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Interviewed by
Martyn Pepperell
Monday 23rd July, 2012 9:38AM

Los Angeles' Mono/Poly [aka Charles Dickerson], originally from Bakersfield, California, first became interested in electronic music production in the mid 90s. However, despite making his first productions twelve years ago, he didn't step out in public until 2006. Come 2007, his richly melodic and textured, yet rhythmically underscored beat music started to pick up momentum through DJ support from the likes of Benji B (BBC Xtra1) and Jay Scarlett.

In the last six years, Mono/Poly has released a series of acclaimed EPs, singles, a brilliant debut album (Paramatma) and plenty of tasty remixes. In the process his name has become intimately associated with respected record labels and music collectives like Brainfeeder, Low End Theory, Planet Mu and Warp Records. As a by-product of his artistically uncompromising vision and beautiful beatscapes, Mono/Poly has won the love of influential musical individuals and bands like Radiohead, Erykah Badu and The Mars Volta.

We caught up with Dickerson ahead of his New Zealand tour next week…

Could you give me a window into your personal philosophy towards the creation and presentation of music?

I guess music to me is really just something that you feel. It's something that you can't describe. I think that a lot of people try to put it into words or try to fit it into something. One of the main problems I have with people, sometimes musicians, is when they take music like it's not music. When they look at it like it's not frequencies hitting you. They take it as something that you can write down. Everyone wants to put something to a formula.

For me, somebody doesn't have to tell me what that music is associated with. They're like, "Yo! He produced this with Flying Lotus, or he produced it with that [equipment]." You don't have to sell me your beats, just show me some good music! I'll judge for myself!

I feel like some people try to weigh something up based by its associations. That has always bothered me. It pisses me off. Its like, do you listen to music? Do you even listen to music? Do you fill it out for yourself? Or are you waiting for someone else to tell you that it's cool? I dunno man; it's funny to me, this type of thing.

I hear what you're saying and I actually really agree with you. However, and there is a however, I feel like it would be good for you to keep aware that most people who think about music in the way you are describing probably don't practice astral projection. You know?

Yeah, I guess so. You're right [laughs]. I guess because even before I was astrally projecting and doing all this other out-there stuff, I didn't have to have someone tell me something was cool. It was just like, if I felt it, I felt it. If I didn't, I didn't. Cool.

Maybe it was having a really close relative with me through all this experience. My sister, she always kind of understood what I meant. We would hear something and we would be like, "Oh! That's dope!" It wasn't that she told me that it was dope. It was just dope. We just felt it. I run into people now who have that say understanding. I guess it's some of the consumers I have a problem with. I guess they have to be given it in a way or something? Which, I dunno, I still have a problem with it [laughs].

The point I was getting at is that if people can't make up their own minds about what they like, there is no real market. You can make people like anything. People are so funny. Some people are like okay, I'm going to make trap music! [Laughs].

I find that really funny, the idea of "making" trap music...

The funny thing about it all is that trap music has been marketed on a mass level. That is the only reason why it has got so big the way it is. It was repetitive. They made it, pushed it, and the mainstream American rap market ran with it. Now it is easily accepted. That's not to say it is all bad though.

Well, you do remix the odd trap song don't you? So obviously you don't think it is all bad.

Well, sometimes I remix it just to be funny and have fun with it. I have a broad taste in music. I try not to look at things as good or bad. I accept different cultures and different things.

I guess you're about dualism really? Even having the name Mono/Poly alludes to mono sound and polyphonic sound, which suggests two separate states at once...

Yeah yeah. I guess where I am at, at this point, is this; a lot of people think you have to fit into a market. I'm like, if you have the right people around you, you can make your own market. I hope people wake up to just being an artist. I'm just glad that I don't get scared and know what I want to do. I kind of have a punk rock mentality to being an artist. I just do whatever I want.

What do you think the factors have been which have allowed you to develop this mindset and approach and let it manifest so fully?

I think coming from Bakersfield [in California), it was just all about being annoyed by everyone else. I would like certain music and my friends would lean more towards the mainstream. I don't want to say I was listening to music that wasn't mainstream, but I just started discovering these things I thought were amazing and after awhile I just went down a rabbit hole of different music from all kinds of different genres. I didn't have that around me in my real life, so that pushed me into the internet, staying in my room, and making my own music. Through that I found out that there were a lot of people out there who felt the same. They were similar to me and had really open mindsets.

My dad helped me get into music as well. He's a musician and had a guitar and equipment in the house. The first house we lived in, I remember him having beatmaking equipment, drum machines, keyboards. One thing inspired me was this Juno keyboard he had got from a friend. It had sounds like I had never heard before and that Dad would never use, because I guess they were just too weird. They were into their West Coast sound and stuff, and I was like, whoa? What is this?

That inspired me, because I was always in the other room thinking, fuck, I've got to do something better than that. Then when I got older I had computers and stuff, and I was like, wait, I'm sure there is a way for me to make music on a computer. So, I started looking up software, samplers and stuff. I started making beats from there.

The headspace I have now though? How did I arrive here? Maybe it was this? When I was growing up, this is a funny story. When I was growing up, when I was like five years old, I would get really pissed off with my parents. We had this big clubhouse in the backyard, so I would run away to it, but I wasn't really running away. I would go there and just hideout for a second. I would think to myself, try to not feel sorry for myself and reflect on things. I would see if I was in the wrong, or if my parents were in the wrong. I would think about it in a fair way. It was kind of like an argument with myself. Not in a crazy way, but you know, just reflecting.

That was something that ended up being a habit. I started to realise the ways people reacted to things and ever since from then, that has been my mindset and it has developed even more now through growing up, but I still use that method. It was really scientific. It was really just trying to see what results came out of what behaviour.

The social constructionist approach! Why is this happening? Why am I responding to it in this manner?


I can relate to that. That approach can really make people very angry, especially if they like things to be fixed in one state or another.

Yeah [laughs]. Like my parents! [Laughs]. Seeing things in black and white, I can't ever live like that. There is so much out there, for me to think that this is like this, and that is like that, that is like being a robot. You need to find out what is truly you, and what you truly feel, and start shaping the world, as opposed to letting the world shape you.

Back to the music, do you still consider your Paramatma album to be your best work?

Yeah. To me it was universal. It taught me something. I say it was my best work because it taught me something. I think that is important when you make art. If you make art it should be something that can transform you. It doesn't have to be about that, but I think that is when it is at its most special.

I won't marginalise everything else I've made though. I love all the stuff I've made. The next record that is coming out, it's not that is has something that has transformed me, but man, it's really beautiful the way it sounds.

What I like about your work is it sounds good initially, then as you listen closer you hear more and more within it. In that sense it is almost a metaphor for life. Things can look one way from the distance, but when you get closer, you just discover more and more...

Exactly! I mean, sometimes I go back listen to the records that I've made and like you say, I'll discover something in there that I wasn't already fully conscious of. I like the records that I've made. I like listen to them, going back to them and being able to still hear something new.

You're just too fluid for you own good really, which I guess is part of why people like Erykah Badu, Radiohead and The Mars Volta are all public fans of your music?

Yeah. It's dope. That changed a lot for me. I think that is part of why I have the attitude that I have with consumers. I got so far just doing what I want to do. The people that were important to me, the musicians, they were coming to me and saying they loved my music. I thought, why do I have to wait for some consumers? I'll just go out there and get it now.

Mono/Poly New Zealand Tour w/ Jonwayne

Thursday 2nd August, Havana Bar, Wellington
Friday 3rd August, Khuja Lounge, Auckland

Click here for tickets and tour details.


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