No one grooves quite like Magda. Over the last two decades she’s become synonymous with a distinctive style of loopy minimal, the kind that keeps European dancefloors moving for hours on end. It’s an approach she showcased on landmark mixes likes She’s A Dancing Machine, the definitive M_nus album that remains one of the label’s standout moments. This mix dropped just as Magda was launching Items & Things in Berlin, where she’s now focussing on the experimental ventures Perm and Blotter Trax.
While Magda will probably always be affiliated with the German capital, it was in her early life in Detroit that her path first started. The city’s swell of techno and house talent inspired her to pick up DJing, famously leading to a gig touring with Richie Hawtin and the M_nus crew. This opportunity saw her honing her sound to huge crowds every night, a period she still describes as one of the biggest challenges she’s faced.
She’s also been one of our core artists throughout her career. She’s been playing for us regularly since 2003, with an upcoming appearance alongside Detroit partner in crime, Mike Servito. Ahead of the date we caught up with Magda to hear about 90s Detroit parties, early Farringdon memories, and why she clicks with Servito so well.
What type of music were you into when you first moved to Detroit?
Growing up in communist Poland, I didn't have much access to music. It was only after moving to Detroit at the age of 11 that I started to discover various sounds. The first stuff I got into was hip-hop and R&B. I do remember getting into Technotronic, which was kind of the closest thing to electronic music that I’d heard. After that phase I really got into indie, and the infamous gig venue The Shelter became my second home. It’s funny, Mike [Servito] and I were actually at a lot of the same shows before we met each other. There was quite a big crossover between the indie and techno scenes, so I would see a lot of the same people at a My Bloody Valentine gig or Transmat party, for example. That’s something I really liked about back then.
Do you remember the first standout rave you went to?
Oh yeah. It was literally a block from my house. I lived in quite a rough neighbourhood, which also had lots of secret little illegal venues – one of them was an abandoned loft space down the street. I was given a flyer at The Shelter one night, and decided to check it out. I never expected what I walked into – it was like discovering a secret world. An illegal party full of freaks, ravers, skaters, drag queens, and indie kids among others. It was a community where everyone could be themselves and I felt right at home. DBX and Twonz were playing stripped-down techno which I’d never heard before, and I felt like I was in outer space. I still get goose bumps thinking back to it.
Was it mainly the Detroit techno and electro sound that was most prevalent at the time?
Not at all. There was also an amazing gay house scene. I used to go to loft parties full of incredible drag where everyone was getting down to Kenny Dixon Jr. and Theo Parrish, who dropped slow and rare funk and disco. It was my favourite party.
Did techno feel like an underground subculture or was it more ingrained in society?
It was most definitely an underground sub culture. Parties only happened every two to three weeks and you would see many of the same people. For the bigger raves, people would drive down from all over the Midwest.
You’ve previously described how longer sets weren’t really commonly adopted at the time. Did that mean everyone was playing with a more hard-and-fast approach?
Yes, it was like that. The tempo was faster, and mixing between records was fast. That had a lot to do with The Wizard, and the way he mixed. There was a big crossover of electronic music with the radio show Deep Space Nine, and The Scene which later became The New Dance Show on Detroit’s public TV. That’s where I first heard Sharevari, which is still my favourite song.
How do you think your early exposure to techno influenced the way you were playing when you started out?
My influences were mixed because I used to go to so many different types of parties. From the very beginning I played a mixture of house, techno and electro. I loved trying to mix the different grooves together.
Did you feel ready when Richie Hawtin first invited you on tour?
I thought I was until we actually went on tour, and I almost had a heart attack every night trying to make it work in front of thousands of people. It was a great learning experience way out of my comfort zone, and I'm grateful for that – but it was tough.
What do you think opening in front of such a big audience taught you about DJing?
I learned to pay attention to the crowd, to learn what works and what doesn’t. Playing in my little Detroit bubble was easy but being thrown into all kinds of situations around the globe was incredibly intimidating, especially since the music I played wasn’t popular then at all. There were so many moments when I thought “OK, I quit”, but I learned to adjust and push further, and began to understand how to make things work.
Your seminal She’s A Dancing Machine and fabric 49 mixes showcased a style of blending several tracks at once. Why did you start to adopt this technique?
I love to edit – I was heavily into editing tracks at that time. I wanted to see the different kind of grooves I could compose by combing three or four tracks and how I could create some dynamic and surprising moments which reflected my sound. It was a very exciting and fun process for me.
Nowadays the stuff you’re doing with Perm and Blotter Trax has a distinctly experimental style. Do you feel like you’ve made a departure from when you started out?
I don’t think so. They still represent the sounds I’ve always been into and show my influences through the years, especially from Detroit. I always follow what moves me, it’s just a natural progression. Those projects are deeper and weirder than what I would play in a club set, but are still very much me. Times are different and the world is different, and the music we make reflects that.
Do you still dig for old records? As you’ve been doing this for so long, it seems as if you already know or own most of the older stuff that interests you.
I love digging for music. It’s just an endless world of wonderful things to discover, especially with platforms like Bandcamp and all the small unique record shops in Berlin or elsewhere. It’s so satisfying to come across something that gives me butterflies in my stomach. The other day in Tokyo, I found some amazing post-punk records that I’d never heard of. I love that. I’m always learning and that’s never going to end.
You’ve been visiting us regularly since 2003. Do you feel like there are any specific spaces that have shaped your sound over the years?
Well since you ask, there are many spaces which have shaped my sound but for sure one of my most career-breaking moments happened at fabric. I remember a hell of a 12-hour journey of several flights and buses to get me to the club at 10am for a birthday after party one year. I was so excited when I arrived and had so much adrenaline that I played my heart out that morning. From that point on, everything fell into place for me, so a huge thank you!
You’re playing together with another descendant of Detroit school of techno, Mike Servito, but it’s rare that you ever play back-to-back with anyone else. What works so well about playing with him?
We just get each other and always have. It always seems to flow between us and it’s really fun. Like you say, we come from the same school, we have similar influences, and it really shows.
Do you remember how you first came into contact with one another?
It was funny. We kept hearing about each other through various friends for a few years and every time I heard him DJ he was playing most of the same records I was. We finally met and it was all over. We’ve been best friends ever since and to this day, we seem to always be in sync musically without speaking about it.
Can you name one record you’ll be bringing with you next weekend?