Nick Monaco: “Don’t Let Dance Music Forget Where It Came From”

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My final Decibel Festival-related post is here. This interview is a good follow up to my interview with Anna Lunoe at Decibel interview and the subsequent conversation on how we discuss women in the music industry.

I came across the following quote on Anna Lunoe’s Tumblr. It comes from Chicago DJ, producer, and talent buyer The Black Madonna, aka Marea Stamper. For further reading, check out Resident Advisor’s in-depth profile of Stamper, posted today.

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Nick Monaco is one of the artists challenging dance music’s status quo. Monaco is a part of Crew Love, Soul Clap and Wolf + Lamb’s record label and artist collective.Monaco’s interactions with dance music led him to rethink his forms of gender expression. He began to wear lipstick, and eventually it became part of his on-stage persona. He says:

“Wearing lipstick I began to feel very conscious of the hyper-masculinity and rigid gender constructs that are still ever present throughout the world. When onlookers see what they consider a straight male wearing lipstick it complicates their ideas about gender and sexuality, which is the goal of Freak Flag – to move beyond gender binaries.”

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Freak Flag is Monaco’s line of lipstick, featuring custom artwork. All profits from Freak Flag benefit the Jim Collins Foundation, which provides funding to transgender people for gender-confirmation surgeries.

“By wearing Freak Flag we show our alliance to the LGBT community and offer our support to the community that nurtured modern dance music into existence. As dance music continues to proliferate and be adopted by dominant pop culture I think it’s an important moment to remind ourselves of the origins of this sound. To the generations that precede me this may sound like old news, but I sense in my generation a historical amnesia and lack of consciousness when it comes to the origins of contemporary dance music.”

I interviewed Nick Monaco about these ideas, which are both important to me personally and are important for the industry to be aware of as a whole. For further reading on these topics I highly suggest Resident Advisor’s “An Alternate History of Sexuality in Club Culture”.

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Me: Present-day dance music culture (especially in the U.S.) seems unaware overall of the marginalized groups that birthed the scene. Was bringing more attention to these groups through your music a goal, or did it just happen naturally?

Nick Monaco: “My ambition to raise awareness about the origins of dance music came about from many angles. I was listening to a lot of early house and disco and researching these cultures side by side with critical studies in gender and sexuality in college, so I think I’ve always idealized and been attached to the primordial themes of house and disco, that which gave LGBT community a safe and expressive space. I was also involved in a poetry slam at my college put on by the BSU (Black Student Union) which gave voices to a lot of folks in the LGBT community that sensitized me to their issues. As I started touring all over the world I wanted to compound my research and LGBT activism with the music and the partying.”

How did dance music directly affect your ideas on gender and sexuality?

“I think dance music, specifically going out and dancing made me understand space and boundaries more intimately. Spaces like clubs and parties create communities that almost transcend the music. Observing this pattern made me really conscious of the interplay between gender and sexuality and the potential for new communities that set the tone for the way dominant culture thinks about gender and sexuality.

How can the dance music community encourage decreased homogenization, and why is it necessary to do so?

“It’s essential that we not let ourselves slip into cultural amnesia regarding the beginnings of dance music. It was colorful, deep, queer, loud, ballsy, soulful. By being aware of its origins I think we can help keep it on track with what it so loudly celebrates.

I think my lipstick line Freak Flag embodies these ideas. It draws awareness to the queer origins of dance music, challenges hypermasculinity, and the proceeds help pay for gender-confirmation surgeries via the Jim Collins Foundation.”

How does it feel when a crowd is receptive to your live performance? How would you characterize your relationship with the crowd at Decibel?

“It feels fucking amazing when a bunch of people you don’t know stand there and process the music that you’re throwing at them. A lot of times I’m so swept away by performing that I forget that people are even there, I sometimes forget that I exist too.”


Nina Ulloa covers breaking news, tech, and more for Digital Music News. In her spare time she heads music blog West Coast Fix. Follow her on Twitter: @nine_u

Top photo by Aya Tiffany Sato from Decibel Festival.