Maya Jane Coles
Photo: Courtesy of artist
Maya Jane Coles On Representation, New Music, Creative Limitlessness & More
Maya Jane Coles is an unstoppable creative force. If being an in-demand producer and globally headlining DJ wasn't impressive enough, she is able to translate her artistry across genres and mediums with ease and undeniable skill. As Maya Jane Coles, she delivers deep, moody, pulsing house tunes. As CAYAM, she brings unrelenting techno bangers. As Nocturnal Sunshine, she channels her long-time love of hip-hop and her hometown (London) grime scene with dirty, bass-pumped collabs.
The 33-year-old Japanese-British wunderkind also has an eye for visual art, and has designed many of her album covers with trippy illustrations. While her name(s) and music are almost universally known in the global house and techno community, her beats have made a massive impact in mainstream pop. Her infectious 2010 breakthrough track, "What They Say," not only made waves in the dance world; it was the foundation for Nicki Minaj, Drake and Lil Wayne's 2015 banger, "Truffle Butter," and Katy Perry and Minaj's 2017 bop, "Swish Swish."
In celebration of her epic Women's History Month Beatport residency last month, GRAMMY.com caught up with Coles to learn more about the stellar lineup she curated for it, what new music she's been cooking up, her teenage hip-hop roots and much more.
How did you approach curating the Beatport Women's History Month residency?
I actually wasn't aware that the entire residency was going to be aired during Women's History Month when I was curating the lineups, so I didn't focus only on women except for the very last stream. My initial focus was to keep things as diverse as possible.
Each week was curated under a different alias of mine, which I hadn't done before, so I found it was a cool opportunity to give listeners a better understanding of what each project is about musically. MJC, CAYAM and Nocturnal Sunshine all represent such different sides of me as an artist. It's rare for me to DJ under my aliases, so I thought it would be fun to give everyone a taste of something a bit different.
Can you tell us a bit more about the artists you chose for the "Rising Stars" livestream?
For the "Rising Stars" stream, I was purely focusing specifically on East London-based talent—all incredible DJs (and also incredible people) that I had met in East London throughout various points in the last few years. It's always nice being able to include friends when possible, especially when I have so many talented people around me.
As for your DJ sets during the residency, what sort of energy and music did you strive to bring to those?
Honestly, I personally find DJ streams quite difficult to enjoy as it takes away the most important part of DJing for me, which is the connection with the audience and reading the crowd. Spontaneity is what makes a DJ set exciting, not knowing what's coming next or how you're going to feel during a set. This is why in the last year I kept it quite minimal and only chose to do a handful of sets, the Beatport Residency being a chunk of them.
I also stayed away from any huge production/green screen stuff, and just focused on the music. That's always the important part for me. As long as it sounds amazing, that's all that matters. Most of my time goes into digging, editing, remixing the tracks I'm going to play rather than prepping for how it's going to look.
You recently dropped the hard-hitting "Pull Up" and "Ridin' Solo" with Gangsta Boo under your Nocturnal Sunshine alias. What was it like working with her and how did ya'll approach those tracks?
I actually just hit up Lola (Gangsta Boo) on Insta, as I had been thinking about getting her on a track for a while. She got back to me right away and we started talking about the collab.
"Ridin' Solo" came first—we did everything remotely, London to L.A. I think the track ended up getting done in the space of couple days which was pretty incredible considering the time difference with the back and forth. I loved the outcome so much we ended up working on a second track, "Pull Up," which afterwards my label team ended up helping get Young M.A. to also feature on.
I still have Gangsta Boo's  album Enquiring Minds, which I bought when I was 16, plus loads of old Three 6 Mafia [which Gangsta Boo was a part of] stuff from back then, so it was a pretty special moment having her guest on my Nocturnal Sunshine stuff. I've got more hip-hop and also U.K. grime stuff coming under the alias soon.
And then last year, as CAYAM, you gave us the club-ready Pleasure EP to rave to at home. What was the inspiration for that release?
I was really starting to miss releasing tracks like my earlier club stuff. The MJC album stuff that I've released over the last few years has evolved a lot and I've developed so much as an artist on the compositional side, but I was also missing releasing the more instrumental club-based stuff like I did back in 2007 to 2011.
The CAYAM alias was something I started anonymously in 2014 but then didn't really continue with it. Last year, I thought why not pick it up again to put out some of the unreleased club tracks that I had lying around, plus use it as an outlet for the faster paced techno stuff that I had been making. I guess the focus for the Pleasure EP was picking back up the sound from my very early releases but with more of a current edge.
How do you feel that your aliases, as well as your visual art, allow the world to better understand the breadth of your creativity?
I don't think I will ever have any barriers to my creativity and the longer that I make music, the more diverse my projects seem to get. As long as I have my hearing, a working brain and mobility, I will always be releasing music. Who knows, maybe even if I was paralyzed neck down, I'd find a way to carry on!
It's the same with my artwork. I'm much more confident and prolific with music production, but I enjoy creating visual art just as much. I just don't get to spend as much time on the artwork because I'm always so busy with music, but it's still a very important part of me.
The aliases represent my different musical sides and I also make so much music—like classical stuff and ambient film score-type stuff—that doesn't even fit under any of the aliases. It's important for me to make music without overthinking about categorization or commercial release and just do it for pure enjoyment.
You began producing as a teen; what first drew you in to learning production and what software did you start with?
I was a huge hip-hop head when I was 14, 15 and always obsessed with the production. At that age, anything I was interested in, I would always try and do it myself. I always thought, "Well, if someone can do it, then surely I can learn how to do it too."
We had Cubase on a couple of the PCs in the music department at school, so that was what I used to mess around with. My dad eventually managed to get me a cracked version of it from one of his mates and I would just sit at home on it for hours every day. I grew up playing guitar and cello and would record loops into Cubase and chop them up, chop up drum breaks, and sample my parents' old vinyl.
I was instantly obsessed with making beats and by age 16 I knew that my career goal was to become a music producer. At 17, I was awarded a grant to buy myself some music equipment and got myself a legit copy of Logic Pro and my first turntables and mixer. I spent all my spare time making music and DJing. I've never looked back since.
What artists/producers most inspired you in your early years? Did you have any mentors along the way?
There's so much out there that has inspired me in one way or another at some point during my early years of production. Missy Elliott and Timbaland were my idols when I was 16 and still, to this day, remain two of my favorite-ever artist/producers with their constant futuristic and fresh outlook within mainstream music.
I'm just going to throw a few [more] names out there, but I could go on and on, as the list is endless—Massive Attack, Mobb Deep, Trentemoller, Eric Satie, Radiohead, Kruder & Dorfmeister, Björk, Wu-Tang Clan, The Cure, Nirvana, pretty much all female rappers that were around [then], from Jean Grae, Bahamadia, Apani B to Lil' Kim, Da Brat, Queen Latifah, etcetera.
"The more lineups and new talent are pushed by an equal and diverse representation of people behind the scenes, the more diverse the actual lineups themselves will be."
What do you think the dance music community can do to return the scene to its more inclusive, radical roots?
I think one of the key things is to focus more on diversifying the people who have a say in what is pushed out there for the public. [We need to] step away from giving all of the control to the same few people. The more lineups and new talent are pushed by an equal and diverse representation of people behind the scenes, the more diverse the actual lineups themselves will be.
There needs to be real passion behind the change rather than promoters throwing in a few token names just because they feel like they have to. I feel like I spent the first 10 years of my career being pretty much the only female on 95 percent of the lineups I was billed on. Hopefully that is a thing of the past now.
What's on the horizon for you in 2021?
My main focus during the last year has been to finish my third MJC album. It's so nearly there, it's always the very end that's hardest. The bar gets set higher for every album, so I feel like I'm going crazy now get to the finish line! But it will all be so worth it when it's wrapped and out there for the world to hear.
I'm also working on a Nocturnal Sunshine x Cha$ey Jon£es mini-album, which is more hip-hop/grime focused. We have quite a unique sound together and I can't compare it to anything that's currently out there, so I'm excited for everyone to hear what we've been cooking up. I have a couple more CAYAM EPs on the horizon as well! Stay tuned.