The faint sound of a recognizable chorus begins to round the corner of Prince and Mulberry streets before the full roar of the car speakers reveal familiar lyrics—Karol G and Anuel AA’s “Secreto.” Moments later, another car passes blaring Bad Bunny.
Widely considered the music du jour, urbano is undeniably ubiquitous in 2019. While the streets of New York City have always embraced it, ten years ago, music venues of downtown had an entirely different vibe. On the heels of DJ trio Misshapes and their cult following closing a chapter on dominating the music scene below 14th street, former Lower East Side resident Lady Gaga was beginning her reign on mainstream radio while Lana Del Rey was still performing under her government name Lizzy Grant at now-shuttered venues like The Sidewalk Cafe.
Back then, club promoters policed DJs like Matthew Mazur (who performs under the Mazurbate moniker) for playing anything outside the confines of “downtown cool.”
“I would be playing hip-hop, rap, R&B, reggaeton – music that I grew up listening to and I had promoters telling me ‘You can’t play this much urban music’ or ‘No Latin music,'” Mazur said, sitting outside the famed McNally Jackson bookstore. “I would get set times cut short. It was crazy.”
A first generation son of a Polish father and Peruvian mother, Mazur grew up in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Straddled between two cultures, he once struggled to express – and, at times, accept – his Latinx roots in a predominantly Polish neighborhood. Even after moving to Peru from the ages of six to nine, he remembers feeling a shift as he entered his teenage years and felt a stronger urge to “fit in.”
“Right before high school, I was like ‘I don’t want to be Latin,'” he recalled. “I would make my [Peruvian] grandmother wait on the corner because I was so embarrassed. I don’t know if she was aware of it. She probably thought I was just being a kid, but it was a real thing.”
It wasn’t until leaving his Catholic school in Greenpoint and attending LaGuardia High on 66th – forever canonized in pop culture as the FAME school – that he finally became comfortable expressing and representing the culture he’d tried so desperately to compartmentalize.
“I think about my future kids and how I want to build them up and I can’t even imagine what it feels like being a parent and seeing your son or daughter trying to repress something that you feel is normal.”This acceptance eventually gave him the confidence to share the sounds of his childhood in his DJ sets, a career born purely by accident thanks to a bit of luck and good timing.
“It was a very rock n’ roll scene so I didn’t always fit in, but people liked my music.”
After taking over the song selection at a friend’s birthday party using her iPod, she later asked Mazur if he was interested in DJing at notorious 21+ celebrity hangout Avenue.
“‘Uh sure, how much is it?'” he recalled, laughing. “I started doing it there and then I had a residency which was crazy because I was like 18 or 19.”
A broke fine arts-turned-fashion student at Parsons, Mazur had no idea an opportunity for supplemental income would serve as the catalyst for what came next.
“They didn’t know [I was underage] and I just became this fixture there,” Mazur said, grinning. “It was all word of mouth and I started DJing at all these places downtown in post-Misshapes era. It was a very rock n’ roll scene so I didn’t always fit in, but people liked my music.”
Those people who liked his selections included noted fashion designer Jeremy Scott.
A longtime fan of Scott’s since high school, Mazur felt determined to one day cross paths with the lauded avant-garde designer.
“My friend was a stylist and he brought me as his fake assistant to the showroom one day and I gagged seeing the clothes,” he laughed. “Then I became friends with [Scott’s] head of PR who had been his number one since day one. He would come to parties of mine and I asked if I could DJ one of his parties. He said ‘yes’ and that’s where it started.”
Founder of his eponymous label since 1997 and Creative Director at Moschino since 2013, Scott began booking the rising DJ for NYFW after-parties and eventually plucked Mazur to join his team immediately following graduation from Parsons.
Part in-house DJ, part designer, part publicist, Mazur’s trifecta of responsibilities working alongside Scott cracked the door wide open for his next pursuit—personal styling and creative direction. “There was a balance I couldn’t find,” he said. “I was doing the behind-the-scenes stuff, but my personality was not a behind-the-scenes personality. There was always a conflict there.”
Then, a chance meeting with Korean mega pop star CL marked the beginning of a new chapter. “She asked me to part of her team and that’s how it started,” he said. “She believed in me.”
But on the eve of embarking on a new journey with CL, everything came to a screeching halt.
While on a work trip in Brazil with Scott, Mazur began feeling a scratchy throat. Suspecting strep, he scheduled an appointment. During an otherwise normal check-up, his doctor detected a nodule in his throat. Nothing to cause concern, he assured him, though tests would later reveal a more serious diagnosis – thyroid cancer.
“There was a point when I thought I was going to quit DJing altogether.”
Having never shown any textbook symptoms, this came as a total surprise for the young DJ and stylist during the prime of his life.
“I froze,” he said. “I didn’t know what to do, but I called my surgeon right away and I scheduled my surgery like 20 minutes after my doctor told me because I needed everything to be done with.”
Within a month after being diagnosed, Mazur underwent surgery to remove his thyroid and began radiation treatment. At one point, he was holed up in the hospital for a week as a biohazard and was denied any physical contact with others due to his radiation levels. In time, however, Mazur recovered and has been in remission for three years.
Mazur’s health scare forced him to reexamine his lifestyle. Following strict doctor’s orders to avoid alcohol and other recreational substances, he debated whether or not he still had a future in the scene.
“There was a point when I thought I was going to quit DJing altogether,” he said. “I remember the first time I DJ’d after my treatment was one of Jeremy’s parties and I remember there being so many drunk people near me. I didn’t know how I was going to react to them or handle them.”
Now three years sober, he’s embraced prioritizing his health above temptation.
“You get this sense of confidence that you never had before,” he said, regarding sobriety. “Whatever decision I’m making is fully me.”
Without knowing Mazur personally, one might assume the opposite from his Instagram stories alone. Often hilarious and playful in nature, Mazur’s social media presence could easily convince any one of his 55K followers that he’s in party mode 24/7.
“I know what I give off,” he said, acknowledging the energy that jumps off the screen when scrolling through his feed. “I was always climbing stuff as a kid. I was always the most talkative. I’m never someone that says ‘I’m bored.’ I don’t understand those people. How can you be bored?” When you split a packed schedule between styling the rising pop queens of tomorrow and bringing infectious energy to DJ sets (sometimes 5 times per week), there’s hardly any time left for boredom.
Charismatic, energetic and naturally funny, Mazur’s personality is easily worthy of belonging on a reality television show—one where the protagonist’s feet are still firmly on the ground.
And it’s not lost on Mazur that a large social media following comes with a certain level of responsibility.
“[Social media] is good and bad,” he said. “It depends how you maneuver it. People are more aware of me and it’s great to go down the street and have someone scream your name. Who doesn’t love that? But I’ve also become more socially conscious. I’ve realized it’s my responsibility to speak on certain things to voice my story because it could help someone else.”
“He threw me in a room, closed the door and had his foot on my neck.”
Once passive about being overtly political on social platforms, Mazur experienced a personal turning point after becoming the victim of a hate crime in 2015.
During a scheduled DJ set at an Art Basel party, event security unexpectedly approached him and demanded that he get off stage despite having 30 minutes left to play. As he pulled out his USB, security grabbed him in a headlock and forcibly removed him. Fellow guards attacked his friends and then-boyfriend as they rushed to Mazur’s defense before being dragged away.
“He threw me in a room, closed the door and had his foot on my neck,” he said. “I couldn’t breathe for the first time in my life. I’ve never been able to not breathe and I really thought I was going to die. I had done nothing, absolutely nothing.”
After pleading for his life and convincing him to stop, the security guard grabbed him by the neck and threw him out into the pouring rain. Bloodied and bruised, Mazur found his friends outside and overheard the guards saying “Look at these faggots.”
“That was the first part of me being aware of what social media could do as a person who was violently attacked,” he said. “I posted about it and Paper covered it, Page Six covered it. It blew up from there.”
Following the attack, Mazur retreated into a dark hole. For five months, he stopped going out, dyed his hair black, and shielded himself in hoodies regardless of weather, refusing to draw attention to himself.Four years later, he still feels triggered by the sight of security guards, but ultimately retains hope that the climate is shifting for the LGBTQ+ and POC communities.
“Is it completely there? No, but it’s nice where it’s headed,” he said.
These days, when he’s not jetting off for Coachella gigs or sharing lineups with seasoned heavyweights, Mazur can be found playing a mashup of genres as a resident at nightlife icon Susanne Bartch’s KUNST series, as a guest DJ at the famed Papi Juice party, or as a new fixture alongside the likes of Riobamba at the 9AM Banger produced by Latinx collective WeAreHouse78.
Later this year, Mazur will join his fashion client and pop sensation Kim Petras on her first major headlining tour as the opening DJ.
At 28, Mazur has already experienced – and survived – multiple lives. One might say the only way from here is up.
Ahead of his next KUNST appearance on Saturday, May 25, Mazur provided an exclusive mix for Elsewhere’s ongoing series. Listen below: