The Monolithium Interview
Over the past few yeas, the prevailing trend in the electronic music realm has been to laugh at traditional genre barriers, embrace internet culture and engage in constant, often impersonal collaboration. The positive results of this trend are obvious, namely new sounds popping up on a daily basis and collaborations that could never have existed only 10 years ago. The truth is that the internet’s self-congratulatory nature has lent a lazy edge to this trend though, allowing artists and labels to gloat in the most minimal progressions, effectively stunting real, meaningful sonic experimentation. Victoria, British Columbia’s own Chris Long, who produces under the Monolithium moniker, has touched on several ephemeral sounds across his first two EPs, but one would be remiss to toss him onto the ever-expanding heap of musical voyeurs. We spoke with Chris a few weeks ago via a shaky Skype connection and dished on his sophomore Bounce 4 Life EP, his sub|division club night, mutually exclusive listening practices and his favorite New York MCs. Unlike most of the internet production mob, Long exhibits the qualities of an actual music fan, expressing an adoration for everything from gully New York hip hop to Swedish math rock. This is clear in Long’s intricate productions, which draw feelings and colors from his divergent influences rather than borrowing actual sonic signifiers. Read on to get the full scoop and cop Bounce 4 Life here
Let’s get the silly stuff out of the way. Who are you? Where are you from?
My name is Chris Long. I was born in the North of England, close to Manchester, and lived there until I was 11, then moved to Canada, lived in Winnipeg, which is where I really grew up. That’s kind of where I cut my teeth in terms of “who I am.” When I was 19, I basically started moving across Canada and I’ve spent the last decade in Victoria BC, which I love to bits. I’m a music junky, I’ve been hugely into music my entire life, especially urban sounds like rap music and techno. Although I’m into hella other shit as well.
Hit the jump for the full interview…
For the better part of the last six or seven years, I’ve been DJing locally in many different iterations. I started off being a hipster DJ playing like Joy Division and Arcade Fire back when that was kind of a thing to do. That moved into being a more regular club DJ on Saturday nights, playing anything from Kanye to Daft Punk and shit. All through the different iterations of being a DJ, I’ve always been a big fan of underground shit, but never really thought I was a good enough DJ to do it. Basically four or five years ago I was just like fuck this, this is what I like, I want to start doing that so I started a night called sub|division. It kind of started off as a dubstep night when dubstep wasn’t shitty, but then dubstep got shitty so we were just like, ok well, there are a lot of really cool sounds let’s just move around. That’s right when Night Slugs started popping off. Now, in 2013, the night is basically a catch-all for any and everything that’s cool going on in underground music. Some nights that means we’re playing a lot of house music, some nights that means we’re playing beat music, some nights it even means that we can dip back into the good dubstep and the grime if we want to.
When sub|division really started kicking off, I really started to hone my own shit in terms of production and was finally really confidant. I always owned a lot of Roland gear all through moving across Canada and always dabbled in making hip-hop beats. Once I came to terms with Ableton and learned how to actually translate ideas in my head, I finally felt comfortable enough to send some stuff around. At the time I was making shit, I was really into Error Broadcast and stuff that they were putting out. I was really into Pixelord and Montgomery Clunk who made a couple of really great records out of the gate. I was just lucky, I sent them my stuff and they were into it and since then it’s just been this sort of snowball thing.
You just released your second EP Bounce 4 Life. What has the response been like so far?
It’s been great. It’s weird because to a degree I suppose I’m part of this bigger, global culture of, you know, underground dance music but the internet is so misleading. You see something on Boomkat and it just seems like it’s the biggest fucking thing of all time, but in reality there aren’t that many people who care about this music. For me, it’s amazing to get someone like Ryan [Hemsworth] on the remix, and then you know, the original tune “Bounce 4 Life was played by Machinedrum on Boiler Room last year. I remember thinking “ok I’m successful now!” (laughs)
But the big thing for me is that while global support is amazing and blog hype is really cool, the important thing is people in my community in Victoria and Vancouver on the West Coast of Canada have really been feeling it and really reaching out to me. That’s what I really require, because if I’m getting blog love from, you know, Morocco no one gives a fuck and there’s a disconnect there. I really didn’t want that to be what my music is about and fortunately people seem to be really feeling it and that feels good. So yeah, response has been good, Error Broadcast is amazing, you know, they have a really solid presence online and know how to push their artists. Now I’m just eager to get to the next release, which is coming pretty soon. 2013 is going to be a lot more techno focused and 4/4 based. I don’t like to do one thing for two long. The first EP was a very hip hop-oriented thing and this one is fucking with a lot of 808s and footwork ideas. The next iteration of what I want to do is definitely more of a 4/4 thing.
Stream: Monolithium & PrisonGarde – Pavillionaire
Did you have a hand in picking the remixers?
Kind of. We talked about it and it’s always a weird one with that stuff. With the first EP, I was definitely like “I want homegrown dudes” involved and I’m really tight with Prison Garde and subsequently with Ango. I wanted to have those guys involved, not just because of the buzz situation, but because I love what they do and I knew they’d create something dope out of what I put together. This time around we just wanted to shoot big. Ryan is Canadian as well and we know a lot of the same dudes, because of his East Coast Canada roots. He’s kind of like the golden child of 2013, so I think it’s been a good look and I think his remix has like 15,000 Soundcloud plays. I’m super stoked that he’s involved and I think that the remix has been getting him a lot of love as well. H-SIK is on the label so obviously that came from the Error Broadcast guys, but I like what he does and he did a cool flip on the tune. Totally abstracted the fuck out of it and turned it into a weird dub thing. For me, having KingThing on there was really dope because I feel that he is actually an under appreciated producer out of the UK. He’s doing a really good, modern take on garage. Not just a derivative wannabe, decade old garage take. His garage sound is very mechanical, very precise and I really like that. His remix is totally what I would expect from him and I still rinse some of his older tunes so it was really cool to hear that he was coming on board.
Stream: Monolithium – Bounce 4 Life (Ryan Hemsworth Remix)
How does the relative isolation of Victoria affect both your musical input and output?
That’s a good question. Winnipeg is a major city in Canada and definitely has shows, but growing up there, there wasn’t much of a vibrant urban sub-culture for me to interact with. There’s obviously a breaking point where the internet made electronic music in general just big, but when I was growing up in Winnipeg that was previous to all this. I guess I just made sure I was did a lot of listening. It was a lot of different sounds. I’ve worked in record shops for most of my life, so if you want to yak about Swedish math metal, I’m down for that, I totally know that world. On the same taken, I totally love Dilla to bits.
Being in Victoria, there’s this dichotomy between my isolated situation, but also having the web at your fingertips. Everyone has access to see what happens in London and LA and New York and Madrid and all these places that are having crazy parties. Crews in the smaller communities now are saying, “oh we can do that, we’ve got kids who’ll DJ Night Slugs & Hessle tunes, why can’t we have this party?” So Victoria is a weird one, because we are behind culturally. We’re the Western most part of Canada and subsequently things take their time to get here. Brostep lasted way longer than anything else here. Bro nights still pop off here, and people still go and it is what it is. I’m not about what I don’t like, I’m about what I like.
In terms of how I’ve interacted with the community, I’ve just been very patient. With the Monolithium thing, I was signed to Error Broadcast for a couple months before I told anyone that was me. Just because, I didn’t really want that friend cosign, I wanted to get some actual good feedback before explaining, “hey this is my music.” I’m the type of dude who people would just be like “oh that’s great.” In terms of Victoria influencing me music-wise, by the time that I got here, I was pretty much fitted out with all the tools needed for a solid musical background. I haven’t been influenced by Victoria as much as I’ve reflected on the situation here. I’ve always thought that it could be a better and more vibrant scene with regards to music. When I got here, indie rock was really big and now it seems like no one goes to those shows and the only thing that’ll get people out is a bro step DJ playing crazy bangers.
December was the third anniversary of our sub|div night. We threw three separate parties, all went off. Everyone was there for the right reasons, to hear new shit that they’ve never heard before. That’s the thing for me, trust us for three hours and we go for it.
It seems like a lot of producers are migrating away from dubstep towards a four on the floor-oriented structure. Some of your early production work played around with the dubstep template, but you’ve migrated towards a more malleable sound. What do you think has caused this trend both personally and on a larger scale?
Well, the dubstep thing isn’t new. We’ve seen it happen a million fucking times. Something relevant happens musically, America gets a hold of it and takes a big dump on it. It’s not just America, there a brostep DJs all over the world, but if you’re going to pin it on one country or have a pariah for the whole thing, Skrillex is that guy. I’ve been removed from that world for long enough now that it does not bother me. That’s the pop side of things and there are obviously a bunch of motherfuckers like that.
With the whole migration back to the 4×4 stuff, I think there are a lot of classic heads and a lot of old school naysayers moaning “all you bandwagon jumpers, now you’re coming, now you’re into Chicago and Detroit”. These are people who have been supporting that real shit for 20 years – I love that and I love their dedication – but the thing about a lot of cats who are 23 years old… they’ve never been in a club and heard a Kerri Chandler song! There’s this newness and freshness to hearing a vintage sound in a club environment. Especially when you’ve grown up through electro and dubstep and moombahton and all this shit. If that’s what you grew up with through your 20`s and now you’re being introduced to some real soulful, deep music, of course it’s going to be the new thing.
For me, I love the archival element of dance music. I love the history of it and I love what all of it means and how Detroit reflects on Berlin and all these things. The bigger picture. I love that sub|division has been able to bring some of those monologues and dialogues into what we’re doing as a team. We started with the bass music thing, but now it’s just good music. If it means we’re playing Hessle Audio tunes all night or whatever then that’s cool, and if it means we’re playing jackin’ Detroit shit all night, then that’s totally cool as well. At the end of the day in 2012, there are all these different sub-genres so if we start nitpicking it to death, it’ll just get ridiculous. I’m into recapturing how potent it can be to go into a club environment and listen music you’ve never heard before and just trust the DJ and just put your head down and go for it. Instead of “I better hear that Noisia remix tonight!” That’s not what I’m about. The whole 4×4 resurgence has allowed us to nurture a really open dance floor environment this year. There’s so much 4×4 music that most people don’t even know, or haven’t heard yet, so we can really tap that.
You’re a big East Coast hip hop fan and have remixed tracks by EPMD and Company Flow. Top three New York MCs?
Ooh MCs! That’s a good question man. Ummhh, well if I’m being real, El-P is a really big influence on me. I actually really like Cancer 4 Cure, but his solo stuff post-Fantastic Damage hasn’t really done it for me. But when I hear Funcrusher Plus, I still get shivers and it totally does it for me. I’m having a real renaissance with Illmatic right now so Nas would definitely be up there. And then, definitely Ghostface. I’ll never tire of listening to that guy and Wu-Tang has been a really important thing for me my whole life in terms of the amount joy I’ve received from the music those 10 dudes have put out. It’s fucking immeasurable. The fact that I’m 30 now and can go back and listen to a Ghostface verse from 12 years ago that still blows my brain, I just fucking love that.
Stream/Download: Company Flow – Eight Steps To Perfection (Monolithium Recrunk)
What are your thoughts on the current wave of New York MCs? Action Bronson, Roc Marciano, Joey Bada$$, etc. etc.?
It’s cool to watch for sure. My graphic designer is like, my main musical muse and we talk daily about both techno and hip hop. There are definitely elements that I’m feeling. I really like [Mr. MFN] eXquire for sure. I saw him at South By Southwest and he just ripped it to bits. Action Bronson is great as well. I have yet to hear the new Roc Marciano so I’m kind of sleeping on him a bit. I think it’s because, you know, New York has been a little bit off the map for a minute. And it’s the cycle, you have to go away to come back and the South has had it and the West has had it. It’s coming back around now and a lot of these guys are in this vein of like super New York shit. Roc Marciano is in the vein of Kool G Rap. Action Bronson has the whole sounds like Ghostface thing going on and is just a hilarious looking dude. It’s a new cast of characters who are putting out some dope shit so I’m really stoked to see what they do. It seems like they’re still kind of an underground thing, because it doesn’t seem like that sound has any interest in fucking with crossing over in a club environment. The second they get one of those tunes together that will crossover; it will be really nice to see how people react to it.
How do you justify the purist hip hop elements in your music with contemporary electronic music elements?
I wholeheartedly think that the homogenization of club music and hip hop is horseshit. It sounds awful. The B.O.B./Black Eyed Peas version of electro with rapping over it sucks and is super fucking lame. But at the same time, I’m that dude who’s listening to hip hop and trying to make electronic music. I guess part of that is that it’s ok to have boundaries. I also listen to Belle & Sebastian but those things are mutually exclusive for me. So when I’m listening to Illmatic, I might draw inspiration from it and it might hype me up to go back and inject some sort of energy into a tune, but I’m not trying to make a tune that sounds like Illmatic! It’s more like pulling colors, pulling ideas and influence. Like pulling feelings and sentiments more than the actual thing itself. I’m a white dude who grew up in Canada: I’m the least hip hop thing of all time. But I have the ability to listen to that CoFlow record and listen how dank and dusty those beats are and try and pull some of that into my music. Even if I’m pulling that dirt, I’m not necessarily pulling a specific lyrical line or from the experience they had growing up in Brooklyn, it’s more of a feeling and a grit and an aesthetic.
There’s a lot of crossover now with everyone and their dog doing more footwork-y tunes and taking one vocal line and chopping the shit out of it. There’s a lot of urban gangster influence in a lot of new electronic music. Especially the whole trap thing. Trap has now taken over where dubstep kind of was and is the new aggressive thing. They’ve got all these hard lines and it’s all thugged the fuck out. It’s like, you took this vocal and put an 808 in it and it’s like a club banger or whatever, but like anything, when any style becomes the fad, it loses vitality. To me it’s a little more about abstracting a feeling or something from that music. That’s the thing, I’m an emotional guy when it comes to music and what it means to me, as you said, all the classic boom bap shit still carries emotional weight for me. It’s being able to draw on that and inject that into my music so that it has some sort of emotion and resonance to it.
Since debuting your live set at Mutek and Decibel Festival last year, how has it developed?
When I started playing last year, when I did shows for the first EP release, I was playing a “live” set in Ableton, basically a big chopped up mash of my tracks. I really respect dudes who do it live. Prison Garde was a big influence on me in that regard – when I first met him he was doing a live rig with a whole A/V thing and it blew my fucking mind. He was allowed to be a lot more creative in the moment. So I really got into that and I really enjoyed the first iteration of my live set, but it took a while to put out the second record and I just kind of played out my live set. I would add stuff and take stuff away, but the backbone of the set was the same. And subsequently, this year that got me back into DJing. I started using Serato, which has been hella fun, so now I’m more in DJ mode and I’m actually really enjoying that. That really helps with the 4×4 thing, because 4×4 music really comes to life behind the decks. I have full intentions in 2013 of revamping the live show and doing the live thing again, this time with a drum machine and a synth as well, just because that really is the true test. I don’t want it to all be in the box, I want it to be actually live with synths involved.
How does playing out regularly at your club night sub|division, a pretty forward-thinking environment by all accounts, affect your creative process?
In terms of general attitude, it gives me a lot of hope. I’m an optimist, I just am. I’m not a cynical bastard. The fact that we have this regular night, I’ve seen it, I’ve seen kids come out and lose their shit to some of the weirdest, newest, freshest music. It’s just all about context and how you present it to them. If you can create an environment where they’re going to come out, have a good time, vibe the fuck out and have a few drinks, then you hit them with a Kingdom tune and BOOM, they’re going to get into it. Even the weirder stuff in the cool dance music world is still fundamentally dance music. Having the night is really influential for having the confidence to a.) DJ out some weirder shit and b.) make some weirder shit! Having played “Bounce 4 Life” at my night and watched people get down to it, it’s kind of crazy. It’s a 160 BPM, super melodic footwork tune, but if you put people in the right situation, then you’re going to get the right results.
It is funny, because there’s been this contrast for me over the past couple years where I get so choked watching the lemmings follow the whole brostep thing, and I’m just like “fuck guys, I understand that you want to rock out and party, but how about this weekend you just come and get sexy for a bit.” One thing that’s really worked for us is moving away from a headliner model. When we first started sub|division, it was all about bringing in a big DJ. That’s financially a bit of a burden, but also a lot of really great producers aren’t the best DJs. We’ve had that situation a few times where we’ve brought someone in we’re stoked to see and they just kind of play a set that you yourself would even play or one of your homies would do. Then the ticket price goes up and all that. We’ve really nurtured our residents this year and we’ve started doing $5 parties. Five bucks, come and throw down with us and let’s have a good time. It kind of removed the money from the equation so that it’s not so much about getting revenue to pay for this big headliner and it really nurtures this subconscious sense of community, driving a night forward with all local talent. We’re not really concerned about the money, we just want as many people in the room enjoying the sounds.
Check out this video of new video mapping installation debuted at sub|division’s 3 year anniversary…
What’s your favorite song to play out at the moment?
For sure, it’s Hrdvsion “Prettier Than That.” Hrdvsion is actually from Victoria and lives in Berlin at the moment and is just killing it.
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