“For me, music is always conceptual, it’s always an expression of the abstract,” says Maara. The Montréal-based artist — full name Maara-Louisa Dunbar — pricked ears with her impressive ‘Ultimate Reward’ EP, which came out in January via Naff Recordings. Opening with an undeniably intoxicating title track, she melts a pensive intro into bumping, breaky rhythms, veiled with her own vocal tones that she cleverly uses as a synth. “Trippy, weird and chaotic is the goal when I make music, but hopefully not too chaotic! I like to walk a fine line there,” she adds.
Maara’s music not only speaks of someone who understands a dancefloor, but who has real production expertise. Though her first love wasn’t necessarily ‘dance music’, it was hip-hop. She used to be known as Massie Dome, a hip-hop alias she worked under for over five years. “I always felt like hip-hop was my lane, despite having friends who were DJs and going to raves every weekend, I was like ‘No, I’m sticking to this’.”
It was through hip-hop that Maara became familiar with big, bold production. “From a young age I loved Nelly, 50 Cent and Eminem,” she recalls, also touching on her early forays with production and performance software. “When I was around eight or nine, I’d be on GarageBand making vocal songs and putting together loops. I’d make mashups of B.I.G. with jazz instrumentals on Virtual DJ, I thought it was sick!”
Just listening to memories of those formative years, it’s easy to identify Maara’s preference for making music in an electronic format. It was actually her older sister who first put her onto dance music. “When I got to being a tween, 12-13 years old, my older sister was really into house music and EDM,” she continues. “I would steal her music and whatnot. By the age of 15 I was writing lyrics, making hip-hop and putting EDM dance mixes on SoundCloud.”
Music formed a much needed constant for Maara, who moved around a lot as a kid. “Music was a hobby that I could fully immerse myself in and have as my own,” she reveals. This sense of immersion is still a large part of her process. “That’s always been the way I am,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to just do my thing and focus on it.” Aged 18, Maara moved back to Montréal, her birthplace, for university. It was here that her commitment to music grew even stronger. “By the time I got to university, I felt like I’d already partied a lot, I wasn’t interested in it. I just wanted to invest myself in making music.”
Maara became entrenched in the Montréal scene, eventually making the switch from hip-hop to dance music production just prior to the pandemic. “The prevalence of electronic music in Montréal was really influential in terms of my directionality. We’re all friends with each other here, it’s a pretty friendly environment,” she says, nodding to her close friendship with local DJ Lis Dalton as being particularly integral for her.
It’s through this close-knit scene that Maara now begins her rise; she’s already dropped her second EP ‘Potion Activated’ via Vancouver label, ISLA, and she’s got remix requests flying in left, right and centre — but she doesn’t seem phased. “I’ve always had strong inclinations about what I like. I’m not a perfectionist, I just try to make a lot of music. For me, it’s a statistics game. There’s a higher probability that you’ll make something you like, if you make more songs.”