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Interview: Monika talks about his Fortress EP

Monika releases Fortress EP. An intriguing mixture of broken beats and ambient cuts.

Making waves of late in the drum & bass scene is UK-born, New Zealand based Maxwell “Monika” Sweeney.

Max has been busy carving out a prolific portfolio over the past few years, racking up releases on Soulvent Records alongside the likes of Shogun Audio, Med School Music and Ingredients Records. He boasts an impressive catalogue of music ranging from delicate summertime beats to all-out dancefloor smashers. As of July 2018, he masterminded & continues to host the Soulvent podcast, as well as recently becoming the host of a weekly drum & bass radio show in Christchurch (NZ) – showcasing all the best bits from across the scene and beyond.

Monika’s talent stretches beyond the confines of 170bpm too: with a few house releases out under the pseudonym Jesse Bullitt. Now looking to further show off his diversity with his Monika alias, Max has crafted the epic and undeniably cinematic Fortress EP, due out on Soulvent on the 30th of November. This EP really showcases Monika’s ability to create delicate and poignant music that takes inspiration from the wider stretches of dance music, and music as a whole.

As he keeps progressing onwards and upwards on his musical journey, it would be wise to keep Monika in your sights and headphones.

Enjoy our chat about his past and present and his great new release, Fortress EP. (preview below)

Connect with Monika on Soundcloud | Facebook | Instagram

Monika dropping a sublime Fortress EP on Soulvent Records


How are you these days?

Not too bad thanks! It’s coming into summer here in New Zealand. Summer in NZ has such a great relaxed feeling. However, even though it’s amazing, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to a hot Xmas day.

For fans who don’t know much about you, could you tell us a bit about your music background? How did you fall down the music rabbit hole?
My first venture into production came after a mad club night in London. It was a Hospitality drum and bass night. I was blown away by the spectacle of the whole thing, and the super friendly vibes the crowd had with each other. I got my hands on a laptop not long after. That was nearly 10 years ago now.

My background is in drum and bass. Right from the get-go, I wanted to write dancefloor smashers, but I wasn’t very good at it. I was also super into the experimental sounds of MedSchool, and I found that a slower and melodic approach to writing was incredibly inspiring.

What were the first types of music you tried to make and how did it evolve over time until the sound you are producing at this moment.
The very first tracks a tried to make were trying to be straight up Hospital Records tracks. They were terrible, but I kept at it. I eventually started getting into the experimental MedSchool sound which over time became more nuanced and honest. As my influences grew, my sound became much richer and cinematic. The Fortress EP is right at the peak of my musical experimentation.

Today, I actually write a lot of dancefloor drum and bass. I love it. Dnb is at an interesting stage where the vast majority of the scene is being propelled forward by the guys right at the bottom. There’s a lot of meaningful collaborations and networking happening behind the scenes that are creating a really exciting web of forwarding thinking drum and bass. It feels great to be a part of it, as I feel like I’m only just getting good at writing that dancefloor friendly stuff now!

How has your music been influenced by other artists, musicians, or life in general?
I am always on the hunt for inspiration and samples. It never stops. Most of my influences come from musical scores of movies and video games. I know right away when I hear a good sample that I’ll be able to vibe off it and have fun with it. I’ll make a note of what the piece of music is called and then hunt for it later when I’m back in the studio.

Most of my influences come from musical scores of movies and video games. I know right away when I hear a good sample that I’ll be able to vibe off it and have fun with it.

Om Unit, Space Dimension Controller, Haxan Cloak and Dark Sky are a few names that I’ve taken huge inspiration from over the years. All these guys know how to create such rich and engaging atmospheres in their music.

Where do you draw your creative influences from?
As above, mostly scores from movies and video games. I love to create vast, organic, cinematic sounds and there is no end of inspiration out there.

You have a fresh release coming up on Soulvent Records, titled “Fortress”. Six tracks, an intriguing mixture of broken beats and ambient cuts. Guide us through the creative process and how this work came together.
The very first track from the EP that I wrote was the Prologue. It came about after a particularly long string of frustrating production sessions, and I just decided to go completely wild with my experimentations. It ended up being a really fluid production session and I finished the track really quickly.

The rest of the EP came about in a more or less similar fashion. I was living a fairly turbulent lifestyle at the time of writing the EP. I was living in London in a large party-style warehouse, whilst working full-time in order to save money to move out to New Zealand and live with my girlfriend (she had already gone back as she is originally from NZ). So I would spend my evenings locked away in my room writing all this experimental music. I think it was a way of gaining some control over my life, as everything else felt to be in such disarray. The mentality was ‘fuck this, I’m gonna write what I want’. What came out felt very honest and raw.

Even though I wrote some amazing music while in this unhappy place, I don’t wish to ever be back there. I can still write honest and raw music whilst healthy. It just sounds different.

Is there a specific message in the title of the tracks?
Not overtly. They are titled more in a way to create mystery and intrigue, like chapters in a book.

The whole EP is meant to feel like a journey or a passing story. The song titles reflect that.

Tell us something about the gear you use to produce and DJ.
Nothing too flash. It’s mostly quite minimal. iMac, 2x Adam A5x monitors, budget 64-key midi keyboard, Rode NT1-a. I also have an Arturia MiniBrute SE, which I’m only just getting my head around. It’s fun to play around with!

What’s different about this release with previous work of yours?
Most noticeably will be the fact that it’s not drum and bass. Up until this point, my Monika output has been based around 170bpm. Fortress is a fluid and thematic collection of my most experimental work.

My Monika output has been based around 170bpm. Fortress is a fluid and thematic collection of my most experimental work.

When you sit to compose/produce, what’s generally your first move? Drums/synth work/melodies?
Generally, I’ll pick a tempo/genre I want to write, and then I’ll load up a sample. The best and most inspiring samples will be melodic and droning, but they won’t be complex. Rich and full sounds are hard to work with as they already filled up the whole frequency spectrum. Compare a melancholic cello to a full orchestra for what I mean

Then I will figure out the key signature by jamming out a few chords and then maybe write a bassline. Kicks and snares will come next, and then I’ll layer and layer until a full loop appears.

Once I have a loop I’ll write the intro leading into the main section of the track and keep going from there.

The very best tracks are written without too much thought. I get stuck when I start second guessing myself, so a lot of production is about being able to let go of your inner voice.

The DJ seems to be the rock or pop star of our generation, Electronic music seems to be the modern Rock’n’Roll, Burning Man and Tomorrowland the Woodstock of our generation. How do you think future generations will re-invent music and festival culture to distinguish themselves from us, their parents.
If DJs are Rock Stars, I think Trap Stars are today’s punk heroes because they embody what parents hate. They’re abrasive, misogynistic, & loud, and they openly brag about drugs and violence.

We might get a whole generation of kids who reject social media and write grungy basement music with actual instruments.

What comes next is beyond me. If our generation is defined by people making music on their phones and computers, what will be seen as new and innovative in the future? Maybe a return of garage bands? We might get a whole generation of kids who reject social media and write grungy basement music with actual instruments. Also, I think it must be hard for kids to be growing up at this current time. The future looks bleak. So maybe some sort of Harcore Eco-Punk. You heard it here first.

With the year ending in sight, any new music or collaborations we should know about?
The Fortress EP is the most exciting release for me by a long shot, but I have a few other bits I’m looking forward to releasing. I have a collaboration with a talented producer called Akuratyde. He’s releasing an album on Blu Mar Ten Music, featuring a track with me.

I’m starting up a weekly drum and bass show soon, on a Christchurch (NZ) based alternative radio station. I’m super excited about that!

I have a couple more releases pegged for the New Year too, so keep your eyes out.

Thank you very much!

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