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Artist Spotlight

Gray Area Spotlight: Matsu

Alexander Dias

5 min read

Matsu - Gray Area Guest Mix

The art of turntablism is often forgotten in dance music. Maybe because there are so few that straddle the line between the two worlds effectively. A-Trak, Jack Beats, and DJ Craze immediately come to mind. But Indianapolis-born, New York-based Matsu is entering the conversation to stand among them. 

By the time he was 24 He’d conquered the world of turntablist competitions. He was hand-selected by A-trak to compete in the Fool's Gold Goldie Awards and came in second in the Redbull 3Style USA Finals. However, his long love for dance music has taken control. In addition to helping DJ Craze run his legendary Slow Roast Records imprint, he just released his first original EP R U With Me. The three-tracker is the culmination of years of cultivating his musical DNA, dissecting the elements of music, and crafting mind-bending DJ sets. 

Matsu’s earliest musical memory is being dragged to piano lessons at the Russian Sunday School in Indianapolis by his mom. “It was in one of the ballet studios of the JCC (Jewish Community Center). And it was this really scary, mean old lady who taught piano to everybody… Definitely a little bit of the immigrant pressure involved there.”

His mom insisted he learn an instrument (of his choice), and while he recognizes the value of that now, he was never really into it. “When I look back at it, I'm very thankful for the fact that she pushed me into doing those things. Because here I am today, right?”

By the time he was 13, he was starting to understand his musical taste. A child of the internet age, he was deep into Pirate Bay, downloading Jay Z discographies and Kanye albums. He was also starting to have a deep appreciation for DJ culture. Turntablism was fascinating to him, and Technic 1200s would quickly become his instrument of choice.

And while most DJs envision themselves on stage rocking a party, Matsu wanted to prove that he had the juice.

“I'm competitive. It's just a part of my personality,” he admits. “That's what always intrigued me about hip hop battling. It doesn't matter where you're from, it doesn't matter your race, your gender, anything. If you go up there, and you do the dopest shit, you win.”

The hard work and determination that his mother instilled in him were invaluable when he prepared for competitions. “I got so much better in the three months that I spent preparing for 3Style Finals than I did [in] two years before that," he explains. "Same thing with the Goldie's. I was a senior in college when I got into the Goldie's, and I went to my professors, and I was like, ‘I'm not coming to class for the next two months. I'll do some of the homework. You pass me or you'll see me next semester. I don't care. This is my priority.’”

Goldie Awards 2018: Matsu

And while hip hop loomed large in his life. He says he always had large respect for dance music DJs as well. “When I discovered hip hop, I discovered happy hardcore and hardstyle at the same time. Ravine and Cotts, they used to play back to back sets. I was like, ‘This is hip hop style of DJing. There’s an emcee at these raves. They're playing on records. They're scratching, but they're doing it at 170 BPM,’ and I thought that was badass.”

As trap started to cross over into dance music, he began to shift his focus. But going to Miami in 2017 was the turning point. It was a late night, and the libations were flowing. And as he watched Amine Edge and Dance drop a late-night set, he realized the power of house music. It was the beautiful moment when the kick drum drops and the whole room waits in anticipation for the snare and hi-hat to come back in that struck a chord with him. 

“And ever since then, I've like really put a lot of time and energy into understanding the genre. Even more than just as a fan but as somebody who wants to contribute and be a part of it.”

When he graduated from Indianapolis University, he moved to New York to take a job at Paradigm Talent Agency. It was the first time he lived in the same city as one of his idols turned friends, DJ Craze. The two met when Matsu opened for him years before, and they continued to bump into each other over the years.

“The agency thing was just not my vibe. So, I called him the day before I was going to quit. And he was like, ‘Do you want to come work on Slow Roast with me?' And I was like, ‘I will literally go and quit tomorrow.’”

Matsu has never been risk-averse. It takes a certain amount of courage to jump into the deep end as many times as he has been it quitting a stable job to work for an independent record label or telling your professor that homework is no longer a priority because DJing. He says he owes that courage to his parents.

“I'm the first generation American and both of [my parents] took massive risks to leave their countries. My mom is from Russia, my dad is from Japan. So that immigrant mentality of leaving somewhere and taking the risk and believing in yourself and also this ideal whether that's the American dream or your own career, whatever it is, is kind of like ingrained in you from day one. I hear it every family gathering. There's always the retelling of when we left Russia. I think it's just a part of who I am. And a part of my upbringing is to have that faith and just kind of say fuck it and go for it. If it works out, it works out. If it doesn't I'll figure it out. Everything will be fine anyways, right?”

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