Monki-ing About

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Equally at home behind the decks or on the pitch, it’s about time you got to know bona fide jack of all trades, Monki, as she gears up to rule the dancefloor at Hideout Festival 2020.

Chatting to Monki (also known as Lucy Monkman), the first thing you notice is just how cool she is.

 

Whether that’s down to the sincere authenticity and strong confidence that grounds her in everything she puts her mind to, or the mastery that she commands over a whole host of disparate pursuits, I can’t say – it’s simply an energy that she effortlessly oozes as our conversation goes on.

 

A multi-talented DJ, broadcaster, label founder and footballer, Monki has an interdisciplinary practice that extends further than most people could begin to fathom; all the while breaking down antiquated conventions and setting a new agenda for women – most specifically East Asian women of colour – enabling us to aspire to enter realms which have historically been denied to us or in which we don’t feel like we belong. She’s also, perhaps inadvertently, found herself participating in two of Britain’s greatest institutions: music and football – oi oiii indeed.

 

Taking it back to the music, over the past decade alone, Monki has exhibited a profound dexterity that has firmly cemented her righteous place within the music zeitgeist in the UK. A celebrated selector, esteemed for her wide-ranging and extensive tastes, you’ll be equally likely to find her pumping out UK funky and deep house, before a sudden deflection to shades of grime sensibility and thumping techno beats. Continually nodding to sonic dance aesthetics, she’s the kind of DJ who was made for the club, with a certain self-assurance behind the decks that only comes with experience in throwing a good party. Catch Monki killing it at Hideout Festival from the 21st of June to the 25th.

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It all started with a boombox.

 

Growing up, Monki found herself surrounded by the kind of vast musical eclecticism that would make most DJs seethe with envy. “She had a big boombox. Like this big, black boombox that used to sit on the cabinet in the kitchen,” Monki smiles. “My mum was into a lot of things really. She loved The Prodigy – a lot of Prodigy. She really liked 808 State. She really loved The Chemical Brothers – so, sort of early dance stuff. But, then, she was also into like Alanis Morissette and Madonna.”

 

“I also lived with my uncle when I was younger,” she continues. “We’re actually closer in age than my mum and her brother is, so he’s more like a brother to me. He kind of grew up in the sort of like early 2000s hip-hop – that’s when he was a teenager – and garage…like DJ EZ and garage sort of days in the UK. So, I got to listen to a lot of his CDs and stuff and he would let me burn CDs of his.”

 

Surprisingly, it wasn’t always such a clear-cut choice for Monki to pursue music as a career though – in fact, her first love was football. “From the age of 5 until the age of like 13, I just wanted to play football,” she admits. “That’s all I ever wanted to do. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a profession for women back then.”

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“When I was about 16, just by chance, I was listening to the radio very late at night and I started hearing music that I’d never heard before and it was kind of underground dance music on a pirate station in South London,” she tells me. “I started exploring a bit more and discovering late specialist radio 1 shows, like Benji B and Annie Mac and Toddla T and stuff like that and I kind of got a little obsessed. I would listen to them all the time and then suddenly I was like ‘they sound like they’re having so much fun, why can’t I do that as a career?’ Like, potentially, that could be an option. And because there were – I mean, not many – but a few female DJs like Annie Nightingale, Mary Anne Hobbs and Annie Mac, I realised that I could do it because there were already women there doing it.”

 

That’s the beauty of radio: it’s ability to be utterly personal, whilst simultaneously reaching out to swathes of listeners on a mass scale. It also acts as a gateway and means by which people can access underground scenes and subcultures that foster senses of belonging amongst those who feel like they don’t quite fit into the mundanities of everyday life.

 

“There was a level of acceptance in a world which I hadn’t discovered before and didn’t really know existed,” Monki explains. “Through radio, I discovered Dj-ing and that just looked really exciting and sounded really exciting to me. Also, because I wasn’t old enough to go out yet, it was still like an undiscovered world – I was just at the edge of it. I could peek through the window but I wasn’t allowed in, sort of thing. So, there was that kind of excitement around it. I used to go to festivals. I went to festivals for like a good year and a half and that’s the way I would go and see DJs because, obviously, I couldn’t get into clubs – I still look about 12.”

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Fast forward to today and Monki finds herself presiding over a mini music empire. Besides commanding the airwaves of Defected Radio, juggling various residencies and congested festival schedules, amid putting on nights with her Monki & Friends unit; in 2018, she founded her second imprint entitled ‘&Friends’ – a natural extension, in many ways, of her parties.

 

“It is predominately more about new artists – new, young, electronic artists,” she tells me. “There’s this wicked EP that I’m putting out this month – so, it’ll be out by the time this comes out – from a young lady called NANCY Live and she lives in Ireland. I think she might actually be from Manchester. But, she basically plays everything live. So, she doesn’t play decks. She plays drum machines and pads.”

 

Whether amplifying the sounds of up-and-coming artists, curating mixes to please the ears of music aficionados across the board, or serving the sauce to soundtrack some of the world’s most renowned venues; the commitment that Monki has to facilitating the rise of those who are underrepresented and underappreciated in the music industry is undeniable.

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In fact, as an East Asian woman of colour within a traditionally pale, male and stale dominated domain – consciously or unconsciously – she’s a trailblazer and an inspiration to those of us who haven’t seen voices and faces like ours in spaces like these.

 

“There are more women on DJ line-ups,” she grudgingly admits. “But, again, if you look at some line-ups – like I think at Reading Festival this year, there’s little to none at all and it’s not because there’s a lack of artists. I think that society has probably still just got a really long way to go in not realising how ignorant they actually are.”

 

It’s all too easy for promoters to go with what’s safe, tried and tested, as opposed to tastemakers who utilise their unique lived experiences and otherworldly musical inclinations to continually extend beyond traditional sonic boundaries. When I ask her about the rising profile of East Asian DJs and musicians within the mainstream, Monki’s pushing for change: “There are definitely more people popping up in the creative space. To be fair, like Japan and Korea, they’ve always had a good spot on the fashion scene – like amazing, amazing designers. But, in the music world, outside of their own countries, not so much. Peggy Gou is the obvious pick of the crop and she’s sick. But, it would be nice to see more over the next few years for sure.”

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In terms of where she’s going next, though, it’s enjoyment and satisfaction that take precedence. “When I was younger, I guess the main goals for me were like ‘I wanna be on Radio 1 at this age, I want to play at this club, I want to play at this festival’,” she tells me. “And I kind of managed to tick most of those boxes off. So, now I’ve got a bit older, it’s more about sustainability and just enjoying what I do.”

 

“I play football as well – although that’s not really a financial gain for me, it’s more of a personal one. I’ve learned, as I’ve gotten older, that that’s actually really important for me. Both on a mental side – I’ve always been really into sport and working out – and on a community side as well. Having people close to me that mean a lot that aren’t in the industry is quite important to me.”

 

Monki’s trajectory in the past decade has been exponential and it’s showing no signs of slowing down, with a slew of fresh releases and EPs coming out this year, alongside her ongoing US tour and a whole host of sets and residencies throughout festival season come summer. If there’s anything to take away from our chat, though, it’s that she’s got her head screwed on, taking it at her own pace and is – quite simply – enjoying the ride.

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