Introducing Mandala Ataksak - Diversity in Dubstep #7

Introducing Mandala Ataksak

Diversity in Dubstep #7

As we near the end of 2021’s Women’s History Month, what better way to mark the occasion with the latest instalment to our Diversity in Dubstep series? We’ve a few new faces to add to the archive over the next few weeks but let’s start with the seventh feature and go from there.

Our latest DJ to feature on DiD has been a long-time FKOF fam. She’s a jack-of-all-trades, with a skillset that encompasses DJing, helping to manage a radio station, making/ drinking as much coffee as she can get her hands on, vocally supporting all things 140bpm and on the deeper side of the dubstep spectrum. Amongst many other things.

So, without further ado, here’s the recent chat I had with Hamilton, Canada’s Mandala Ataksak

Hello hi, how you doing? Whereabouts in the world are you – still in Hamilton? Yo Wil! I’m doing pretty well here at the beginning of spring. Inspiration and creativity have really been on the upswing which feels awesome. I’m also right stoked to be chatting with FKOF today and feeling grateful for the opportunity to do so.

I am still in Hamilton, however I’ll be relocating to the East Coast of Canada in a few months. Spent my past couple summers living in woods out there, fell in love with the lifestyle, the land and the lack of noise complaints.

Great to have you here with us! So I don’t do you a disservice(!), can you give us a quick introduction? How would you best describe yourself (given the long list of amazing things you do) – DJ, vocalist, stream manager, coffee addict, dancer, enthusiastic supporter…?! For sure I can.

My name is Mandala Ataksak and I’ve been madly in love with dubstep for just over 11 years now. I have a particular fondness for spinning the deeper and darker sounds of the 140 spectrum.

At home I play on Technics 1200MK2s, an Allen&Heath xone:32 mixer and Serato with control vinyl. I fucking love mixing on turntables! They have been my weapon of choice since I started out.

I would describe myself as a witch, wild woman, 140 bad bitch, coffee connoisseur, dancefloor dweller, Dubplate FM stream manager and cryptic story teller.

I’m definitely an avid promoter of what I love and look forward to doing some shout outs today.

What got you into music in the first place? What was your route into electronic music? I connected with music at a very young age. Both of my parents listened to a lot of records and radio so it was a constant companion for me growing up. I was frequently singing and dancing my ass off. When I became old enough to buy music I got into punk, grunge, metal and jazz. They would be my main influences until my late teens when I found Björk and trip hop. 

I say Björk specifically because her music had a huge impact on me and was definitely my gateway into loving electronic tunes. I’ve always been a fan of dope headphones and vintage 3-way speakers, Björk’s albums brought beauty and low end to my home setup that I hadn’t experienced yet. I was particularly taken with the album Vespertine on headphones. Medulla is my favorite Björk album overall.

From electronic music, what was the journey into the deeper side of 140bpm? Can you remember the first dubstep track you ever heard? I love this question because deep dubstep basically landed in my lap!

Although I had discovered electronic sounds that I enjoyed, I hadn’t yet discovered anything I loved throwing down to. I was actually in a “dance drought” right before I heard 140 for the first time. Missing the dance, but not compelled by any music I knew.

That all changed on my 26th birthday when my sister dragged my ass out to a dubstep show in Toronto! She knew I had been missing proper throw downs and wouldn’t take no for an answer. I’m so fucking glad she persisted.

Y’all, I was losing my shit in the lineup outside of the venue (which was a proper gritty basement venue I might add) because I could hear the sub bass shaking the place! I danced my ass off all night and was practically drooling at the experience of being in front of a system with gratuitous amounts of bass for the first time. After the show I went home and typed “dubstep” into google, and so it began. 

The first 140 track I ever heard! That’s tough because I was murking it hard on the dancefloor that night and didn’t ask for IDs. But I do remember in my search afterwards, the first track I got stoked about and started playing on repeat was Biome’s State Of Emergency. I’ve been attracted to the deeper and darker sounds of 140 since the beginning.

I saw a pretty interesting chat you’d inspired (on IG, maybe?) about the production vs. DJ debate. Talk us through your thoughts – and why it’s (not) important that you can do either one or both? OK. DJs are amazing. Producers are amazing. If it wasn’t for producers I straight up wouldn’t have the medium I work with as a DJ. But the pressure DJs feel to produce in order to be taken seriously in the bass scene is absolute bullshit.

Mixing tunes and producing tunes are different arts. Deeply intertwined with one another, but their own entities. Both are a part of soundsystem culture. Both can deliver high quality dancefloor and listening experiences. Both should be celebrated and booked in our communities. 

An amazing DJ is not only a tune selector, but a holder of space, a storyteller and provider of peak experiences. We generate moods and shift energies. We birth new sonic experiences by blending tunes together. Doing so with skill and consistency should be enough and yet those of us rocking it the mix are experiencing pressure to do more. 

On the flipside, producers who don’t feel compelled to DJ likely also feel pressure. And straight up, who the fuck wants to feel that?! That kind of pressure around artistic offerings just murders creativity and generates stress. That being said I really feel like there should be more producer showcases where producers aren’t expected to play their music DJ style if they don’t want to...

I see people in threads making comparisons around money invested and suggesting that there is more of it put into producing versus mixing. Therefore, producers deserve to be booked more. This is straight up entitled and elitist.

Just because someone is privileged enough to have spent thousands of dollars on gear and software to produce, doesn’t mean they are more bookable than someone killing it in the mix on secondhand gear. Besides, it’s entirely possible to invest as much money into mixing gear and tune hunting as it is producing.

I could start listing the many ways in which we invest our time/money and build skills as DJs, but the point we should really be looking at is; artistic/musical offerings should not be hierarchical or dominated by one particular demographic! Bookings should be based on skill/quality offerings and can definitely be spread out between both DJs and producers.

Big ups if you’re in the mix, big ups if you’re producing and big ups if you do both. It’s all fucking dope and valuable in my opinion.

What’s your process for putting a set together – live or pre-recorded? How do you go about finding tunes to play/ include? I go about live sets and recorded sets a bit differently. 

With live sets, my time slot has a lot to do with the music I’m selecting. Generally, the later I play, the darker and heavier shit gets. I love getting ruthless with a 4 AM festival dancefloor!

I like to decide on my first handful of mixes ahead of time as it simplifies settling in. I always have a crate full of tunes that I am jamming on ahead of time and stoked to hear on a system. However it’s rare that I plan out an entire live set. I like to be able to read and respond to the vibe around me versus feeling like I’m locked into something. (That being said there’s nothing wrong with planning live sets start to finish. They can for sure still be a blast to play!)

When I started out with recorded sets, I would have an idea of what I wanted to play but didn’t map things out from start to finish. Like my live sets, I would have the first handful of tunes lined up, and then jam from there. These days I really dig designing mixes more thoroughly before recording. I’ve got a structure/system going on for set crafting that I’m having a blast working with.&nbsp

As far as finding music to include goes, I just play what I’m into. I like a mix of older and newer 140 in my sets and often play releases from 2012 through 2014. Those were amazing years for dark dubstep in my opinion.

I’ve always got a list of tunes going that I want to play out or record. I started collecting music a few years before I got into mixing so I’m grateful to have a lot to choose from. I mainly buy tunes/releases from bandcamp.

On a slightly different topic, but you’re part of an awesome group of womxn in 140(/ adjacent genres). How did you all meet, and what inspired the group to come together? I am actually not affiliated with any groups, however I am frequently shouting out Dynamics.

Dynamics has put together a database of female / non-binary artists across the world in dubstep and drum n bass. They are working to create a platform that nurtures representation for non-men in the industry. I’m stoked as the list of artists continues to grow, further proving there is no shortage of female and non-binary talent in bass music! The ease of access to these artists that Dynamics has provided could be huge for working towards more diverse lineups and label representation. Check out their website and the list of artists. Support and share.

How is Hamilton/ Canada/ the places you’ve DJd or been to (etc.!) in terms of diversity (whether that’s gender, race, orientation etc)? Most of the spaces and places that I have encountered as a DJ are lacking in diversity. The amount of bookings and representation for those who are marginalized often feels like tokenism.

Analytics show that a majority of support for marginalized artists is coming from others who are marginalized. There’s definitely a lot of work that needs to be done. Soundsystem culture is inherently political and should be inclusive of ALL backgrounds and identities period.

What more can we do – either collectively or individually – for diversity in 140 (and further afield in music/ creative)? Because this could potentially turn into a novel, I’m going to answer in point form. Points address individual and collective action.

  • Support/follow and publicly share offerings from female/ NB/ BIPOC/ LGTBQ+/ disabled artists. A lot of support for these artists happens privately. In the age of social media, public support is key
  • Follow databases that nurture and support the aforementioned artists
  • Share those databases/lists
  • Ask and encourage your local promoters to book more of the aforementioned artists
  • Move beyond token bookings and work to balance/diversify lineups. Things have improved slightly since the pandemic and surge of livestreams appeared. Let’s keep that momentum going once we get back to live shows
  • Self education and community education on consent, safe spaces, and harm reduction
  • Self and community education about the roots of soundsystem culture. It is community-based, working class, and political. Lack of diversity is a disgrace to soundsystem culture and its history
  • Make spaces and shows accessible to people with disabilities
  • Listen to the voices of those speaking up and boost them on your own platforms
  • Do some math. Work out the percentages of men vs non-men and white people vs POC on lineups/labels. Get vocal about those numbers
  • Promoters/labels, work to bring those numbers up
  • I hate that I have to say this, but pay female/ NB/ BIPOC/ LGTBQ+/ disabled artists as much as you would anyone else for work of equal value.

You’re a massive coffee fan as far as I can see – talk us through what makes a perfect cup of coffee for you? Oh yes, I adore coffee. It’s basically a food group along with dubstep. 

A cortado is hands-down my favourite caffeinated beverage and soon I’ll have my espresso machine hooked up so I can make them at home. Currently I love brewing medium roasts with notes of peanut butter, chocolate and jammy sweetness. An Aeropress is my long time ride or die brew device. 

I enjoy coffee nerdery such as weighing my beans, controlling the temperature of my water and length of brew time in order to achieve my ideal cup.

Talk us through your relationship with Dubplate.fm! How long have you been with the team and what does being a Stream Manager entail? My initial discovery of Dubplate FM was about 10 years ago when their site popped up in one of my searches for dubstep tunes. For those of you who don’t know, dubplate.fm is an online radio station. We have four channels representing a variety of different bass genres, as well as a free content hosting and streaming service for DJs/producers. It’s based in Toronto and Vancouver, Canada.

I got hooked on the dub & bass channel which hosted a few shows by Ontario heads.

Both Dubplate FM and those monthly broadcasts were my initial link up with the Toronto bass communities and 40hz Soundsystem.

I’ve been helping out for almost 2 years now in various different capacities. I started out monitoring stream chat rooms and selecting the monthly feature which highlights different artists and shows on the site. Chat room lurking is good fun and definitely one of my favourite parts of the job to this day. 

Since then, I’ve created the Dubplate Instagram account, I contribute to the management of both that and our Facebook page. I also do some administrative shit like schedule updates, making sure artist applications are tended to and answering communications/ questions.

Shout outs and big love to Joel, Derek and Nick who are the creators and backbone of Dubplate FM.

Who are your heroes? I honestly can’t say that I am much of a ‘heroes’ person. But I do go through phases of appreciating the fuck out of different people for different reasons. Lately, I’ve been fascinated with Guilia Tofana’s work with botanicals and chemicals in the 1600s. She was a brilliant and incredibly well organized woman who I have mad respect for.

Any genre, but who would you say your favourite musician is? Yo fun question! I’m going to answer within the genre of 140 for obvious reasons.

I fucking love Biome. HAIL BIOME! He is hands-down my favourite producer and has been since the beginning of my 140 journey.

Other notable favorites include Kwizma, LSN, Causa, Kaiju, Asylum and dBridge.

Outside of music, what makes you happy? My practice as a witch, dancing, soundsystems, coffee, cannabis, hits from a clean bong, plants and animals. My relationship to the forests of East where I’ll be moving and being the mother of an amazing adolescent human.

I’m a critic by nature and I enjoy supporting/ recommending what I love just as much as pointing out what I don’t.

I fucking love learning and these days I am particularly fascinated with psychology.

Deep connections, passionate conversations and curse words. Swearing is basically one of my love languages.

If you could give yourself some tips or advice about getting into music/ ‘the industry’ looking back since you started, what would you tell yourself? I can honestly say that I am generally pleased with the way I have navigated the industry/ my 140 journey so far. 

But if I could go back, I think I would give myself advice about digital music organization as well as the management of performance anxiety – both preventatively and while experiencing it.

Where can people find you online – and any final words or shout outs? I go by Mandala Ataksak on all of the platforms I use. You can find my mixes on SoundCloud, Dubplate FM and the Dynamics website.

Social media wise I spend the most time on Instagram. It’s the best spot to reach me if you want to connect. I’m also on Facebook and Linktree.

My email for booking/sending tunes/inquiries is [email protected]

  • Shout outs to Rhombi and Enada who are some of my favourites in the mix right now 
  • Shout outs to Naasko and Jonah K who were my two biggest DJ inspirations starting out. Also to Jonah K for hosting my cryptic spoken word on one of their 140 tracksStepping Southwards was released on KWAIOTO Records in 2018
  • Shout outs to the 40hz Soundsystem. It’s such a sexy bass beast and is definitely the best system I’ve experienced so far
  • Shout outs to those of you who have been listening and supporting. It means the world to me!
  • Shout outs to the producers who have sent tunes
  • Shout outs to the POC, communities, artists and activists who birthed soundsystem culture and its associated genres. 

Big love to all of the hearts missing the fuck out of shows and soundsystems. Here’s hoping for the permanent return of dancefloor ecosystems as soon as possible!

And of course shout outs and deep gratitude to FKOF for hosting this interview and mix! I have discovered so much dope music via your label, interviews and the sessions series. As a long time follower and consumer of the label’s content, it’s been a pleasure to contribute! Big love.

instagram.com/mandala_ataksak
soundcloud.com/mandalaataksak

Share your thoughts on our chat with Mandala via the footer below or get in touch with FKOF via email or Twitter.