Moova is a DJ and third-year student at the University of Leeds. We talk about her music, learning to mix, the embarrassment of being a serious DJ ™, and playing gigs.
[Flyer for Papa Nugs' 1/10/2021 Headrow Line-Up]
Maia Kniveton (she/her), alias Moova, DJs alongside her degree in Product Design at the University. I went to see Moova open last Friday’s line-up at Headrow House.
The line-up was selected by Papa Nugs. He says of Moova, ‘She may be a newcomer to the scene but she does nooooot mix like it I can tell ya that! Expect to hear breaks, UKG and Funky from Moova who will be opening proceedings with a bloody bang.’ Moova is going to be part of another Papa Nugs line-up for 23 Degrees at Freedom Mill and it's not one to miss.
Her transitions were inventive - and sometimes completely unexpected - without being erratic. She guides the audience across songs smoothly and deliberately; and the music she chooses has a distinct blend of breaks, funk and garage. It makes for a set that puts you into an effortless kind of trance that you don’t want to end.
Surrounding her on stage are her friends, dancing together. A few more are in the crowd: one filming, a couple more dancing. ‘I like having my friends there…because then it’s just more relaxing…then it’s just fun, nothing serious,’ she tells me when we sit down for a conversation at Uni, ‘that’s my idea of a nightmare, is if people think I’m being like dead serious. I just want to have fun with it.’
I ask if she played a lot in front of others before she started mixing at venues.
‘Not really,’ she says, pained at the prospect, ‘I did a couple times. But it was also Lockdown, so there wasn’t really…that many opportunities to. I actually didn’t do that much…I find it more nerve-racking mixing in a casual context because I’m like, “Nobody’s asked me to do this. Why do I think that anyone wants to hear my music?” Like if someone says, “Would you like to play on this night?”...I’ll play and I’ll, you know, feel good in it. Whereas if I just start getting on the decks when we’re just having drinks at a casual party, I just feel like everyone will be like “Who is this girl? What is she doing?”’
For all of her modesty, Moova has performed in venues all over Leeds: she supported Sicaria Sound at Old Red Bus Station, played at Spin City, the Old Road Block, and for Gimme a Break Records, to name a few. She even played at the Kaleidoscope festival in Wiltshire over the summer.
Her first performance, however, happened from a house last March. It was for the live-stream Funk the Patriarchy (listen here). ‘I listened to a lot of music,’ she says when I ask how she started mixing, ‘Then second lockdown…it was something I wanted to do for a while.’
She explains how she got her decks from a friend during sixth form, but she didn’t properly start to use them until that second lockdown, years later. ‘They were just in my room and I never used them and then when I went home for Christmas I got them out and tried to use them. [I] was so bad, like honestly awful…My brother knows how to mix, so he showed me the basics. Then when I came back to Uni my friend Elias helped me as well.’
Do you think you wouldn’t have [started mixing] if it weren’t for lockdown?
‘Definitely not. A hundred percent, no. I don’t think I would have had time to.’
She tells me about curating the contents of her USB. Seemingly the product of a classic deepdive, she says it all comes from trawling Soundcloud and Youtube. ‘From that I found labels, producers, then found more music,’ - you can imagine the files piling high on the harddrive - ‘and then it kind of just went from there.’
An organic process, I say.
She laughs at my pretentiousness. She still seems bemused at the idea of being interviewed, uncomfortable with its hint of celebrity–its seriousness. When I ask her about practising, she insists that ‘it doesn’t feel like something which is a task. It’s more just unwinding at the end of the day–having a mix and listening to music.’
Do you feel set in [your] sound?
‘No, not at all. I think I’m still working out what music I like playing most. Because it hasn’t been very long. But that’s just what I’m most interested in at the moment. I really like electro as well, but yeah I haven’t mixed much of it at the moment. But I will. Dubstep as well.’
Do you ever use feedback from the crowd…you know, sensing an atmosphere?
Yeah, definitely. I think for my festival set I played very different music to, say, a daytime sit-down thing. But I would think about that before. But then I’ve got a few different folders of music, so if I start playing one thing and it's going completely awful then I can just change. Like to adapt. But most of the time I have a good idea of what crowd it will be.
Do you change what you play according to the line-up?
I feel like I try not to, but I probably do…that’s something I’m still working out. I try to stick to what I like to play, but I think, instinctively, if I know someone after me is going to be playing lighter music, I will go lighter [or if] someone after me is going to be playing really dark or heavy dubstep then I’ll probably go for heavier music myself.’
Doing all these sets, does it make you feel differently when you’re on the other side? When you’re in the crowd? Ever like a “Thank fuck it’s not me” [up there]?
She laughs at the thought. ‘I think [when] I go out I definitely listen to the transitions more. The music transitions. Or watch what people are doing more, rather than just thinking about like… dancing.’ She laughs again, remembering something, ‘How will I dance? That’s literally been the biggest stress of my whole life…people watching you while you dance is not something that comes naturally to me.’
It could be the anonymity of the recording studio that makes Moova want to pursue radio. She tells me how it's something she wants to do after Uni. Last year she had a music-oriented show with LSR and she wants to apply for another show this year.
How do you get gigs? Do people ask you?
‘The old red bus station put out a thing on Instagram saying we need more women who DJ. Send your mixes in. So I sent my mix in and they asked me if I wanted to play at an event with Sicaria Sound. From that, more events kept on happening.’
The Funk the Patriarchy live-stream was also an all-women line-up. I ask if she thinks the positive discrimination was helpful.
‘Yeah, I think so. I think it’s a really difficult one with positive discrimination. Because it’s a really fine line between positive discrimination and tokenism. And I think that you don’t want to fall into the category of putting [a woman] on the bill just because she’s a woman rather than because she’s actually good. And I’ve felt that sometimes. Sometimes when I’ve been asked to do something, I’ve been like, “Am I actually good, or is it just because I’m a woman?” But also without that kind of thing, it probably won’t change, [so] sometimes you’ve got to take that step…’
She mentions how some venues have policies that make a diverse line-up a requisite of putting on an event. ‘I think it’s definitely needed to create space for women and people of colour to be on DJ line-ups…And although some people might [think that it’s] tokenism, I think it’s a really necessary step and a really good thing which will have an overall great impact. Because there is enough women and people of colour that are sick at DJ-ing so I don’t understand why they’re not platformed. They should be more platformed. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t be.’
Follow Moova on instagram to see more upcoming events.
Written by Rebecca Harrison