A rogue wave of electronic music enthusiasts just recently discovered Monoky from his Feel Good Fridays takeover on BLOND:ISH’s Twitch channel, Abracadabra. Now he is hosting massive live stream parties with his selection of over 10,000 tracks, but where did he come from?
Some know Monoky from his 18-years of DJing in Chicago and LA, holding down after parties and opening for guys like Solomun or from his releases on SAVED, HotTrax, Club Sweat, Repopulate Mars, South of Saturn and Relief, but its time to hear his story from the man himself, as John enjoys his first year in Miami.
How has quarantine changed your life?
Last March I was scheduling stuff for Winter Music Conference, but I didn’t even buy a plane ticket because I had an inkling that things were all going to get shut down. At that point in time they canceled Coachella but they still did CRSSD Festival. I just shut it down and just produced for like 6 months straight. I was crazy, I was doing like 3 tracks a day, just pumping them out. Once I was in the zone, it was like boom boom boom! There was a method to the madness.
I started having a stock pile of music and I already had some good connections with some DJs I have played with because I was a resident at one of the best clubs in LA, Sound. I’ve played with all these guys, gotten e-mails and already had some traction with labels, then when the pandemic hit, people just stopped working you know? People stopped getting creative. I’m saying on the production side. So, I’m sending out these tracks and these huge labels that use to take a month to get back to me are now taking like one day. They would be like, I like this, I like that.
What most of these guys do is (for me at least, I don’t know if this true for other people) but for me, they put tracks on hold. Meaning that they will test them out. They just started putting tracks on hold, but no one had anywhere to test anything out at. Some would get signed based on live streams, like I had some good releases with Lee Wells on South of Saturn.
I had this track ‘She Lyin’ on Club Sweat that just went bananas. That one actually got screwed up in the algorithm on Beatport, because it got listed wrong so it went from like 21 to 96…
Then Dennis Ferrer got ahold of it and played it on a couple Defected Radio shows and it took off again. Then Pete Tong picked it up, and Sam Divine played it.
I know a lot of people lost inspiration during the pandemic but for me it was like people are listening to tracks, I might as well keep grinding, working and sending stuff out. Its like taking spaghetti and throwing it against the wall and seeing what sticks and if something works, continue to flow that line ya know?
How have you been honing in on your signature sound?
I am trying to keep it light, but I am also trying to play underground, play dirty. Not really sell my soul to the pop and cheesy house. It has always been like, try not to lose my sound, but then its also every time I sit down to Ableton its not like I have a direction I want to produce in. I’ll start a track and if it goes in one direction and it sounds good just keep going.
It was weird because for 6 months I am making tracks that only I am hearing and I don’t know if they are good or not since I’m not playing them to anybody. They just exist in my brain. Then I got introduced to the streaming world…
How did that go about?
Porky put me on Desert Hearts 2 or 3 different times. I could start to get a flow on there and feedback of tracks. Then I pulled off the move to Miami about 6 months ago. I got opportunities immediately to play the Space live stream and a lot of social distanced masked events, that are still going on now.
The scene here never stopped. I was also super conscious I wasn’t just making dumb decisions, I was getting tested every week. I wasn’t trying to put anyone at risk. This whole scene here in Miami has to have some sort of herd immunity, because nobody stopped going out. Like 1000 people warehouse parties.
Maybe 3 months after moving here I played a Desert Hearts live stream, I played 25 hours straight. I was just going and going. Then BLOND:ISH’s channel called Abracadabra reached out to me and my buddy Malone. I did their Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. I had 30,000 viewers at once, with 150,000 unique visitors on NYE, I think I played for 13 hours.
The best part about it is, its all internet power users and very active online profiles. I’ll have like 150 new followers and a ton of new streaming. The exposure is just wildly bananas.
A month ago they made me a resident and gave me a whole night on Fridays. I was a little worried about that at first because I still wanted to book stuff, but they gave me program control so I can program other people when I am busy. I took it and ran with it and the last four weeks I have been doing absolute marathons. I did 13 hours the first week, 19 hours the second, 13 hours the third week and this last week I played from 9pm to 1 am, then I went and played an outdoor open-air festival from 2 to 4.
I got home at 6am and was like I would love to see what could happen if I turned my channel back on, and by 6:05 I had 9,000 people watching! So I was like, Alright! I’m going to stream for a little bit..
What new releases are you mixing into you sets?
I just did an EP with Simon Kidzoo on Piero Pirupa label, NONSTOP that has been getting support from the big boys Pete Tong, Annie Mac and it just got listed on Toolroom.
What is a day in life like for Monoky?
Everything is upside down, day is night, night is day. I going to bed at 1 pm and waking up at 11pm. Today I woke up at 12:30, which is relatively early I am still recovering from the weekend. I don’t really party, I’ve been sober for 9 years.
I am pushing myself on adrenaline and how its really cool for me to see some traction finally. Its cool to see things working and having an opportunity. People are commenting “Who is this guy? Where did he come from?”
Even though I have been a professional DJ for 7 years and I have been DJing for 15-18 years. You never know what’s workings. Now people start to recognized you. I would like to be acquainted with the people that find my music interesting. I want people to approach me to hang out and chat, talk about the music. If I wasn’t streaming, I would be DJing at home anyways.
Its all about the music, the love, hanging out with people, having good energy and joining as one.
As oppose to trying to look cool. Trying to be in with the in crowd. That’s not important to me, I will look like a fool dancing in the corner if the music is good. I’m the type of dude that no matter when my set is, I am there an hour and 1/2 early and I am leaving 4 hours after my set. I’m sticking around. That’s homework for me. That’s putting the extra effort to find new tracks to support other DJs. That means more to me than anything else.
They say, your biggest supporter is some random person and your biggest hatter is someone you know. That is so true.
However, I have been getting a lot more community support in Miami. I think that is because I’m playing good music. I am genre hoping like crazy, jumping from tech house to afro house to melodic techno to indie dance, like 7 tracks in a row switching over genres.
I like how you went into indie folk during your Mmm Hmm Yeah Yeah mix, is that a genre you dip into often?
I am trying to take inspiration from all over and try to put it together. What’s weird is that what I didn’t understand before I started producing was how similar everything actually is, in the house and techno world. I’ll be making an afro house track and change the bassline and all the sudden its afro-techno you know? Or remove the claps and all the sudden its a full techno track. That’s all the difference, that one sound, one little minor change and your into another genre, so why not be able to mix from one to the next?
Its weird, the whole fighting against genre thing.
I would like to say I am totally for all sorts of genres but like some genres have melded into weird versions of themselves. Even now the entire tech house genre is full blown tech house, its almost electro. When it wasn’t the initial, it use to be vibey from guys like Marco Corola, The Martinez Brothers, Archie Hamilton.
Now melodic techno is very much the same as progressive. Progressive is more like trance. Its tough keeping up the delineations of genre to genre but for me a good track is a good track.
If you are mixing in key and transitioning well, and you can get to one genre to the other without freaking people out then you are doing something right.
What is characteristic of a track you like these days?
I am been enjoying a unique feel for tracks, something that is out of the box to a certain extent. Like Solomun‘s Diynamic keeps finding people that are making these weird indie dance tracks. Not four to the floor, off tempo but on tempo tracks, that are super tweaky. Its fun because you get to toy with the audience. That is the game plan, to bring a bunch of music that people haven’t heard before, that they really enjoy but they don’t know that they really enjoy it. That is where the homework comes into play. Your putting tracks out there that these people have never heard, but the first time they hear them they are like, “OK!”
There is a big group of Israeli guys doing indie dance, one of the labels is called Blue Shadow, Jenia Tarsols label. Everything they put out is just ridiculous. Its all guys like their 2nd or 3rd EPs and they’re ridiculous. Like Sandhog, never heard of him. Far&High, The Organism. Probably in the big picture of things not a lot of people have heard of them, but when I play these tracks out they go head to head with any sort of major track that is out there, they will move anyone that is out there.
Its neat to see a collective hive-mind of production that comes out of an entire area.
Jenia lives with Chaim, then I think Bedwin works with those guys. I have seen it before happen like that. Years ago in Germany you’d see &Me and Rampa then Solomun and that whole crew. Everything that came out of there was mind blowing. There is something to be said, when are you are working collectively in a group but you are also competing against each other, creating a lot of crazy good stuff that pushed the boundaries. That’s the kind of stuff I like to find and do.
How do you approach a set?
I will set up a playlist for a show of like a 100 tracks and the first 10 or 11 tracks I really want to get to during that set at some point. I will cue up a bunch of different things, but these are the ones I know will work.
Got any events coming up?
I got some shows coming up. Just getting asked to play some festivals. I got one that I can’t announce but it is in July in LA. I am headlining one North of Ft. Lauderdale in May that is outdoors. The fact that someone is reaching out to me to headline something that is a next step up for me. That is something I could only wish for a couple years ago.
What is the festival you will be headlining in May?
ASAN– “Spaced out Music and Arts Festival”
I know you just headlined a House Hats event at Club Space in Miami. How did you get involved with them?
I put out a track with some local Orlando promoters called House Hats and these guys are doing crazy. There following is ridiculous in Florida, every show they are doing is sold out. If I post a flyer I am playing for them, 75 people repost it.
Where did they come from?
They are the guys who are bringing Solorado to Orlando. They are headed out of Orlando, but they have a Ft. Lauderdale following too. I think they all went to Florida Atlantic. I think it was a college promotional crew. I put out a record with them, they loved it, they have been playing it all over Orlando. Now they are like, “you got a big following in Orlando, you gotta come up here.” They are doing events nonstop.
I had the weirdest connection with them ever, so bear with me because its kinda a weird story…
I went to Jamie Jones at Space at Art Basel like 3 years ago, 2017. It was the first time a big DJ had played one of my tracks. Jamie Jones played one of my tracks that I had sent to him as a demo.
Which track was that?
It came out on SAVED called, ‘Let Your Body Chill’. It initially had a Frank Ocean sample on it haha, which I never got cleared, so we had to change that vocal, so it turned into ‘Let Your Body Chill’.
But, he played it and I was literally eating pizza downstairs and I heard the song start, so I sprinted upstairs and absorbed the moment. Then I went back down stairs and broke down. I literally sat down in the corner and started crying. It was like all this hard work and to finally see something with my own two eyes payoff. JAMIE JONES on the terrace, packed club during Art Basel. It was too much for me, overload.
Three hours later I am leaving the club and there is a group of kids, 21 year old kids sitting on the sidewalk, 25-30 yards away sitting in front of a fire extinguisher, I was like “Yo, this is like a renaissance picture do you mind if I take a picture of you guys.”
I took a picture of them and as I was getting into my Uber, this girl was like “349-657…” screaming her phone number to me, so I can sent her the picture of them sitting on sidewalk.
I got back to LA and was thinking, “man, I wish I had a video of Jamie Jones playing my track, but I totally failed at that. Then like 2 months later the girl that I ran into was following me on Instagram and tagged me in a video they had randomly taken of him playing my track! She then was like “We just put this together that you were the one that took the picture of us and my buddy is in the promotional company, House Hats…”
Yeah, free karma, serendipity. It was meant to happen, who takes a random picture of people sitting on a sidewalk next to a fire extinguisher? The whole group ended up being cool.
Love it, full circle! Do you have any releases in the works?
I just made some really dope track with Rybo, from Desert Hearts and PercoManiacs, this guy Shuski out of San Diego I made some tracks with, PM out of Barcelona, have a collab with Dario D’attis who is just a legend, and I have some stuff with and a bunch of solo projects. I have one coming out on March 19th coming out on Nic Fanciulli‘s SAVED that is pure afro house. I another remix of Club Sweat. My whole release reschedule is loaded. I don’t see myself topping anytime soon, there is no reason to chill out.
Lets bring it back. What was your first gig?
After I graduated, I would carry a backpack around with me around Chicago, with Virtual DJ on a laptop and every sort of connective cord so I could plug into people’s sound system. I would play every afterhours, everywhere for days at a time.
It took a long time, like 7 years before I got my first residency at a restaurant in LA called Toka Madera. It was the first place in LA that had melodic techno every night. I was playing their 4 nights a week for 4 hours, 16 hours a week of just playing on CDJs, practicing. For 2 years straight I was getting 16 hours of week of exposure.
From then on it was calling in every favor I could to get gigs. Taking loses traveling to places for a gig. Flying to Florida and renting a hotel for $1000 and getting paid $300 on a gig. Loses and loses for years, but it was all worth it building my resume.
Then I finally got a shot with different clubs in LA and started a residency at one the best clubs in LA, Sound. Got to play with everybody: Solomun, Martinez Brothers, Steve Lawler, Mark Knight, Camelphat, just a lot of talented guys, Max Chapman.
It taught me how to read an early crowd, get people moving. Not just banging away. Taught me how to take a club from an empty dancefloor into a party. You gotta take people on a journey, you can’t just dive headfirst into it. You have to build it into something. Then when the energy is there, take people on a journey, totally fuck with them.
Do you have any tips on reading a crowd?
Its kinda like a 6th sense, you can feel the energy in the room when it goes away. You can feel it behind the decks. For me its genre hoping. You’ll get a crowd that doesn’t really know what they what to hear so you can get into different genres. Its a feeling you get.
Any advice for rising DJs?
Do your homework and find tracks other people are not playing, that are good. You don’t have to play #1 tracks. I actually try to avoid playing the #1 stuff. A lot of the good stuff is from guys nobody has heard of. I mean there are some guys making banger after banger, those guys you can just count on making good stuff like Dennis Cruz, Proudly People and you can count of some labels like Hot Creations always has new stuff that rocks, SAVED always has new stuff that rocks, elrow. You can really see whos A&R is really getting after it, picking the good stuff.
How did you get on Groove Cruise for the first time?
Calling in favors. Everything. I think my payment was getting a room on board.
How about that Solomun afterparty?
That was through Sound. They had them booked for a couple parties and they asked me to open for him afterwards. I played with him 3 different times now. Always opening for him. Its funny he slapped my hand off the mixer because I tried to bring the bassline back in and he didn’t want it in… haha The beat never dropped, then he took over and crushed it. He’s like 6′ 9” 275.
I know you have also played with Seth Troxler and Dennis Ferrer, have you learned anything from the big names you played alongside?
If you watch Solomon, he has complete control of the room. He genre hops. He’ll jump from tech house to melodic techno. I have even seen him play hip-hop. There are a lot of guys that have little tricks like Luciano will run percussion on a forth deck, Lee Foss will run white noise on a forth deck and sometimes he’ll reverse it using a control, kinda like white noise risers.
It is so good to see John’s 18 years of grinding paying off more lately. Monoky may easily be the best success story of 2020.