Interview: Monika [Shogun Audio, Soulvent, Fokuz]
Monika is the moniker of musician Maxwell Monika, and it was a pleasure to have a chat with the man himself as we all turn to music to get us through these strange times. Read on to discover which weird ambient bands Monika is into, his UK rave background, and about never forcing inspiration.
Take me through your musical journey - when were you first drawn to Drum & Bass? Any artists, labels or events that got you hooked?
I first got into DnB listening to live mixes from Global Gathering in the UK, from DJs like Mampi Swift, DJ Hype and DJ Zinc. It was a heavy sound and I’d just not heard anything like it before. Then I had a friend introduce me to Hospital Records, specifically London Elektricity’s Just One Second, and it blew me away. That song was on repeat for weeks, and it changed my view of what DnB could sound like. I’ve been hooked ever since.
What are your musical inspirations outside of Drum & Bass?
Lately, trip hop and rap: Nightmares on Wax, Aim, Mick Jenkins. I actually am partial to a bit of Drake now and then! Over the years I’ve also always been into weird ambient music like Haxan Cloak, Fis (from Christchurch!).
You're from the UK originally, now based in Christchurch. When did you move over? Did you get to experience the UK rave scene, and if so, how would you say it differs over here?
I moved to NZ at the start of September 2016 after meeting my Kiwi girlfriend in London. She had to come back here and I followed!
Yeah of course I experienced the rave scene! I lived in London for 5 years :) The UK rave scene is deeply embedded in the music culture. Plus, the spectrum of music going on at any one night is breathtaking. The best nights of my life were in the UK rave scene (I was at this event and it blew my young mind -> https://www.mixesdb.com/w/2011-01-22_-_dBridge_@_A_Bunch_Of_Cuts,_Cable,_London)
Over here DnB is much more widely loved. It’s insane how deep it goes. I’ve had plenty of conversations with people’s mums who have an in-depth knowledge of the craft. I find that so mad, and always amazing.
I understand you've been dipping your toes in production for around 10 years now, but more seriously in the last wee while. Was there anything particular that encouraged you to buckle down and pursue releases?
I’ve worked many different jobs over the years but there’s only one thing that I am able to do day-in-day-out. It reached a point early this year where I was miserable because I didn’t have enough time to work on creative projects, so I quit my job! Now I do music every single day, with a part-time job to pay the bills.
You've had releases on some labels renowned for their liquid output, such as Soulvent and Fokuz. How was your experience working with them? Did you submit demos to them specifically, or to a range of labels?
Mad love for Soulvent. They run their label so well I have nothing but respect for them. I actually got in touch with them through a mutual friend a while back. They just happened to like my tunes at the time! Usually the approach is to have 3-4 bangers in your arsenal and pitch them to all the labels that you think are suitable. 90% of the time you won’t hear anything back, but it makes it sweeter when you do!
Any labels or artists that you'd love to work with in the future?
Man, that list is too long! But here’s a shorter version:
The Vanguard Project
I’ll stop there!
Your next release (Pogo EP) is your first for your own label, exciting! Tell me a little about how that came about? What challenges have you faced, and what are you most excited about in relation to having your own label?
The label is a chance to take control of my output and experiment a little more. I write a bunch of stuff that sits just outside the DnB realm so this gives me a chance to showcase that. Eventually, I’d love to release some music from NZ artists, but I want to make sure I get everything right on my end first.
In terms of challenges, it’s mostly dull admin stuff that is hard to get my head around. How to pay tax properly, make sure it’s going to the right online stores etc. That stuff is the learning curve.
You've got a radio show on prominent local station RDU. What do you like about that experience, and anything you don't like so much? We've previously talked a bit about the deer-in-headlights phenomenon of talking into a mic live on air, has that gotten any easier?
I love my radio show! It’s a chance to get out and test out some tunes I’m into. Plus, I love the RDU crew. They do an amazing job, and I’ve made some incredible friends through the radio.
I’ve definitely got better at chatting breeze into a mic. The lockdown helped actually, because I was still pre-recording the show at home. I was able to practice a little more and edit my takes, and I got a better understanding of what to say and when to say it.
The music industry has been profoundly affected by the events of the last few months. How have you found the lockdown period for your creativity? Are you looking forward to getting back to live performances or do you prefer the studio?
I think it’s been both a good and bad thing to be locked in at home. I wrote a bunch of music, but not all of it came from the heart. Because I was locked in at home, I felt like I had to write something, so what came out was sometimes quite forced. I feel I'm getting a good flow again now though.
I can’t wait for the gigs to start happening again. I know that there’s already a buzz going on behind the scenes, and it’s only a matter of time until things burst open again!