It’s a strange new post-everything musical landscape we occupy. The machines – you could argue – have been playing the humans for some time, and the conversation became pretty one-sided. The focus now is metrics not moments. A million transcendent dance floor events condensed into monetisable data, the compost in which ‘likes’ and ‘solid socials’ are grown, but little else.
Being regularly bludgeoned with forgettable new music has taken its toll. But you know, not everyone is singing from that hymn sheet. Thatmanmonkz releases his album ‘Non Zero Sum Game’ on 18th October. We talked to him ahead of the release.
Tell us where you’re from?
I’m from the Steel City, Sheffield. Well actually, I’m originally from a lil’ place called Melton Mowbray in the midlands, but I’ve lived in Sheffield for over half my life now. As a city, it has a great heritage in most genres of music, and dance music is no exception. To be completely honest, I’ve always been more influenced by art from over the pond, but it would be difficult to deny the impact Sheffield has had on me, even if it’s been mainly on a subconscious level.
You’ve obviously done your time in the business Scott. For those who don’t know you, how would you describe your production style? Your DJ style?
That’s definitely the perception of me, but it’s actually only partially true. Though I did some work in the mid 00’s as Small Arms Fiya, and a member of Bare Knuckle Soul, I stepped away from it after a couple of years. The pull of creating was too much though, so, my solo career started up around 2013… As a producer, whichever genre i work in, I’m very much a purist that believes in trying to contribute to a lineage, rather than just being in it for myself and the props. Though I’m hugely influenced by hip hop as well as house, and very much try to learn from previous master teachers sonically, i also think you change/get inspired by the people you create and collaborate with to a greater extent, once you actually learn the ropes properly. As for my DJ style, I’m much more interested in the idea of the deejay being part-shamanic, and acting as a conduit between the music and the room to try and build a collective shared experience. For my sins, and despite having tried to ‘play the game’ I have little interest in metrics and social media profiling, hard ticket sales, and all these other terms we hear nowadays. For me it’s always been all about the party and the music, I never pre-prepare, and, am happy working in all genres from hip hop up to techno. I think the environment, and the crowd, should steer the vibe, rather than the ‘DJ as rockstar’ phonomenon we see a lot of nowadays.
Most people have someone in their life who turned them on to music. Who was it for you?
To be completely honest, it was mainly just me being a geek. I was definitely influenced by what the older cool kids were into, but I’d started buying records, and doing radio pause tapes at a really young age. There wasn’t really anyone directly musical in my family, and, I was very much a listener and collector, rather than trying to be any kind of musician in my younger days. I think deejaying as a collecting geek led me into wanting to make music myself after I felt that I’d been able to deconstruct what I liked.
Who were your first big musical influence?
The first artist I remember being obsessive about were Public Enemy, when I was really young. Around the same time, I first heard De La Soul, and A Tribe Called Quest, also stuff like Inner City was coming out around then. All the older kids were getting really into this new, fresh stuff that sounded unlike anything else before it, that also launched a culture of ways to dress and places to go out. I was a little young for all of that, but the music was like a message from the future, and, it taught me so much about global politics and different cultures, so it was education as well as entertainment. My biggest production influences were probably Kenny Dixon Jr and J Dilla, in so much as what they were doing made me want to buy equipment and start trying to make stuff, rather than just deejay what I was hearing and loving…
Tell us about your record collection? Are you a big collector/ record buyer?
Oh yeah, i’ll always be a record collector and buyer. I have thinned my collection down as much as I dare in recent years, but, i’ll always be buying vinyl. I started collecting them at a really young age, no idea why, just something I got into. Mainly hip hop early on, but that led to collecting funk, and then disco. I got into house more as I got a little older and actually started going out to clubs and parties. Back in the day, when I was deejaying regularly locally, I was buying a lot of records, as this was the time when that was the only way you could deejay. They were good times though, even in bars people expected to hear lots more new and underground music, and, were way less inclined to actually come and tell you what they wanted you to play, as not everyone perceived themselves as a tastemaker in the way they perhaps seem to now. With the advent of new tech all that’s changed, but, I can’t imagine a time where I don’t need to physically own a copy of my favourite new records that are coming out, though it’s fair to say I’ve slowed down in the amount that I currently buy in comparison to when I was bar deejaying and vinyl was the only medium I could use as a deejay.
Where do you like to buy your records?
Nowadays i’m ashamed to say I probably buy most of them online. Though there has definitely been a resurgence in record shops lately, and that’s brilliant. It’s so easy to order them online, and, Sheffield just doesn’t have two or three great underground record shops anymore. Whenever i’m away anywhere I always try to pop into the local wreckastows and cop something though, just to show solidarity and support!
Give us 3 records that never leave you record bag?
Again, with the tough questions! This one changes over time, but, for now I’ll go with:
Prince – Erotic City (12″ version)
Basically, this is one of my favourite records of all time and is appropriate for pretty much any environment.
Blaze – Family (Blaze Alt Vocal Mix)
If it’s all gone really well, and i’m getting to finish a night, this is always one of my favourite ways to do it.
Leron Carson – Lemonlime
For when you wanna toughen things up or work that fine line between house and techno. Works great with acapella’s too.
Who is your biggest inspiration in life?
Wow, that’s a tough one… In music, it’s the people you work with, so, anyone I’ve ever collaborated with or worked closely on music with. In life I’d have to say my father, and my friend Okie. Both of them have passed away in the last few years, and that’s had a massive effect on me personally, and on the way, I now choose to live my life vocationally. This here life is very transient, and, nothing is certain, so, i’m a big believer in trying to be happy, and enjoy this existence as much as I can, with regards to how I use my time. There have been loads of historical figures I admire, and, I have lots of great family and friends, they inspire me massively as well. In a final answer to the question though, I’d say it’s the people that are no longer here, and how you choose to process their absence that is the most defining. I try my hardest to use my memories as inspiration, though it’s not always easy. I hope that makes sense.
Who do you admire in the industry?
A whole lot of people! Rather than just name names of people I don’t know, I’ll mention a few that I do. I’d have to say Chris Duckenfield, who’s the best deejay I know, as well as being my vinyl distributor, and a regular pub companion. I wouldn’t be where I am without his advice. Also, Pete Simpson, who’s on the album as ‘A Brother Is…’ as well as being a featured instrumentalist on there, and is also one of my best friends, and one of the most multi-talented people I know. Can’t forget Ross Orton, who’s pretty much a world-famous music producer, but again someone I’m lucky enough to call a close friend, and, there isn’t much he doesn’t know about music production and equipment. I’m also gonna have to mention Malik Ameer, who’s one of the most intelligent, spiritual, and talented people I’ll ever know…
Tell us about this release? What’s the story behind it?
When the early tracks for the project started being developed, I hadn’t really thought about doing an album. I think the other work i’m now doing as a producer (Madison Washington, Pan Amsterdam, synch work with old library catalogues), as well as starting up an edits label, had freed me up to focus on stripping back and refining the way I approached making music for the dancefloor. Since my first album, I’ve travelled a lot more, and certainly deejayed in a lot of new places, which really helps inform the way I approach making records for the club. Fairly quickly I had more demo’s than i’d realised, and, chatted about what to do with them with some close confidantes, and, the idea of a self-released album on Shadeleaf came together and seemed like a perfect fit for the body of work, and very much fitted the way I wanted to approach my career at this point.
Why did you call it Non Zero Sum Game?
A “Non Zero SUm Game” is basically a scientific term for a win-win situation. I’d heard it in a movie I liked, and, thought it was appropriate for this body of work, and the fact I was self-releasing it. I’m much more confident with the business side of things, and self a&r’ing, and had gotten access to amazing artwork from an old friend based in Malawi, and, I also got to collaborate with most of my favourite people I’ve worked with over the last few years (with a couple of exceptions). It just felt really organic to me the way it came together, and I’m fortunate enough to be in a position where I can be the boss as well as the artist, pretty much a win-win situation!
How do you find the music industry treats people over the age of 25?
That’s an interesting one. As a producer I don’t really think age is as relevant as it used to be. Some of that is inevitably down to the fact that we haven’t had a seismic change in popular music for a really long time, thinking in terms of things like the electrification of guitars and the hippie movement, or, sampling technology and the advent of both house and hip hop, those sort of massive game changers. This lack of a huge change has meant that a lot of older people are still considered contemporary and relevant within genres they’ve always worked. That makes sense to me really, as, you always strive to improve as a musician and producer, and, experience and practice enable you to do that, much as they would with a jazz musician. I’m a much more rounded artist than I was at the beginning of my career, when I was still figuring it out! I think as long as you still have a passion for creating and learning, age isn’t really relevant, though when the ideas start to fade or the passion goes, it’s probably time to step aside as it would be in any job, y’know?
Do you think that the music industry needs to change its attitude? In what way? Towards whom?
Yeh, most definitely. This is such a broad scope of subject that i’ll try and stick strictly to contemporary dance music. It needs to be much more inclusive on regards to gender and race, for a start. It needs to do a lot better in remembering where it came from, and who created it, and therefore what and who it represents. It’s gentrification happened a long time ago, and was never sufficiently addressed, and, the recent degeneration of it into being class based and hierarchical (in regard to who can afford to participate in it, and, what is seen as at the ‘forefront’ of it)is really really worrying. There is also currently a really weird shift in the power structure too with regards to the importance of taste making since the internet came in. That’s not all bad by any means, but, as with most everything else, it’s totally unregulated and requires only self-appointment and the ability to either buy or develop a social media following, as opposed to relevance actually being based on skills and knowledge. We really need to get back to moments over metrics!
Is there a track on the album that is up there for you?
This is always a difficult question to answer, as, they’re all my babies I guess, until they’re out in the public domain. My answer to the question will change in different moods on different days. “Thee Others” is a special one, as it’s the first time I managed to get Malik Ameer, Leron Thomas, Pete Simpson, and I all on the same track. It’s kinda becoming the default crew name now, “Thee Others”, and would also involve everybody else that’s on the project. There might well be something that comes out of that loose collective someday, as more of a group project. Also, “Them Thangs” is another that stands out for me, as it’s the first time I’ve ever worked with Scarlett (Ms.Fae). She’s awesome, both as a person and an artist, and I can’t wait to collaborate with her some more.
Some people say you sound like Moodymann. What do you say to this?
I’d have to say that I was incredibly flattered by the comparison! It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of his, and not just the music, but also the business savvy and ethos behind what he does. He’s pretty unique and pioneering within a variety of styles of house music though in my opinion, so it’s pretty inevitable that there are a whole lot of us who are influenced by him out there making music. To be honest, this record is heavily influenced by a whole lot of people and producers, and the way Detroit makes dance music in general really. I also owe a debt to Carl Craig, Kai Alce, DBX, Octave One, Theo Parrish, Waajeed and a whole host more, and, that’s just a handful of the influences I have from only one specific place, there are many more! In my opinion there is no shame in being influenced by, and paying homage and respects to, the master teachers and originators of house music. I always try to refer to the source when I approach it, as it’s not really been improved upon or radically changed in a good way since it started back in the day. If it ain’t broke…
If you could give some advice to young producers, what would be your pearl of wisdom for them?
Oh wow, this is a tough one, there’s quite a lot i’d have to say, and, I do try and give advice wherever I can and whenever i’m asked for it. Firstly, i’d say do as much as you can by, and for, yourself. Be hungry, not thirsty. Try and reach down to help at least as much as you reach up for help. Don’t do work for exposure, if somebody wants you to do something for them, you’re already exposed to them, or they wouldn’t ask. Try and retain ownership of everything you do. There are a huge number of wolves in sheep’s clothing out here. Learn the business, such as reading contracts, and understanding revenue streams and accounting. Last, but by no means least, do you! Whether you’re in or out of fashion, be true to yourself and love what you do, there’s a real sea of ‘white noise’ around this industry at the minute, and, only a genuine honest and individual version of ‘you’ has any chance at all of cutting through it.
What does thatmanmonkz have coming up next?
Luckily, and thankfully, i’m pretty busy! I’m starting a new project with Ross Orton shortly that will be an all analogue/modular thing down at his studio. We already have the next couple of Hot Peas N Butter edits 12″s pencilled in, and there’ll probably be a single and remixes from the album in the early part of next year. I have some synch work due out, and, am hoping and guessing that Pan Am and Malik might be ready for new project ideas to start up again next year… Also, I’ll be hoping to get out on the road plenty in support of the album, so, all things considered i’m really looking forward to the next few months!