Friday, November 4, 2011

Futureproofing Vancouver: Monolithium

Maybe this one should be titled Futureproofing Victoria.  Monolithium, aka Longshanks, aka Chris Long, is perhaps the "head" in Victoria -- bawse-man of the city's prominent Subdiv crew, promoter extraordinaire, and one hell of a DJ to boot. He's arguably responsible for building one hell of a dedicated, knowledgeable and passionate scene in a relatively tiny city, one that might be said to rival anything Vancouver could offer.  He's part of this series not only because of Victoria's incredibly close proximity to Vancouver but because his impassioned and precocious efforts have had a mutually beneficial effect for making both cities hotspots in Western Canada for underground electronic music, and his endless support for local talent has helped to nurture the kind of overwhelming roster I'm presenting to you with this very series.

Beyond his promotional skills and DJing prowess, Long has also initiated his own production project under the name Monolithium, debuting with the excellent Simon & G-Funk EP on German label Error Broadcast.  Emerging as a hip-hop project -- or what Long himself described as "astral crunk," the Monolithium material seemed to burst from the floodgates absolutely out of nowhere with a confident, assured, and most importantly tight sound.  While the music on his debut EP easily lives up to some of the most lauded of L.A.'s "beat scene" -- maybe his most comparable peers at this point -- its remarkable focus and seamlessness was a one-up on a scene associated with rambling, THC-addled wanderlust.  The tracks on Simon & G-Funk could burst with colour, but they were focused beams rather than blinding and chaotic spills of radiant light, and his grasp of development and subtlety meant his tracks could go hard without turning abrasive, swing without tumbling over.  Even better are his drum sounds, instantly recognizable but totally implacable, and always raining down in a controlled chaotic cascade that's simultaneously thrillingly ramshackle but cooly controlled.

Since the release of Simon & G-Funk, Monolithium's sound has diversified, and arguably even better.  While there haven't been any releases yet, tracks like "I Want UR Luv," "Spiral Face" show new sides to Long's musical personality: alternately buoyant and melancholy, "I Want UR Luv" is quite possibly his most lush and pillowy production yet, but still kept to the ground with percussion that swings drunkenly and hits hollow like someone swinging around a bag of doorknobs (yes I just said that) and a grinding bassline.  On the other hand, his EPMD re-crunk is an exploratory hobble through several eras of funk past and future, a cosmic slop of vocal samples, slapping drums and punishing basslines.

The rather masterful mix he's done here is pretty much a perfect showcase of where his sound is heading at the moment.   Beginning with the skidding thump of his forthcoming B-ju mix, we're taken on a ride through every facet of Long's musical personality, culminating in the aforementioned "I Want Ur Luv" which brings the mix down into a gorgeously mournful synth outro.  Over twenty minutes we're pushed every which way by hungry basslines, prodded by restless drums, and soothed by the expensive-sounding array of smooth funk jets.  There's so much going on here -- whatever the hell the B-Ju remix is through footwork in "Bounce 4 Life" to the low-slung funk of "Lancashire" and "I Want UR Luv," it's all tied together with Monolithium's distinct pallet of chunky heft, nimble drumming, and syrupy melody.

B-Ju "Mia Got A New Haircut [Monolutium Re-Up]"
Monolithium "Bounce 4 Life"
Monolithium "Rugged Like Rwanda [Co-Flow Recrunk]"
Monolithium "Lancashire"
Monolithium & Hrdvsion "Too Many y Chromosomes"
Monolithium "I Want UR Luv"


How long have you been in Victoria; why'd you move there, where else have you been based?

Well I was actually born in the north of the UK, close to Manchester. I lived there until I was about ten, then family moved to Winnipeg. Left Winnipeg at 19, spent time in Canmore and Kelowna. I’ve been in Victoria for about ten years now. I love it here.
You run sub|division, correct? Could you talk a little bit about exactly what sub|division is, its inception, and how it works at this point in time?
Subdivision started almost two years ago. Its genesis was the result of a few planets aligning. Kevin Eames had just moved back to Victoria from Montreal after having being exposed to the Turbo Crunk crew and he was ready to light up Victoria with new music. Around that time I’d become well acquainted with The Big Reds (Rhythmicon, Frame, Gobe), Victoria’s premier dubstep DJs. With those guys I’d thrown a party with Appleblim and despite me coming from a different sector of Victoria’s club community, we decided it would be hella fun to link up and give underground dance music a go. When we started in 2009, our mandate was “dubstep, glitch hop, wonky, techno” which was admirable in some respects, but also a bit comical in hindsight. Within a couple of months of throwing parties, it became apparent that all the new 130-140 UK stuff was really what was going to fuel our residents’ sets and by then, dubstep was already spiraling out of control. 
Fast forward up to this year and sub|division is Victoria’s homebase for the good shit, meaning a lot of things; garage, trap-rap, deep house, footwork, post-hip-hop, lots of UK sounds… we manage to squeeze a lot in there. Currently, we’re throwing a couple of parties each month, with one of those nights usually focusing on residents. In our brief stint at this we’ve been lucky enough to have some world class talent roll through: Machinedrum, Gaslamp Killer, Jacques Greene, Julio Bashmore, Pearson Sound, Illum Sphere, Silkie, dEbruit, XI and many more.
Online, we’ve put in a lot of energy to make a bit of a hub where we not only keep people posted on our events, but the goings on in Vancouver and also the global community as well. The website extends our reach and allows a curatorial angle to what we do, which is important because I think many of us would agree that North American crowds are massively undereducated when it comes to discussing modern dance music. As you know so well, the web element is always a grind, but I have an amazing team that works hard on keeping the site fresh (many thanks to Amy, Jamie, Sarah!).
We’ve released quite a bit of free music via our site now as well, most notably Prison Garde’s album earlier this year. That gained amazing traction and we plan to release more freebies by the end of this year. We’ll also be running a 2011 Recap series through December, where every day we post a new recap from someone important in our scene. We did it last December and it was really rewarding collecting a vast array of year-end opinions.
Vancouver is often criticized for its venue situation -- lack of choice and heavy restrictions -- does Victoria suffer from the same issues or how does it differ?
Is it hard establishing a base in a smaller city like Victoria or do the logistics actually make it easier?
Getting sub|division going two years ago was pretty straight forward because of how immediate Victoria’s dance community was at the time. We had a great venue in Lucky Bar, we had a great team ready to go and there was a palpable desire for people to dance to some fresh new sounds. But even now two years in, it’s not like we’re a dominant force in our city or anything. We still play small rooms. We still try to keep cover cheap. We just do our thing and slowly try to spread the gospel.
We got going right as Turbo Crunk was ending in MTL and as Lighta’s true dominance of Vancouver was slowing down, but both of those scenes are a huge influence on us many respects. Not just the individuals involved and the high level of talent, but both of those crews walked the walk, they stuck to their guns musically. Over the last few years I’ve been blessed to get to know most of the dudes from both scenes and it’s helped me reaffirm that sub|division is totally doing great things. It’s nice to hear that from dudes you’ve taken advice from.
Venue-wise, we try to only really fuck with two rooms – Lucky Bar and Hush. Both have great sound systems, both have their own built in regular crowd and both are great dancing environments. We occasionally do larger venues if we have no option, but in the age of every promoter gunning for mega-event bells & whistles, I like that we focus on the two clubs that have a stripped down, immediate vibe.
We've spent a lot of time dissecting the scene in Vancouver. What's Victoria like and how does it differ to Vancouver? Both in terms of the larger scene and the producers/minds/DJs that make up its backbone.
As a whole, brostep, breaks and heavy electro are really big in Victoria. It’s common for two or three shows each weekend and some weekday shows as well. Real techno and house are hard to find in our city. Like for real, you will not hear proper teutonic techno anywhere in Victoria this month. Drum & bass seems to have a solid chunk of support, due in part to my man Outsider who carries the torch for that scene.
Our parallel underground scene in Victoria is small, but really tight nit and always growing. Outside of sub|division, there’s a Thursday night at Hush called Theory run by April Mundell – she does a fantastic job of booking that room. She takes risks and keeps all the locals rolling through.
We have a lot of great people in Victoria but things are still a little disparate for my taste. There’s obviously a bit of romance in being the rogue squad booking killer hip shows, playing fresh music etc. But at this point, I want awareness of our scene and sound to grow – we’re too good to be constantly fighting to fill our dancefloors. That’s going to be a major priority for me in 2012.
What else do you do in Victoria aside from putting on nights?
I work at Ditch Records, which is Victoria’s largest record store. I’ve worked in music retail most of my life & I still totally love it. I have a weekly Saturday residency at Lucky Bar which is more traditional crossover weekend club fair, more remixes & hip-hop. I also help put together Rifflandia Festival, which as the years go by and the festival grows, is becoming a job that extends earlier into the year. I’m also a cuisine-obsessed husband. 
How do you feel about the way dubstep has blown up in the public eye -- especially over here -- in the past few years, and how does it affect the still-extant scene? Is dubstep something you no longer want to be associated with?
Oooh. Well talking about dubstep in North America is a weird one. Calamalka had an amazing quote, something to the effect of “brostep has replaced Nickelback for weekend warriors” which I guess is kinda true. What you and I call dubstep is not really what everyone is complaining about. The whole North American razor-face bro thing is really getting so far removed from the UK sound that I kinda wish that scene would just start owning the brostep tag so we didn’t even have to distinguish. 
There’s a strange dichotomy where some people in Victoria actually think I DJ dubstep (?) but then some of my producer homies prolly think I hate dubstep. I booked Skream & Excision’s first shows ever in Victoria and to be honest, dustep helped get sub|div up and running. There is a lot of proper dubstep that I do love but the reality is that there are some ugly truths about what’s happened in North America. Generally my take is that there’s too many exciting things happening in dance music right now for me to spend time thinking about how sad dubstep has become. But at the moment, we’re a continent obsessed with fight culture and iPhones – so it is no wonder people wanna rave to music that sounds like a robot taking a violent shit. Brostep is basically UFC club music now. It’s taps a lot of masculine, testosterone-driven signifiers that echo the kind of vibes that Korn and Limp Bizkit were channeling 15 years ago. It’s not remotely sexy in any way and the last time I checked, sexy dance music made for a way better dancefloor.
And promoters: guys, what the fuck are you doing? Stop paying ridiculous fees and stop booking one-dimensional lineups. It has created a sonic monopoly on the dancefloor – the idea of dynamic within a night of music is completely gone. “Hey, here’s huge dubstep act A, with local brostep guy B and a wompy breaks DJ! $25 thanks!” Historically, promoters would be on the ball looking for new sounds to break, but that has gone out the window for the sake of the mad brostep cash grab. Thank god for people like Red Bull. Tours like Destination Tokyo are fucking important. The fact that Jacques Greene, Lunice, Ango and Prison Garde toured the whole country earlier this year is a testament to how dedicated they are to supporting real music.
What other musical endeavours have you ventured on before Monolithium?

In Victoria, most know me as Longshanks. I’ve been a resident DJ at Lucky Bar for five years. I’ve moved through pretty much every genre - I started playing Arcade Fire and Bowie to hipsters in 2005… I’ve played house music, disco, rap, electro, lots of stuff. Over the years I’ve dabbled as an MC – hip-hop has been at the core of my musical backbone the longest. I’ve had a Roland 505 for 15 years, so I’ve always had that machine going, but I never had the gusto to get my shit together. Until Monolithium got going, I was playing bass in a band with some friends as well. 
When did the Monolithium project start and where does the name come from?
I wrote “Selfish Lil’ Crunk” about two years ago, so yeah, that long. Previous to that I’d made a couple of beats under the Longshanks name, but I wasn’t really feeling them. I honestly owe Hrdvsion a massive thank you – he sat me down for a few sessions on one of his visits back from Berlin in 2010 and really helped me get over the hurdle of workflow in Ableton. Up until that point I was kind of flailing. 
Weird thing, even before I was happy with the beats, I always knew I was going to call it Monolithium. Just popped in one day and I was like “baddass!” Even before the EP was finished, I was working on art with CabDesign – having a cohesive aesthetic was always going to be a part of any project I attach myself to – it’s something that I’ve always respected, artists that don’t slack on the visual side of things. 
Do you feel disconnected at all making hip-hop/crunk beats in a place more often than not associated with straight-up dubstep?
Yes. Playing my crunk shit in Victoria is always a bit of a scare. Victoria is so fucking white, if you’re playing 90 bpm shit, people are either expecting wompy West Coast glitch or they’re waiting for Biggie to chime in. So it is a bit of a weird one when you drop into some loping, spacious funk. But our little core scene has been really supportive of my music and really, I don’t give a fuck lately. As a weekend DJ, I’ve spent so much time catering; I’m definitely not trying to do that with Monolithium.
How'd you get in touch with Error Broadcast for your first release and were you happy with the way it went?  What's the future looking like in terms of releases, and are there any labels in particular you're dying to work with?
When I started the Monolithium SoundCloud page, I sent the first two drafts to a couple of labels. I was really feeling Montgomery Clunk’s Superbus EP around that time, so I ended up sending EB my stuff just on a lark. The first two tunes were “Heat Pump” and “Selfish Lil’ Crunk”. And to my delight they were basically down to do something right away. Working with them has been great. Between Sven and Flip, they really rep their team well on the web. They’re responsible for a lot of the hype around Eastern Europe’s own beatscene and they have really shown me tons of love online. The fact that “Simon & G-Funk” has been played on Rinse FM is mindblowing. Eastern EU dudes like Pixelord are starting to crossover and they’re instrumental in that. I have copious amounts of love for EB.
In terms of future releases, there is nothing concrete. I’m talking with a couple of labels and I’ll work with EB again at the drop of a dime. But right now I’m just concentrating on finishing up a boatload of tunes. Label-wise I have a lot of respect for LuckyMe and Planet Mu – their quality control and aesthetic is completely inspiring. Working with either of those labels would be amazing. But my whole plan is to put my head down, make some good music and rock the shit out of some crowds – label stuff will happen when the time is right. 
Your music seems to have a lot in common with the L.A. beat scene and SF hip-hop scene, do you feel any particular allegiance with those producers?
Yes. I do love the musical umbrella that Low End Theory has managed to raise in our corner of the world. It covers a fantastic mix of influences: Dilla is obviously a huge touchstone, LA’s jazz/funk is there, all the Latin sounds coursing through California. I am feeling a lot of cats from California, especially Sa-Ra, Salva, eLan and Low Limit. Thundercat, man his record is just a monster. And I never tire of Dam-Funk. So yeah, there is a lot of inspiration there, which is a bit weird for me because despite having lived out west for a minute, I grew up a strict East Coast kinda dude. I did not listen to a lot of West Coast rap growing up, I was all about hard knockin East Coast styles. I guess in a way my hip-hop beats are trying to negotiate those two sounds.

You're embarking on a West Coast tour with FUCKING DABRYE.  Explain.
Yeah, I’m overwhelmed. Dabrye is a big dude for me, One/Three is a trailblazing record. A lot of people up on current beat music might not know him, but he is one of the legitimate torchbearers of the post-Dilla legacy. So playing with him is going to be fantastic, because I’ll get to see him rock crowds. And he’s playing mostly vinyl! The fact that I get to open with my own music – a lot of which is hugely influenced by his production – is an amazing bonus. Plusssss, it’s my first proper tour ever. Really excited to play Low End Theory – the night is ground zero for the post-hip-hop movement in North America, so it’ll be great to drop all my crunk shit there. Basically I‘m shitting bricks in anticipation of the tour.
How do you feel about the health of the BC (Vic/Van) scene now compared to, say, three years ago?  What changes has it undergone and what have you noticed as a promoter?
The scene so-to-speak is a tough thing to really define right now. Whereas in 2008, it would have been pretty much just Lighta! and a few other cats, in 2011 there’s so much going on between Vancouver, Victoria and even Nelson. 
As a promoter, 2011 has been rewarding as hell musically but frustrating on other levels. Jacques Greene, Julio Bashmore, Pearson Sound, Zed Bias, Salva, all amazing bookings, but few of these shows made money and some drew less than impressive crowds. It’s tough… the web makes all these new sub-genres and micro-movements seem so immediate, so massive – people that are into this shit are reeeeally into it. But I think the reality that we’ve all discovered over the past year is that even in a city as large as Vancouver, there’s still only a remote amount of people that are interested in tangibly contributing and supporting a local scene based on fresh new music. A UK DJ like Pearson Sound/Ramadanman – he’s such a major name to us, but the reality is that our world is still a niche cross section that doesn’t reach the majority of North Americans who are interested in dance music. Most people going to the big mega-bro shows don’t really care about the music – they’re just following the pack to the wildest party. So it’s sometimes hard for us to keep our head above water because our scene focuses so heavily on the music and kinda forgets about trying to bring people into the scene.
I think to a degree, the rise of terms like “bass music” and more-so “future bass”, while I see the purpose they kinda serve, they’ve kind of clouded the image of our scene in some ways. It’s like in this mad scramble to separate ourselves from brostep, we kind of lost the plot when it comes to talking about what it is we’re actually passionate about. Like the Pearson Sound show – it was a fucking house music all night! But nobody was selling that aspect of it. And it’s not easy. It’s easy to moan about rackety bro beats – see my above post – and I hate that. I hate being a whiner. I think overall, we collectively need to work on growing our scenes, bringing people in and being genuinely positive about what we’re doing because it is important. A healthy dynamic dance community informs the cultural vitality of any major urban center. So we need to address this going forward. There’s a tendency for us all to get slightly guarded and stand off-ish about our lil’ world, but really, we need to turn more people on to the amazing music being made by these homegrown ass dudes. Prison Garde live is NOT a difficult thing to engage with – it’s a fucking cracking dance party! This shit ain’t rocket science.
I think BC is blessed with some phenomenal talent right now. I won’t list everyone off, your blog is doing a great job of covering the appropriate individuals. The main challenge is getting these dudes in front of a few hundred people so they can do their thing and recalibrate the dance communities in these cities, let people understand that you know what, sure it’s fun to flail to brostep for an evening, fine. But I promise if you have a drink and give yourself to Eames for a night, he’ll blow your mind with new deep house bangers that you won’t hear ANYWHERE ELSE. Get Calamalka in front of a crowd of proper hip-hop heads, they will bow down. That is the challenge right now, how to grow the scene.
As someone who puts on shows of all kinds and has a rather wide-ranging taste himself, what's the music -- genre, scene, geography, whatever qualifier you want to use -- that most excites you right now?
Hmm, always the fun question! When it comes to dance music, I like all the typical dudes; Boddika, Mark Pritchard, Jacques Greene, Machinedrum, Salva, HudMo, Om Unit. All those guys have released music that I’ve enjoyed a great deal this year. Ango’s LuckyMe EP has been on constant repeat, really excited for him to blow up. The Kuedo record is every bit as amazing as I was expecting. The latest Bruno Pronsato is an unbelievably dynamic record, I never tire of his take on 4/4. And man, our regional dudes are really killing it: Prison Garde and Eames, Max Ulis, Calamalka… it’s so great hear their tunes getting rinsed out. Really excited for Michael Red’s new live set, it’s apparently monstrous.
Outside of the obvious… the Thundercat record is massive for me. Still rinsing the last Oneohtrix, really enjoying the new one as well. There’s a lot of less-recent music that I’ve been returning to. Aphex, Badu, Robert Wyatt, Cannibal Ox and Orbital especially. And honestly, I listen to Autechre more than any other artist. I can spend hours on a tune and then listen to Tri Repetae and feel like a complete fucking tool. 
Your more recent -- as of yet unreleased/forthcoming -- material sees you moving in a direction less dictated by generic constraints (e.g. hip-hop).  Was this an intentional move?  Are you going towards something more idiosyncratic or something more in line with the rest of the "bass music" sphere that operates in the 130-ish tempo range?
Yeah I’m excited to explore different tempo ranges for sure, I’m not gunning to stay in one cubicle. I’m definitely a child of hip-hop and I love that my first EP showed that, but like most dudes, I listen to a shitload of different styles and am ultimately influenced by more than just headnod beats.
A lot of my new music is exploring more traditional dancefloor tempos. There’s just too much fun to be had between 130-150 bpm, it’s impossible for me to ignore all the inspiration. Those “bass music” influences are definitely present, but Warp/IDM are an important part of my musical for me and I can slowly hear those colours creeping into some of my new ideas. So yeah I think moving forward, there will be a myriad of styles, although I’ll likely try to keep actual releases stylistically coherent. Scheming on a few proper 2step garage tunes right now, really excited about that.
Can you talk a little about the mix? What's it made from, how you made it, etc?
The mix is all new jammies. A few fresh looks, I just wanted to showcase some new tunes that I’ve been rinsing live. “Bounce 4 Life” is a 160 footwork-influenced tune, extremely fun making that one, gonna be exploring that realm a bit more. B-Ju is one of Error Broadcast’s secret weapons, that remix will be out early 2012. The song with Hrdvsion is one of a couple that have been around for a minute, we’ve just been hushhush with those tunes until the time is right. The Company Flow remix is part of a pack of edits I’m doing of classic 90/00s hip-hop beats, gonna try and make that a freebie for December, fingers crossed. I made the mix in Ableton with my Ohm 64 cuz that’s how I roll!

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