Christopher Manik, otherwise known by fans and industry folk by his capitalized surname/moniker, MANIK, is one of those artists that almost anyone who considers themselves a househead is familiar with. He’s been a mainstay on Josh Wink’s OVUM Recordings roster since the moment they received his demo through the actual postal service (pro-tip out there, aspiring producers!) Over the years, he’s kept a certain fire of coolness to his demeanor and approach toward media, but this time around, with myself being fortunate enough to be a friend of his long before his claims to “fame” came, the artist known as MANIK seemed to open up and displayed himself as the antithesis of “manic” in a literal sense, and allowed a glimpse into his personal life as a human, separate from the artist we all hear and see when we hear his new album on the aforementioned OVUM imprint, Undergroundknowledge.
Photos by Justin NSUBordinate
Chris, thanks for taking the time out with me on behalf of 5 Mag. How is life treating you on the west side, since your move from New York to California?
Of course, no problem! All is well, man. I’ve mainly been wrapping up my new music for 2018, and focusing on my upcoming album. Buying new and old records, of course.
It’s been a few years now since your move from Brooklyn to Cali. You moved to L.A. first if I am not mistaken? How difficult was that decision for you, considering your roots being so firmly planted here in NYC?
Yeah, I did Los Angeles for two years and the last year I’ve been here in San Diego. The move was probably the most difficult, scariest decision I’ve ever made. I was surrounded by family and some very close friends in New York, so for me to just up and go out there to California – it was gnarly. It was the first time in my life I’d done anything that ballsy. Sure, I’d traveled all over the world by the time I was 26 or 27, but my living quarters were always nestled cozy at home in New York. I’ll always love New York. It’ll always be my home, but California is pretty damn cool. I think the one thing that I’ve taken away from living out here for almost three years, is that my stress levels have just decreased. Honestly. I think it’s because it’s so much more laid-back out here and you aren’t on top of your neighbors. I can’t emphasize that enough. Sure it’s not the middle of Nebraska laid-back, but what artist can make it out there? [laughs]
The subject of weather is generally considered “filler talk,” but in this case, it raises a bit of curiosity to me, regarding your inspirations in the studio. From the beginning with your first EP on Ovum back in 2010, you’ve essentially been producing a seven year (and running) musical ode to NYC through many EPs, albums, etc. Do you get inspired by the palm trees out there?
It’s funny you bring that up, because I just think I have this weird internal thing – I don’t know how to explain it – where I feel the need to sort of represent where I’m from. Kinda like certain Detroit or Chicago artists tend to represent their cities HARD, too. I don’t think specifically the palm trees have influenced me or my music at all but as I mentioned just above, I just think the general nature of being less stressed and more laid-back has allowed me to kind of be more introspective on where I come from – NYC, and Queens specifically – without having the crazy hustle and bustle of living it every day.
I feel you there. But, c’mon man. Those seaside cliffs must excite you the way seeing a bunch of kids jump a turnstile onto the N train, while the subway attendee is screaming “I know yo’ mama, boy!” – right? [laughs] I saw that last night, and it made me love being in New York so much.
[Laughs] That’s great! Honestly that type of stuff I do miss. If I could somehow combine those little “only in New York” nuances with a less stressful day-to-day way of living, I think I would find my permanent inner peace, if that makes sense. Since I moved out here I’ve learned to sort of open up a little bit to human beings. This has for sure impacted my approach to making music and especially albums.
I definitely feel you on that. How has the scene differed for you over there? You’ve made a lot of adjustments and changes musically since you left NYC, which perhaps happened because of the more calm and chill vibe there. Mainly I am referring to your affinity toward vinyl sets and producing a lot more acid house.
Well, if you listen to my earliest works, it was always deep in nature, but there was always some kind of acid vibe in it. For example, listen to Keep That Fresh, my 2011 record on Ovum. It’s a deep house track with 303 line underneath. And usually if I were to do a three track EP on Ovum or most labels, there would usually be at least one track that you can say was deep acid house. I’ve always loved that genre and that style.
‘Fuck all the haters’ is the motto all aspiring artists should have. Forget those chin strokers that come to your gig just to criticize the second & seventh tracks you play. Just focus on you and you will evolve as a human & artist.
Also with the direct question about vinyl diving back into that world a little bit more – that’s due to this new age where the music is delivered to us at every possible open door, digitally. E-mail, Facebook, Soundcloud, etc. I feel sometimes there’s overabundance. Everybody has access to the SAME music, and me being a competitive New York S.O.B., I want to try to play something that you’re not going to play. So that’s also been really impacting me the last couple of years: going back to finding those white labels wax that I used to really dig for. Also spending more time in record shops and really trying to step up and take my game to the next level. I want to give people something different when they hear me but still me in a nutshell. I’m still the same artist, just craving more in this over-saturated age.
So the chill, zen-like vibe on the west coast has softened your tough “New York S.O.B.” shell up a bit?
Well, a lot also comes from maturity in general, but I do think this has had a lot to do with my move out west. I’m gritty at heart. I always have been. Either we’re super cool, or we’re not cool at all. I’ve always been that way and I think that’s New York City in a nutshell. I feel like that’s also why took me so long to finally find, 100%, who I am. I’ve always known what I was and what I was not, but I think I really nailed where I am musically and as a human being recently. I would say the last year two years musically, and while producing the new album, have been the pinnacle of these discoveries.
That must be an amazing feeling for you. You’ve always had a distinct and recognizable “sound” which I feel comes mostly from your drums more than anything. Was there a specific project or moment where you came to this realization in which you feel you’ve truly blossomed, as it were, artistically?
Yeah, I appreciate that. I think specifically relating to drums, I’ve always tried to start tracks with drums in mind first. But there was this weird low for me, I would say around four years ago, which no one really knows about, when these self-doubting thoughts came to my head (and only inside my head). I felt like I was starting a lot of tracks musically first, or maybe with synths first. I wasn’t happy. Personally, I thought I could do more – it was like I was losing some of my groove. Over the last year, I have been working with more samplers and drum machines again and restarting tracks the way I did six to eight years ago. I am really content now with where I’ve fallen. I’m right where I want to be as a electronic music producer. Letting the drums speak the soul.
It sounds like you haven’t opened up about that period publicly. Do you feel that the time period in which you weren’t happy was rooted in anything specific? You’ve always been very honest and real with your music and a really clear representation of that were the two releases you did with Burnski – around the time period you’re referring to – which were pretty clearly (from my view) written about your romantic relationship at the time. The first track “You Know What it’s Like” seemed to be an attempt to relay that you understood what it must be like, when you’re touring and gone all the time. Clearly, life as a touring DJ has a huge impact and makes relationships difficult. A year or so later, your’s and Burnski’s next single was put out on Culprit, and was titled Yellow Jacket Girl. Someone got stung, in the end. We’ve all experienced how the business can affect our relationships, but I find it rare that the stories behind these types of tracks are told.
Yes, that’s 100% true about those tracks with Burnski, and life on the road and things like that affecting relationships. If I’m gonna be completely honest, as far as my personal relationships at the time, I think they were a little bit different. Heavier. So without diving into the past hellfire, so to speak [laughs] – I may have been with someone at the time that may not have completely understood my musical goals, who wasn’t really rooting for my career to truly succeed. Being away often didn’t help, but I also feel like the relationship just wasn’t right at all. I’ve been in a healthy relationship for the last four years and it is a completely awesome thing. I have so much more perspective on these things now. We have so much mutual respect and it’s almost like night and day when you find someone to spend time with that wants you to succeed and understands who you are 100%.
Funny thing is, Burnski and I were actually going through pretty similar situations and although we haven’t spoken recently, but from what I remember (the last time we spoke), is that he was in a much better place and in a much healthier relationship as well. I feel like that experience really impacted me as far as how I see the world, how I see my music and where I come from.
Well it certainly seems as though you’re in an introspective and retrospective stage, artistically and personally. The title of your new album on Ovum is Undergroundknowledge. Can you speak on the idea behind this title?
The title of the record is a personal statement that says; I think we all need to take a step back, and focus on what is most important to us as humans, first, and artists second. For me it was going back to my roots, simplifying my production process, moving away from my home city I spent so long in, and re-listening to records I had forgotten about.
So the album as a whole seems to be looking back in time for you. The interlude “Apt 3D1” sounds like a little photo album of your childhood, in audio sample format. I really got a kick out of the samples of some TV show host saying, “How many records you think you got? 20,000 or something?!”
[Laughs] It’s funny you mention that one. Well I grew up off of Queens Boulevard and Union Turnpike and we lived in apartment 3D1. All those TV shows and channels were things that I would have watched between the ages of probably 10 and 14. So it’s like me flipping the channels between all of these things. It has my favorite horror movie,The Shining, it has my favorite comedy of all time, Coming to America, and of course an old SNL skit. There’s also a short snippet of Above the Rim, which is my favorite basketball movie of all time. I’m a big NBA guy. Always have been. Yeah that specific part you speak of is from YO! MTV Raps.
But also what I really want to emphasize about that particular skit is that it starts out with an interview with Jeffrey Gamblero, aka KORN. He was one of the leading members of the SMART graffiti crew, and he sadly passed away a few years ago. Growing up, I literally idolized his famous KORN face graphic which was all over Queens, and that particular interview in the skit with Jeffrey is him being interviewed by Channel Five Fox News, and simultaneously while Giuliani with his anti-graffiti campaign, had him has as public enemy number one. He (Jeffrey AKA KORN) told me to my face a couple years ago that during that interview, he was completely mocking the media and Rudolph Giuliani and playing them, by blowing up how deadly and dangerous their graffiti gang was. He blew it completely out of proportion. Or in other words, he was trolling them.
So during the “APT 3D1” skit, I keep turning the channel back to that one interview, as a way of sort of paying respect and paying homage to my late friend, but also to a local Queens graffiti icon. But the particular part of that sample as you mentioned is about all those producers having so many records to sample from, to get inspired by, and I also feel like that kind of re-emphasizes my underground ethos.
Wow, that’s pretty deep and I give you mad props for paying respects to your friend that way. I want to get back to all of this in a moment, but what you just said in regard to the way producers used to have so many records to sample from is an important topic I just want to jump into really quickly. Do you feel people are too quick to jump on people about “originality” considering the fact that house music wouldn’t exist without taking other people’s music and making something new out of it? Larry Heard was an entirely different beast when he came on the block producing records that had no vocal cuts or samples. People called him crazy. People hated on Larry Heard, ’cause he wasn’t fitting the mold. It’s funny how quickly people forget about the ones who paved the way, so I wanted to get your input on how you feel house music should move forward in a time where it feels as if everything has been done?
Larry Heard is one of my personal favorites and when he came on the block he was more musically inclined/in touch with the musicality of it all and actually writing everything and programming himself. But as we all know he was also Fingers, Inc. with Robert Owens on vocals – one of our first dance music bands, so to speak. He was super innovative. And as far as house music moving forward, you’re right. Pretty much everything has been done, but I think the best way to move forward is to learn about our past, appreciate it, study our culture, and then have people not just jump on trends and put out something because it will chart or work with a certain label because it will help them charts.
I believe due to the rise of bedroom production and accessibility to creativity for basically anyone with an extra hour in the day, we’ve come to this point where quantity has tripled over quality, to put it lightly. That also lends itself to is laziness (potentially, of course – not for everybody) and people not taking risks as a result. Then there’s also a heavier emphasis, I believe, on charts and making sure you’re music is visible in the sea of clutter. And this has also contributed to there being less growth. A lot of music sounds the same. I know it’s cliche to say that, but it is true. And I believe in order for everybody to move forward creatively speaking and also for a healthy vibrant scene, we should be more open-minded to DJs playing maybe what they want to, and not necessarily having loads and loads of expectations when you go and see a particular artist.
Agreed. That is one of the reasons so many have been going back into the archives, as so much of what’s coming out today is really recycled sounding, even a lot of the better releases. Have you found yourself doing the same?
For example that’s the reason why I really respect guys like Rick Wilhite, Moodymann, and Rich Medina, because they are not afraid to say play a Motown record in the middle of a set.
And yes I totally feel I have been doing the same. It’s like I said before, the whole “no-risk-play it safe culture” of formulaic tracks has been making me want to go back further and further and dig a little deeper – to stand out. I am still me and who I’ve always been, but it’s pushing me more that way as each day goes by.
Many DJs seem to have this obsession with having the newest, hottest shit first. I certainly used to be that way when I was younger. I think it’s amazing when a fifteen year old track decimates a room and people come running up asking what it is, assuming it’s got to be something brand new. [laughs]
Oh I totally agree with that. I think as DJs and music collectors/music presenters and just as artists, we do want to have the newest hottest thing but you can still find plenty of stuff that has been overlooked and not quite dug up yet and fill that new and hot “creative void.”
I mean we can speak for hours on the debate of simplicity and “less is more” versus maximizing and adding a lot to a track, but I still think there’s some longer-lasting and respectable quality to bare-bones, very simple stuff. Social media I think has added to this “Right now I want everything effect” too and I think in music production that was what made a lot of the older stuff that much more cooler for me at least. Less is more.
Alright, so getting back to the album. Obviously, that’s the big thing coming up for you this month and one of the main reasons we’re sitting down here. You mentioned feeling as though you’ve “found yourself” artistically during the production of the LP. It’s clearly a much more mature and cohesive body of work than your debut Ovum LP, which was excellent in its own right. How have the past eight years changed the way you go about putting together an LP which was clearly well-planned and conceptualized?
Everything I’ve been through has brought me to this point – a point where I am, just now becoming 100% content with who I am as an artist. Most often than not, you will be your biggest critic, and I think between the move to the West Coast, being a little tired of the same production formulas, the emphasis on Beatport charts, the commercialization of “deep house” over the last four years, and also growing up (I’ve now entered my 30s) has given me a different perspective on life. I still have a ways to go of course, but I think this entire combination allowed me to think clearly, freely, and not have any expectations going into the production of the LP. Hence, what I have here with Undergroundknowledge is my most complete, introspective and proudest work yet. And then diving even more specifically into the process of making Undergroundknowledge, while conceptualizing it, I saw things much more clearly this time. Looking into how I grew up as being the main theme is what I wanted to convey.
That’s a big statement! When you speak of expectations, you’re referring to them in what way? Expectations for how the album is going to do, or be received?
I would say both but primarily expectations on myself. In other words, heading into an album-making process and wanting it to sound a certain way, or feeling that I’m forced to make it sound like one thing or another. On the LP, I just did me, in its purest form possible.
I really look back on certain moments in my life that I still really feel had an impact on who I would end up being. For example, on the “APT 3D1 Interlude” with the specific things on television that I watched or was influenced by, or the “PS.99 Interlude,” where I spend two minutes on the handball and basketball courts of the elementary school I went to. I made sure they were represented on this full length. Sort of like an autobiography.
Around the peak of the LP, there’s that “PS 99 Interlude” where several well known artists from the industry do little old school NYC-style mixtape promo shout-outs. It’s the way the interlude ends which raises a big question. Not to spoil the album for listeners, but it makes reference to you being “the most underrated DJ and producer in the game. Take your fist, stick your middle finger up in the air, and wave it like you just don’t care. Because, we’d like to remind you to Fuck… All… The… Haters.” Can you delve into what inspired the bold statements contained in this skit? Do you feel as if you’ve been overlooked or marginalized over the years?
So it’s a little bit of both. I am just playing on the fact that I definitely feel underrated and overlooked – pretty much since day one. But I also don’t take things personally. I like to have fun with it. When certain websites or publications don’t push you and push a way cornier artist, with giant PR campaigns behind them, artists that tend to forget what it was like to play for a small promoter, at a non 5 star hotel and only make a few hundred bucks, it can only make you laugh. It should bug you a little of course, too – if you have any competitive artistic drive at least. I know I can DJ and produce the hell out of it. So that ending is sort of a playful way to highlight these unpleasant and partly comedic flaws that lie within our underground scene. And it’s also supposed to be slightly motivational to anyone that listens to it. Fuck all the haters is the motto all aspiring artists should have. Forget those chin strokers that come out to your gig just to criticize the second and seventh tracks you play. Just focus on you and you will evolve as a human and artist. I know this mentality has helped me in times where I did full on feel like I was overlooked. Just gotta keep it moving. Life is too short to dwell on any negativity.
Thanks for the insight into that, I can totally empathize with you and agree with much of those feelings. So, considering it being your most proud body of work to date, what’s your pinnacle moment in Undergroundknowledge as a whole?
My personal favorite from the album I would say is one of two things. The first thing I would say is the complete body of work as a whole because I think that the story is so important, and although it’s a long listen and I get that, I did write it so that it would be listened to from front to end while you’re chilling at home, cleaning the house, going for a long car ride. But if you’re making me select one particular part of it I would say my favorite song would be “Bodega Dreams” or the introduction where the tone is set. I wanted the introduction to be as a visually powerful as possible – like a film. Like a soundtrack. I wanted you to hear it and have it immediately take you to Queensboro Plaza. Once again not having any expectations as a listener or fan, but at least you’re teleported figuratively speaking to this specific part of my background.
The level of work you’ve gone into to make this album as personal and true to you and your story is something I personally, as well as many of your fans and supporters as well, will appreciate about your work. It’s rare, to be honest. I’m a firm believer in there really needing to be some source of personal inspiration, emotions etc in order to compose genuine music, and I feel most people with keen ears and good taste can hear the difference between the people doing as we were discussing earlier, making music to fit a trend , and someone like you, where you are clearly sharing you life story with the world, through your music.
100% agree. That’s what makes us gravitate to guys like Larry Heard too, he’s easily one of my biggest influences. Regardless if he samples or writes everything on his own you can just feel a story through his music and it’s still groove-based and still knocks the fuck out of any dance floor. It doesn’t have to be somber, know what I mean? He still has the funk.
Do you see yourself still having the funk in twenty or thirty years?
I do still see myself having the funk. I mean as I said earlier, I do love so many different genres of music but since I’ve been a kid I’ve always gravitated towards anything with a little bit of funk. When I was a kid, underground hip hop and even boom bap mainstream stuff from Gang Starr or Nas, or ATCQ, any funky bits, or even pop stuff with boogie elements, disco etc funk soul anything that had a little bit of that shuffle or that bass versus something that was super emotional, automatically made me perk up. I think it’s in my bones to use a cliche statement. That love for music never leaves you.
Manik’s Undergroundknowledge LP is out now on Ovum.