Whereas most of us are itching for the pandemic to be over, one of Amsterdam’s eye-catching newcomers Mairo Nawaz experiences this moment in time as an opportunity for transformation. As an upcoming DJ, he fared well under the wings of mentors Victor Crezée, Cinnaman, and Carista but is now forging his own path as an artist and a human being.
Words by Chelsea Pachito
With numerous residencies under his belt, including one at De School, Mairo Nawaz developed a raw, no-nonsense and meditative sound, offering healing and peace to his audience as well as himself. We spoke to Mairo about his musical journey, his plans to support the Black community and of course, his upcoming set at Dekmantel Connects with brother in arms Victor Crezée.
So the first thing that caught my eye when I was researching you, was that you used to be a drummer as a teenager. To what extent do you feel like this experience returns in your sets?
Well, I think that in the period that I mainly played disco and funk I naturally paid a lot of attention to the drum sections played by professional percussionist and drummers. Now that I’m playing mostly techno and electro that’s still the case but those sections are now filled by electronic drums out of drum machines. I’m very specific, especially in electro, in how I feel about the drums. When I play electro I still want it to be gangsta, you know what I mean? You’ll hear that sense of gangsta in the thick drums, the sharp snares, fast hi-hats and that type of shit. So yeah, in a specific way you can hear that experience. But I don’t think it’s very obvious to hear, especially not if I’m playing techno.
"When I play electro, I still want it to be gangsta"
And now that you’ve decided to play more electro, acid and techno, can you share which artists you’ve discovered and have started to play more?
I mainly dove into techno from the 90s. I’m a huge fan of Unit Moebius, Rude 66 - those guys are part of the old guard. I don’t really like too many bells and whistles and back then, acid was produced with a 303 and a drum computer - that’s it. No bleep bleep bleep sounds, simply rawness and continuity. That’s dope to me because it comes closest to what I feel acid and techno is.
Would you describe the rawness you’re referring to as your signature sound?
Yeah, absolutely. There are outliers in there, but it would have to be a very dope track that immediately grasps me. But I typically play raw, distorted acid and techno with a dark twist. It gives me peace.
Yeah, it has to do with the fact that - and I have this mainly with techno and acid - that it’s just so perfect. It makes sense. Each sound makes sense, all the sequences makes sense, and it allows me to become peaceful because it’s perfect - it makes sense. I noticed with disco - don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy disco, but it’s just so restless and there’s too much happening that I become restless in comparison to techno. Even though techno is faster and the sounds can be sharper, I feel that everything falls into place, because it’s perfect.
I listened to a couple of your sets (Lente Kabinet, Future Intel) and what I noticed was a sense of a cinematic sound. Coincidentally I see that you have a Pulp Fiction poster hanging on the wall in your living room! Did I grasp the cinematic sound correctly?
Yeah, I’d love to record a mix with supporting visuals, because it would allow me to convey the feeling that I experience from the music. That’s why I add a lot of skits to my mixes, and that originates from hip hop. I used to listen to a lot of mixes from Vic Crezée and he’d always add these skits, which was so dope to me because it adds a story. What does someone want to convey with a mix? What does that person stand for? I started to add skits to my electronic based mixes because techno and acid are genres that have meaning too. These genres stand for something. And I think that as an artist, it’s very important to me to let people know what I stand for.
"With techno, everything falls into place, because it’s perfect"
What do you stand for, then?
Longevity. One of my favourite movies is Jackie Brown, because I love the music and the costumes. If I had the choice I’d rather have been born in the 70s. Everything that was made back then was made to stand the test of time. I think that’s why I gravitate towards more of the older techno and acid as opposed to what it sounds like now. No offence to people producing acid or techno right now, but it all sounds temporary to me. When I listen to acid tracks made in this era, I get the feeling that I won’t be playing it after six months. I also stand for equality. I’ve become more aware of this in the past 12 months, especially when it comes to racism. A lot of stuff came to light which made me notice more things. Like, holy shit, this is happening to me because I’m Black? It was shocking because I think that as a DJ you have some kind of privilege. It’s easier to enter certain clubs even if you’re not on the list, for example. So naturally, I thought that I was in a field where we’re okay, but I still experienced discrimination in a scene where I should feel safe. I’m not a drug dealer because I’m wearing a Gucci cap to the club. I’ve experienced people expecting me to play a hip hop set, simply because I’m Black. It doesn’t make sense.
There are multiple forms of Black identity.
Exactly. Because when we look at where electronic music originates from, when we talk about techno - it’s my music. It’s Black music. That shit started to eat away at me because we’re talking about partying; an activity where everyone comes together and should have a great time and even then you’re being discriminated. That shit ain’t right. Now that I’m aware of it, I want people to know that I stand for equality. And I think that especially in Amsterdam where there aren’t many Black people that move in the electronic scene, coming together empowers us, you know? I can’t do it by myself, I have to do this with my brothers and sisters. I know the road is long, but small steps you know? Small steps.
"As an artist, it’s very important to me to let people know what I stand for: longevity and equality"
When it comes to community, it seems that it’s very important for you to collaborate. You’ve worked together with Vic Crezée a lot and you’re going b2b with him at Dekmantel Connects December 17th. What does this collaboration mean to you?
Vic is sort of like my big brother. He took me under his wing when I started out DJ’ing and booked me at Baseline. He took me to Berlin with Patta Soundsystem and eventually I joined Patta Soundsystem. I’ve learned a lot from Vic, and I’m still learning from him. When I play b2b with Vic, it’s about creating something together because we know and understand each other. We’ve known each other for eight years now, have been playing music together for eight years and we’ve gone through a similar development in terms of our musical tastes. When he says one of my sets was really good, I take that seriously. Our friendship has always offered a sense of security, too.
Which other DJs or producers from your circle mean a lot to you as an artist?
Cinnaman means a lot to me. He taught me how to DJ with vinyl three years ago. He was also one of the first DJs beside Vic to co-sign me. I was doing a set at De School and was supposed to open for Maurice Fulton. Cinnaman was closing. But he was like, fuck it, I want to open because I want to see Mairo close. That was sick for him to give me that energy and I really respect him. Henny, from Order Mothership is another insipiring DJ. We haven’t known each other for long, but he became a good friend in a very short period of time. And of course Carista. She’s like a big sister; she’s very caring and I can talk to her about other stuff too, about racism in the scene, for example. Someone else to mention is Woody92. He’s a way of his own, driving in his own lane. We crossed paths and became good friends throughout the years. He inspires me and motivated me to become the DJ –and person– I am today. Come to think of it, this goes for all the artists I mentioned.
If you’d ask me which artist I think is sickest - like, in the entire world, I’d have to answer with Vic, Cinnaman, Carista, Woody92 and Henny. To me, it’s not only about the music, but it’s also about the person behind it and what they stand for. That’s what makes you an artist.
Let’s talk about corona. You’ve called clubs your second home, but many clubs have had to shut their doors because of the pandemic. How did you make it through the past year? Someone told me you like to go fishing.
*Laughs* Who told you this? Was it Cinnaman?
I can’t disclose my sources.
*Laughs* Well I do like to go fishing. It’s like meditating. I’ll go fishing in the forest alone or with Cinnaman. I haven’t really been focusing on music, because pre-corona I noticed that I was becoming insecure about DJ’ing. I always wanted to be the best and it came to a point where I wasn’t enjoying it anymore. So, I decided to take a step back to gain confidence within myself. It may sound cliché, but I just needed to retreat and figure out why I like to play music in the first place.
Back to basics.
Yeah. I also deleted all of my social media accounts. It was adding to my level of insecurity as well. Everyone is posting where they’re being booked and if I wasn’t in the line up I felt like I wasn’t good enough. So yeah, I got off of that. I’m happy with who I am, and I’m happy with the music that I play. It’s definitely been an eye-opening process. My father once told me that in times of crises, people get creative and they start to think about how they can do things differently. That’s exactly what I’m doing now: I brainstorm about how I can provide for my audiences in a way that works for me. When clubs open back up, I want it to be all me, you know?
"When we talk about techno - it’s my music. It’s Black music"
What does this mean in terms of your artistic development?
It’s becoming clearer what type of music I want to play. I think that I was searching for quite a long time and I feel pretty secure about my sound now. On top of that, I started experimenting with producing last year, pre-corona. I really liked it, although I haven’t gone back to the studio since the pandemic. But I am noticing that while I’m cycling or whatever, that I’m thinking about the music I want to make. I’m taking my time though. I’m also working on a new press kit. I want my press photos to embody my sense of community. I think that this development has to do with how I feel about playing music now. If I play a sick set, it’s because of the people that are on the floor. We’re giving each other energy. It’s back and forth. Without the people on the floor, I wouldn’t be there. Technically, they’re more important than I am.
Hypothetical question: post-corona, we have a vaccine, everyone is healthy. What’s the first thing you’ll do?
I’m actually having the time of my life right now *laughs*. Perhaps I would hang out in a bar or something, but on the other hand, I really enjoy being at home. It’s like my little bunker. I like being in my own space, so to be honest when corona passes and all the partying starts again, I think I’ll still be here and slowly making my way outside like a mole *laughs*.
Last question. What can we expect from you at Dekmantel Connects?
I know that it’s going to be fun! I’m usually at a very high tempo, around 140-150 bpm. So either Vic’s going to have to up his tempo or I’m going to have to take it slow, but either way, it’s going to be sick. Knowing Vic and myself - it’s going to be sick. I think we’ll mainly play acid, techno and 90s shit man. Simply rawness.