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MONé [Interview]

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Indian artist Sooraj Sivadas aka MONé first came to our attention earlier this year with a remix for Mango & Rudra. Released courtesy of Mango Alley offshoot Maldesoule in March, it was a release that led to well-received projects for Just Movement and Occultech Recordings. Continuing to establish himself in India's electronic underground, the Bengaluru resident now debuts on the country's premiere progressive house imprint Juicebox Music with an exceptional remix (alongside Haen) of 'Tuumla' by Mike Rish. We had a chance to catch up with MONé for an interview leading up to the release. Enjoy!

Hi Sooraj, thanks for joining us. What is your current mood and what was the last piece of music you listened to?

Hey guys, thanks for having me on board :). My current mood is happy & content. The last piece of music I heard was Birds of Paradise’s ‘Rainmaker’ EP out on Hypnus Records.

What are your plans for the coming week?

I just got back from a short break visiting my family in Kerala. So now I’ve cannonballed myself back to work, managing bookings for the artists on our agency roster, planning upcoming tours & events for the end of the year, catching up on new releases and finishing writing some original material I’ve been working on.

Can you name five tracks that were important in your musical development and why they are so significant for you?

There are so many tracks that influenced my musical development. If I have to narrow it down to 5, it would be these:

Bomfunk MC - Freestyler

I used to break dance in school and I used to love throwing down to this track. This track is what first got me into researching music, to find more similar tracks at the time I could dance to. This was my introduction into Breaks and Drum & Bass.

Nitin Sawhney - Nadia

I was still new to DnB and similar sounds, I still wasn’t fully aware of what different genres were and I came across this when the whole Asian Underground scene was blowing up. I think I was 10 or 11 years old when I heard this first. It blew my mind hearing Indian vocals mixed into this style. The track itself was so emotionally moving for me. This is still one of my favourite tracks. I keep listening to it every now and then to get motivated.

Roger Martinez, Funkuz - Close off, Open Up

I love Roger Martinez’s earlier work. This track was introduced to me by Praveen. It’s such a brilliant example of keeping things simple. It’s a 10 min long track with a very simple yet effective groove and melody. For me this was a revelation at the time on simplicity in music production & that you don’t need to go very complex to make gorgeous music.

Henry Saiz & Marc Marzenit - Radiance (King Unique Remix)

Ok, let me just save us some time and tell you that Praveen introduced me to a lot of the music I’m influenced and inspired by, haha. And King Unique’s music was one of them too and I was instantly a KU fan boy.

I loved everything KU put out at the time. This is one of my favourite remixes of his. He took an already dark and melancholic piece and made it so much more darker & grittier while maintaining the emotions of the original. And the thing about KU tracks is you can’t just drop them anywhere in your set, you have to find that perfect moment and you know the dance floor is going to go wild. I still have this one in my gig playlists, waiting for that perfect moment to drop it.

Guy J, Sahar Z - 7.11

This track is why I think Guy J & Sahar Z are geniuses. Yes, I know there are more obvious tracks by Guy J & Sahar Z individually, but this is the track for me. It’s a groove monster! The entire track is just driven through by its groove and intelligently placed FX & percussion hits. This one also still is part of my gig playlists, I keep playing it from time to time, the crowd never knows what hit them.

Electronic music is growing at a rapid rate in India at the moment, how did growing up there influence your music taste and direction? Or did it at all?

I grew up in the Middle East till I was in high school and moved to India for my bachelors degree. While I was growing up in Kuwait, my only exposure to music was MTV, the local radio and the regional music my parents’ listened to. Although there was a wide range of popular music, there wasn’t too much of a culture centered around music or different genres. During my time in college (in India) I was exposed to a lot more subcultures, met a lot more people from different upbringings & who have had different experiences from mine. Everyone had their own different taste in music and I just went digging deeper into it. I discovered the wide spectrum of electronic music in that process and I was hooked.

Who from your home country inspired you the most when you first discovered the music?

Praveen Achary, Jalebee Cartel, Arjun Vagale, Kohra, Tanseer . These guys were spearheading the scene from back in the day and were way ahead of their time then. Even today they continue to push the boundaries with whatever they are doing.

What are your favourite venues to play in India and why?

There are some amazing venues across India, I’m yet to play in most of them. But from the one’s I’ve played so far in the south of India are these 2:

Jeff’s, Bangalore - This is one of my favourite places to play at currently. It’s got this really intimate dark room vibe and is programmed by these amazing guys at Upnovic Entertainment. It’s one of the few places that runs a little later than the rest of the venues in the city, it’s like an afters. So I get to play longer sets and the crowd that comes there is very receptive! I even love going there just to party. Every DJ I’ve heard in this room brings their A-game on.

Blend, Chennai - I used to be the resident DJ & programmer for this venue a couple of years ago. It was one of the popular clubs for underground music in Chennai. I loved playing warm up sets here and I got to open for a lot of great artists here and we’ve had some amazing parties at this venue.

Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your production work and more, please.

I start my day by meditating as soon as I wake up, then I hit the gym for about an hour and get started with my day right after. Praveen & I have co-founded a new talent agency where we manage bookings primarily for the Indian artists that are signed on to Juicebox Music, but we also manage artists outside of the prog/house & techno space, singers etc. Most of my day will go back and forth between agency work and catching up on new music. I try to wrap up everything before 7pm so that I’m able to work on my own music for at least 1-2 hours everyday. This last one has proven to be harder to maintain in the last month or so since the gig season has started here in India but I try my best to keep up with it. Before I end the night I like to wind down by watching some shows or reading a book and playing Apex Legends Mobile.

You have a new remix (co-produced with Haen) out this week of Mike Rish via Juicebox Music, tell us about the remix and please walk us through the production process on it.

Yes, I’m very excited about this one for a few reasons.

I’ve been part of the label since its inception. I was the first label manager and resident and it was a personal goal to be signed as a full artist some day. To finally get here is a full circle moment for me. Another reason is my collaboration with Haen (Sachin Menon). He’s like a little brother to me and a very, very talented producer. It was a common goal for both of us to get signed on Juicebox this year. We’re fans of each other's production styles as well so when Praveen asked us to collaborate on this together, it was a no-brainer.

It was a little nerve-wrecking for me initially as this would be my very first official collaborative project with anyone, but after that initial nervousness it was a breeze. Haen already had done more than a few collaborations & we both knew each other’s processes so it was easy for us to do this even though we live in two different cities.

We started out by creating individual remixes in our own styles after which we picked the best parts and ideas from both and built the track to what it is now. We had a little back and forth, few things in the mix to fix, but overall both of us were very excited with the final output as it was a perfect blend of both our styles. When it got signed, both of us were over the moon.

Looking over your discography this was your first ever collaborative project, how was that for you? And how did you end up linking with Haen on this remix?

Yes, this is my first official collaborative project. I’ve done some alternative stuff for fun with a friend who’s also a singer which I might just put out as a free download when I feel the time is right.

I was very nervous initially for this remix but that didn’t last too long. Between the deadlines and working with Haen, things went quite smoothly.

Haen & I had connected during the first year of COVID. Praveen had sent me a few demos that he received for the label at that time, it was this EP he was very impressed with and knew I’d also like. This was the MOVED EP by Haen & Scarr. , which is now out on Monstercat Silk. If you haven’t heard it, please go check it out, it’s still one of my favourite EPs from Haen + Scarr. and it’s just really beautiful and soulful electronic music.

I reached out to him then and we’ve been in touch since and grown to be very close friends. We constantly keep a track of each other’s progress and help each other with all things music and life.

For this remix, it was actually Praveen’s idea to have us work on it together.

This is also your first release on what would be considered India’s premiere progressive house imprint, what was it about this project that made you want to do it? And what do you normally look for in a track to make it suitable for a good remix?

Getting signed to Juicebox Music was a goal I’ve had for the longest time. So when Praveen reached out to me & Haen to remix Mike Rish, both of us didn’t even think twice.

I normally look for the main hook of a track or an element that stands out by itself. Once I’ve picked out what that is, I immediately start working on how I can tweak that sound to make it my own without taking away too much from the original idea and then I write everything else around that.

What does your set-up look like? Do you favor physical gear over digital? And what studio tools featured heavily in the writing of this remix?

My current setup is very minimal:

  • MacBook Pro running Ableton Live Suite 10
  • Beyerdynamics DT 880 Pro as my primary headphone
  • AIAIAI TMA-2 Studio as my secondary one I use for reference or when I travel
  • An external SSD with all my samples and project files

If you’d asked me which I favour more a few years back, my answer would’ve been different. I used to work at this company called The Inventory for about 8 years. They are the biggest pro-audio distributors in India and manage brands like Moog, Dynaudio, PreSonus, Arturia etc. I used to be the Head of Operations & the product specialist for all the brands & so I had access to all the top gear and I loved it. But over a period of time as work increased I very rarely got to spend time with them and by then I wasn’t even producing music.

I started making music again during the start of the pandemic. I was back in my hometown Kerala and I had a very basic setup there too, with an addition of a pair of Mackie CR4 monitors & an NI Audio 2 interface. While I was relearning my processes again, I implemented the ‘less is more’ concept to my music, the gear I had at my disposal at the time and every other aspect of my life and made the best of it. I’ve moved around quite a bit since then and for the last year or so I’ve gotten used to my current minimal setup. It’s just easier to carry around and I haven’t felt the need to add on anything more to it so far. I do stay updated on new gear that’s coming out but I don’t have the same gear lust I used to have before.

For this remix I’ve used Arturia Pigments the most I think. I can’t really quantify the use of it as it was a collaborative project. But Pigments is what I use most along with Ableton’s Wavetable in all my projects. Both of them are very powerful plugins and amazing for sound design.

Let’s talk about production for a moment, where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play? And was there anything that inspired your remix of Mike Rish?

Great question! This one made me think for a while, haha. I think that impulse has always been there for me and I hadn’t realised it for the longest time. When I started out as an artist, it was the norm then to be a music producer to even have a chance to make it as a DJ or artist in the underground scene. My primary focus was DJing, music production was something I had to do along with it at the time. While I was learning I still didn’t have a sense of direction, my priorities in life at the time were also scattered around and I eventually lost focus & was generally just lost.

When I got back to making music during the pandemic is when I started figuring things out for myself. Everything was at a standstill, I was in the process of moving cities before the lockdown hit and now I was stuck completely. I had asked myself what is it that I really wanted to do/pursue right now that would make me happy without worrying about the outcome and I knew it was to make music. There was nothing else that I wanted to do more in that moment. I didn’t care where it would take me, how long it would take or even a specific genre I wanted to focus on. I just knew I wanted to create. I wanted to do it right this time so I set myself goals, gave myself time and let myself completely submerge in it. I treated it like a 9-5 job and was working on production every day. Over a period of time it became a meditative process as well & a part of my daily routine.

For me, dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships etc are a source of motivation. Or the way I’d like to frame it - they inspire me to work harder, more mindfully and to keep creating no matter what else I’m doing in life. I’ve heard of  and know other artists where a certain moment, person, thing or experience has inspired them to make their best piece of music. I’m yet to experience that and I don’t think that it happens for everyone. I do look forward to that moment where something stirs up the genius in me, I’d consider myself very lucky to be able to experience that once or more.

Right now, my entire creative process is based on being consistent and making a daily habit of it.

For this remix, it was the opportunity to be a part of something bigger and to be able to do it with people I closely relate to and resonate with is what inspired me to do the best work I could for this remix.

For you to get started on a track do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called ‘visualizations’ of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?

I don’t need a concrete idea to get started on a track. Usually, I just start with the drums, write a bassline, sound design it, go through some samples to see what fits with the groove and with my mood at the time and I build everything else around that. For remixes it’s a little different. I pick the parts that I want to use from the original, really tweak them to my liking and then build the drums, bass and everything else from there. When I have a core idea ready is when I start to visualize the arrangement of the track. I pen down notes for these ideas and start placing them together.

Both, planning and chance are very important but I don’t know if I can measure the balance between the both. It’s different for everybody, right? You need to find a process that works best for you. For me, my initial phase of writing is planned, in the sense I know what element I want to start with, how long I should spend on it etc. But the writing itself is me taking a chance on my creativity in that moment based on my mood and if there are other factors. When I have something close to an idea is when I start planning the rest of my process for that track. Planning it keeps me more organised, it leaves less room for human error, it also helps me avoid creative blocks without disrupting my flow - if i’m stuck on a particular element for more than 20 mins with no change, I move on to the next step in the plan and come back to it later. This way I don't waste too much time either.

Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?

My morning routine - meditation & the gym is what sets me up for the entire day. Whether it’s for creative work or otherwise. If I don’t start my day this way it’s like controlled chaos - I can still get by and do good work but I’m not going to be happy about it, haha.

Meditation is what wakes me up, clears my head, feel gratitude for the life I have and let my thoughts and emotions centre itself for the day. When I workout at the gym, it is to maintain that clear headedness, stay healthy and in shape of course (took this more seriously after I turned 30) and plan my day out. Both of these activities keep me grounded.

Everything you intake into your body from foods, scents, stimulants, sights or information directly affects your physical and mental state. It can be good or bad depending on how often or how much you use it and why. For me, I like to have a little incense stick (or dhoop) lit through most of the day. It’s very calming and contributes to a positive feeling or a vibe around my space. Once a week I burn sage throughout the house for the same reasons. I also try to read as much as I can, no particular topic, fiction and nonfiction. Whenever I travel home for a break is when I just dig into non-fiction reading. I love crime thrillers and sci-fi. I think reading is very important, especially for creative work. It helps you imagine and dream up things you otherwise wouldn’t think of. And that will eventually start showing in your creative output.

Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite, I think. What marks the end of the process for you? How do you know when a track is done?

You are absolutely right. We are now spoiled with options which are good and bad in their own ways. It has definitely made things easier and more accessible to everyone. Anyone with an inclination to the arts can get started right away without investing too much money or time. But you can also get carried away easily with the endless possibilities of technology now. If you’re mindful of it, you can rake in all the advantages of it.

For me, a track is done when I know I have no more creative input left to give. If I am happy with the end result, and the label is good to go, I’m done with it. I also have a close group of producer friends who I share the work with for general feedback or if I’m myself wondering if the track is done.

Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practice?

It is very important for me to take a break when I’ve finished a track but I don’t wait too long either. Once I’m fully done with the main idea and initial mix down, I give it about a day till I listen to it again and see how I like it. If there’s changes I want to make to the arrangement or fine tune certain elements, I give myself a deadline of a day or two max to make them. This includes changes based on feedback given by my friends/peers as well. After this I don’t work on it anymore as there might be the tendency to add on more things that aren’t necessary or muddy up the mix. I’ll only open that project again only if the label requires some changes in the mix/arrangement or when I have to export the pre-master. I try to get all of this done within a week of me finishing the track. Any longer than that, the track gets saturated for me also to work on.

How much road testing or friend feedback is done before you’re ready to say a track is finished? And who is someone you share your new music with first for feedback?

Barely any road testing so far. Maybe just on the car sound system and bluetooth speakers to get an idea of what the final master would sound like across different systems.

I definitely rely on feedback from friends. I share new music with 3 people at the same time as soon as the track is done - Praveen Achary, Greg Tomaz & Haen.

They are my closest friends and artists themselves in the similar space. I have a handful of friends who listen to non-electronic music or all kinds of music, I share it with them too every now and then to see how they react or what about it appeals to them the most.

What is the task you enjoy the most when producing and what would you prefer someone else to do?

I enjoy every aspect of producing. I still get anxious whenever I start a new project wondering what the end result would be - I even enjoy that anxious part too, haha. What’s life without a little chaos, right? The anxiousness goes away the moment I find a direction to work towards and I get into my flow state - it’s the most excited and driven I get.

If I have to narrow it down to one task, well off late the final mixing and post processing is what I enjoy the most. There’s a lot you can do creatively in the mix and that’s something I’m constantly trying to improve on. If I’m working on a collaboration with someone else, I would prefer they work on the aspects where they are stronger than I am. Like writing melodies for example, I can write my own but if I know the other artist writes it better, I’ll let them take over that completely.

What would be a musical extravagance for your studio you would pay for, if you were very wealthy?

State of the art (but only necessary) acoustic treatment

Dynaudio LYD 48s as my primary monitors

Kali Audio LP6 2nd Wave Lone Pine series as my secondary monitors

Arturia MatrixBrute

If you could set up an event with a line-up of five artists of your choice, who would you book and what set times would you ascribe to the artists?

4 pm - 7 pm | Greg Tomaz
7 pm - 10.30 pm | Praveen Achary
10.30 pm - 2.30 am | John Digweed
2.30 am - 5.30 am | Oscar Mulero
5.30 am - 9 am | Maceo Plex

In your opinion, what’s the biggest risk you’ve taken and what made you do it?

Moving to Bangalore right before the 2nd wave of covid and then deciding to give up the day job life, go full time as an artist and start our (Praveen & mine’s) agency (This x That) right after. It was risky because it was still a very uncertain time for everyone. I decided to do it because I was in a much better space than I was before the pandemic, I knew this is exactly what I wanted to do and I was finally confident enough in myself to take that plunge. I have not looked back since :)

What’s a book you’ve read or film you watched that has left an impact on you, and why?

The War of Art & Turning Pro - both books are by Steven Pressfield.

I used to think if I had to make it as a decent music producer I had to know my music theory really well, be able to play an instrument or constantly be able to come up with genius melodic or rhythmic ideas etc. Both these books proved that wrong for me. It taught me that you need to be truly dedicated to your art & most importantly be consistent in its practice. Work on it everyday even if it’s just 2 hours. Every other skill is just an add on or a bonus which will help you make better music for sure but being consistent is the key.

This changed everything for me, for almost a year during the first lockdown, all I did was produce music every day, making sure I finished projects before I moved on to the next one. I treated it like a 9-5 job. Eventually towards the end of that year, I signed my first release and the rest followed.

Practice makes you better, consistency makes you a pro.

What is one superpower you would like to have and how would you use it?

Teleportation. I’d use it to make sure I’m there for my family and loved ones any time they need me or vice versa.

And well, it’s an easier and a much more convenient way to tour as an artist given the times we live in now, haha.

Apart from music, what makes you happiest?

Food, spending time with my close family and friends, reading a good book, meditation and more food.

What does the remainder of 2022 hold for you? Anything you can share with us?

I have two more remixes that are coming out later this year that I’m really excited about. One is coming out soon on Mango Alley’s sister label - Maldesoule. Second, I can’t reveal anything about it yet. But both remixes are very different from my usual 4x4 styles, both have some amazing vocal parts I got to work with, and I’m just overall excited of how both have turned out. Let’s just say it was another goal of mine to be able to create music like this.

Apart from that more shows, our first international artist booking for an India tour as an agency (more details TBA soon). I also freelance as a stage manager for festivals and November - December this year I have a few festivals that I’ll be working with. And then finally take a nice long break towards the end of the year to relax and wind down.

Haen & MONé's remix of Mike Rish 'Tuumla' is available now via Juicebox Music: https://bit.ly/3SwClWz

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