thatmanmonkz is Scott Moncrieff, a UK producer and DJ who is equally at home using his MPC to craft hip hop beats or underground house. His house productions draw on the electronic music culture of Detroit and the US midwest, “‘…not just the art itself, but also the way the message is presented, and the business conducted.”
His adherence to this ethos has resulted in a stream of DJ-friendly 4/4 voodoo on Classic, MFF, Planet E and his Shadeleaf imprint. Scott is now releasing his second album Non Zero Sum Game, a confident collection of dank, smoking house grooves all created with the dance floor directly in their sights. In an interview where we pushed him a little, Scott came across as intelligent, considered and articulate and his answers make for very interesting reading.
For our readers who don’t know, please can you tell us who you are and a bit about your background in the industry?
Of course, okay, so… I am thatmanmonkz, I be 6’0″. Seriously though, I’m a DJ/Producer/Label Owner based in Sheffield, in the North of the UK. Though I’ve been DJing in bars and clubs locally for around about 20 years, I cut my first artistic chops in the mid-noughties as the beatmaker in a group called Small Arms Fiya.
After a year or so with that I tried to “grow up” and got involved in running small businesses and bars/venues. That didn’t ever really feel like a natural fit for me, even if it was still around music and the arts, so, around six years ago (just after the death of a close personal friend who’s also the face of my Shadeleaf Music label logo), I decided that life is for living, and that what I really wanted to do was work in music full time.
So, I bunkered down in a home studio for a few months, stepped up my game, and then started releasing as a solo artist as well as running my own label shortly afterwards. I’ve been lucky enough to work with a lot of great labels since I started, such as Classic, Delusions Of Grandeur, Kolour LTD, etc., which served me well in cutting my teeth, and, have also recently started the vinyl-only Hot Peas N Butter edits imprint alongside running Shadeleaf.
I get to travel, make friends, and play music in lots of different parts of the world that I wouldn’t have been to otherwise, and I’m really grateful for that!
Listen: thatmanmonkz – a 5 Mag Mix #88
So you’ve got a great-sounding new album out, Non Zero Sum Game. How do you feel about it now that it’s completed?
Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed it… I hope this doesn’t come across as too arrogant, but, I’m really happy with this one. My first album was informed a little by my take on the expected sound of the label that released it, and what I was going through personally at that time. Getting to then produce a couple of full-length hip hop albums and getting to regularly visit and play in places that have informed me musically have given me much more confidence in what I’m actually trying to achieve. I feel that I know how to put a diverse project together, and, that this batch of work came together really organically as a project. As a DJ and producer my tastes are quite varied, and I hope I’m getting better at communicating that more effectively.
What was going on in your life while you were making the album? Was there anything other than music that influenced your creative process?
It’s probably fair to say for most people that, once you hit a certain age and level of maturity, there is always something going on your life or psyche that informs any work you’re doing, be that creative or otherwise. With my first album, it was very much informed by the death of my father, which happened as I was being asked to do it. With this record, it’s been a lot more organic in how it came together and it’s very influenced and informed by the fact that I’ve traveled a lot more in the last couple of years, and now have close friends and collaborators in different parts of the world that have a huge influence on me.
Probably most important is that I’m lucky enough to get to DJ much more frequently, which helps me to comprehend what “works” as dance floor-based music on a much more intuitive level. I won’t lie that the state of the world politically, my fears for our future, and, my skepticism about the current dance music scene always inform what I’m doing artistically, be it directly or sometimes more subconsciously.
Why did you call the album Non Zero Sum Game?
So, in essence it’s just a scientific term for a “win-win situation.” I heard it in a movie I liked, and dug the sound of it as a phrase first and foremost!
With regards to the record, dance music is constantly changing and evolving, and, there is now this implied view that an artist has to be able to multitask in a way that’s never been expected before. Basically, the old conditions between a label and an artist that used to exist in terms of finance and support simply don’t in the present marketplace, and, labels that should be considered as important and foundational maybe aren’t seen that way by the younger consumers of dance music due to the speed of the way they now process information. I’ve run a (hopefully) well-respected boutique label for a while now and I A&R for that label too, so I’m in a position where I’m lucky enough to have the connections and systems in place to self release my own album in my own timeframe, and that also appeals to me very much on a political level, and with regards to self-ownership and creative control. Therefore, it felt like a win-win situation, or a “Non Zero Sum Game”, for me to do an album by and for myself.
The album contains some strong vocal tracks (“Easy, Still” and “Them Thangs” are perhaps my personal favorites from the album.) Please tell us a little about the vocalists you worked with on the album.
My friends are generally ridiculously talented and lovely people, and, make me look a whole heap better than I would without them, that’s for sure! As this was “my new album” for “my label,” I guess I went to my most frequent collaborators, with a couple of exceptions due to timing, etc. Malik Ameer (who I also work with on Madison Washington) is on here, as is Pan Amsterdam as Leron Thomas on trumpet on the first track. “A Brother Is…” is on “Easy, Still” (he’s my man Pete Simpson, who’s been on pretty much everything I’ve ever done from day one in some capacity).
There are a couple of tracks with Nikki O, who I first met online via a mutual friend, and then went to watch at Baker Street Lounge in Detroit and we hung out and decided to do a few tracks together, hopefully there’ll be more!
As for “Them Thangs”, that’s Scarlett aka Ms.Fae from out here in the UK, and she’s awesome! Weirdly, our Mom’s are mutual friends and that one came together just from them linking us really. It would be fair to say that I consider all of these guys friends, and, also world-class at what they do, so, I don’t really have to “tell” them how to deliver a performance for me in an obvious directorial way, more just give an idea or a vibe, or maybe a couple of references, and trust them work their own alchemy and feel it out for themselves y’know? Ask me another time about “the Sade principle” though…
Would it be fair to say that you’re still very much in thrall to the music and aesthetic of Moodymann? Are your house music productions a homage? A tribute?
Oh, most definitely, not just the art itself, but also the way the message is presented, and the business conducted. I think it’s fair to say that a lot of, if not all, contemporary sample-based house music producers owe a huge debt to Mr.Dixon, along with a host of other master teachers. From my perspective, I actually bought my first MPC off of the back of my love of the works of Moodymann and J Dilla. Before then I loved DJing and collecting music, but those two producers in particular took me to a different place where I needed to try and physically make music too.
As a student (and in many ways a tourist) in something that came out of really different sociopolitical and cultural environments than mine, you can take pretty much everything I do as a tribute to those who paved the way. I simply wouldn’t be doing this without Chicago and Detroit in the 1980s, and beyond. If I’m honest, I’d say that since I actually started creating myself, my conscious influences are more the people I directly collaborate with, though it’s completely fair to say that the producers that informed the sounds I try to incorporate have obviously had a huge subconscious effect on me, and that KDJ would be very high up on that list.
I remember once being asked in an interview early on in my career if I was influenced by more recent artists like MCDE. As much as I’ve enjoyed his work, my response was simply “No, not really. I’m just likely influenced by the same people as he is.”
It’s obviously no crime to reinterpret black American music – pretty much every house producer from the UK does this to a greater or lesser extent every time they open up their DAW. Perhaps I’m wrong but to me, your house productions feel like a direct tribute to KDJ, or even an attempt to copy his music – this is not meant as a criticism, more an observation (I think the album’s great). I guess I’m interested in why a clearly very talented producer might choose to make music that appears to be a deliberate attempt to sound like someone else?
It’s interesting that you say that, and, it’s something I was definitely trying to address in the press I did for, and the title of, my last album Columbusing. There is an internal conflict I have with earning a living from this, and, the fact that my involvement may be contributing to it being further gentrified and monetized, despite my best intentions.
I’ve seen too many examples of wealthy people who have financial access to the best equipment going, but have no idea what to do with it. Use what you have, do you, and try to be as dope as you can, I reckon…
As for your second point about the KDJ influence, again yeah, it’s definitely there, but I’d be very reluctant to say that I ever directly attempt to copy him! I will admit to owing a huge debt to Detroit though… I guess I’d say that no idea is really original in this genre nowadays, so, I’m completely open with expressing gratitude and paying tribute to the masters that came before. This wheel hasn’t been, or needed to be, reinvented since it first began turning back in the day. Though I’ll always owe Moodymann, I’d say this record owes a huge debt to Detroit, and the Midwest overall. I also take huge influence from people like Lil Louis, Romanthony, DBX, Carl Craig, Larry Heard, Kai Alce, Octave One and a load more I could very easily name! I’ve been lucky enough to visit the D on many occasions now and have a lot of good friends there, and, that city in particular has had a huge influence on the way I approach making dance music.
However, to say that I’m directly attempting to straight up copy one artist there is way too simplistic and linear an explanation for me to agree on (though I guess I’m happy that you feel that particular influence on the work if you feel you have to make an assumption, if that makes sense?)
It does! So there’s lots of interesting sampling happening on the album. For the sample spotters out there, can you tell us a bit about some of the samples you used on the album and how you work with samples generally?
Ironically, there are actually a lot less samples on this than on any project I’ve done before (though, it’s probably fair to say that I’ll always be somewhere near the crates when it comes to making music). Probably somewhere around half of the tracks have samples in them this time. I’ve very deliberately tried to make the non-sample based, live instrumentation tracks have the “feel” of sampled music to the best of my abilities though, as I like the way that feels and sounds. I’m doing some work for a well-known music library too nowadays, which has given me access to a lot of new usable material.
Really though, you expect me to actually name my sample sources, other than the fairly obvious GQ usage on “Freaks & Prophets”? C’mon now… I’m no expert on the rare gems, and, I’m sure the real heads will know some of them, but I’m not inclined to give anything away, as it’s all part of the fun. I will tell you that a couple of them were copped in the bins at Hello Records in Detroit though…
Talking of crate digging, you’re involved in a couple of hip hop projects and there’s clearly a hip hop influence in your house productions; please can you tell us a bit about making both house and hip hop?
To be perfectly honest, they both feel equally natural to me, as I’ve been listening to both genres for most of my life and have always felt there was a sonic kinship, or comparison of feel between them that just felt really intuitive to me as a listener, and then as a maker. I guess it’s fair to say that house and hip hop are both the children of disco and I love disco. Being able to focus on them separately has been the biggest bonus of the last couple of years of work, since starting on Madison Washington with Malik Ameer, and through him working with Pan Amsterdam, as just solely a hip hop producer.
In my earlier work there was perhaps more of an attempt at “crossover” in trying to use both genres feel and sounds on records, and, I’m finding it really artistically freeing to able to focus on both genres as different entities in terms of giving each track one cohesive production aesthetic. If anything it’s broadened my sonic palette, and increased my confidence with working in both genres distinctly.
We’re definitely due a revival or re-imagining of hip house soon though surely?
Are you still using the MPC that you made Columbusing on?
Yeah, it’s still wired up and ready to go in the studio, along with the same bass guitar and Rhodes I’ve always used, a couple of synths, and a few other little additions I’ve made over the years.
I’ve said this before I think, but, I’m always a little hesitant to talk about the gear, and “what I use” aspects of music production. It runs the risk of making this even more class-based than it’s already becoming if people believe they need a multitude of expensive technology to achieve a sound. That would seem to be a long way away from where it all began. I’ve seen too many examples of wealthy people who have financial access to the best equipment going, but have no idea what to do with it! Use what you have, do you, and try to be as dope as you can, I reckon…
That said, in the not too distant future I’m about to start up a techno motivated project with a well known Sheffield music producer in an all analog/modular studio soon, which I’m really excited about getting into, though it will be under a different moniker!
What’s the question you never get asked in interviews that you’d like to answer?
Oh wow, right. Okay… so, I’d like to get the opportunity to talk more about the class system problem that is now present in contemporary dance music, and, the rise of self-appointed influencers and their detriment to the scene. I saw a documentary on the BBC iPlayer called Everybody Is In The Place recently, where a UK academic was trying to explain to a group of young Politics students in London about the significance of the evolution of dance music from a political perspective, and it’s a fascinating watch, but made me a little sad that we seem to have gotten far away from the opportunity it presented for the world to do and be better. All love of course, but, I mean, is there maybe a reset button somewhere?
thatmanmonkz’s Non Zero Sum Game is out on October 18 2019 on Shadeleaf Music.