In Session: Ma Sha - Music - Mixmag

In Session: Ma Sha

The New York artist delivers an acid-tinged crossover mix and talks over the self-enforced isolation led to the creation of her debut EP, ‘Elastik’

  • Words: Tibor Heskett | Photos: Karla Del Orbe
  • 13 November 2023

It's no secret that community is an essential part of Ma Sha's work. A staple of the New York scene since she founded event series, label and radio show Kindergarten in her literal backyard, Ma Sha has drawn crowds together everywhere from Brooklyn's Bossa Nova Civic Club to across the pond at London's The Cause, co-founded the workshop series Hone.Social that provides students with one-to-one DJ sessions and combined spoken word and performance with dark, bass and breaks as one half of Sha-Ru.

So it's a surprise then, that for her most recent solo EP 'Elastik' - out now on Nervous Horizon - she opted for self-isolation in order to create something she could be truly proud of. Between 2021 and 2022, Ma Sha spent "five, maybe six months" locked away in her bedroom to work on the record.

"My goal was to reach the point where my own sound is quite clear, bold and it's in front of me. I felt like self-isolating myself in the room was the best way to do it and I think it worked... hopefully!" This isn't Ma Sha's first solo outing, with releases on Rhythm Section and alongside her contribution to the Kindergarten Records various artists EP ‘Fluo III’.

Read this next: Sha Ru announce new EP, 'Match My Sway'

Kindergarten Records, which she runs, is brimming with fun, percussive and colourful rhythms, hard to define but easy to groove to, and has become the home to New York talents such as Ayesha, roommate Despina, Drummy, Sobolik and, of course,Sha Ru. The duo have released on labels Sorry Records, Infinite Machine, Inveterate, Jupiter4, Pressure Dome, Progressive Future, Shubzin and Woozy, and played an amalgamation of live and hybrid sets, including a highlight gig at the latter record label’s seminal night at Tengu, Dublin. Sha Ru have also performed spell-binding renditions of their original work at techno totems Berghain and Tresor.

We spoke to Ma Sha about her decision to completely isolate herself, to the point where her friends didn’t know where she was living, in order to find her sound as a producer and ultimately create the ‘Elastik’ EP, out now on Nervous Horizon.

How does it feel to have your first solo EP out on Nervous Horizon?

It feels insane, because it's been in the works for quite a long time. I started working on the announcement single 'KV December' in December 2021. So yeah, it feels crazy that these tracks are out in the world on one of my favourite labels. It feels exciting, but at the same time super stressful that people are finally going to hear them.

Given that you run a label yourself, what was the decision behind putting out your first solo project on NH rather than on Kindergarten?

I really wanted someone else who I truly trust, and who inspires me, to do the curatorial work on this record. I come from a curatorial background, which started at school and then continued with my label. I didn't think I could truly be objective with myself, especially for my debut release, and NH is definitely one of the most influential labels for me - particularly in terms of the sort of sounds that I'm obsessed with - so I thought that it would be the perfect place, with the perfect people to curate my first release.

What was Nervous Horizon's Tommy Wallwork and TSVI's role in the record? What did they help you with?

Their role was to navigate through my crazy sonic exploration. I'm not new in terms of music production, because of my work as part of Sha Ru. I'd obviously been exploring solo production before 'Elastik', but this was the first time that I was just working on Ma Sha stuff — so it was great to have somebody from outside to tap in and be like "this is cool." I sent them various tracks and demos, and they pointed out which tracks worked well together. I really trust the sonic universe of Nervous Horizon, and I felt that these tracks would fit very nicely within it, and then Ehua found the last piece to finish off the puzzle of the release.

I didn't know what to expect when I received it, but she absolutely killed it. The narrative of the track is so interesting: it's constantly growing and never really drops. I feel like it's added a perfect angle to the release as a whole. It goes to quite different terratories: there is a more serious, almost dubstep-like edge, there's more, colourful, Kindegarten-influenced bits and then there's slower stuff. Ehua added a whole new vibe to the record, which I absolutely love. So yeah, I'm super grateful... number one fan!

Can you enlighten us on the process behind 'Elastik'?

With my other projects, I'm always speaking and communicating with a lot of people. With the label I'm obviously speaking to the artists and others, and then with Sha Ru it's always me and Ru who work on music together. I also do workshops where, again, I'm always with people. It's an essential part of my workflow to constantly communicate things, and this time, I decided to take the opposite approach — I was like "okay, I'm actually gonna just communicate with myself and see what comes out of it." I decided to completely isolate and close myself off in this house in Ridgewood Queens, and just work on tracks 24/7. That's why the sounds were exploring different territories, but, at the same time, felt quite connected due to my methods and influences.

There's this exercise that I really like, which comes from my breakdance years as a teenager, where you're made to go on the 'floor and keep dancing for at least a minute. When you're dancing without stopping, you actually develop some movements that you have subconsciously, but you wouldn't really go for it immediately. You need to be pushed in order to go to this far away spot. I decided to apply the same kind of technique to solo music production where I just kept exploring being in the room. The first thing that happened was that time started going crazy, all of a sudden I wasn't speaking to anyone, I wasn't going out much and I started putting a lot of attention to what was around me: my plants, my lights etc. They played an essential role and I kind of developed a relationship with them during that point, which is also very nice.I tried to mirror all this stuff in the music, which is a nice practice for inspiration. This was basically it was for over a year and a half, where I was working on music by myself until I had some tracks that I felt like "okay, I'm ready to send them out."

As you say, you've been making solo music for quite a while. What made you want to dedicate yourself to, what eventually became, 'Elastik'?

I've been exploring my own production for a bit, I've been playing around on Ableton and Logic, even before meeting Ru, but I've been doing music in a much more focussed way with Kindergarten and Sha Ru. I had a lot of ideas in my head that wouldn't necessarily evolve with the Sha Ru project that we were working on at the time, so I had it in my mind that I have another energy source that I want to express. In a similar way to an artist who does sculptures, then suddenly sees these amazing paintings and feels inspired to start painting themselves.

But it didn't feel like it like it would feed with my flow. It felt good to produce on my own, but I was like: "okay, I actually have enough ideas and movements inside of my head to dedicate much more time to this and do it." I would never do it unless I go all the way in, because there are so many projects going on at the same time — so I decided to take a big portion of my time, and dedicate it to this. I took the same approach when I started DJing too, I just closed myself off in my basement with the records, or whenever we do stuff for Sha Ru we just go to the rehearsal studio and close ourselves off for a few weeks working on a new life set. I always have to going all the way if I need to build something new or restructure existing things.

How do you separate your solo production and your work in Sha Ru?

Well in a physical sense we live half the year in New York and half the year in Europe, so we're always on the go. It's quite difficult to switch with mentally because we literally share the speakers and it'll be like "It's my time, I'm gonna work with my solo stuff." or "We're gonna work on this track now. We need to finish it for Sha Ru."

You do need to separate it, but I would say that, since that as the project involves a second person, it's much easier for me to separate things because there is a clear input and energy coming from Ru so it's quite easy to switch off from my solo ideas and work with our ideas. Sha Ru has been going on for quite a while, our EP came out three years ago, so we kind of have a workflow in place which makes it easy for me to switch between the two.

Read this next: New York Rising: How Brooklyn became one of the world’s best clubbing destinations

Is there ever a time when you're making your solo stuff and you think "this actually sounds like a Sha Ru track" or vice versa?

I mean that kind of relates to how we work: we both put down ideas and develop them individually, and then we switch over to work on it together. So, if I think about it, I won't ever really make a Ma Sha track. It's more like, I'm working on a track and I think this could be a really cool starting point. We would then start working with it for Sha Ru.

So far, it's kind of right from the very beginning and even if I choose a sample, it's right away like "okay, that sounds very much like this, Ma Sha energy, so I'm gonna keep going." Otherwise I just invite Ru and we'll get working on the bassline together or something. How's it been with your life performances? You've done quite a lot of gigs in the past year.

It's been super nice. I feel like we've found a really cool way to perform. When we do a hybrid set or live performances it just feels very enjoyable and not stressful at all. It just feels very natural when we do it at the moment because it's the perfect combination between live band aspects with electronic music and DJing, and it's great where it is now and how people react to it. We basically DJ while I jump on the microphone and perform our tracks over the life performance. Ru performs through the MIDI guitar so we really look like a band. It has been very exciting and we've been developing this more and more over the year. We're announcing new records soon, so yeah, exciting stuff.

I can hear a bit of vocal textures and samples in 'Elastik', especially in 'Psyspi', but there isn't any explicit singing or spoken word. Do you want to keep that separate to your solo work?

Yeah, I think so. It's interesting because at the beginning of my solo exploration it felt very natural to keep using vocals because I'm so used to it. I've done it in much more of a Kindergarten style where there's a lot of pitch alteration and time stretching, and it's not necessarily my voice the whole time. As of that period of time, the voice was essential to this tracks, but now I'm doing different stuff. I definitely feel that my vocals are going to be separate because this spoken word, dark dubstep, bass and breaks is very much the essential sound of Sha Ru, so that's going to stay for now. Ma Sha is veering towards the Kindergarten type of sound, where it's more playful and colourful stuff. Then again, this isn't something that I'm setting up frames for and we'll see how it evolves. As of now it just feels natural and this is how it is.

Outside of production, you've also been quite busy with Kindergarten Records, Ayesha's debut album, 'Rhythm Is Memory', just came out last Friday.

Yeah, that's our first album and second vinyl release so it's very exciting.

Did you have much of a hands-on role with the album? You spoke about how the Nervous Horizon guys had a creative influence on your work, did you have the same input on Ayesha's album?

Yeah, with Kindergarten I'm generally in constant communication with the artist about the tracks. I'm very involved, especially since Kindergarten has a really strong family feel. It's very important for me to have strong relationships with everyone in the crew and speak a lot about the tracks, the idea behind the release and everything else. An album is such a big step and this project has been going on for quite a long time. We were in constant communication, back and forth feedback and discussion, so there was a lot of collaboration on this project, which makes it so unique and exciting.

I'm very grateful to Ayesha for all the time that we spent on the record and all the conversations and discussions around this release. It's definitely a huge moment for both the artist and Kindergarten, and now we'll move into the next chapter. It's also really nice to have it as a physical object, to have a timestamp of that specific moment.

It seems like you've got a really tight group with Kindergarten, and we can see that in your radio shows on The Lot where everyone's having loads of fun.

Kindergarten has had a family feel from the very beginning, when I moved into the place where I live now and my roommate was Despina (a Kindergarten alumni). It started here when I could hear tracks through the wall. I heard a bassline and went "what is this? This is crazy, we need to release it." So right away it started from a very close relationship and then evolved with the other members. We all live in Ridgewood Queens. With our current merch we even switched the "Brooklyn, New York" to "Queens, New York" because we represent Ridgewood Queens!

We definitely have a crew and family essence to the label, which is vital to me because it's extremely important that everyone is sharing their good energy and good music with each other and that's why we do these massive B2B sessions. We're trying to show this new angle of club music that's coming out from New York which has a more colourful and playful atmosphere to it. During all these years we've always tried to do radio shows and gigs together, exploring new directions too. For one of the last parties we invited performers who collaborated with all of us, doing interactive performances during the gig. The majority of the Kindergarten crew identifies as queer and we want to reflect this both through our music and the artists that we feature. There's a lot to it but at the end of the day we're super good friends that just have fun together.

You've spoken about how you're adding a more fun, colourful element to the New York club scene. Do you feel like this was missing before Kindergarten?

I don't think so. I think the music scene in New York is quite a big place with a lot of people doing different things, so I don't think we were trying to find the missing piece. Kindergarten came very naturally from the very beginning, it started as a party series in my backyard where at 6:PM people would just come and DJ for free, and this essence stayed has stayed within the label.

A lot of the people who played are full-time DJs now, but at the time everybody would just drink and jam for free. It started as a fun idea and it's then evolved into what it is now. I don't think we were trying to find this new aspect of club music, but when the music started coming together, it just happened to all come into place.

When we started we were putting out New York artists, and then Stolen Velour from the UK joined the label and their sound fitted perfectly. I would say that we're very much a New York label but, at the same time, this kind of music is definitely coming out of different places and every time I hear something that sounds like Kindergarten I want to explore ideas with the demo. It's amazing how this colourful bass music is everywhere.

Read this next: In Session: Ayesha

Not satisfied with running a label, performing and producing under both Ma Sha and Sha Ru all alongside your dayjob, you also run free digital workshops.

Yeah, this is a big project for me. Four or five years ago, me and my friend Lenora were speaking about how its really inaccessible to practicing as a DJ. Pirate Studio wasn't really a thing in New York back then, I don't even know if they were open at the time. A lot of people were saying that the first time they touched CDJs were for a guest mix on The Lot Radio and stuff like this.

People including myself were stressing out about this. I started DJing with records because my roommate at the time had turntables, and didn't really touch CDJs until much later. It was always about access to the equipment because obviously it's not cheap. We got this space at a radio station in New York called Newtown Radio each Friday and Saturday, where we would do a total of four hour-long one-on-one DJ workshops every week. All for free.

We called it Hone.Social and through the program we taught a lot of people. A lot of amazing DJs, like WTCHCRFT and Rose Kourts, came through which is super sick. You can actually see them all on Instagram, I took a picture of every student after the session so you can see all the faces. Then the pandemic started, so we couldn't do it and afterwards we had to restructure things a bit. We decided to do workshops for more people but more sparingly. We've done a few of these sessions at Nowadays and one virtual workshop too.

I thought about how every time I need to search for some specific question about CDJs on YouTube, there aren't many females explaining it, so it really made sense to try to record something. One of my students is a filmmaker and so they helped to record the whole session. We now just need to edit it and put it on YouTube. It definitely made me read the whole tutorial for CDJs and the mixer! The only tutorial I've ever read, but it was fun and I learnt a lot of cool tricks. It's another great community project that had a really cool exchange of energy in terms of people coming together. Super nice.

Amazing. As Kindergarten label boss, DJ, producer, and Sha Ru member, can you tell us about any exciting things coming up?

Yeah! So, beginning with me, I've got a lot of music that I've been working on. I'm at the stage of deciding where I'm going to put it out and how I'll proceed with the next release, which is exciting. With Kindergarten, as we mentioned earlier, Ayesha's album just came out which is a huge step. We've already got the next few pieces lined up, the next release is going to be out early next year and we've also got mixes coming from the Kindergarten family, some split EP's and VA's inviting some new artists to join the family. Finally with Sha Ru, we've got a new record coming out in the next few months and it's all in English. It goes to a lot of new places in terms of its sound and I'm really excited about its release.

Let's talk about your mix.

For this mix, I embraced a departure from my usual meticulous planning and opted for a crossover genre approach, infusing elements of acid house and techno. I really love acid house and acid techno but with this mix I didn't necessarily want to take tracks centered around the 303, instead going for bass, electro, percussive club, and jungle tunes that have a vibe reminiscent of acid house and techno. The result is the 'Queens Acid Run Mix'. After many hours of jamming with music that I had digged through for the last few months, I reached a point where I was locked in and I found myself immersed in its direction. Once I finished it, I went on the run around Queens listening to it :)

Tibor Heskett is Mixmag's Digital Intern, follow him on Twitter

Talker 'Sunk' (unreleased)
James Shinra 'Cntroller'
Selvagia 'Pakatun' (DNGDNGDNG Remix)
J.Sparrow 'The Chase'
Bella Boo 'Looney'
Kiss Nuka 'Serpentine'
Human Movement 'Don't Say It'
Nuevo Prohibido 'Pantano Slurp' (unreleased)
Failed Actor 'OK Sure' (unreleased)
Rhyw 'Engine Track'
DJ Double Oh! 'BDYWRK'
Aloka 'Spindrift'
Morelia 'Eat It'
Sansibar 'My Boom' (Reptant's Lizard Tech Mix)
Buba 'Jungle Business'
Warlock 'Granular'
Sun People 'Tell Me Something'
nickname 'Low Battery'
Klippee 'Raw'

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