Masks on: DR MYSTERY talks lost files, Martyn, and Manchester's club scene

Finest catches up with a fast-rising selector and producer who calls our fair city home to understand exactly where she's coming from.

By Martin Guttridge Hewitt | 21 December 2022

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We first meet Natasha at one of our top alcohol-free hangouts, Chapter One Books, in the heart of the Northern Quarter. As per usual, the spot is packed with the great, good, well-read, and just plain cool of central Manchester, location chosen by the woman herself.

Better known to most as DR MYSTERY, after ordering a Moroccan Mint Tea, we start with a simple question: “Why did you pick this place?” Explaining that, while this isn’t somewhere she’s necessarily always at, it’s somewhere she likes because of the broad clientele, beautiful interior and fine line between informal and professional, from here the conversation flows easily.

We talk about her upbringing as daughter of a single mother in Riga, Latvia, where music was a constant — disco pop played during games lessons, the hip hop group she tried to start with friends, an all-European crew called New York Clan. We discuss her desire, from an early age, to explore the world, and new ideas. We ask if that maybe informs her DJ sets and productions. We learn DR MYSTERY was a joke name with a childhood friend (who in turn called herself Dr Love), and the mask she dons for shows is more about freeing herself and creating a new identity than anonymity.

Sadly, though, technological meltdown leading to a corrupted file loses the recording. Tail between legs, we apologetically beg forgiveness. Reassuringly, this softly spoken rising talent of the Manchester electronic community is more than understanding, and the timing might even be better now. After all, her track, ‘Sata’, just dropped on one of dance music’s finest labels, Jeroen Erosie and Martyn’s 3024. And long-awaited vinyl pressings of her debut album, ‘Far From Home’, have just landed in stores via our hometown’s own Ono imprint, complete with stunning individually screen-printed sleeves made in Latvia.

“Really the whole Martyn thing started with Nic Sinna in Manchester. He was mastering the album tracks and was like: ‘You have your own style, I want to send these to Martyn’. Then he told me about the 3024 mentoring sessions, and said it would be useful for me to join that community,” DR MYSTERY says. “I remember the first Deeper Dive session I attended. It was with Skee Mask. I was just like ‘What the fuck?! I’m sat with 200 insanely talented producers learning how one of the best out there makes music’. Stenny was with him too.

“The sessions have been really useful, we look at a lot — from percussion to forming an identity and building worlds as an artist,” she continues. “The track being released, it’s on a compilation of tunes all from those mentoring groups. I spent real time on it, you know? I remember being up late the night before it needed to be sent over, then listening to it on the way to work, thinking about last minute changes. I got in and opened up my laptop. There was this big folder in the middle of the screen with a massive question mark on it. I realised the hard drive was gone. Everything was lost.”

One quick thinking boyfriend later and the rest is history, or, more accurately, the present. Removing HDD from PC to use as external hard drive, the track — now named ‘Sata’ after the tech that nearly ruined it all — was retrieved, finished, sent for inspection and eventually picked for 3024’s latest long-form release, ‘Everything Merged Vol.2’. Relieved we’re not the only ones to experience a digital disaster this year, as we continue to talk it becomes clear DR MYSTERY’s sound has its genesis in the broad noises that define Manchester’s nightlife.

“When I first came to the UK, around 2009, I was surrounded by a lot of people who weren’t that into this music. A lot of my friends wouldn’t come to raves with me, so I just started going on my own. The first parties were things like Hit & Run. On a Monday night, it was so sick,” she laughs. “These eclectic sets by Rich Reason, seeing all these amazing artists who are massive now starting out. That’s how I got to know a lot of people in the city. Meeting new faces, throwing shapes, getting down, going to another party and running into the same people.

“It’s amazing to have felt so accepted by that community, to the point the place feels like home now. And quickly did,” she continues. “I think that was a really good time in Manchester. That’s something I’m only just realising now. A lot of parties that are established today were kind of getting their momentum back then. It feels like that era was the beginning of a lot of things that are really valuable to the city today.”

Increasingly drawn by our hometown’s after dark offerings, and the noises that permeate its clubs and warehouses, a chance meeting at one of Manchester’s modern rave institutions set wheels in motion on the journey to where DR MYSTERY is today. Again, a mixture of right place, right time, and deft skills as a curator of after party soundtracks.

“It would be a case of: ‘I’m selecting the tunes, I know what you need, listen to this’,” she says, recalling several instances when post-club comrades would comment on her potential as a DJ based on ability to set the mood. “Then I met Michael Holland, who runs the Ono label my album is on. We were at The White Hotel, and he said he was doing mixtapes with the idea of soundtracking different seasons, and asked if I wanted to do one.

“‘Hell yeah,’ I said. So I did it, and from there started playing at Bloc2Bloc, just selecting tunes really, trying to mix, being a bit afraid, or shy, surrounded by these guys being the only girl. Before I could really mix I was offered a paid set at The White Hotel, opening the night,” DR MYSTERY continues. “That was around Christmas, and there was a month or two until the event, but over the holidays everyone was busy. So when I finally got chance to practice it was really close to the party. I remember it was such a sick night, headliners telling me tracks were great, people really got into the tunes. I loved that instant connection with the audience. Really, everything started there.” 

That was then, so let’s skip back to late-2022, and the future looks even brighter than all that’s come before. A new residency on Liverpool’s exalted Melodic Distraction radio is in the offing. The LP has helped firmly established a musical identity (a fact made more impressive by the fact its contents represent some of Dr Mystery’s earliest productions), and a slew of forthcoming releases are visible on the horizon. A case in point to prove that tomorrow’s sounds are often forged on today’s dancefloors.

DR MYSTERY’s album, ‘Far From Home’, is out now on Ono and available at Bandcamp, Eastern Bloc, and Piccadilly Records.

‘Sata’ features on the latest 3024 compilation, ‘Everything Merged Vol.2.

DR MYSTERY plays Heathens at The White Hotel on Thursday 19th January with Om Unit (Acid Dub Studies live), FUMU, and acidhousedeathsquad — advance tickets are available now.