Sonic Agenda Exclusive Interview: Will Monotone
Whether you’re a Bostonian through and through, or a nightlife transplant from across the country, there is no reason why the name Will Monotone should be foreign when it comes to Tech/Techno/House. A highly sought after producer on Sub Society – with affiliations to ViVa Music, Defected, Factomania and Material Series – he made time to sit down with us to discuss his thoughts on Boston nightlife, Viva Warriors, and the current state of clubbing.
Sonic Agenda: Since you’re a Boston native, what was your perception of the Boston club scene from when you first started going out? How do you feel about the current Boston club scene and venues?
Will Monotone: I actually think the current club scene in Boston is actually better! Back in the day Lansdowne Street ruled everything more or less; it was Avalon, Axis, Modern, and Karma. They had everybody! It really boiled down to if you weren’t playing Avalon you weren’t playing in Boston. It was nothing against Avalon I actually used to work there in addition to playing all those clubs, but the age of underground and super club monopoly has passed. I liked the way things were controlled better back then, but on the other hand now gigs are spread around the city.
The diversity that is happening right now with Rise, Bijou, Phoenix Landing, and all these other pop-up places that are happening creates more competition. So I think it’s really cool the Make it New guys have their stuff and Bijou has their nights, it gives people a chance to see more and different artists.
SA: There was a solid 3-year gap when Lansdowne Street closed and there wasn’t a single venue left to play. How do you think it has affected the community and scene?
WM: I don’t think that the closings really affected the scene – I am biased about this a little because I worked there- the people managing it towards the end was a big factor. It went from having guys like Nailz and Manolo as residents, then new management coming in to “clean house.” Their thoughts were “this is the way we’re going to do stuff” and it wasn’t the way it should’ve been handled. John Debo had set up a really good system there and it worked very well for a long time, but then they threw a wrench in it. The way they were doing business with a lot of artists put a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths. They took something that was so great for this city, flipped it and destroyed it all within a year and a half.
SA: Commercialism has been making its rounds through each electronic genre as each year passes, how do you feel about the current trend shifting towards deep house and tech?
WM: As far as commercialism goes, it’s exactly what you said it is: a trend. It’s going to come, and it’s going to go just like it did before. You had: Daft Punk on MTV, Fatboy Slim, Sonique, …and it came and it went. The only reason why it’s a big deal now is because it’s happening in America. For more or less the past 20 years everywhere else in the world this would be considered pop culture because dance music was big worldwide. It doesn’t affect or bother me too much.
The only thing that does really bother me, is the classifications of what they call it. You see so many DJs saying “oh we play house music” and it’s the farthest thing from it; that’s what really gets under my skin. Real house music comes from labels like Defected and Frankie Knuckles, Todd Terry, stuff like that. It’s not the EDM stuff that’s circulating now, to me that’s the farthest thing from house music you can get.
SA: Do you think current classifications is effecting how things are done on Beatport and Traxsource?
WM: I think Beatport is one of the reasons why there are classifications. I don’t really deal with them that much, I had a label years ago called Hush and we worked with them exclusively; over time I watched that company start milking every label for everything they’re worth and they’re the ones that really changed all of the classifications. In the beginning everything was fine and Beatport got in this practice where you would upload a release and tell them which genre and they would come back and say “oh no it’s this genre this is what it’s going on.” An example would be when they filled a genre like progressive house – that John Digweed and Sasha pretty much created and pioneered – with tracks by Avicii and Axwell. At the end of the day they have the power to change the classifications because that’s where they’re selling it.
SA: Was this the result of the SFX buying out of Beatport?
WM: This happened WAY before SFX bought them. The only thing I’ve noticed now that SFX is involved is it has gotten worse with the classifications and now includes all of those pop Brittney Spears type remixes.
SA: What made you decide on a weekly residency at 49 Social? How does it prepare you for your upcoming gigs at Viva Warriors?
WM: I really like the idea of playing the weekly thing. I wanted to do this because the age of the weekly residency ANYWHERE, is gone. You don’t really go anywhere and see someone every week unless it’s an opener. I used to be a resident at Kama, Axis, and even Mantra; and I like the idea of doing that again. Any gig I play prepares me for the next one but going from 49 Social to Viva Warriors are two different monsters.
SA: What exactly is Viva Warriors like?
WM: Viva Warriors really isn’t based so much on the movie, but it’s really just about going out to let yourself go. People really get into it; people are dressed to the 9’s as Indian warriors with full paint and outfits. At the event they hand out headbands and paint your face inside to really bring you into the theme. Viva Warriors in Ibiza is way different than the parties that are satellites around the world because that room was built specifically for that party. It’s a dark, hot room, with low ceilings and a great sound system. It’s just a place where people come to lose themselves for 9 hours, it’s incredible to experience and that’s exactly what Steve [Lawler] had in mind when he made it.
At one point Ibiza got really detached from the reason why it got so big. The island was created by a bunch of hippies to be based off it’s vibe, then all of a sudden everything started changing, everyone started getting disconnected from that idea. So at the time Steve left Space and went to Sankeys to set up this party. As far as the island goes, I’d say the top two parties in Ibiza would be Ciro Loco and Viva warriors. My first year there and playing was last year and it was really cool to see.
SA: How does the Ibiza lifestyle compare to the American festival mentality of “Let’s rage?”
WM: Everyone thinks Ibiza a drug mecca and party central but it’s far from that; it’s a different lifestyle over there, everything is so laid back, and people are really into everything. There’s no one there to just “be seen,” people go there to spend their hard earned money to really just let loose and have a good time no matter where they are.
I don’t think it’s a festival thing because there were festivals around for a long time like Timewarp, and Sensation; I feel like us Americans are taking it to a place that’s above and beyond to a place that I really don’t like. We did the Viva Warriors party in Miami and it was great but it’s nothing like playing a Viva Warriors in Ibiza where the booth is like 3 feet off the ground vs. eye level from everyone. It really takes away from everything you’re trying to do.
About 5 years ago, hip-hop fell apart, rock fell apart, and there was nothing else for the market to grab onto. So I think the way it happened was this was something we haven’t tapped out yet and that’s exactly what America did and they’re capitalizing on it. In any case, you go to a gig and looking at the person playing and they’re not even doing anything other than throwing a cake at someone, or spraying someone with champagne. What is the point? I can go a bar and get a cake thrown in my face, or I can even go to a lounge and spray champagne on people, that’s not the point of this. I think they’ve taken it and made a celebrity thing out of it, and there’s nothing celebrity about playing other people’s records. You are there [as a DJ] to play and make people happy, not be the center of attention.
SA: How does it feel for you to go from an old gig, playing in a dark corner with a lamp, to the current set up of front and center?
WM: It’s hit or miss depending on the event. I’m the type of guy that doesn’t like being on a stage because it disconnects me from the crowd. It’s fun I’m not going to say that once in a while it’s not cool, but to be honest that’s disappointing it’s the standard. That’s one of the big reasons why I’m one of the residents at Rise, I come back to Rise every 3 months to play. To me that is the epitome of everything I love a dark room, low ceiling, good sound system, sometimes it gets really hot in there. That to me is what makes a really great party. To be in a place after a long night, it’s a sauna in there and you’re just losing yourself; I don’t want to be jamming out and get sprayed in the face with champagne or hit in the face with cake. Maybe it’s because I’m older, but it never appealed to me.
Avalon used to be two floors with the booth in the balcony and extremely dark. Back then there was no stages, the DJ wasn’t as big of the highlight, there were there people who knew they were but the night wasn’t about having the DJ out there just so you see him and not pay attention to what’s going on in the room.
SA: With that type of “staged” setup how do you think it changes the crowd? Is it distracting?
WM: ABSOLUTELY! 100% one of the things that happened this year that kinda proved that point was the Deadma5 Ultra set. I know a lot of people got pissed about that, but I think is Joel Zimmerman is a genius. I think what he did with his brand and the way he did it was amazing. I like a lot of the stuff he does; it was very different to merge a lot of different stuff to create the sounds he did. The fact that he played “Old McDonald Had a Farm” at Ultra in front of THAT many people and no one had any idea what was going on because they were paying too much attention to the “show” is the proof that things like that basically calls them all out. Go there and enjoy the music, put your cellphone away, stop recording the show and LISTEN to the music, find someone to dance with; that’s the whole point. I think that’s the worst thing ever about festivals: people no longer go there for the music.
SA: You went to the Institute of Audio Research for Audio Engineering, what do you think about all these newer DJs and producers being self-taught?
WM: When it comes to the phase “self-taught” you can be self-taught to a certain extent but nothing beats proper training of the ear, there’s never ever going to be a replacement for that. There’s a new site that just launched called Landr and it’s an algorithm system that could possibly work but it will NEVER replace the human ear. There are just certain things that you have to hear in a setting for it to actually hit the way you want it to. So the way all these kids are doing it, it’s great they’re learning but my piece of advice to all of them is at the end of the day: make your record be a producer, and bounce it down mix it down and send it to an engineer and get it done the right way, there will never be a replacement for that process.
SA: Going off of “nothing can ever replace the human ear” what is your stance on hearing loss in the community?
WM: I think one of the negligence of the younger kids in the scene. People who are older and have been around for a while you’ll see them out with earplugs or even show up with nothing and end up putting a napkin in their ears. It’s something that I’ve always done but also the caliber of the systems from back in the day versus now, there’s a difference between analog and digital sound. The digital is basically a million tiny clips that is naturally aggravating the human ear. When people say “oh I don’t wear them you can’t hear the music” that is absolute BS, there really is no excuse these days with so many earplug options out there. There are custom ones that can be made to fit an individual’s ear and can block out the harmful frequencies and allowing you to still hold a conversation with them in perfectly fine.
SA: So that movie “It’s All Gone Pete Tong” isn’t just a satire, it’s a very real fear?
WM: It’s a very real situation unfortunately. I know plenty of people when you sit down for a conversation with them you have to be louder than normal because they can’t hear a thing you say. It’s definitely a problem that’s going on that people need to take more care of.
SA: Lastly, what secrets can you let us in on for the upcoming Boston dates?
WM: I’ll be recording all of the nights at 49 Social over the next 6 weeks so anyone coming out can add their name to the email list and have access to exclusive mixes. I’m really excited for the upcoming weeks and hope everyone can make it out once before I leave for Ibiza.