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On the beat with MZA

Mosta Records sat down with local DJ Matt Sekiya to learn more about the inception of his journey as a musician as well as his influences and aspirations

Fazlee Rosli

MZA. Photo credits: Richard Sta Ana

Whether it’s an intimate house party, or a cramped out rave, music is undoubtedly the chief mood maker and key ingredient in setting the tempo of a party – the right track list, when harmoniously crafted with the ambience of the occasion, can be potent in kindling the fire of enthusiasm amongst its revellers. Maintaining energy levels on a high was definitely on the agenda as Mosta Records welcomed back the visceral experiences of live performances for the first time since 2019 as part of this year’s Record Store Day festivities.

On spinning duties that day was Matt Sekiya – also known by his stage moniker MZA – who, with his setlist that featured groovy beats overlaid with jazzy harmonies and infectious head-bopping rhythm of old-school boom bap hip-hop, injected some panache to the already effervescent atmosphere of the compact store filled to the brim with vinyl aficionados frantically attempting to bag their favourite titles and limited edition drops.

What went down at Mosta Records during RSD 2022. Photo credits: Dahliah

Evidently, the sui generis nature of his setlist is a reflection of his exposure to an eclectic range of genres he embraced during his formative years. From vibing to the evergreen tunes of mainstream hitmakers such as Shania Twain and Savage Garden, to the transcendental sound of Native American flute music, the unboundedness of music played by his parents around the house invariably sparked a curiosity in music beyond what was heard on the radio at the time while also alchemising his sonic direction as an artist. Amongst the plethora of genres, Matt also singles out his affinity for jazz and highlights the omnipresence of its elements in his setlists and across his original productions.

With a natural flair on the decks and a flourishing discography – one that includes the recently released five-track EP Balmoral – under his belt, it might be hard to believe that his nifty beat-making chops weren’t realised up till his mid-twenties. While enrolling in a DJing course provided him with the building blocks to kickstart his foray into the world of disc jockeying, it was his experience spinning at Choice Cuts Goods + Coffee where he honed his craft by polishing cuts and juggles through late-night practice sessions under the tutelage of his mentor, hip hop DJ Drem, that would often spill into the next morning.

When he’s not rousing the crowd up on the decks or conjuring up infectious, groove-inciting beats, Matt plies his trade in the music retail industry as a category manager who oversees the curation of titles on sale in the record section. In his own capacity, Matt also spearheads projects that spotlights various music subcultures – ZUJAGO is a platform that unearths the hidden gems of Japanese jazz from the 60s while Yen Disco Soundsystem is a label that champions the sound of the underground hip hop, electronic, jazz, disco and everything in between.

Matt spinning for the Wax Poetic livestream session back in April. Photo credits: Jillian Tan

How did you first get into DJing?

I had an interest in hip hop and DJ culture cause it was a much different way of making music as opposed to playing instruments. At one of my previous jobs, my boss had wanted to do more DJ events which gave me an opportunity to pick it up. Five years on and it’s still a continual learning process for DJing and, especially when playing with records, there’s an element of unpredictability that keeps things exciting.

Could you share what your stage name, ‘MZA’, stands for?

When I first got into hip hop, I was listening to a lot of Wu-Tang Clan and at that time, my favourite member was Genius / GZA. So naturally when I started DJing, I needed a DJ name and initially settled on magnetic // mza but after a while realised it was too long for gig posters so like GZA, I shortened it to just MZA.

You draw inspiration from contrasting influences such as John Coltrane, Gang Starr and Massive Attack. How do you bridge the differences between these artists to achieve your sound?

I tend to pick and choose aspects or attributes from different influences to incorporate into my productions. From Coltrane, it’s his spiritualism and that certain blue sound that I try to encapsulate while with DJ Premier, it’s really the way he samples and often incorporates jazz sounds into his beats. I also really respect Massive Attack’s approach in melding really far out concepts into cohesive projects from pulling orchestral elements with dub, synth sounds paired with their strong visual identity.

Could you share more about ZUJAGO and Yen Disco Soundsystem? What motivated you to launch these projects?

ZUJAGO started as a project to document and bring more awareness to Japanese jazz music from the 1960s and beyond because I realised that there was a lack of information available online about these older albums in English, with barely anything in Japanese either. It’s most likely because coverage back in the day was mainly in magazines and newspapers which, in the current internet era, would already be lost media. I was really inspired by how Hawai’ian record label Aloha Got Soul started off as a blog with a very similar motive and that’s what got me to do the same for Japanese jazz. Whether or not ZUJAGO could also become a reissue label someday is something I can’t say for sure right now – but I do hope so!

Yen Disco Soundsystem, on the other hand, initially started as an outlet to release my own music before it evolved to incorporate an expanding range of genres. I believe that music releases and artists shouldn’t be defined and restricted into fixed genres consistently. With every release there is a certain vibe and identity but it’s never set to just having an entire album be one fixed genre. While, at this point, releases under YDSS have varied from hip hop, house, jungle and even reggae, I’m definitely always looking out for new ways to explore and evolve music!

RSD saw your return to spinning live for the first time after a while due to the pandemic – could you share the feeling of returning back to the decks?

It felt really good playing outside again and there’s no better way to get back to it than on Record Store Day! There’s definitely a lot of rustiness to shake off after so long and I did end up overpreparing my record bag with way more records than needed! In terms of equipment, a new addition would be the SP-404 drum machine which, for the first time ever, I’ve used during a DJ gig. But it was good to play out my new tracks to test them out and this’ll definitely be a regular fixture for future gigs for sure!

You released your EP Balmoral last year. Could you take us through the process of producing this record?

Balmoral was a much needed process in forcing myself to create a more long form release as opposed to just singles. It was pretty arduous too as my production workflow was still very raw at that time and it took ages for me to finish the tracks. In a lot of ways it was emotional too because it was very much inspired by the place that I grew up in for a large part of my childhood in Singapore which I’ve since moved away from. I’d definitely love to revisit Balmoral again at some point in the future by adding another half for a full album – maybe I could possibly get inspired by my new neighbourhood and remix the original tracks to give them a different take.

Stylistically, how does Balmoral compare to your previous tracks “Eldritch Terror” and “Liquid Ocelot”?

“Eldritch Terror” and “Liquid Ocelot” were experiments in downtempo and more drum & bass influenced sounds which at the time I wasn’t super familiar production-wise. A lot of it was still me trying to find my own sound, although I did receive help from another producer, Intriguant, who was my mentor throughout a program at the time for these tracks. Working with a more experienced producer definitely helped me improve my own workflow and sound which is still an ongoing learning journey.

Any upcoming projects or aspirations you could share with us?

Hopefully pick up more gigs again here and overseas for sure. For ZUJAGO, it’s on a bit of a hiatus as I’ve been working on a full length YDSS release aimed to drop later this year. Although I did work on an upcoming Japanese jazz vinyl reissue with an overseas label – I can’t say too much yet but do keep a lookout for it!

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