Sheffield-based DJ / producer Scott Moncrieff AKA Thatmanmonkz released his sophomore LP, Non Zero Sum Game, on October 18th, care of his own Shadeleaf Music. The album is HOUSE and bears the influence of both its place of creation, and also that of Detroit`s undisputed masters of the genre. Intrigued by the references to classics, past and present, and the vocal contributions, I asked Scott a few questions. I also took the opportunity to find out more about the Steel City’s current musical landscape.
You’re based in Sheffield. Did you move there because of the City’s incredible electronic music history?
If I’m completely honest I didn’t, though I was aware of it! I’m originally from a small town in the Midlands, kinda between Leicester and Nottingham. I had some friends who knew people who`d moved away to Sheffield to go to university – and they`dt recommended it, plus, it was far enough from home and big enough to offer what I was looking for, but, still near enough that I could get back and see my family and friends. Growing up I was more of a hip hop guy than a house music enthusiast – that changed when I got access to more and better nightclubs! – but, I did have an early Warp 12″, Hey! Can You Relate? by DJ Mink, who I was lucky enough to play with once. He’s a lovely guy and an awesome deejay.
How long have you been in Sheffield? Would you consider moving away?
I got here in the mid/late 90’s, so I’ve been here around half of my life now. Longer than I’ve ever been anywhere else. To be fair I’m not a native though. If you know anything about Yorkshire, you’ll know that you’re not considered from here unless you were born here! Hehhehheh… In all honesty I would consider moving if the right opportunity presented itself. I’ve always fancied a warmer climate, and new cultural experiences. There aren’t really many places I’d consider in the UK though, but, something further afield definitely has an appeal.
What is the scene like in Sheffield at the moment? Where do you go to dance, chill, buy music? Do you have any regular gigs in the city or elsewhere?
The scene here is always fluctuating. If what I’m into is in less than rude health it usually means that something else is burgeoning and flourishing artistically, since the city really is a creative hotbed, especially for somewhere of its size. We’ve had a lot of great times and eras here, within many different kinds and styles, but I’d say at the minute it’s back to smaller venues and warehouse style events for my kind of night out – which really suits the city and that’s what I’ve always liked about it… There are some new spots opening. I’m hoping to go catch Maurice Fulton at one of them, Bal Fashion Social, this Saturday. I and played there with Chris Duckenfield a couple of months ago. Hope Works is great for the bigger but still interesting dance acts. It’s a little quiet in terms of record stores at the minute, but the online world has made that happen in a lot of places I guess? An area near the city centre – Kelham Island – that was pretty much derelict for most of the time I’ve lived here has just been turned into a great area/quarter for boutique bars and restaurants which is really healthy for the city too. To be honest, as I’ve been traveling more, and releasing more, I don’t have any residencies or regular gigs here, though I do love to play the hometown when I can. It’s also nice to treat the place as where I lay my hat, rather than where I work sometimes you know? I spent a lot of years doing the usual routine of house parties, then bar residencies, then club nights here as a local DJ before I started up the label and self releasing, so, it’s nice to pass that torch on and let others cut their teeth, and, from what I can see, ‘the kids are alright’ for the most part.
Are the “elders” of the scene, people like Parrott, Winston, Mark Brydon, Robert Gordon, Stephen Mallinder, Richard H. Kirk, still around, and active? Are they visibly supportive of the city’s younger artists?
Those guys are all still around and still doing their thing, though I’m a little young to have caught them when they were doing the seminal things that still get talked about. With the exception of Mr.Brydon I’ve met them all though. Parrott has been doing some amazing stuff recently under his Crooked Man moniker. I’ve been playing that stuff out a lot, and he’s as fresh as ever! I haven’t seen Rob Gordon for a while, but, it’s always a pleasure when I do, and I can confirm he’s still pretty much a sonic genius. The main older influences on me were more Chris Duckenfield, Ross Orton, Pete Simpson, people like that, and, the seminal parties for me were things like Scuba, NY Sushi, Lights Down Low.
Do you ever bump into Jarvis Cocker?
Not so much! I have only met him once. About ten or fifteen years ago I’d just moved in with my now great friend Ross Orton (now a world famous Producer for MIA, Arctic Monkeys etc.), and was having breakfast in our grimy flat when Jarvis Cocker walked in and said “Mornin’. Where’s Ross?”. In that place and at that time it didn’t seem that surreal. That was just as Ross was establishing himself as a producer of substance, and, I remember having to vacate my bedroom so that MIA could record vocals for her debut album in there… Happy days. I was with Ross today actually, his studio is amazing, and, I’m thinking we might be starting up a little analogue/modular based project together soon, schedules permitting.
Do you have any idea why Sheffield has such a strong affinity for and history with cultivating electronic music? Human League, Cabaret Voltaire, Chakk, FON, WARP, Jive Turkey….I could go on.
It probably has something to do with it being post-industrial I’d reckon? There’s certainly a strange kinship globally with cities like that, and similarities with what they’ve achieved artistically, culturally, and musically. I was reading Dan Sicko’s Techno Rebels book again recently where it referenced an influence that early Sheffield synth music had on Detroit, via people like The Electrifying Mojo playing it on the radio, and then seeing the influence that early Detroit techno had on Warp and early bleep based techno here… There was an interesting documentary on the BBC recently called Everybody Is In The Place that references links like these and the sociopolitical reasons for them in a more educated and concise way than I probably can though, you should check it out! I can confirm that there is something about this place though, something intangible that’s kept me here for much longer than I ever thought I would be.
Do you know Pipes?
I do! As a matter of fact, a few of us went to the movies to watch the new Scorcese film a week or so ago, and Pete happened to give me a lift home… He may or may not have a small hand in getting the artwork together for my edits label, Hot Peas N Butter too, so I’m reliably informed. It’s quite a small town with regards to it’s dance music scene, so, most of us here would know each other. I’ve played with Pipes on a few occasions over the years too. He’s a really good and musically interesting DJ!
Are there any local acts / artists that we should be on the look out for?
I think I’ve always said that my main influences since I actually started making music, rather than just being a DJ or a fan, are people I actually know, so, I’m always checking for anything new by Ross Orton, Pete Simpson, or Chris Duckenfield. Also, anything coming from the Central Processing Unit camp is always undeniably fresh and authentic… To be honest, over the last few months with traveling, and finishing up the album, I haven’t been checking for as much new local stuff as I usually do. That’s about to change now you’ve brought it to my attention!
A couple of the tracks on the new LP remind me of Chris Duckenfield`s SWAG. Do you know Chris? Was he, is he an influence?
As well as being my vinyl distributor, he’s a close friend, and has been pretty much a mentor for me, though I reckon he’d probably hate me saying that. It was Chris who gave me the opportunity to start my own label, and, he’s always there for me with advice on the industry. There’s really not a lot he doesn’t know about this game… He actually did the arrangement on one of the tracks on the album that I was a little stuck on – Chai Tea – and turned it into one of my favourites! Also, As far as I’m concerned he’s one of the best dance music deejays in the UK, and is criminally slept on. He’s really schooled me in that regard too over the years. Lovely guy, great raconteur, and, awesome pub company as well as probably the best guy in the city to go watch play in a club.
Another artist that seems – to the listener – to be an influence is Moodymann. Is this the case?
Most definitely. I’ve never made any secret of my admiration for Mr. Dixon, and not just the music he puts out, but, also his approach and business ethos. I think when you’ve been as seminal an artist as he has it’s difficult to not see his fingerprints and influence on a huge amount of contemporary dance music. When I started out, he was very much somebody I’d listened to a lot, and as a DJ I certainly still play a lot to this day. It’s funny, a lot of people who’ve asked me about this record have really cited the influence of KDJ on it, whereas for me I probably felt that his work was a more conscious influence on my earlier output, even though I’m flattered by any comparison to an artist of that quality. The city of Detroit is always a massive influence though, no doubt about it. I’m really happy to have been able to spend some time there, and make some good friends there, so it’s not just a voyeuristic thing any more. I absolutely love the energy in that city, and its creativity and originality cannot be overstated. I definitely owe a debt to Moodymann, but with this record I feel like I owe a similar debt to DBX, Kai Alce, Carl Craig, Octave One, Norm Talley, Mike Clark, Waajeed and a whole host of others too…
Do you have a favourite Moodyman track? If so can you explain what makes it special?
My favourite Moody track probably differs all the time, there are so many seminal moments. It would be too easy to just say Shades Of Jae or Mahogany Brown, or I Can’t Kick This Feeling… I mean, the guy has some body of work to choose from! Today I’ll say Sinnerman off his new record, that drops heavy in the club.
Do you think that Detroit and Sheffield are somehow “twinned” – considering the music that have both inspired?
I think a lot of places would like to say they’re twinned with Detroit, but, I don’t really think anywhere can really lay claim to that, and, Sheffield is Sheffield. I can see a comparison I guess, with both being very much post-industrial and poor cities, and both finding electronic music as a sense of expression or ‘way out’. That said, it’s a similarity the cities share rather than it being a twin thing in my opinion, as the sociopolitical and cultural circumstances are very different.
Didn’t you start out making hip hop? What brought about the change to house?
Yeah I did, but, they’ve both run concurrently with me for the longest time now, so, it feels completely natural to flit between the two. Those genres are both the children of disco, and share a sonic palette within the stuff I like, and, I love disco also. My first proper release was as Small Arms Fiya about 13 years ago, and that project had both downtempo and uptempo tracks on our records… I haven’t really ever over thought why I do both genres or styles, I just always have, and probably always will, as long as it feels natural for me to do so I guess? If anything, when I started up as Thatmanmonkz it was initially very house-motivated due to the market at the time, and, the collaborators I had access to. When I did my debut album it was more varied stylistically than this one, as I felt I wanted to express that. Once I’d connected with Malik Ameer and we started Madison Washington, and he introduced me to Pan Amsterdam, I was getting to produce hip hop stuff as a separate entity, which has made me able to be much more focussed and streamlined on how I approach making house music, well, that and being lucky enough to DJ in new places around the world a lot more, which has informed me in what ‘works’ in the club, and had a direct influence on what I do in the studio, if that makes sense?
This is a question I always ask – looking to document people’s “house epiphanies” – can you remember where / when you first heard a house record – what it was and the impression it made?
Wow, right, well I’d guess it was seeing stuff like Farley Jackmaster Funk and Darryl Pandy on the TV or denting the pop charts over here when the first wave of Chicago stuff landed, though I was too young to understand it’s significance at the time, I can definitely remember hearing it and liking it. The first house record I really loved was probably Big Fun by Inner City, I played the hell out of that 7″ as a kid! I remember working in the local record store as a teenager and us starting to stock mixtapes too, and I was really digging stuff like Kenny Carpenter and Masters At Work, and thinking how it felt a lot more sonically like hip hop than the rave and hardcore music that a lot of older kids at school were getting into…
What other artists work are you currently into?
Where to begin. I’m always into finding new music and artists, as I think that the day I stop doing that, is the day I start being less relevant and contemporary, both as a DJ and a producer.
There`s an interview where you say something like “the sign of a good producer is knowing not to try to do everything. If I need a great keyboard solo, I call in a great keyboard player”. Can you tell me more about the collaborators on your new record?
With pleasure! I’m really lucky that some of my best friends are really talented people! As this was ‘my new album’ for ‘my label’, I guess I went to my most frequent collaborators, with a couple of exceptions due to timings, etc… Malik Ameer – who I also work with as Madison Washington – is on here, as is Pan Amsterdam, as Leron Thomas ,on trumpet on the first track. A Brother Is… is on Easy, Still. He’s actually my man Pete Simpson, who’s been on pretty much everything I’ve ever done from day one in some capacity. Pete is playing a lot of instruments throughout the new record. There are a couple of tracks with Nikki O, who I first met online via a mutual friend, and then went to watch at Baker Street Lounge in Detroit. We then hung out and decided to do a few tracks together. Hopefully there’ll be more. As for Them Thangs, that’s Scarlett aka Ms.Fae from here in the UK – and she’s awesome! Also, my man Bennett Holland is on keys on the last track. Weirdly, Scarlett and my Mom’s are mutual friends and that one came together just from them linking us really. It would be fair to say that I consider all of these guys friends now, and, also world class at what they do. So, I’m a very lucky guy to know and work with them all.
How long did the album take to produce? Are you already working on the next one?
When the early tracks for the project started being developed, I hadn’t really thought about doing an album. Fairly quickly I had more demos than I’d realised. Chatting about what to do with them with Chris Ducks, the idea of a self-released album on Shadeleaf came together. It seemed like a perfect fit for the body of work, and was totally in-line with the way I want to approach my career from this point – with regard to self releasing and self ownership. A couple of the tracks were already done and dusted, so the album probably took a few months to finish from when the idea of an album became the plan. I’m not working on the next one yet, no. I’m sure I’ll start demoing house tracks again soon, but I also think it’s important to step away at the end of a full length project to freshen up, and, focus on other areas of musical interest for a little while – to get some closure on a project so as to approach the next with a fresh perspective and a new batch of ideas. I don’t want to just repeat myself I guess? Regarding that, the label you work at also has a direct influence on the direction of the music, in my experience.
What do you have lined up in the near future in terms of gigs, your own releases and releases on Shadeleaf?
I’m hoping to tour off of the album DJ-wise, as there’s a lot of places I haven’t been to yet that I’d really like to visit – Japan very much included! I’m much more into the idea of exchanging ideas and energies, and playing in interesting spots, than the whole hype/selfie/social media aspect of contemporary DJing though to be honest. That sort of thing really doesn’t really appeal to me. As for upcoming releases and projects, as I mentioned I’m hoping to be starting something with my man Ross Orton soon, there are a couple more E.P.s already locked in on my edits label Hot Peas N Butter. Also, there will probably be a remix 12 or E.P. from the album early next year, and, I’m due to be getting back in the kitchen with Malik Ameer and Pan Amsterdam soon too… Thanks for having me in, and, asking such interesting questions by the way! I hope I’ve been able to answer them sufficiently, and with the same amount of thought that went into compiling them, this was a pleasure to do!
Scott, thank you!!!