The London-based Radio 1 DJ is all about bringing fresh music to the masses, and has long been a champion of the accessible, youthful sounds that have become club dance floor staples over recent years. This ethos comes to the fore in her weekly show, which maintains the momentum of the weekend into the early hours of Monday morning, airing from 1am through to 4.
But her first experience of broadcasting was on pirate radio. Monki landed an internship and then a show at East London’s Rinse FM as a fresh faced 18-year-old, before the station got its community license. At Rinse the expectations were different: “There wasn’t much talking for a start. It was all about the music and all about how well you could mix and concentrating on how you could get that right. Obviously it wasn’t legal or legit but the set-up was really good”. This proved to be the essential grounding needed, before Radio 1 signed her to the ‘In New DJs We Trust’ roster in 2012, then giving her an independent slot soon after.
Moving to the station was a whole new ball game, with the nature of such an exposed platform requiring Monki’s personality to be the driving force of the show. “It was never a thing for me on Rinse. Obviously they get a vibe off you and then it takes some time putting that into practice. For ages I was like ‘people don’t care about what I’ve got to say they just want to listen to tunes,’ but in fact people do want to hear about your weekend, where you’ve been playing and what mischief you’ve been up to”. Detecting this humility paired with the charisma she exudes on air, and it’s easy to see why the station wanted her on board.
High energy tunes are the main theme for the three-hour show, so naturally a lot of planning and a vast amount of music consumption goes into the production. “I think my mates think I just rock up every week and just talk on the radio for three hours, but it’s going and sifting through music, downloading promos on email, checking out SoundCloud, checking out blogs, Mixmag online, and producers are emailing you constantly trying to get you to play their tunes. It’s basically just being on your laptop for two days of the week just listening to music”. Luckily given her experience in the business she can tell “within 20 or 30 seconds” if she’s feeling something she’s hearing. How does she describe the day-to-day in such an iconic station? “It’s a bit like being in a Sixth Form common room or something. Everyone’s just mucking about or doing serious work”.
Extending her musical know-how outside of radio, she’s been releasing her free ‘Monki & Friends’ EPs plus singles on her label Zoo Music for several years on SoundCloud. This is a woman in touch with the digital era and a generational need for accessibility. At the lighter end of the spectrum there’s crowd-pleasing tropical house and garage-infused numbers, but delve a little deeper and there’s bass and dubstep to discover as well. “My friends would send me edits and stuff for my sets just to play out on the radio or in the club, and then they would give it out on their SoundCloud, but if they were still sort of up-and-coming or didn’t have a big listenership then it wouldn’t get as much shine as I thought it should. So I was just like why don’t we just start something? If ever you’ve got anything we can just put it up on my SoundCloud and we’ll put all the info in the bio”. Those friends include Shadow Child, Friend Within, My Nu Leng and Bodhi. All recognisable names, and evidence of Monki’s impact in aiding the progression of those around her.
Being easily accessible to a digital audience entails some critique at times. Does anyone give her a hard time online? “Luckily not really for my radio show, but I have had a few from my live streams, you get quite a lot of keyboard warriors on those sorts of things. The first time I got it I was like ‘Fucking hell that’s a bit harsh!’ and then the second and third time it just gets funny. The more you do and the better you get, the more crap you’re gonna get basically. I remember my mate got one the other day, he’s a producer, and someone went to the trouble of emailing him to say ‘Do you play vinyl?’ and then the next line was just ‘No you don’t because you’re crap’. I think he just replied like ‘lol’”.
Haters aside and onto the subject of touring. The first Monki & Friends started in Room 3 of London institution Fabric, and Monki’s full of optimism when it comes to the future of the capital’s nightlife. “I’ve seen the new licensing agreements and I just think Fabric know what they’re doing. They’re such a long-running establishment. I’m just happy the place is open to be honest. And then this new place has opened in East London called Printworks. So off the back of Fabric closing and everyone being up in arms, it’s reopened along with this 5,000 capacity venue too. It’s all good news, hopefully it’ll just carry on”.
Although she’s played in Leeds a few times before, including as a resident on Annie Mac’s AMP tours, this will be Monki’s first time playing at Church. Explaining to her how it’s changed drastically from being the centre of all things cheese (Halo) – “my old mates who went to uni there were like ‘Really?’ So I had to be like, ‘I think it’s changed’ – to an eery underground venue where you’re very aware of being in a former place of worship, a pretty indisputable statement rounds off our conversation: “That’s the last place God would want you to rave!”
But raves in churches are how we roll in Leeds, and the remaining tickets for Monki & Friends are over on Skiddle.
For a chance to support Monki on the night, you can submit mixes via BBC Introducing before 5th March.