It's been nearly a year and a half since the My Analog Journal crew visited us at the MasterSounds hub in Stockport to film a couple of their world-class video mixes from behind our booth. Zag Erlat, creator of My Analog Journal, laid down a deep selection of Japanese Jazz, whilst Ryan also stepped up to present a selection from his 90's HipHop collection.
Our connection was natural, both sharing a love of quality audio and obscure vinyl. This meant that our relationship has continued to grow since those first sessions.
The collaboration continues as MasterSounds presents our residency at the new My Analog Journal studio in Hackney, London, for their next month of their DJ sessions. Our Clarity M Audio System, Radius Four Valve MK2 DJ mixer, FX Unit and MasterSounds SL turntables will power the varied mixes upcoming on the channel for the next month, ending late October.
We are so excited to see our system set into the amazing booth at the My Analogue Journal studio, providing a taste of the MasterSounds experience to listeners around the globe.
Whilst Ryan was down setting up the residency, he spoke to Zag about the history and growth of My Analog Journal, from early days of uploading, through international success during the pandemic.
Ryan: “I can see your love of creative exploration really shines In the MAJ Concept, at what age did you start to explore creative ideas, and were there any early signs that pointed towards your work with MAJ?”
Zag: “I was around seven or eight years old, and I really wanted to have a drumset. But, we used to live in a flat, and having a drumset wouldn't have been possible with our neighbors. Also, it was so expensive - considering there was no eBay to source a second-hand one. My solution was to go with the well-known kitchen pot set and drumsticks! Then I started to play the violin and then the guitar. Formed our primary school rock band and then high school band then finally a uni band.
On the side, there was always filmmaking with my Handycam, shooting my own short films featuring my mum and dad, and later on my school friends! So it's fair to say I grew up with film and music which undoubtedly shaped who I am and therefore played a massive role in the creation of MAJ.”
R: “I’ve been a fan of the channel for many years after getting hooked by your viral Japanese Funk & Soul and CBS Jazz streams over 5 years ago now, really diggin’ the music and presentation. It was something so fresh at the time, with great production value right from the get-go. How did the channel come to be in those early days?”
Z: “The whole idea started with me filming a set with my Turkish 7" records. There was no vinyl only set with that genre. So I decided to do it on my own. Then I had this thought; what if I make more videos, but instead of limiting myself to only Turkish records, maybe I can do 70s music from all around the world with languages that I wasn't familiar with, like Portuguese, or Japanese, or Russian. I think the idea of collecting records from other countries came from people commenting on my Turkish vinyl set videos saying "I don't understand a single word, but I'm just loving it." That was actually interesting because it was true - I could relate to it when listening to Brazillian music or Japanese City Pop music. You are familiar with the genre; Funk, Rock, Pop, etc, but the language is completely different than the music you heard before. That made me search: 'Japanese Funk' or 'Brazilian Psychedelic Rock' on YouTube. The content that I found was limited, but I was getting somewhere. So it was a puzzle for me. One artist led me to another, then another. It was also really fun when I posted my first Japanese City Pop episode, and people were writing "Wow, I'm Japanese and I never heard of these artists before".
R: “Whilst it’s clear that a love of music pulls the channel forward, there is no denying that you also have a very considered approach to the visual and aesthetic aspects of the channel. The film-style photography, coffee, and houseplants, blend beautifully with the analog HiFi and focus on older ‘Rare Groove’ music to create the relaxed mood of the channel. Can you tell us a bit more about this side of things, and how you decided on this particular feel?”
Z: “I started filming our first episodes in our east London flat. Me and my partner enjoy having a bunch of plants in our living space. She has a great eye and great taste when it comes to interior design. I have to give some credit to her.
In terms of filmmaking aesthetics, I think the master's programme that I took at London Film School helped me to understand how to frame things, how to naturally light a scene, and embrace the minimal approach of filmmaking. And when you combine the Hi-Fi gear with a cozy home feeling, we were on to something and created this reachable dream. People had this feeling of “Oh, I can do this at my home as well, it's nothing crazy, it's just a bunch of plants and a turntable”.”
"Honestly, I can't even comprehend the number of people that have subscribed to our channel. It's just surreal. But I'm grateful. As long as people watch our videos, we will continue to upload them!"
R: “What was your path from starting out to becoming one of the largest video-mix series on YouTube like? How did it feel when the channel started to gain more followers and your streams began to regularly reach many millions of views? Did the pandemic have a big impact on this?”
Z: “I shot the first episode with a single camera focusing on the turntables, as opposed to the Boiler Room setup where you only see the DJ. After I posted the video, I really forgot about it, as I had about ten subscribers. A few months later, I started to get emails from YouTube, saying someone commented on my video, liked my video, or subscribed to my channel. I was really shocked.
I kept getting those emails, so I had to turn off the notifications at some point. People really seemed to enjoy the content. That motivated me to add some similar content, with a better camera angle, with a prettier and cleaner setup. But after two more vinyl set videos, I was stuck as I had played all my records. I had a very limited amount of records in my collection at that point.
I started to create a space in my channel for guest DJs around the world. I first had the idea of having guest DJs on my channel because, as I was posting weekly, I was running out of records very quickly. A key thing if you want to be successful on YouTube is to post regularly and post often. So if I have a guest one week, I can make a mix myself the other week. That system has worked well so far. In fact, it allowed me to meet wonderful selectors, collectors, musicians, and DJs along the way. The audience also seemed to appreciate the diversity of the music from different DJs.
When I first started to have a guest, I invited them to my home studio to record their set. But with the pandemic, that had to stop. So I continued having guests online. The fact that people have been spending almost all of their time at home during the pandemic, it generated more and more views on YouTube. To keep the momentum high, I had to put more effort into uploading content more regularly.
Honestly, I can't even comprehend the number of people that have subscribed to our channel. It's just surreal. But I'm grateful. As long as people watch our videos, we will continue to upload them!”
R: “I remember fondly when we connected and I invited you to our creative hub in Stockport, you were in the process of moving from home into your wonderful studio here in Hackney. How has the move enabled the channel to grow?”
Z: “Moving into a studio was a massive upgrade. Not just for the channel, but also mentally. It allowed us to separate our daily life and our work. It allowed me to be more creative and have a fresh mind every time we came to the studio. It was financially a risky move, for sure. But I'm so glad we took that risk. It also made our brand more valuable and professional. Inviting many guests became much easier, as well as having occasional brand partnerships.”
R: “I see you have been working with festivals such as ION in Romania, curating the musical lineup and adding a touch of MAJ to the festival, is bringing the experience to live events - going beyond the digital world - something that you are keen to expand upon?”
Z: “Absolutely! It was such an amazing experience to curate a stage at a festival! We loved every second of it, and it just made sense to bring our brand into physical events. We had so much positive feedback from the people who attended the festival, as well as the organisers! We will absolutely continue to do this in the near future!”
R: “Thanks so much for inviting us to host a monthly residency at your London studio, whenever I visit I always feel at home, so thanks for having us. Can you let us know what musical explorations are going to be flowing through the MasterSounds system over the coming weeks?”
Z: “We are so happy, thrilled, and grateful to be able to collaborate with MasterSounds! Our studio looks and feels amazing with the MS gear! In this one-month period during our collaboration, we will have some amazing guests like Tim Garcia, Norsicaa, Apricot Ballroom, Kay Suzuki, and many other super-talented DJs. I will also record a mix with this beautiful equipment, I mean it would be silly not to!”
R: “I’m sure that throughout all the hours spent digging for new music for the channel, you’ve gained a broad and varied collection of gems from the world over. Could you share with us a couple of your all-time favourite digs?”
Z: “Here are a few titles”:
Keep an eye on our socials, as we will be posting updates from the MAJ studio, and be sure to follow MAJ on Instagram and YouTube to catch the sets as they are released. If you enjoy the content produced by Zag and his team, be sure to support them on Patreon too, to help fund the future of the channel.