Nick Monaco Explores House Music, Gender Politics in New Album

21 September 2014 - - The DJ List


“Know your roots.” “Never forget where you came from.” They’ve always been the mantra of anyone and everyone wanting to move forward in their lives and careers without losing sight of their core values. For 24-year-old rising DJ/producer and social activist NICK MONACO, his approach to dance music has always been about paying tribute to its origins while progressing it through the changing times and technology. First starting out as a Hip-Hop turntablist at the age of 13, he honed in on his skills as a scratcher then as a beats producer. However, it was his passion for House music that has caused people to take notice of his skills, landing him on the radar of DIRTYBIRD Records as well as SOUL CLAP.

We caught up with Nick a month after attending the release party for his new album Mating Call and talked about upcoming shows, his take on the dance music scene, future projects, and his passions for social activism, especially in the LGBT community.

TDL: Thank you for chatting with the DJ List. For our readers out there, tell us a little bit about yourself.

NM: My name is Nick Monaco. I’m a DJ, producer, and musician, as well as an LGBT activist from the Bay Area. I have an album out called Mating Call. I love yoga and basketball, and I’m trying to hydrate more for 2014 (laughs)

TDL: Your live performance last month at the CD release party was mind-blowing. Who are your big musical influences? It sounds like you derive from all sorts of genres.

NM: Originally I was influenced by Hip-Hop since I was a turntablist. Since then I’ve been listening to more Punk Rock, especially Proto-Punk and Femme Rock, which have been big influences on the album.

TDL: Kind of like the New York Dolls, MC5, Iggy & the Stooges?

NM: Yes, totally. Modern Lovers too. I wanted to take more influences from Punk rather than from the dance scene itself and give the dance music I make that sort of spin.

TDL: I also noticed that when you performed you didn’t use turntables or CDJs. So how does your workflow go in both studio and on stage, especially when it comes to playing live?

NM: To be honest I’m still developing my live act. In an ideal world that would be performing with a band and having a more complex setup. It’s cool though since I work and produce in Ableton. So it comes natural to do the live thing with it. Also it’s a matter of economics; traveling with the band can be costly. It’s easier to get the message across going solo, and it’s more exciting for me playing live since i’m so used to DJing. You are communicating with the crowd and basing your track selection on what they're feeling. Therefore, the live performance feels more like a monologue.

TDL: So what kind of message are you trying to get across to the crowd?

NM: I want to respect the history of dance music and culture. That’s really important to me, for my generation to know where this came from. The recent proliferation of dance music, I feel, has caused a historical amnesia of its roots. I want to respect the origins and restore femininity and innocence to dance music in a world that’s more masculinity and darkness. I guess it’s about restoring soul to dance music.

TDL: The dance scene, after all, started as an underground gathering place for those who felt outcasted and unwelcome in mainstream society - especially within the Black, Latino, and LGBT communities - to belong somewhere. Now with mainstream taking a hold of dance music, it seems the message has changed.

NM: Totally, it was a refuge for the minority groups. When you go back to the beginning in cities like New York and Chicago, there were loft parties where trans people, gays, “freaks”, and anyone that was on the fringe and wasn’t accepted by the dominant culture can go to and escape. That is why I feel so passionate; I think the club should be a safe place where anyone can be accepted.

TDL: And a lot of the clubs today are catering to a crowd that has the money and wealth - that “masculine culture” - if you will. And going back to the audience today having amnesia as to where dance music started - I mentioned influential names to the younger generation and they have no idea who they are.

NM: The problem that the younger generation has always had is clashing with the older generation. How do you educate them in a subtle way? I experienced that when I met Soul Clap. That was their ethos and their philosophy. They revitalize this older music and make it interesting and new again. Through that they are educating younger people. It’s an interesting place to be with wanting to move forward with this music without being archaic.

TDL: That’s how music moves forward; you look back at say, for example, what the Ramones did in the 1970s. Even if they were the face of punk rock at the time, they made the music they did as a response to the complex progressive and arena rock going on. Their ethos was to bring back the spirit of early rock ’n’ roll in the 1950s, being simple and fun. Basically they paid tribute to a generation back while giving a modern spin on it.

NM: Music has always been an action-reaction relationship. I think there will be a whole generation to challenge the music of what’s going on at the time. I’m actually curious to see what will happen in the next couple of years. I’m wondering now, too, since it feels like the deep house sound is making its way.

TDL: Now, you recently put out tracks with Dirtybird Records, which of course is legendary here in the Bay Area. How has it been working with them?

NM: They were the ones that inspired me to get into House music in the first place since at the time I was making Hip Hop. I didn’t have a window into the House world in which I felt comfortable with. Dirtybird bridged Hyphy with Minimal, Techno, and House in such a cool way, all packaged in a BBQ environment that seemed all too familiar as a Northern California native. I immediately connected with that and that was my goal for the first couple of years in my career. They’ve been very welcoming and are all close friends. They really inspired artists from my generation.

TDL: Of course, your new album, Mating Call, came out a month ago on Soul Clap. What was the inspiration behind it? It has more of a chill out, ambient vibe.

NM: I wanted to make something that was dance but also challenge what House music could be. So I was definitely influenced by the Talking Heads, getting inspired by what David Byrne did. I didn’t want to hold anything back. I wanted to do whatever felt right. A lot of the producers and DJs feel constrained by the House format, and I didn’t want to be constrained by any kind of format. I guess I wanted to bridge live instruments with House - taking things from Disco, Dub, and other genres. And all of this happened within 3 weeks. Also, I wanted to explore topics like gender politics with this album - masculinity vs. femininity - and how that fits in the dance world. There are two different voices on some of the tracks: a high falsetto feminine voice and a low booming masculine voice. So I’d like to think the album has an androgynous tone to it. Looking back, I was playing with those ideas subconsciously on sexuality and gender.

TDL: So what shows do you have coming up soon?

NM: I will be performing at the U Street Musical Hall (on September 19) in Washington DC, the Garret in Miami (September 20), and in various cities including Los Angeles, Mexico City, and San Francisco, to name a few. I am currently on tour with HERCULES and LOVE AFFAIR in support of the album.

TDL: Who would you like to work with in the near future?

NM: I would love to work with BLOOD ORANGE and KINDNESS. I’m into their message and into their music. I’m working on this project with LADY MISS KIER. She’s a huge influence for me and it’s been a dream of mine to work with her. Finally, the music gods-that-be brought us together, and so we made a song earlier this year. I’m trying to do a more Punk/Indie style and I have a few more projects surrounding her. That is something I’m working on. I want to do a documentary on Dee-Lite and about the New York House scene.

TDL: Is there anything you would like to say to your fans?

NM: I just want to thank everyone that has supported me. And also, please buy my lipstick. I have a lipstick called “Freak Flag” coming out next week. All proceeds will go toward paying for gender confirmation surgeries through this organization called the Jim Collins Foundation. So, let your freak flag fly.

Mating Call is now available. Get your copy here.

Be sure to follow Nick Monaco on his socials to keep up-to-date:
DJ Profile | Beatport | Facebook | Soundcloud | Twitter | Album

About the Author

The DJ List
dirtybird hercules lady miss kier soul clap kindness deee-lite nick monaco love affair blood orange