B-Complex is not the most prolific of artists. By her own admission she ‘sucks at marketing’. We’re lucky if we see more than one release a year. But that means it’s always worth paying attention when she does…
It’s been this way since 2008 with her evergreen Beautiful Lies. A certified drum & bass anthem, it came off the back of years of honing her craft locally in her Bratislava stomping ground and has since led to a powerful euphoric signature, a unique international reputation and a welcome voice for diversity in the culture as one of the first drum & bass artists to come out as bi-gender.
Over the years Matia’s music has ranged from pro-veg funk-ups like Salad Is OK (which samples UK comedy pioneer John Cleese) to Past Lessons For The Future, a bonafide Slovakian radio hit that encourages messages of peace. Most recently she’s unveiled Dramababes. A new collective with three dancers that brings a whole new sense of energy to her sets, Dramababes is an exciting benchmark for drum & bass and how it can be performed and showcased. They also come with their own theme tune that’s full of rave energy and transmits the most important message that unites us all: all we need is love. Her first release in over a year, it’s time to pay attention.
Operating from her Bratislava studio, which is situated in the same community art space she streams and holds her own LQBT D&B events in, B-Complex took a moment of time to tell us some beautiful truths.
How are things in Slovakia?
Oh where to start? We just ended the world championship in ice hockey and nearly made it into the semi-finals but also we have war on our border, and we are trying to look after many Ukrainian immigrants who need our help. Somewhere in between I’m trying to make some music.
It must be scary having war on your doorstep. I know you raised money in a relief event fairly recently…
We did a few concerts. We have one big festival called Pohoda. It’s very political and it tries to spread freedom and liberty – the rave culture in a nutshell. I support those guys and try and help them. They organised a concert in the Bratislava centre where we all played and expressed our feelings: we’re against aggressivity, we’re against war.
It’s a very heavy topic – I’m not sure this interview is the best place for it but Slovakia is trying to do all we can to help Ukrainians. We’re doing the best we can. But people are suffering fatigue now it’s been so long. I felt like something like this was going to happen. I played John Lennon’s Imagine at one of the Hospitality events – maybe around 2010 or 2011 – because I felt things were already brewing and not going well.
Wow you could sense it even as far back as then?
We are seeing more and more countries struggling with democracy. We have the conflict on the eastern border. I was always listening to music that’s always politically active, when I chose John Lennon’s song because it’s more relevant than ever.
We were occupied by the Soviet Union for over 20 years and there were musicians who were protesting it. I want to follow their footsteps. In 2015 I made a song which became one of the best songs of the year on Slovakian radio. Past Lessons For The Future I sampled Czechoslovakian actor Jan Werich who spreads the message of peace and how stronger people should help the younger ones. It was in reflection to what happened before World War 1 and 2. Before Nazism started. It’s like people never learn – we do the same mistakes over and over again.
Feeling that with Brexit over here in the UK!
I would never believe that would happen. UK was a role model for how society should be organised, I had the best times whenever I visited the UK and it’s such a shame what propaganda and social media manipulation can do.
Massively. It’s gutting. You’re right – this isn’t the platform. But on the flip side, the ethos of the Pohoda Festival you mentioned is summed up in your new track Dramababes, right?
Yes! Even the recent event we did was to escape to the future from all this mess by pretending it’s 2077 already. The whole rave culture always for me is about being united by our culture. We don’t need to be told what to do because we know what to do – don’t harm others, treat people with respect, try to be a nice person.
Actually Dramababes is a song I did for this new project also called Dramababes. The girls doing it with me are stage performers who are all very talented in different ways. One is leader of Bratislava burlesque, another dancer vogues and was instrumental in bringing ball culture to Slovakia and another is from cirque culture. We all do something special that I think drum & bass has not seen this before.
It came about because when I play festivals I’m on these huge stages and I feel I want to create more entertainment but I’m focusing on my set. So now on a stage I have my dancers making that connection between the crowd the DJ like an MC would usually do.
Sounds amazing. Do you think this would have been possible five years ago?
So, for me, I have always found that drum & bass and jungle has been one of the most open and welcoming cultures for myself as trans and bi-gender. Long before I came out, I felt I could be myself. People didn’t give a shit about how you moved or what you did, you could do whatever you wanted to. That’s what rave culture is for me.
Yes, some of the parts of drum & bass became toxically masculine and I don’t think it progressed very much with the same art and visuals always being used. It was just bro culture. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s all good to be a bro, but it’s not okay to be harmful to others. It’s about creating a new space without harming the old spaces so I’m really happy there’s a lot of change and progress happening.
I have to say, when I came out Hospital were super supportive of me. At one point Tony Colman posted to say ‘If you have any problems with Matia then don’t buy our records and don’t come to our events’. The message was clear. We are part of the culture, we shouldn’t hide. You only have one life, don’t waste it hiding.
How had your life changed since coming out? You came out at quite a late age didn’t you?
It’s interesting. Slovakia is super conservative. After communism, which was here for 40 years, I would say that even the most liberal people here would be considered soft conservatives. I think my generation had it much harder than the current generation. LGBT is celebrated here now but during communism even if you were a straight male with long hair then secret police would take you out on the street, beat you up and force you to cut your hair.
So even after we became democracy a lot of people from my generation were brought up with a lot of that culture still in place. The old regime was still in power for the first four years of my life. I can remember bits of it.
When I was 15/16 if you tried to do a LGBT event then skinheads would come and beat you up. It only changed when we did the first Pride in Bratislava which wasn’t that long ago. We had diplomats from other countries and it was very nice until someone threw a rock which hit a diplomat. The following year it was cordoned off and protected by police. You had to show ID to be part of it.
We definitely still struggle here. We don’t have civilian partnership. If you want to legally identify as a trans person you have to castrate yourself, so we still have a long way to go. That’s why I’m an activist – so the next generation can have easier lives. I also didn’t come out publicly until I’d achieved what I wanted to achieve as a DJ.
I came out after I made it as a DJ, so people didn’t accuse me of using it to get attention. It was actually detrimental for me in a commercial sphere but for me I’m much happier and I live an honest life. Some people who were supportive of my music but are no longer supportive, but I’m happier they are no longer fans.
I could be a regular guy and only care about my music and care about my popularity and social media numbers, but now I can be myself and live my life openly. Musically I’ve always been honest anyway and, if my music can transcend time and carry messages than I will be feel I’ve done what I needed to do.
That’s so inspiring. Musically you reflect the diversity from sampling Czech actors to sampling John Cleese on your Salad Is OK EP!
That was fun. The thing about my music is that I don’t want to copy what I’ve done before. It’s cool to have a trademark but I want my trademark to be to expect something different. That’s why I’ve never tried to milk Beautiful Lies or do Beautiful Lies 2 or 3. So straight after Beautiful Lies I made the Salad Is OK EP because of that.
Did you expect Beautiful Lies to have the impact and evolution that it still has to this day?
I would never imagine what happened at all. I started making music when I was 12 and wanted to be a DJ since before I was a teenager. Then it never happened, which was a humility lesson for me. So then I realise ‘it’s okay, just enjoy making music for yourself.’
Beautiful Lies was my first proper release and, even before then, people were like, ‘How come you don’t have any releases?’ I would always reply like, ‘I don’t know? Maybe I suck at marketing or something?’ But I didn’t want to sell myself cheap so I just kept on it. Back then digital releases weren’t considered the same level as vinyl releases so I always felt I should until someone signs my music properly and invests in it.
But I will say that Beautiful Lies was actually made during one of the worst times in my life. It was a break-up song where I put all my emotions, my heart break and my frustrations into it. That feeling like, ‘Well fuck you if you don’t want me’. All of those things. I knew when I was making it that something special was happening but not to the level its had. And actually I must say that I very bad stomach flu at the time too!
Yeah it was truly awful. The worst. But anyway I had sent a version of it to Dfunk from Bassdrive. He said, ‘I want to play it on my show, can you finish it today?’ I couldn’t sleep so I spent a lot of time on it to create a playable version. I was heart-broken, I was physically sick but at the same time I had all this energy. Even when Dfunk played it on the radio you could feel the energy with lots of people joining in the chat say it was their favourite song even though I’d only just finished it! The fact it was released on an album called Sick Music was quite fitting and from that moment it had its own life.
I’m really happy I made it. I still respect it and never tried to milk it to be as successful as possible. I always wanted to make sure everything I’ve done before Beautiful Lies or after has been different and lived in its own world. My tracks are like my children and they all have their own character and life. That’s important for me. I don’t feel like ever releasing music for the sake of it. It should be natural and genuine. What’s the point in releasing three albums of music no one gives a shit about? Music that can be lost in a set that people won’t remember.
It’s part of DJ music culture isn’t it? Having bangers for the set, or DJ tools. I also agree that music doesn’t have to come out straight away does it? Not all music has to be released in general! I have to ask about the VIP, though… Would you say that was the only time you did tap back into its energy?
It’s funny. Hospital took the very first version I made. But meanwhile I had sent it to some other labels and they’d asked for different changes. So there were a few versions of it before it was released. So I made VIP version around the same time. You can feel I am very heartbroken and had a lot of energy and feelings. So when Hospital asked me for a VIP, I knew I had that version, I just had to find it. That’s when it got released as a proper single instead of being on a compilation.
There’s also a piano version of the song which I am glad about. Hospital released a song book with scores of Hospital anthems for piano players to perform. I think that’s such a beautiful thing for people to be able to do. I wish I had musical training and could play the piano myself. But then other times I appreciate how my own sound and style is created because I don’t have that type of training.
Yeah you don’t know the rules so you can’t be restricted by them
That’s also how jump up was created!
Haha. So what’s coming up from you? Obviously Dramababes has only just dropped and you don’t release for the sake of it. But is anything else on the horizon?
There is. I have a few songs made, but I really suck at marketing and selling music to labels. It can be hard on your soul to take rejections. I’ve had songs that have had millions of plays on YouTube but were never accepted by labels. You wonder why these songs weren’t picked up.
I also feel that I was burned out at some point, but it actually took me a long time to realise I was burnt out. So I’m currently making music for my own enjoyment and hopefully something will be picked up. I’ve made a song with a Slovak MC and Santorin is doing a big 25 Years Of Santorin release which I’m making a remix for. I also have some collaborations with people so hopefully they will come together this year and you’ll be able to hear them.
In the meantime, you’re doing a lot of events and streams which I can see are done in the studio you’re talking to me from now…
Yes my studio is part of a community with a venue here as well. I do two parties a year but it’s about doing something for the community. Creating safe spaces for people. Bringing the LGBT world together with drum & bass is good fun because it filters out the dickheads. Some people just won’t come and other people who’ve never been in touch with the culture can experience the music.
Without exposure to different social groups it’s hard to find an understanding between each other and events are one way I want to pay back to the culture. I want to use my connections and friendships to try and make culture for Slovakia. I don’t want to brag, but I think we do events that would be hard to pull off in London. We can do this because we are the ones calling the shots, so it works. So even if I don’t release as much music as I want, or should, at least I put on these events for people to have opportunities.
With the streams, I did some before covid was life changing. It was good. Streams kept me engaged with the music and play the fresh productions so I didn’t miss anything going on in the D&B scene.
Yeah there’s so much music that came out during the time that still hasn’t been discovered or played through a big system! Dig deep enough and you’ve found your own dubplates.
Totally. And actually you mentioned something about not everything needing to be released earlier on. I wanted to say that we should be honest… There has always been shit music. In the 50s, 60s, 70, 80s. We only remember the big ones. Like Prodigy is Prodigy, right? But there were lots of other hardcore acts around at the same time, they just weren’t as well known and aren’t remembered.
What is different now is that everyone can have their own channel, but the challenge is filtering it down to finding the very special, different and interesting songs. The level of quality is higher than ever, but you have to try harder to dig for them and find them.
And you mentioned DJ tools earlier and I think they’re very important to have those type of tracks for your DJ sets but there’s a different between those type of tracs and real songs isn’t there? High Contrast is great example. He was a father of liquid funk for me. At the same time, I don’t feel he’s as good as some other producers technically, but his ideas and his song writing are incredible.
You get a lot of High Contrast copies. Some might be better produced than him, but they don’t have that original idea and spark of creativity like Lincoln does. It’s so important to have people like him who are two or three steps ahead of everyone else, pushing things forward for others to do the same.
You are too! I would argue that you are one of those instigators.
Well thank you. I see myself as a relay racer. There were people doing things before me which I was really inspired by who I took the baton off, I ran with it as far as I could and hopefully I’ll get another turn to hold it and run with it again. That’s how it should be done. If it’s too forced, or you don’t believe in it, then people will tell. It’s all good to be there for the entertainment but for me to be committed to this and to believe in what I do then I have to be the way I am.
B-Complex – Dramababes is out now
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