be achieved by hurting others and nature in the process. Real pleasure doesn’t come from buying an iPhone. Nothing that destroys the Earth and inflicts pain on others can produce genuine, long-lasting contentedness. We all need to start desiring a world that is sustainable for survival.

In recent years, women and non-binary people have become more visible in electronic music, although I think it’s fair to say that discrimination continues in a lot of respects. As you’ve mentioned experiencing stage fright, would you say that your nervousness comes from being a woman and having to perform to a higher standard?

Truthfully, no. I’ve been extremely lucky in that regard and I’ve never felt unwelcome in the scene because of my gender. Although on the first mix I ever put online a friend commented, “You’re really good dj for a woman.” This was meant to be a compliment. I thought to myself, “Did he really just say that?” At the time, I wasn’t good at all, so it just made no sense to me whatsoever. Being a good dj has nothing to do with one’s gender. In the household I grew up in, gender didn’t equate to any kind of limitations. My dad is transgender – he used to dj at LGBTQ+ parties – and my grandma is an accomplished coder. She even taught me how to code as a little kid. That perspective has translated to the way I approach life and I've always had the mentality that nothing can hold me back.

"The way we experience music, the way we dance to it, is often sensual. I want my sets to be like an intimate encounter: slow, fast, fragile, rough, unfolding, complex, even weird!"

The music you play is so varied. I imagine it’s difficult to move between tracks, but I really like the way you do your transitions. They are so dramatic and purposeful, which contrasts to the way that many techno djs operate where the set is one, long continuous ride.

Well, that is an incredibly skilful and impressive way to mix, but I suppose it can sometimes get boring. It’s definitely not the way I do things. Growing up I never liked going to parties where they would only play UK garage, drum ‘n’ bass, reggaeton, hip hop or hardstyle, even though I liked all those genres a lot. So I always tried to seek out places where there would be a mix of things. I remember a party with Cinnaman and Aardvarck playing at Flexbar, now RadioRadio, over a decade ago where they did a perfectly eclectic set. For me, the ultimate experience of this kind of mixing was the first time I saw DJ Marcelle perform at OT301. That night was like nothing I had experienced before: organised and captivating chaos. One by one my friends got too tired of the constant dancing and went home, eventually leaving me behind all alone. There was no way I was leaving that dance floor before the very last song! Luckily, I ran into a colleague of mine, and we’ve ended up going to every DJ Marcelle show in Amsterdam together. So I felt more than blessed to back-to-back with Marcelle, honestly, it’s completely unreal still.

Ah, DJ Marcelle! Truly a pioneer. It’s funny that her other alias is “Another Nice Mess” – such a perfect descriptor.

Right?! As I said, I’m not excited by one hour of the same genre and bpm be it trap or techno or disco or house, or whatever. One hour of anything bores me haha. Diversity is essential. These days, I don’t think of myself as a dj in the traditional sense. My ability lies much more with finding interesting music than it does with creating necessarily smooth transitions. Way back in primary school, when I was around 10 years old, there was this guy who already played at high school parties, and he would always come and ask for the latest music. As I mentioned, my grandmother is a technical wizard so we had a CD burner and I would make this dude CDs of the latest singles. Stuff like Beenie Man’s Dance Hall Queen and Silly Ho by TLC, so even at that age, I loved discovering and sharing new music. Nowadays, I’m constantly searching through Soundcloud for unreleased material. There’s this track by Hajj that’s been in almost all of my sets for nearly three years now, that finally got a release this year.

Would starting a record label be a project for the future?

Too many of them to know which will become a reality… only time will tell!