Nick Monaco grew up just north of San Francisco in a town called Santa Rosa. “It's sort of a slow-going artsy alternative town in the wine country,” he tells DJ Mag. “I always felt a little trapped there, so I was always taking the bus to the city — which took three hours. I found refuge in record stores and concert halls in San Francisco.”
One of his favourite things to do was put an album on his headphones and walk around the city — people-watching. “The Bay Area encourages weird, so growing up there encouraged me to develop my already off-kilter inclinations,” he says.
When he was really young he'd dreamed of becoming a successful pop producer, and he started producing rappers in high school. “It was a good experience but I didn’t feel gratified,” Nick outlines. “I started exploring dance music and party-rocking as a creative outlet — and felt really redeemed by it. I liked seeing people get down to what I was doing in real-time.
“As time went on I started tracing the roots of dance music and quickly realised I wanted and actually needed to do something different,” he continues. “To restore creativity and exploration in dance music, and attempt to challenge all of the trash and conformity that’s been circulating in the clubs.”
He started going to the Dirtybird BBQs in Golden Gate Park in San Fran, and found them extremely inspiring. “I identified with them because they were very California — the spirit of the Sunday BBQ was there and the music was this whimsical mix of booty, minimal, house and hyphy. I immediately wanted to be part of it.”
He started making some booty stuff, and original Dirtybird member Worthy — who went on to found Anabatic Records — put out his early stuff. From there he got to know head honcho Claude VonStroke (pictured above), and ended up sending him loads of his demos. “He critiqued the hell out of my music, which pushed me to step my game up,” Nick says. “So thanks, dude!”
Fine-tuning his craft has now led to Nick putting out his debut album on Soul Clap's eponymous label. "Mating Call"the is stuffed full of engaging deep funk songs — that's songs, as Nick sings on all the tracks. “First of all I’m not a DJ, I’m a butterfly,” he quips. “Second, I can’t sing. But what else is there to do, sample R&B vocals?”
Many of the songs on 'Mating Call' are written from the point of view of a character. “The characters are manifestations of themes that I explore in my music,” says Nick, outlining how these characters also transfer over into his live show. “It’s like Japanese Kabuki theatre, wearing masks helps me try on an idea or an emotion and channel that through a character.”
He explains how he layers vocals on top of one another, often using different characters. This is particularly evident on lovely, harmony-laden neo-soul lament 'Private Practice' on the album. Elsewhere, 'Brooklyn Is A Submarine' is a twangy, submerged slab of spymania punk-funk, while 'Maintenance Man' is a slo-jam MOR ditty that could star in a montage for The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. 'I Can't Breathe Without You' is love-song house, while 'TooHighToDrive' multi-tracks vocals over a twinkling late-night groover. This is an album of quality and distinction.
Onstage, Nick is an extrovert, a glamorous performer who stands out amidst a sea of dull bald-headed blokes in t-shirts and jeans. “What I think is interesting is our collective understanding and relationship to glamour, beauty and femininity and what that relationship says about us as a culture,” Nick tells DJ Mag. “I like subverting our culture’s dominant sign system and playing with people’s ossified agreements about what gender and sexuality look and sound like.”
Nick likes wearing lipstick, and has even produced his own range. He's giving the profits from sales to transexual charities. How come? “In my eyes it’s a way of giving back to a community that is foundational to dance music,” he says. “I think gender confirmation surgery is a beautiful thing. For someone to physically confirm their identity and bring peace to their lives is a really powerful thing.”