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Matisa

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Italy
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Artist Spotlight

Gray Area Interview: Matisa

When Matisa steps into the DJ booth, she becomes a superhero. She wields power she can’t describe but knows how to use. With almost every new set, she wears a new, custom outfit from some of the finest tailors in the world who also happen to be her friends. Kind of like a super suit. Each unique look integrates ornate colors, patterns, and designs, a visual representation of the type of music she plays: inspiring, unpredictable, and powerful. From Matisa’s point of view, being a superhero and being a DJ aren’t that different. Both pursuits are about putting the needs of others before the needs of yourself. “Being a DJ is not only for me, but also for the people. I am doing this for all the people,” says Matisa, real name Isabella Erculei, dialing in from Florence, Italy. Music does have the power to save lives, after all, but Isabella’s superpower doesn’t come from the music itself. It comes from knowledge. She's spent a lifetime absorbing information about as many different topics as possible. For example, when it comes to fashion, Isabella earned a master’s degree in Fashion Product Management from the Polimoda in Florence, so she has an in-depth understanding of what it takes to design her different outfits for each show. “I know how much you have to spend to create a dress. To create a boot. So when I put these things on my body I give them importance. For that reason it’s like a superpower. I can’t describe this emotion,” says Isabella. Throughout her life, Isabella has approached dozens of different topics through her quest to learn. She studied traditional Greek and Latin philosophy. Then she moved on to science and politics (if she wasn’t a DJ, Isabella says she likely would have worked in politics as an ambassador). She also spent time as a football player, which taught her how to be a team player. “When you start learning something, your brain is more open to different stuff,” says Isabella. “All this stuff together helped me understand who I am,” speaking in clear English through her Italian accent. Languages are another extension of her polymathic approach to learning. Another crucial aspect of her education is, of course, music. In her youth, Isabella studied piano and oboe for over ten years at a music conservatory. That knowledge remained with her throughout her life until she was 23 when a friend let her borrow a full DJ setup. Isabella had complete access to speakers, turntables, and a mixer; in her endless pursuit of learning, she taught herself how to DJ. “For me, that moment was so nice. When I opened the box I was like a child,” Isabella laughs. However, this was only a temporary loan, so after six months, her friend took everything back, but Isabella was already hooked. So she bought her own gear and reached out to other DJs in Perugia—a small town in central Italy where she was living at the time—in order to continue the journey. Plus, with her considerable past musical experience, Isabella already understood the artform, which gave her a headstart as a DJ. “When I played piano I remember that I felt that energy and when you’re a DJ a lot of people think that it’s different from playing an instrument, but I think it’s the same because you start a connection with people. And when you mix records together it’s the same emotion,” says Isabella. Right around the time Isabella received her gifted DJ setup, she also started buying vinyl records, and now she can’t stop. She often uses modern technology like CDJs when she performs, but she spins vinyl sets as well, taking music from the past that can only be found in the format and combining it with newer sounds. “My actual style is to merge these two,” says Isabella. “I usually play new stuff mixed into old stuff and it’s very nice. It’s hard to do it, but it’s very nice because the harmony is different.” After establishing her style all around Italy, a country she laments is not the best place for musical exploration at this point in time, the art director of Cocorico, the legendary nightclub in Riccione, reached out to Isabella for a residency, which she continues today. She has supported some of the most respected artists in house and techno through her residency, including Seth Troxler, Patrick Topping, and Maceo Plex. She even played back-to-back with one of her biggest inspirations, Jackmaster. Isabella and Jackmaster first met before their shared set when she was playing before him at a party in Rome. She was DJing with three vinyl decks, and Jackmaster, real name Jack Revill, was blown away by her talent. Revill invited her to play with him in his hometown of Glasgow, Scotland, where the two would eventually DJ together at the historic dance music establishment, SWG3, in February of 2020. “Jack for me was the person that opened a big door,” says Isabella. “He has a very strong personality, identity. When he’s playing his energy is very nice and I love his way to perform. He’s very spontaneous and also eclectic.” Another artist who has played with Revill numerous times and one whom Isabella considers a mentor is none other than Skream, real name Oliver Jones. In June of 2022, Isabella found herself playing in London during one of the nights of Skream’s residency at the newly remodeled club, KOKO, and the two closed the evening with a back-to-back set. “I play very different stuff from him and when we did the back-to-back at the end of that night [it] was crazy because at some point we played similar stuff. It was very strange, but we felt the energy a lot,” says Isabella. “And his productions are very strong I must say.” Production is yet another area of artistry where Isabella is always learning more. Currently, she has a handful of releases on labels like Optimo Music and On Loop, with music soon coming on Steel City Dance Discs. Similar to her DJ sets, fashion, and other areas that reflect her creative spirit, her vast accumulation of different facets of knowledge serves her production as well. One example of this comes in relation to her debut EP, Organza, which gets its name from a type of fabric. “I remember that I wanted to create something that was similar to textiles,” says Isabella. “Organza is a very strange fabric when you touch it, so I remember that when I produced it I put in my hands organza and I wanted to create the same, but with music. I’m doing this stuff every time with a lot of things.” When Isabella is on the decks, the environment she curates goes beyond what she hears. A student of the world, the music feeds her history and ignites her senses and the senses of the people in the crowd in a powerful way. This is a power she’s spent her life developing and one that will ring out on dancefloors for years to come.