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Beats Beyond Borders: A Deep Dive with thatmanmonkz.

Kono Vidovic November 9, 2023 318 9 5


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Even if you think you don’t know thatmanmonkz, you’ll know his beats. The Sheffield producer’s MPC-driven soul inflected house style was born out the influence of the mercurial master teachers of Detroit and 90’s boom bap. His discography includes releases on Delusions of Grandeur, Classic Music Company, Kolour LTD and Dirt Crew.  A sought-after remixer too having reworked tracks for Amp Fiddler, Folamour, and Kon. Rated #10 Deep House Producer of the Year by Traxsource in the same year his debut album Columbusing dropped.  thatmanmonkz has DJ’d twice around globe, and the self-confessed studio addict shows no signs of letting up anytime soon. As he releases his new full length album – You Should Have Been There – on his own Shadeleaf imprint, we get the chance to talk to Scott Moncrieff.

thatmanmonkz - Shadeleaf album interview

Thanks for talking to us today. Where are you this moment and how are you spending the day?

You’re welcome, and thanks for having me. I’m just at my home in Sheffield, which is where I mainly work from nowadays. Aside from chatting with you, I’m finishing up a remix, and starting to throw down some ideas for a new project I’ve just committed to that I’m really excited about.

I am called to action by your new album ‘’You Should Have Been There’. May I ask, who are you talking to in this title?

Awww thanks, that’s kind of you to say! The title came from chatting with a friend, I was originally heading towards naming it something lame that had ‘shady’ in it because of the label moniker, but, once “You Should Have Been There” came up, it fitted perfectly on a few different levels. I’ve been quite proudly and determinedly ‘underground’ so it worked for that, and the label logo is a friend of mine who passed away just before I started Shadeleaf, so it was nice to be able to give a nod to him also.

Can you give us a little overview of the album?

It’s honestly quite simple, in that it’s a retrospective of works of mine (as either producer or remixer) for the label that I’ve released over the last decade, along with a couple of new tracks in case there are any completists out there who might have had a lot of them already.

Was there a particular mood you were after from the onset? Or is it more organic than that.

It was pretty organic. I wanted to be representative of how long we’ve been going so I tried to span the lifetime of the label, along with also considering which ones are currently working for me the best ‘now’ with regards to where I see more interesting dance music being at.

Is there a message within the album for you or is it just a bunch of good music?

I’ve always tried to have a message in my music in so far as I can as a producer rather than lyricist, but there was no overriding theme or concept to this collection of work other than that. Just my usual position of being very ‘keep it real’ and respect the heritage and origins of dance and house music culture, which we often seem to be too keen to overlook, particularly in Europe, I’m afraid to say.

thatmanmonkz - Shadeleaf album interview

You’ve got the great Nicky O on there. Didn’t she work with MoodyMann?

She did, did a solo album for Mahogani a while ago. We initially met online, then hung out in Detroit whilst I was there deejaying and really got along. We did an album together for my label during lockdown, after doing a couple of singles before that. I’m happy to report that she’s even more awesome a human being than she is a vocalist!

In fact, there is an air of Moodymann about your productions. Not the first time someone has said that right?

Hehehehe, yeah, that may have been said before… I’m really flattered by the comparison as he’s certainly an inspiration, but, I’m influenced by a lot of people, and there are quite rightly a huge amount of people influenced by KDJ and that sample house, hip hop aesthetic approach to making dance music.

Tell us a little about some of the contributors?

I’m blessed to have been lucky enough to experience collaborating with a lot of lovely and super talented people since very early on in my solo career! My personal ‘voltron’ that I always go to, work with, and seek advice from to this day would be Pete Simpson, Chris Duckenfield, and Malik Ameer, and, regarding Shadeleaf it would be remiss not to mention people like Simba and Mannmademusic who have appeared more than once on the label, and are just as important as I’ve been in helping to realise the sound and vibe we were always going for. We’ve been really lucky in that regard with the people who’ve contributed over the years, so, shouts out to them all.

And the Ducktape Remix?

Chris Duckenfield is the man. He’s been helping me since the very beginning, and I’m lucky enough to be able to consider him a friend as well as colleague. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without his advice and input, as well as his musical contributions (he did the artwork for the album too!).  Not for nothing, he’s easily one of the best deejays going, and much more people would know that if he was more into or bothered by ‘playing the game’.

thatmanmonkz - Shadeleaf album interview

Where are you from exactly, where were you born?

Like that famous t-shirt says, I’m just a member of the human race from earth, whose political ideal is mainly freedom and religion, mainly love. I’m still currently living in Sheffield, UK, and was born in a small town called Melton Mowbray

Paint us a picture of where you grew up?

It’s just a small and quite conservative little town, that probably voted for Brexit, and maybe feels a bit ‘out of time’ with the world I was growing up in, and definitely does nowadays. Pleasant enough on the surface though, and I’ve still got some dear friends and family there, but, I was pretty keen to get to a bigger city with more going on, and, hip hop and house had already had a pretty profound effect on my worldview growing up. My Dad was a staunch socialist and was politically active also, which also helped shape and inform me.

What was going on around you musically as a kid?

Oh I was really lucky to be a kid just as both hip hop and house were really starting to make their voices heard, which were seismic shifts compared to what had gone before… We really shouldn’t believe everything we read and hear about ‘who started what and where’ though, as those stories are usually media driven and for business purposes rather than being objectively truthful. House music for example didn’t start to become popular because some Londoners tried an ‘e’ in Ibiza. It’s black, gay, and from Chicago, and was already crossing over into youth clubs and community centres in the major cities in the UK and Europe plenty before the influencers of that particular day laid their claim to it.

Where are you based these days?

Still in sunny Sheffield presently, though the thought of escaping ‘Brexit Island’ and heading to potentially warmer climbs definitely has it’s appeal…

What do you love about where you are living?

Sheffield’s great. It’s got a disproportionate amount of artistic types living here to its size, and it’s reasonably cost effective too in comparison to, say, London. It’s maybe considered an indie/band town, and, though we’ve some good bands here for sure, my experience has always been that there’s a really cool but unsung underground here for various types of dance music. It might help if the dance music industry was a little less London-centric here in the UK though.

thatmanmonkz - Shadeleaf album interview

How long have you been making music Scott?

On and off, probably about twenty or so years, though I had a bit of a break in there before starting up again as ‘thatmanmonkz’. I was the principal music writer and producer in a group called ‘Small Arms Fiya’ back then with a few other guys. To be honest, it didn’t end well after getting some attention and the experience kinda affected my view of the music industry, and also maybe people in it a little too… I’ve developed a much thicker skin nowadays, which you really are going to have to have to do this, though frankly still far too regularly my suspicions about people in/and the music industry are too often confirmed.

What came first Djing or production?

Oh, deejaying. I’d always collected records, buying seven inches as a kid, then progressing to imported hip hop twelve inches after that. I moved in with a friend who had DJ equipment when I was at university and already had a solid record collection, plus Sheffield was great for wreckastows back then. It came reasonably naturally. Making music was a logical progression from doing that for me. I bought an MPC in about 2003 or so, already had a little music theory locked in from learning the guitar and knew a few people with synths and hardware. As luck should have it, I moved in with a guy called Ross Orton around that time (he’s now a world-famous music producer, mainly for bands and the like), so I got an immediate schooling from someone who went on to being one of the best in the business. It’s changed a lot over the years, mainly from analogue to digital, and the quality of digital emulation is now really good, but learning and knowing some music theory and doing research is still something I’d highly recommend to younger artists.

You must have been a massive hip hop head. Were you?

Absolutely, from the late 80’s until the present day. I worked part time in the local record shop as a teenager and had access to order most things being released, as well as occasionally bunking off school to head to a nearby city to buy import vinyl. We were also selling a lot of bootleg Dj mixes on cassettes back in those days too, so I was getting exposed to lots of early-ish house music as well.

Who were your icons?

Could go on for a while here, so, I’ll try to keep it fairly simple. Public Enemy, Native Tongues, Lil Louis, Larry Heard, J Dilla, Moodymann/Theo etc.  D’angelo, Erykah Badu. Should probably mention Prince also. Bowie, Nina Simone, Coltrane, Marvin… I’ll stop there.

What was your first production/ release you put out?

It was a Detroit meets broken beat type remix for Sheffield house legends Swag, under the alias Solshaka I wrote with a couple of other guys somewhere back around 2004. Not sure I even have a copy.

What challenges did you face back then putting out your first release?

You know, I think it was easier in some ways back then, once you’d gotten to a level where what you were making was good enough to get someone to put it out. It was a far less saturated market, and the internet and digital streaming markets hadn’t really taken a chokehold on everything at that point, though it was very much in the air that it was coming… Up until starting Shadeleaf I had always signed stuff off to record labels, though interestingly I now regret that and really wouldn’t advise that particular pathway to any new artists today, who I’d encourage to do as much as they possibly can by and for themselves, to really learn to read record contracts from right out the gate, and to always insist on retaining their own publishing and licensing rights etc. 

The only real use of a label to a new artist nowadays is their distribution and promotional networks, if you can figure out a way to do that on your own, or hire your own PR, then do it. The industry got complacent and dropped the ball a long while ago and has never really bothered to adapt to the rapidly changing marketplace other than to gate-keep and protect itself and its employed acolytes, so it’s highly unlikely it will be of much use to you, or genuinely bothered much about you as a new artist unless you’ve already done a lot of the legwork.

What do you feel has been your most notable record, which one made the biggest impact?

Not sure if that’s for me to say, though predictably my personal favourites might well not be the most popular or streamed ones. I was really proud of “I can hardly breathe” with Pete Simpson, which is a soul/rnb track addressing policing in the US from my debut album, andI always love working with Malik Ameer as we always have something to say (that’s usually more important to us than any kind of commercial reception). Getting to do an album with Nikki O was really exciting and inspiring, particularly with us doing it during the strange times of the pandemic… I always think that as an artist, rather than an artisan, I should be more excited by the next thing I’m doing rather than whatever’s gone before though.

Do you feel that what it takes to be a successful artist is the same as 20 years ago. Or do you feel that the fundamentals remain the same?

Oh, it’s a completely different world, like night and day. I genuinely fear for dance and house music in its present state and think we’re already in real danger of it becoming like a new ‘Northern Soul’. People who can actually create the music interestingly are now so low in the food chain. The rise of DJ as influencers, the ticket selling blogosphere, the payola aspect attached to most exposure. That and the fact that many of the people in charge of the culture, in Europe certainly, should have moved out of the way long ago and are now essentially just behaving like profiteering capitalists and self-interested gatekeepers. The one hope I have is that the Midwest and New York will keep it going, and that its rise to popularity in parts of Africa might just save what we knew as house music. We need to get back to some kind of community, and as far away from the narcissism and need for profit that currently pervade most aspects of both it, and the world in general. I’m off my soapbox now.

How many albums have you made now?

This is around and about my seventh as thatmanmonkz I think (including producing for other artists/vocalists/emcees). I’ve also done a couple of ‘library music’ albums… Already got a couple of albums near completion for a new project next year too. I had to collate a list of all my musical releases ever recently too and was really surprised that it was up to well over 200 tracks all in.

What is it you love about making an album/ the album experience?

In the same way as a proper Dj set, with sequencing an album you get to try to ‘tell a story’ and consciously have deliberate energy changes in the way you don’t really with ‘singles’ or even EP’s. It’s also really rewarding to collaborate with and produce an artist and get something from an idea phase into a fully realised project. To be honest, I’ve often been two or three tracks into something and just thought ‘there’s an album here’, and really enjoy filling in the blanks and trying to discover a narrative thread from that point.

Have you been Djing out much lately on your local scene lately?

Yeah, I have actually, and really deliberately! Post both Brexit and certainly the pandemic the scene here in the UK is really different now, and dare I say not in a good way. I’m an underground music supporter, and the whole cash grab, influencer deejay culture, that ‘all the fun of the fair’ thing really isn’t for me, or of any use to the culture other than lining the pockets of a very small group of people (who ironically seem to claim the underground family at every chance they get!).  I felt it was important for me to get involved in small parties locally and work with smaller venues and up and coming younger artists, to try in some small way to help ensure that there still is some kind of scene here really I guess.

You play in the US quite a lot right. I guess they really get your sound there.

That’s probably not for me to say as well, but, I’ve always been really flattered and humbled by the support and opportunities I’ve had over there. To be honest I get much more satisfaction from working a room of musically knowledgeable people in, say, Detroit than I ever have from anything like a bougie festival stage, or in a package holiday tourist resort.

Any plans to head out to the USA again soon?

I have family over there as well as loads of good friends, many who I’ve made via music, and, most importantly a new nephew to go and meet so I’m hoping to get back over there for a little while next springtime. 

How do you go about sourcing new music for your sets?

At the minute Bandcamp is still really good, though I guess we’ll have to see what happens with all the corporate takeover stuff… over the pandemic I spent a little time making the algorithm work better for my personal tastes too, so I’m recommended pretty interesting stuff on the internet now. Other than that, trusted friend recommendations, and, of course supporting independent record shops when I’m away in any city, as the guys that run those establishments really know what they’re talking about so we should all support them! Present company excepted, but I’m very sceptical about blogs and ‘influencer’s’ introducing me to much of anything of any interest, as it’s a whole lot of nepotism, payola, and back scratching in that world nowadays…

Is there a good place to dig for records where you live or is that a secret?

Unfortunately, we’re a little light here in that department at present. That’s why we should all support our local underground music retailers, they’re not guaranteed to always be around and a healthy scene needs them!

What is the most recent record you purchased?

I’m always hunting for and purchasing new music! For the sake of this conversation let’s just say the recent Cleo Sol albums, she’s awesome and her producer is amazing (they did the Sault stuff too)!

Cleo Sol

Who are the artists that you follow right now? Who is your hot tip?

That would take forever to list, as I’m a real nerd about finding new music, and I’m lucky enough to be constantly inspired by friends and people I’ve met along the way too. As far as someone new (to me, at least) that I don’t personally know in the house world, let’s say Ben Hixon from Texas, he’s been smashing it.

What is coming up next for Thatmanmonkz?

As ‘monkz I’ve a few remixes that will be out soon enough, and, I’ll start on some new material once the Shadeleaf anniversary stuff has died down (we’ve another compilation release that is all about music from the other artists who’ve appeared on the label rather than me, called “Ten Years Deep”, that is due in early December). I’m also launching a new label and pseudonym next year, but I can’t say too much about that.

Thank you for your valuable time.

Thank you! Really appreciate you having me and letting me wax lyrical about myself, which I’m not normally great at doing… You apparently caught me on a good and opinionated day! Peace to all who have supported both the genuine underground, and me and the label over the years too.

Conclusion.

Thank you, thatmanmonkz, for sharing your insights and stories with us. Your journey in music is as inspiring as it is pioneering. To our readers, keep exploring the depths of house music with thatmanmonkz’s new album ‘You Should Have Been There‘ and stay tuned to Dirty Disco for more exclusive interviews and musical journeys.


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Kono Vidovic at Dirty Disco
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Kono Vidovic

DJ | MUSIC CURATOR & SELECTOR | PODCAST MAKER | BLOGGER Professional online interpreneur. Coffee practitioner. Electronic music culture maven. Total music guru. Infuriatingly humble problem solver. Food & sports fanatic.

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