Monkey Marc is a one-of-a-kind producer. Working out of a solar-powered studio built into a shipping container, he’s quietly been writing Australian music history for more than 20 years.
In recent times, a monster trip to Jamaica saw him hit the studio with reggae royalty the likes of Capleton and Fantan Mojah. In 2017 we heard the first fruits of that time abroad in the powerful No Surrender, and just last week his latest riddim Yaad N Abraad dropped. Both have gone viral, garnering streams comfortably into the millions.
And this, as Monkey tells us, is just the beginnings of it all.
As his release schedule begins to ramp up spectacularly, Monkey Marc has also locked in a string of live gigs including Wide Open Space Festival. Amongst all the action, we caught up for another chat.
From Kingston with love: Monkey Marc isn’t just bringing the music of Jamaica to our doorsteps, he’s bringing their untouchable culture to the fore.
HAPPY: Hey Monkey, what’s happening? What are you up to at the moment?
MONKEY MARC: Hi Happy Mag! What’s happening… so many things are happening. It must be that time of the year again!
I finally have some more time on my hands after finishing the Barkly Desert Cultures program last year with the Desert Hip Hop fellas and Kardajala Kirridarra. So now that I have more time, I’ve been working hard on my latest project that I recorded in Kingston, Jamaica, the one that’s been in the works over the last year or so. I’ve also been trying to finish off my album with UK singer YT, as well as gigging the new Combat Wombat album. Busy times indeed.
HAPPY: Congratulations on Yaad N Abraad. Can you talk about how the whole riddim came together?
MONKEY MARC: Thanks. Yes, it’s been getting lots of love both in Australia and overseas. The legendary UK selector/DJ David Rodigan has even been playing the EP on BBC Radio in the UK, plus it’s had lots of airplay on Australian radio. For me though, the highlight has been the connections and links that I’ve been getting via online interactions. I’ve had videos sent from Brazil of the lead single being played on a massive sound system in an huge arena in Bahia, plus I’ve had requests from the legendary Mighty Crown (the biggest sound system in Japan) in Japan to play it. It’s had some fantastic and unexpected responses.
The riddim itself was actually a song I had written a little while ago. I guess I was just waiting to find the right collaboration of singers. I actually had a really strong feeling about recording with Dre Island. He was the first to record on that song and it’s always a bit of a stab in the dark when you pick an artist to work with, and you don’t know what they’re going to come up with. However as soon as he sent a demo of his version through, I thought wow, this is good. I was pretty taken aback by how amazing it sounded. But it wasn’t really until I started playing it to mates of mine that I realised I had a classic on my hands. After that, I connected with more artists through my manager working with my Jamaican liaison on the ground.
I linked up with 5 Star to make the politically charged Cold City, Aza Lineage to make the socially conscious Prosper, and Earth and the Fullness from Jamnesia to make Living in the Joy. All of the above artists recorded in Kingston in a few studios that I use over there, and then I mixed them in my solar-powered studio in Melbourne.
HAPPY: Aza Lineage’s track is quite special. Can you speak for what the song’s about?
MONKEY MARC: Aza Lineage has a uniquely deep voice and really thought-provoking lyrics. She’s telling the youths to not follow into the trap of resorting to a life of crime in the ghetto, and telling them to believe in themselves and take charge of their destiny. She’s basically saying to the youths to rise up using their talents and skills, and not resort to the gang mentality. It reflects her own life choices and her belief that it is possible to trod a clean path to success. To me, it’s a really positive song with inspirational lyrics. We recently premiered the track on triple j’s Roots N All with Nkechi Anele, which was really wonderful.
HAPPY: I understand we just lost a member of her Lineage family, which is tragic. Am I correct in saying you were working with France Lineage Nooks?
MONKEY MARC: Yes. The world lost France Nooks only last week. He was a core member of the Lineage Family of artists, and one of Aza Lineage’s closest friends. He was on his way to the huge annual Bob Marley birthday celebration in a route taxi (a cheaper taxi that travels a fixed route) and the taxi driver insisted on doubling the usual fare from $1 to $2 because of the crowds. They got into an argument about it and the taxi driver stabbed France Nooks in the heart and sadly he died. All over $1! It reminds me of how tough life in Jamaica can be.
We were really excited about working together and he had just signed a contract to record a song on my next riddim. He was a unique artist in Jamaica – someone who understands and appreciates hip hop as well as reggae – and we’d bonded over our love of the two genres. I felt like he really understood my music and my influences from multiple genres, which was exciting for me given how conservative the reggae world can be when you write progressive music. France was going to record the track the day after he was murdered. I’ve been devastated to be honest, it was a tragic event. My friend Jake Savona has also released a great track with France Nooks called Dubwise, on the Havana Meets Kingston album. They were just about to make a video later that week to the song, but unfortunately it didn’t happen. Very sad.
HAPPY: You’ve been in Jamaica, but I’d say most of the world has a warped perception of the place. If you could reinforce one truth about Jamaica in everyone’s eyes, what would it be?
MONKEY MARC: I’d say a lot of people have a perception of Jamaica being laid back and super chilled and everyone smoking weed under palm trees drinking coconuts, but it really depends which side of Jamaica you visit. I guess you might see that in Montego Bay or Negril, but when you’re working with artists and recording like I was, you get to see more of the reality of everyday Jamaican life.
Jamaican people are incredibly talented and have so much to give, but the country is dealing with huge international debt, hardline poverty, corrupt politicians and extreme gang violence and violent crime in their everyday existence. Life is tuff for your average Jamaican. There’s no welfare, disrupted family structures dating back to the brutal history of slavery and colonisation, medicines are imported so they’re expensive and food is mostly imported and expensive too. Jobs are hard to find and life in general is not laid back at all, people have to constantly hustle to survive. Outside of the uptown suburbs or the tourist enclaves, it’s a pretty intense place, in the areas I was spending time in like downtown Kingston and some of the surrounding garrisons. But within the toughness and the hustle are amazing individuals with incredible talents and skills.
I have truly never met so many amazing musicians and singers in one small area. It was wild. Just up the road from where I was staying were Sly and Robbie’s famous Taxi studios, the old Black Ark Studios, Cell Block Studio, Scorpio Studios, Digital B and many more. There were so many world famous artists within a few kms of where I was staying, artists like Horace Andy, Capleton, Fantan Mojah, Borris Gardener… the list goes on. That’s what I wanted to capture in the Yaad N Abraad release – both the extraordinary side of Jamaica and its darkness, told through the stories of these young artists. You can check out their lyrics on Soundcloud or Bandcamp, they’re worth reading.
HAPPY: On a lighter note, you’re launching Yaad N Abraad in Melbourne in a few weeks. The lineup looks incredible, can you talk us through it?
MONKEY MARC: Yes, I’m launching the EP on February 24 at my favourite venue in Melbourne, Horse Bazaar. It’s only small but we wanted to make it fun and intimate. It’s an epic line up featuring local crew Adrians Wall, Housewife’s choice and guest MC Vida Sunshyne, plus international sound system selectors from the Netherlands and Italy. It’ll be epic actually … and on top of that its free. It’s time to give back to all the people that have supported us along the way. So come down!
HAPPY: Are you prepping a new live setup? Who’s involved?
MONKEY MARC: I am prepping a new live set up, but I must admit it’s been hard to find the time between mixing the new album. I do have lots of secrets up my sleeve though, plus some special versions of songs that I’ve specially recorded… just you wait. Plus I have the amazing Vida Sunshine on stage with me to bring the fire. She is killer!!!
HAPPY: What will you be playing with this lineup? All originals, or somewhat of a mixed set?
MONKEY MARC: My show is all my original music. All my own releases plus some of my new music no one has heard yet. That’s the way most of my live sets go. Pretty much 100 percent original material, fresh off the press.
HAPPY: Assuming you don’t take the whole container around with you anymore, what gear do you play on live these days?
MONKEY MARC: Ha, yes. It’s a bit heavy with all of my gear in it, it weighs maybe a tonne, plus I don’t know many venues that could fit a shipping container into them… These days I perform with my effects units, my trusty MPC3000, a Rane mixer and a crazy modified dub siren-style synth I had made for me by my Jahtari label boss Disrupt.
HAPPY: Is this the setup you’re going to take to Wide Open Space this year?
MONKEY MARC: Yes, this is pretty much my set up. I may add to it depending on my ever growing synth and effects collection. Once you’ve started, it’s hard to stop! I’ll be bringing Vida Sunshine and Kodiak Kid on stage as well, so this will be one to remember. Plus it’s the 10th anniversary and I’ve actually played at every one! What a lucky guy I am. Big ups to Scotty, Jimmy and Rodney and the crew for keeping this amazing festival going!
HAPPY: I understand you have a fair few releases in the works, it’s going to be a big 2018. What’s coming up soon?
MONKEY MARC: Yes. My next release is on Glastonbury Festival’s new label Uncommon Records. It’s a big political dancehall tune with an artist I’m working with at the moment called Fyah Roiall (pronounced Royal) from Kingston, Jamaica. He’s an amazing Jamaican rapper and freestyler, totally in a league of his own. That should be out in a month or so. I’m also working on two more EPs before the album drops, with a full series of music videos as well. The next few releases feature Turbulence and Iba MaHr. Both are amazing artists in their own right, so much talent. It’s going to be a big year!
HAPPY: Are you writing anything new at the moment, or are you mainly in release mode?
MONKEY MARC: I’m mainly in release mode at the moment, but I’m also playing around with some new ideas that I’m really excited about. I have to write a couple new tracks for the few last songs on the album this year for Ninjaman and a few other artists. I wish I had 48 hours in every day!
HAPPY: Thanks for the chat.
MONKEY MARC: No worries ;)
Catch Monkey Marc live:
Monkey Marc is one of the three judges in our Needle In The Hay vinyl competition. Find out all about it here.