The power of community and visibility through music with Matka
Dijana Kumurdian, otherwise known as MATKA, has been a powerhouse in the Sydney music scene for years. She DJ’s multiple nights a week, is producing her own tunes and runs a club night that celebrates women making music called Honey. Along with hosting her own killer party, she’s played parties all over town like Halfway Crooks, Sidechains, Heaps Gay and soon our Purple Sneakers 11th Bday Party!
With Honey, Matka and her team have built a brand that is so recognisable in the Sydney scene, with a cohesive mood and outlandish decorations with every new party. People keep coming back and leave feeling like they’ve been a part of something special. She also uses her position to boost up DJ’s and artists in her scene and teach others, giving them the opportunities to grow and be a part of the music community.
The Purple Sneakers 11th Birthday Party is our way of celebrating the groups within the Sydney scene that make it so strong, so of course we had to have Matka on the line up. We got a chance to chat to her about the power of building your own communities, of seeing people like you doing what you want to do and wrestling analogies.
So the big three openers to start off; who are you, what are you about and what do you do as Matka?
I’m a human female, I DJ and throw parties, and I’m really interested in exploring different kinds of electronic music from a bunch of different cultures. It’s not about playing house or techno but it’s about playing what people awkwardly call “world music”, a term I think is a little racist because anything that’s not western is of course “world”, “ethnic” or “urban”, and this music’s influence on pop and club music. I play a whole bunch of different diverse parties and pick a chunk of what I do for that event and context. I feel like forcing your agenda on every audience is not very compassionate, which probably means my brand suffers as a result which I’m conscious of. But at the same time I would rather people have a good time and relate to what I do than force something upon people, or hardly getting to play because I’ve built a specific niche for myself.
So you’re like a DJ for the people, you do your own thing in a way that everyone else will enjoy?
Yeah it’s kinda like a spoon full of sugar thing. I don’t think you can get people to open their minds to something and get them onside with something that you think is interesting without mixing it in with something they already understand.
You love dancehall, baile funk and reggaeton and a lot of that is featured in your sets, are there any artists you look to specifically that you’re mostly inspired by?
Probably Bok Bok and Asamara, because they both blend a lot of different niche and cultural elements into what they do but it’s always interesting and danceable. There’s always a component of something current and something nostalgic, I think the power of nostalgia is really important with music because, just from a physiological perspective, your tastes are pretty baked in from when you’re quite young, which can be anything from music, comedy, art or whatever it is. You can definitely broaden your horizons but because you have these powerful connections from when you’re so young, those can be played with and referenced to create a more powerful connection emotionally when combined with new elements to make something new. Which is why I think pop songs from the mid 2000’s or new takes on dance music from the 90’s are really interesting and really powerful and resonate with people. It’s like you’re tapping into something that already exists without them really knowing, you know what I mean?
Yeah, like a pop music addiction and you’re helping them get their fix in a sneaky way. Speaking of, your club night Honey has an ethos of celebrating women in pop, rnb, hip hop and club genres. What made you want to start the night in the first place?
Well I got offered a night at Tokyo Sing Song, which was at the time my favourite venue for parties in the inner west and if not like the whole city at that time, ’cause it was really loose and you could do whatever you wanted plus it had this dingy cave kinda vibe. When I got offered the night I thought, “What’s missing from Sydney that’s not really represented?” because at the time, which was about 2 years ago, there weren’t that many female DJs. Or at least not a community of us who were actively involved in the scene and trying to champion each other, and music by women. There’s a lot more of that now that’s really, really awesome. But yeah I thought I’ll put on this party and make the soundtrack women only, it went really well and was really fun so I kept doing them. I don’t think the crowd even necessarily noticed the lack of male voices but it was more just subtly getting them to realise, “Okay, most of the artists playing this party are female, they’re doing an incredible job and the voices being heard and the stuff we’re dancing to [is] by women.” Subliminally making people realise, “Hey this is a good thing, this is a space we deserve to be in.” You don’t have to feel like if you’re engaging with this culture that it’s going to be 100% masculine 100% of the time, there’s definitely space for that.
From two years ago to now what do you think has changed with women in the scene?
I think there’s just been more conversation around women starting up their own crews and I think you get this effect with increased visibility, there’s increased aspiration. Let’s say if you are, for example, a little girl growing up and you have no one that you look like or no one like you in music, you say, “Oh music’s not for me, that’s not a place for me to exist.” But if you’re growing up, even if you’re in your late teens/ early twenties and then you see someone like yourself in the field that you’re interested in, if you see female DJ’s in the scene that are good and are representing themselves in the way they want to be represented they’re not fitting into some weird mould, you feel like you can have a place there too.
I feel like this used to be a scene where you had to have some like FHM model look and the vibe wasn’t like, “Great this female artist is doing what she wants to do it,” was more, “Oh look at this novelty,” like this hot girl is doing a boy job. I don’t think that that’s as much the case now, there’s more role models, most of them aren’t even trying to be role models, and people can aspire to be that and I think they are. Like younger people are feeling less limited than people older, than I did.
Yeah for sure, having the support of people who champion this kinda stuff and push their fellow women in the industry is something I’ve felt personally, it’s really empowering. By starting Honey, you also started your own community. How important is that sense of community to you?
I think the community aspect of it is really, really important, especially with this kind of strange misconception that women are in competition with each other or this sense that we’re supposed to be which is totally poisonous and terrible and a penchant of our social system. It’s a mechanism that stops us from building each other up and helping each other achieve things that we feel like we can achieve, it’s kinda dehumanising. Having this sense that you can raise the waterline, and set new benchmarks together is just smarter, you’re going to do it a lot faster if you’re working together and changing a perception of females in the music industry, or anywhere, by helping each other out and sharing skills and opportunities is the way to do it.
There’s so many smaller communities like Facebook groups I’m a part of that literally are just made to increase opportunities for each other and collaborate, meet up and participate in each others events. These things are so important to feel like you’re a part of something and you’re not alone fighting against this seemingly impenetrable bro-y culture of it. The aim isn’t to be the antithesis of that and be like, “Well dudes don’t get to be part of our exclusive club,” either, it’s more like you don’t have to be alone and intimidated by this existing monolith of bro-yness in the scene, we can all share the burden.
I had this incredibly overwhelming moment at Secret Garden Festival actually…
At the Carmen Verandah side stage you curated with Amrita Hepi right?
Yeah that was the result of having done Honey, that gave me the opportunity to program the stage. But the moment was as my friend Sezzo Snot was DJing and there were like eight of the girls I booked behind on the stage dancing. I have this video on my phone that just pans around at everyone, at all these women involved in the music community who we had brought together. We’re all in this revelatory moment of just being like, “This is our stage, literally ours, to show that we are doing something.” So I was like yeah this is why I’m doing this, sometimes you can lose sight and forget. It felt like even though putting on parties and DJing can be a pain in the arse and time consuming and you get discouraged because of how thankless it can be, moments like that just make the whole thing worth it.
The upcoming Purple Sneakers 11th Bday is about celebrating musical communities in dance music, who are you most excited to have a dance to after you play?
Definitely Kimchi Princi, she has just come so far in her live performance and is always so genuinely engaging. She commands a crowd. I’m keen to see Christopher Port too because I haven’t seen him before. And I really like Gussy a lot, and they once performed at a party during my DJ set at a Heaps Gay party. I had no idea who they were, they told me to play their instrumentals so I did and was just blown away. Totally not what I was expecting, they performed live and killed it. Oh and Sortagoth, she came out of nowhere. Like of course I knew her as a DJ but when I heard her LIZ remix, it was an absolute corker.
You’ve been in the music scene for a while now; DJing, putting on events and are now getting into music production yourself. What advice would you give people just starting out or getting into the music scene?
Don’t tell yourself that you can’t do something or you don’t deserve to be there. Or that you shouldn’t bother trying. Don’t think other people deserve to be there more than you or they know what they’re doing more than you because they always seem like they do and it isn’t necessarily the case. And even if it is, they started out like you as well. No one was born with connections and knowledge and some kind of golden ticket to being allowed to come to the party. Younger people are getting better at this than I was because it did seem a bit like music scenes seemed a bit more insular and intimidating when I was growing up. You would never just meet the people putting on the party or just get to know a DJ, it was way too scary. I think there was a bit more of a snobbery about it then than there is now because it’s far more accessible. You can learn how to DJ or to produce in Ableton with more ease than someone who needed to learn to patch together a bunch of synthesisers and learn how to use Protools and have all the gear. You don’t need that anymore, you can download samples, make your own with field recordings, you can do anything you want.
You don’t need a permission slip. For example, people call themselves artists with like no experience in any vocational capacity but at the same time it means that they are putting their stuff out there, they’re trying, rolling the dice. They’re not waiting on anyone to pat them on the head and tell them it’s okay that they’re doing it – they’re just doing it. And that’s really fucking cool. There’s a caveat with that which is, yes you can do anything you want, self release, self publish, yes you can call yourself anything that you want but if you release stuff that’s undercooked or start trying to bite off more than you can chew, you can end up damaging yourself in the long run. So just make yourself undeniable by whatever means necessary, and then go and tell people about it. Ask people’s advice, tell them what excites you, get their opinion on it, collaborate.
Damn I am so inspired, you’re giving us some solid gold advice here.
I just so wish I knew this stuff when I was younger.
You’re migrating to from Sydney to Melbourne soon, any plans to start up something in the new city?
The house that I’m moving into is going to have a dedicated room for making music, like a studio space so my plan is to make myself more of a hermit and not DJ as much and put on as many parties. I’m not 100% sure, like I have friends down there would probably be keen to but it’s a little bit of a decide when I get there kinda thing. I think maybe channeling my energy into releasing my own music and then having that be also representative of what I can do will be good and then I can continue to talk about these things, encourage more people and maybe even teach people how to DJ or produce or get to industry channels. So maybe that’s a new goal for me.
And now the question everyone’s been waiting for. As a lover of wrestling, what is your absolute favourite move?
Ah this is such a good one! Okay so there’s this one move called the Head Scissors Hurricanarana
That sounds insane.
This one move was invented by a guy but it’s one that women do a lot because it looks really badass. They run up, jump and get their ankles around somebody’s neck, and they they do a kind of tornado spin and throw the person with their legs. I think Ray Mysterio invented it. My favourite kind of wrestling is female wrestling… obviously. In the last 5 or so years it’s just come leaps and bounds from what it used to be. Funnily enough, it used to be a lot like the DJing industry, where it was like a bunch of really hot girls doing a boy thing and not really representing how powerful and actually good they could be in their own right.
Catch Matka performing as HONEY this Saturday at Purple Sneakers Eleventh Birthday.
Vivid Sydney Presents Purple Sneakers Eleventh Birthday
Date: Saturday 17th June 2017
Venue: The Lord Gladstone
Time: 5pm – 3am
Address: 115 Regent Street, Chippendale, Sydney
Price: Free entry
FB event here
Lineup in alphabetical order:
Caitlin & Hannah
Christopher Port (DJ Set)
Heaps Gay DJs
Keep It Disco
Kimchi Princi (Live)
Purple Sneakers DJs
Willaris. K (Live)
WORDS BY HOLLY O’NEILL
PHOTO BY SUSIE GEORGE