December 01 2016

A New York Tale: DJ Monk-One

New York-Le Bain
We sat down with DJ Monk-One before he brings some Wax Poetics to Le Bain on Saturday, December 3rd.
LE BAIN: Your family is from Brooklyn, but you traveled a lot as a kid and spent much of your childhood in Japan. What kind of music memories do you have of Japan?
MONK-ONE: Japan has an incredibly voracious and omnivorous musical appetite. They consistently take it several notches higher! Growing up, deep jazz and disco fusion cuts played on commercials and in the supermarket; all the pop records came in alternate pressings with bonus tracks and thick supplemental liner note booklets; Ryuichi Sakamoto's YMO was on TV providing music for a comedy sketch show—and access to dance clubs was easy for the then-exotic gaijin, even if we were well underage. 
DJ Monk-One (photo by Mo Manley)

DJ Monk-One (photo by Mo Manley)

"It was in Japan that I first stepped behind the turntables when my mentor took a bathroom break."
What kind of influence did the Japanese scene have on what you've become, which is a renowned record collector and selector?
Japan has a very highly developed collector's scene, with the most obscure niche having niches of its own. Every cool bar and coffee shop had a house collection of records that the “master,” or owner, would select from. It was in Japan that I first stepped behind the turntables as a teenager when my mentor took a bathroom break. Japanese music magazines were ridiculously obsessive and detail-oriented, and directly provided a lot of inspiration for Wax Poetics magazine in the early days.

After high school, you moved to New York. 
At the beginning, I was focused on playing in bands. I played bass and guitar and gigged pretty heavily at all the regular East Village spots: CBGBs, Brownies, etc. My groups never made much of a dent, but Blonde Redhead and Cibo Matto were regular gig-mates from the scene who eventually made it big. I started DJing warehouse parties in Williamsburg and Greenpoint in the mid-'90s mainly because I was the guy who had turntables and a lot of records. 
At home with Monk-One (portrait photo by Eric Banta, all other photos by Monk-One)
At home with Monk-One (portrait photo by Eric Banta, all other photos by Monk-One)
At home with Monk-One (portrait photo by Eric Banta, all other photos by Monk-One)
At home with Monk-One (portrait photo by Eric Banta, all other photos by Monk-One)
At home with Monk-One (portrait photo by Eric Banta, all other photos by Monk-One)
By the end of the 90's, you were playing in two legendary clubsAPT in Manhattan and Black Betty in Williamsburg. How were those two spots?
Black Betty was a tiny bar in pre-gentrified Williamsburg with a magical vibe. The music there was much more on the party tip, leaning heavily on Latin, dancehall reggae, disco classics, and house. Obviously this was pre-laptop era, so seeing all these disparate genres mixed together on vinyl was part of the fun. And you never knew who you'd see: Todd Terry used to hang out, Hank Shocklee passed through, and the gawd Jorge Ben himself even showed up a couple times!

And APT?
I was fortunate enough to be able to bring in some amazing guests, and so I would try to complement them, whether it was Jazzy Jay, Leroy Burgess, Red Alert, or many others. With all the great DJs who played there, plus the very knowledgeable patrons, you always had to bring your A-game. 
"It's a shambolic affair, quite honestly!"
During those years, what was your typical night as a DJ like in terms of the music? 
For those things, halfway between an art party and a rave, you had to cover a wide spectrum of sound. My forte was rare groove, so I would begin with things like Horace Silver's “Calcutta Cutie” or Sunny Ade's “Synchro System,” then get into party funk like Cymande, the JBs, and War, moving on to harder stuff as the night went on. House and hip hop for sure, but also changeups. Two-minute energy bursts from Bad Brains, Y Pants, or Boredoms, or electronic experimental things, sound effects, speeches...I tried to keep it interesting! 

As a record collector, how do you organize your records?
By gigs. There's a big pile that I played at one place next to another pile that I played somewhere else. It's a shambolic affair, quite honestly! I hear about people filing their records alphabetically, and I can only imagine. 

 "Issue 65" of Wax Poetics

You've co-founded the magazine Wax Poetics, and have been a regular contributor. Which WP story has had the biggest impact on you?
There have been so many that really mean a lot to me. In the very first issue, I wrote a long exposé on the legendary Ultimate Breaks and Beats series, publishing (for the first time) the accurate names and titles of all the songs on this influential bootleg collection. In our current era of handheld instant info, it may be hard to see why this was a big deal, but before, that no one had done the research and broke the taboo against naming names. More recently, talking to Chris Stein and Debbie Harry about '70s New York City was incredible. I'm really just a fan of music, so having the chance to talk to some of my heroes is something I'm always grateful for.

You will be playing alongside Love On The Run. Tell us about him. 
Richie's a madman. A Queens-bred raver kid who graduated to being a buyer and house music expert for the sadly defunct Satellite Records, he is relentless in his pursuit of the craziest disco rare gems. Lately he's upped his game to actually sourcing master tapes of some of his obsessions and has been releasing official reissues via Melodies, the label he runs with Floating Points. I expect nothing but the deepest disco, cosmic sleaze, and raw house from him on the set!

On Saturday, December 3rd 
Le Bain presents Wax Poetics After Dark,
featuring DJ Monk-One and Love On The Run
The Standard, High Line | 10pm
Lead photo by Alejandro Ayala