Maya after being asked for the fifth time to play 'I kissed a girl' Maya Panasar with permission for Varsity

In the words of Internet personality Madeline Argy: “What the f*ck do DJs actually do?”. It is a good question – one I must admit asking myself when I reached out to Cambridge’s hottest student DJ Maya Panasar (@neverusemybrain) for this piece on student musicians. Despite having enjoyed several of Maya’s own gigs, my laziness and lack of curiosity meant I’d never really considered what was actually going on on those decks. Stats show that two-thirds of Cambridge students are unaware of what DJ stands for. As a completely unqualified avid musical theatre fan, member of Taylor Swift’s top 3% of Spotify listeners (a disappointingly low percentage following my 0.5% streak of prior years), and someone who doesn’t really like alternative music (what can I say... I love a lyric), I felt my interview may at least reflect the general Cambridge population. Thankfully, the conversation that I feared would become technical, analytical, and reminiscent of my failed Grade 5 Theory exam turned out to be an illuminating and highly quotable discussion about the idea of spectacle, the responsibility of performers, and consumerism, topped off with a quick game of “kiss marry kill" (Varsity condemns the use of profanities) Josh O’Connor characters (for those who want to play at home, we were choosing between God’s Own Country, The Crown, and the upcoming Challengers).

“The worst feeling as DJ is when you feel your services have been used”

After a poignantly moving opening question from me (“You DJ… how did that happen?”), we were smooth sailing. Like most “really unoriginal” creatives (their words not mine), Maya got into DJ-ing over the pandemic. Unlike most creatives, original or not, they had the wholehearted support of their parents: their first proper job was a strict hour that was set aside at their dad’s 50th, with a professional DJ waiting in the wings to come on after for the rest of the party. Maya’s set of “older music” clearly went down a treat, leading to subsequent gigs at their school prom and house parties as well as professional (and paid!) sets at a Nike partnership event, a 3-day job at an International Hair Studio event, and – of course – their impressive roster of Cambridge club and bop performances.

“In Cambridge there are so many bad nights out, so I love to give my friends a good time”

Most recently, I saw Maya perform an excellent set at Darwin Bar’s GayDar, chock-a-block with queer classics. Since multiple people approached the decks during the evening, with phones aloft and Notes apps open, undoubtedly asking for Katy Perry’s ‘I Kissed a Girl’, I asked Maya how they felt about people requesting songs during a set (something I’d like the record to show I have never dared to do). While Maya revealed they would “never go up to a DJ to request a song”, they shared that such requests are certainly “worth paying some heed” – especially since they've now developed the technical abilities to be able to fulfil such requests. In Maya’s mind, while “the worst feeling as DJ is when you feel your services have been used”, ultimately they’re unwilling to “become a music dictator”, and appreciate that part of their services is providing a good night out – which often involves playing what the people want. Fundamentally, “in Cambridge there are so many bad nights out, so I love to give my friends a good time”.


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The endearingly earnest way in which they prioritise their audience and treat their carefully-curated sets as products going out to be consumed became more apparent when divulging how they pointedly tailor their sets to fit within the schedule of a successful night out. They decide not to play songs in a “strictly BPM order” but instead have “gaps” for a quick trip to the smoking area and time to queue for drinks, before a gradual progression to a frenzied climax where people are possibly at their drunkest and dance their hardest.