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UE.8: Monika

UE.8: Monika
Adam Tiran

Next up in our mix series is Maxwell Guise aka Monika, an exciting young producer of ambient 170bpm soundscapes that have had us beguiled ever since we first encountered them. We got Max in for a quick chat to find out more and to give us some insight into this beautiful mix, which is one of the most suitably curated we’ve had on the site so far.


So, first things first. Who are you and where are you from?

I am Maxwell Palm. I’m from Milton Keynes originally but I’m currently living in Kingston, just outside London.

How would you describe the music you make?

I write most of my music around the 170bpm mark as it gives me a brilliant platform to mess around with ambient atmospheres as well as fiddling around with half-time beats and twisted percussion.

My aim when producing is essentially to make very listenable music, as well making them tunes you can move to. They have a very open and sometimes meditative feel to them, but they are backed up with an energetic pace.

Tell us a bit about your journey into making music.

Music has always been a part of my life as I’ve been playing piano for around 10-15 years, but taking the step into producing wasn’t a decision I made until I was around 18.

I had hit a wall when I was taking A-Levels in subjects I wasn’t interested in and I there was a lot of pressure on everyone to decide what we wanted to do and pursue that further at uni. I was’t about to jump head-first into a degree I hated so I took a year out.

Around this time I was mostly into indie music. I liked D&B a lot, but it tended to be something I listened to on nights out or at parties etc. I only really heard huge smashers like Ebony Dubsters – Ra or Pendulum – Masochist. It wasn’t until a very good friend of mine introduced me into the tune Just One Second by London Elektricity that things really changed. After naively thinking D&B was all about mental pace and dirty baselines, I was suddenly hearing music in the D&B genre which I could really relate to and simply enjoy sitting down and listening to. I had that tune on loop for weeks!

Soon after me and the same friend went to the first Hospitality at Matter, which was also my first real D&B night. I was watching all my new favourite producers doing what they love and getting real recognition for it. As cheesy as it sounds, it was a real epiphany moment for me. I really wanted to be a part of it too.

Not long after I got hold of a MacBook and a copy of Logic Pro and started writing tunes. They were shocking at first, but I improved and learnt so much with every new song.

Now I’m in my final year at Kingston Uni taking Music Technology. This course has given me the chance to shape my sound into something that is more my own, and also to understand where I would like to take it further.

Mostly, though, I’m just excited to see what will happen with it in the future!

Which other artists would you say have and are currently influencing your sound?

The most relatable influences I have are from artists like Synkro and Tokyo Prose, but I take a lot more influence from other places.

I quite often sample film scores I find enticing, which then become the catalyst for my ideas. I’ll start with maybe a string sample or a particular vocal to set me up with a mood for the track, and I’ll move on from there.

I came across a great house producer called Dj Rum recently. His work is also influenced a lot from film scores. His tune The Darkest Hour Is Just Before Dawn (Undercoat Part 2) is a really good example of a tune that creates a really wide atmosphere, but keeps your head bobbing with a pulsating pace.

It would also be hard for me not to mention composers I have come across from learning the piano. I take a lot from the likes of Phillip Glass or Ludovico Einaudi. I think that these kind of minimalist songwriters have really shaped how I go about writing melody and progressing a track.

Can you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve done for us? What was the inspiration behind it? What equipment did you use?

The mix was really a quick collection of tunes that have helped me shape my sound over the years, as well as a showcase of what I was listening to at the time. It also gave me a chance to show how well my tunes can work in a mix.

I mixed using Ableton Live, which I had never used before. I had fun getting my head round it, but if I’m playing out I much prefer to use vinyl or a serato/traktor setup.

Where can people hear more of your work?

I have a few clips on Soundcloud. This is where I showcase my latest tunes so keep a lookout for things to come –

Monika - Devotion EP (Slime Recordings)

Are you playing out anywhere soon?

There’s a bunch of guys who run a night here at the uni called BrownBear Audio, and I’ll be playing at one of their future events. They run nights at the SU bars and clubs in Kingston that draw big crowds and some big names. Arkist is coming down this month which I’m really looking forward to.

Other than that, I’ve only got a house party thing lined up next month. I always have fun doing them because it’s so much more of a relaxed atmosphere. You only have to worry about having a sick time and stopping wreck-heads spilling beer all over your decks!

Any words of wisdom for our readers?

For the producers amongst you there’s one thing that I have a hard time doing when writing music. Almost all the time, less is much, much more. That might mean using a certain riff or sample a lot less than you want to, or using a nice synth sound only once or twice. This keeps the listener guessing, but it also stops tracks from sounding like a copy/paste job. Simplicity is definitely a hard discipline to master.

And finally, what is the one urban essential you just couldn’t live without?

I’d say the notes app on my iPhone. This is where I jot down any samples I find interesting and any ideas I have for tunes while I’m out and about. I almost never come up with ideas sat in front of my computer. x

UE.8: Monika by Urban Essence on Mixcloud