Mamiko Motto Wants You to Lighten Up and Suck It Up

We asked the London-based DJ about taking life a little less seriously—even in a gender-imbalanced industry.

mamiko mottoPhoto by Mehdi Lacoste

Interview by Polina Bachlakova

Mamiko Motto is a journalist’s dream interviewee. You don’t have to drag meaty answers from the musician and DJ’s mouth, or lead her to conclusions. Instead, the Lithuanian-born Londoner takes your question and catapults it into a flurry of many-layered answers—revealing her infectious enthusiasm, her lack of ego and also her confidence in what she does.

The confidence is well earned, too: over the past decade, Mamiko has established herself as an unstoppable jack-of-all-trades in the music biz. She’s a DJ, spinning dance music that eludes all categorisation except for being unpredictable and damn fun to dance to. She’s a radio veteran, spending 12 years hosting radio shows, such as the one she still hosts on NTS that’s recognised for breaking some of the biggest underground artists in electronic music. She’s also a composer, having released records through prestigious labels such as Warp, and just founded her own label called GASS. Yeah, she’s a busy lady, alright—but not too busy to talk to me while recording her first solo album and prepping her set for the Girls Are Awesome stage at Roskilde Festival’s Street City. Enjoy.

mamiko motto_swinging
Photo courtesy of artist.

Girls Are Awesome: Hey, Mamiko. So you’re recording an album, right? When’s it coming out?
Mamiko Motto: At some point next year. I’m not rushing it because it’s my first solo thing and I want it to be perfect. I’m such a perfectionist; I’m often really hard on myself. I end up thinking that I’m doing something great and when I listen the next day, I think it’s complete shit and start over again.

What does perfection mean to you?
Perfection is probably my biggest enemy because I’ve always been way too strict—on others as well as myself. Everything just needs to be THE BEST at all times. That’s not always a good thing, because you end up delaying things, getting tired and cancelling stuff. I wish I could let go more and live in the moment, rather than stress and overthink things no one would notice but me.

Are you working with other people right now who can take the edge off?
When I’m in a team or working with another person, I generally perform much better—because I respect their opinions and listen to them. They make me accept things rather than let me be critical and dominating. At the moment, I’m involved with five or six collaborative projects, which somehow go much faster for me than my own stuff. I am also running my own label right now, which takes a lot of energy. I’m putting on all the hats.

How do you stay sane doing all those projects but also give each their deserved amount of energy?
Yeah, well, I’m not a really big sleeper. I’m always full of ideas. I’m making one thing and my brain is already on to something else. I just have to have a lot of things going on, otherwise I feel like my life is worthless. I wake up at 7, go to bed at 3 or 4 and do that for a year until I turn into some kind of vegetable. I sit on the couch and feel like my brain isn’t working anymore at all. I book a ticket to go home or go on holiday and just recharge for a week or ten days, and after my holidays, I repeat the cycle. However, I also know a lot of people who are even busier and who really inspire me. Then, I feel like I’m not doing enough!

Do you think that drive to do more comes from yourself or also from London? Because London is THE city known for people giving up sleep for work.
It may be connected, but honestly, I’ve spent about a year asking myself what I’m doing in London. In the past few years, I feel like I’ve been totally living in my own head. I might as well be living on the North Pole and it would almost be the same thing. I don’t really engage with London life, unless it’s art-related. I love going to exhibitions and my label is now involved in the art culture, but I don’t really party anymore because I’m just focusing on my work. It would be nice to be in a safer place, a cheaper place, a place with more sunshine. That said, the buzz the city has – with so many people coming in and out and being on the move – has some kind of influence on me.

So I’m guessing the artists you work with aren’t always London-based, since you’re not that into the culture.
The majority are American, some are European, but it really doesn’t matter. The internet is so powerful. That’s one thing we’ve been exploring with the label lately: humanity, sexuality, technology. How people don’t even need human contact with each other—you have Facebook, iMessage, FaceTime and people are just informed about each other through social media. It’s a personal information bank, so people don’t make much of an effort to see each other anymore.

Why do those three themes interest you, specifically?
Technologically, we are able to do things we never even dreamed of ten years ago, but in the meantime, it makes us distant from each other. We lose the old elements of humanity that our grandparents and great-grandparents cherished. The sexuality element plays into it because since we have the whole internet out there, people don’t date in their own cities. People feel like they can’t find partners. Instead of meeting in a cafe or a bar or saying hello at an exhibition, they turn to Tinder or similar apps. They almost have a double internet identity that doesn’t really represent who they are. So, I thought it would be very nice to bring that out in the way of art, whatever that is – paintings, visual art, music or performances – and put it under one umbrella. That’s how my label called GASS started.

I saw the phrase ‘Life’s a GASS’ is connected to it. Can you explain it?
Laughing and going through life with lightness is my favourite thing in the world. I like to laugh at myself and laugh with everyone. Maybe this is brought out more now that I live in the UK—because in the UK, people do not laugh. If you smile at someone for no reason, they’ll think you’re a weirdo. I feel like I am trying to compensate for that with this label. The slogan comes from a Love Inc. song and it’s meant as encouragement to get people to take life less seriously.

Mamiko Motto BackstagePhoto courtesy of artist.

For example, some of the content on the label is very x-rated. The first record that came out wasn’t very well received by the press. People seemed shocked by it, which I find weird. Last night, I was watching this Russell Peters standup and it’s so racist! He’s literally talking about Arabs, Jews, black people, whatever. There are millions of people who watch his stuff and laugh at his jokes, which I found much more offensive than the record that I released. So, a situation like I had with that record makes sense for ‘Life’s a GASS’: it encourages myself and everyone to go with the flow and find the humour in situations.

Do you think your gender played into the shock? It’s not nearly as commonly accepted for a woman to be sexually explicit in her work than it is for men in genres such as hip-hop.
I think that’s exactly it. There’s no problem for artists like Lil’ Wayne and DJ Khaled to talk down on women all the time, so I think a big element is that I’m a woman releasing this kind of music. Still, it’s surprising considering we have this huge boom of people being more open minded towards artists. We have rappers open about being gay, transgender artists… we’re accepting these people more and more, so I consider the reaction to my record a bit backwards. Regardless, the people I respect the most dug the record, and that means more to me.

Was this one of the first times you were aware that gender played a role in your career, or have there been other instances?
This is a very painful topic. A lot of my female colleagues will be angry with me for talking about this, because a lot of them pretend that they hate being asked about being a woman in the industry. I feel differently. I think that yes, we don’t get treated exactly the same as men and we shouldn’t be: we are women, we should have our own territory in the industry. However, we shouldn’t be treated poorer than men. The times that I have been disrespected or not taken seriously enough in my career… there are too many to count! It is definitely still a thing. I think we are moving forward, but very slowly. More and more female artists are being accepted and let in the industry to do solo projects of do collaborative projects where they get seen and appreciated. Unfortunately, the culture is changing way too slowly, but it is what it is. I feel like we need to suck it up, be ourselves, be strong and be the best we can at what we do.

We need to have enough self esteem to admit that this is an issue. For now, the most we can do is continue making good work, so the next generation after us can have a little bit more freedom than we have.

Thanks, Mamiko.

mamiko motto
Photo courtesy of artist.