Part of the prestigious Brainfeeder collective that is home to friends Flying Lotus and Thundercat, Mono/Poly has been lowkey making some of the best instrumental hip hop and funk that we’ve heard in recent years. Buoyed by an ebullient experimentalism, records like Paramatma, Manifestations, Golden Skies and Monotomic show the gradual opening up of the producer’s sound, thanks in part to the support of Brainfeeder labelmates.
Mono/Poly returns to China this week for his second Shanghai set, and his first in Beijing. We caught up with him to talk about psychedelic experiences, his love of LA-based hip hop nights and the influence that being a part of Brainfeeder has had on his music.
We're super curious about your music-making process. How long does it take from idea conception to a finished product, and how long do you spend tinkering with musical ideas before you feel like you've gotten the sound you're after?
The ideas come as soon as I sound design most of the elements of the song. It then takes one or two days to finish the song. Sometimes it takes longer than one or two days depending on if I've exhausted my ears listening to it over and over and lost the inspiration to finish the whole song in the same day.
Image courtesy of promoter
In terms of the sounds that we hear on new record Monotomic, where Golden Skies soared, this record is more inclined towards tighter spaces. What was inspiring you while making this album? What was the vision?
Monotomic was inspired by collaborating with others and prospectively being an album I could play more in my DJ sets. The vision was a basic outline of me collaborating with new people but also retaining my past of instrumental music. I also wanted to showcase myself doing lyrics which is why I included the song 'Sage.'
Golden Skies is such a gorgeous trippy record. There's a kind of majesty on tracks like ‘Ra Rise.’ Did you approach that record will a fuller, more confident narrative idea than previous records?
I've never heard anyone describe Golden Skies that way, but I agree. Golden Skies was bolder in a way and I feel it was because the objective was to make something truly unique and something I've never done before. I remember being in a headspace of pushing forward and not giving up on finishing Golden Skies despite it being something I didn't have any previous reference for, which is usually a thing that can make me lose confidence.
Again, it's really difficult to categorize Monotomic, because it goes in so many different directions. One of the standout tracks on the album is ‘Easy Living,’ featuring Kimbra (and Thundercat). How did the collab with Kimbra come about?
‘Easy Living’ was started in 2014. I brought the original beat to Thundercat when he lived near me in Koreatown. When I played him the beat he seemed super excited about it, then immediately begin to play bass over it. I swear it was as if Thundercat turned into pure energy while playing it, very psychedelic as if it was a DMT trip. After he recorded it, I immediately thought of Kimbra since Thundercat introduced me to her not long before I made the track. I knew Kimbra could do the high-range vocals I imagined so I sent her the track and she recorded to it. The track evolved into it's new form while putting together Monotomic and I'm definitely pleased with the result.
Low End Theory founder Daddy Kev holding Knopha's 'Nothing Nil' at RADII's china.wav event in LA. Image courtesy of RADII
What is the title of the track ‘Low End Theory’ a nod to?
The track ‘Low End Theory’ was a reference to the now defunct Low End Theory club night at the Airliner in Los Angeles.
Based on your sound and accompanying descriptions to your releases, you're pretty interested in Eastern mysticism and spirituality. Could you talk about how you developed that interest and how you stay connected with it?
I became more interested in eastern mysticism and spirituality after having various out-of-body experiences and psychedelic experiences. I stay connected with it by remembering the various things i've learned from it when I feel lost or need to be centered and look at the bigger picture. Meditation has also helped in this.
Image courtesy of promoter
How have your collaborations with label mates Flying Lotus and Thundercat influenced your sound and visa versa?
I feel like they've helped me be ok with being more artistic and expressing myself in a more unique way. I think both Flying Lotus and Thundercat aren't afraid to explore sonic territories that other people haven't, so it's obvious that they would influence me and visa versa because I've always loved exploring things that others haven't explored.
[Cover image courtesy of promoter]