“I like my jeans to be dirty and I like my music to be dirty too,” says Munk, aka Mathais Modica, co-owner of experimental dance and pop label Gomma Records.
“I hate my music to sound too digital. There’s too much clean-sounding music around and I want the music I make to have an analogue, hand-made sound. For it to appeal to me, my music has to sound a little bit like it’s been recorded in a garage.”
Munk played all the instruments featured on his new house album ‘The Bird and the Beat’; namely piano, keyboards and drums. His musical credentials are water-tight and even more compelling when you weigh them up against the life-long inspiration he’s drawn from idols Quincy Jones, Giorgio Moroder and Igor Stravinsky — the latter being the Russian composer who tutored Munk in the piano.
Not only is Munk a classically-trained pianist, he’s also well versed in the saxophone, drums, bass and even the church organ.
“Before I got into dance music, I wanted to be a jazz pianist,” says 35-year-old Munk. “Everything changed when I went to a rave in Munich one night and ended up dropping my first E in the room where Masters At Work were playing. After that, I ditched the piano and started DJing and making music.”
Munk’s new album is the follow-up to his 2008-released cosmic disco debut ‘Cloudbuster’, an LP that pioneered the chillwave, laidback house sound and included guest appearances from DFA’s James Murphy, DJ Chloe, Italian actress/DJ (and daughter of horror film director Dario) Asia Argento and Midnight Mike.
‘The Bird and the Beat’ is a collection of quirky, melodic vocal tunes laden with Italo disco, US house, jazz and funk flavours.
Just like his debut, Munk recorded this latest album using a PC and “classic sampling stuff”, specifically an MPC 2000.
“I work with the MPC 2000 and Logic,” says Munk. “I really use all the normal programmes everyone else works with, but in a different way. Most of the stuff you hear on the records I make might sound programmed, but it is actually played somehow live then re-worked on the computer.”
The new album, out now on Gomma, features no less than nine female vocalists, including New Young Pony Club singer Lou Hayter, Peaches’ backing vocalist Mia Von Matt and Permanent Vacation Records’ solo star Pollyester.
“I just got tired of spending so much time in the studio with boys,” says Munk. “I always meet lots of talented women and, two years ago, decided to start recording songs with them. Suddenly I realized I had enough for an album and that’s how this came about.”
While recording ‘The Bird and the Beat’ Munk has also been putting together another album that he calls the “yang” to this “yin” LP.
“It’s more like ‘Dort’, the last track on ‘The Bird and the Beat’,” he says.
“It’s more instrumental and much deeper. Kind of like the antidote to this new album, which has a much easier vibe to it.”
Munk was born in Rome in the late 1970s. His family moved around a lot while he was growing up (his father was a travelling musician) before settling in Munich in the late 1980s.
It was there that Munk had his Masters At Work/ecstasy-induced dance music epiphany. Not long after, he and his school pal Jonas Imbery (who makes music as Telonius) decided to start Gomma Records.
“No-one wanted to release our music so we thought we’d better do it ourselves,” says Munk. “We’d made a house tune called ‘Pin’ under the name Leroy Hanghofer that no-one wanted to put out. We also had a compilation of no wave/punk funk/early disco stuff that no-one wanted. That’s when we set up Gomma. But we also did it as a reaction to all the boring minimal music around at the time.”
Gomma released ‘Pin’ in 2000. It was Munk and Jonas’s first production effort and, largely because of some blistering mixes from Jacques Lu Cont, the tune sold out in record shops across Europe and the US.
One of the fans of this new Leroy Hanghofer number was New York indie/dance head James Murphy, who was making a name for himself in the US via his DFA Records imprint.
It was around the same time, early 2000, that Gomma released its seminal ‘Anti-NY’ compilation — the trail-blazer for ensuing, same-styled comps such as ‘Disco Not Disco’. Back then, disco was a “dirty word” in dance music circles, particularly the techno-focused Munich scene.
“Playing disco music in clubs was a pretty hardcore thing to do back then,” he admits. “It was offensive to a lot of the big techno DJs who played in Munich at the time because, for them, it was just cheesy, camp music. Everyone on our local club scene was into German techno and d&b; all the Rephlex stuff. We just saw our own little disco revolution as a way to react to what was happening. We thought it was fun, and watching the way people responded was funny.”
But Munk and Jonas’s penchant for disco wasn’t just about being tongue-in-cheek reactionaries. “The big names in disco music are big names because they were great producers,” rallies Munk. “Moroder changed the world by releasing electronic pop music in 1978. Also in the 1970s, Cerrone and the guys from Chic revolutionized music.
“The biggest misunderstanding of disco is that it’s stupid music. I’m not talking about the cheesy pop stuff that came later, but the good producers of that era — such as Moroder and Cerrone — were real musicians with a good musical knowledge. And that’s the side of disco that interested us of course. Not the stupid pop stuff.”
Munk and Jonas put on their first Plastique parties in 1999, at Ultraschall, the techno club co-owned by Disko B.
“We played mainly house music but we used to mix it up with old disco and Mo Wax-style sounds,” says Munk. “Jonas and I were the first promoters to bring over UK acts such as The Psychonauts to play in Munich.”
Not content with being instrumental in kicking off the nu disco revolution with their ‘Anti NY’ compilation, and blazing a trail for labels to mine the rich seam of past disco/new wave releases for their copycat compilations, Munk and Jonas were already looking for their next musical revolution.
“When it comes to music, the minute that we think something is becoming popular, we like to look for something new. That’s why Gomma Records doesn’t just release one style of music.”
ON THE CATWALK
Munk is also a well-known name in fashion circles. His unnervingly cool ability to maintain a straight face while seguing one of his own reworks of a Rick Astley track into the latest tech house hotcake puts him into a different league when it comes to DJing. ‘La Musica’, the gritty Italo house tune from his new album, features in a new promotional movie for designer Karl Lagerfeld.
He makes music for Chanel and regularly DJs at fashion parties. And the cool-o-meter points he and his Gomma imprint have notched up in Paris have meant he’s bagged loads of gigs in some of the best clubs in the city. Gomma have done a string of joint parties with DJ Chloe’s Kill the DJ label and Ed Banger Records. Munk counts locals Chloe, Cosmo Vitelli, Alex Gopher and Etienne De Crecy among his close pals. That’s partly why, today, he divides up his time living between Berlin and Marseille.
“I started doing gigs in Marseille a couple of years ago and it really is a cool city with some good little clubs,” he says. “Now I spend two weeks here and two weeks in Berlin.”
Munk met his current girlfriend Amandine in Marseille and she sings on low-slung house tune ‘Rue De Rome’, a highlight on ‘The Bird and the Beat’ that’s dedicated to the city.
“We recorded that one night at 4am. All the places named on the track are in the city.”
Amandine is an illustrator rather than a singer. And many of the nine laydeez whose voices feature on the record are similarly otherwise employed. The album itself was recorded in studios in Rome, Paris, Berlin and Marseille and mixed by an A-team made up of Etienne De Crecy, Alex Gopher, Boyz Noize producer Jan Driver and Benbono, with the engineering done by whoever’s studio Munk happened to be using at the time.
“I can use the studio equipment, but I would rather get someone else to engineer my music,” he confesses. “On many tracks, I play maybe a drum, then I cut it and sample it and I’ll play maybe a bassline on a bass then I’ll sample it. That’s how you get a more analogue, more fucked up sound. So, when I’m recording, I programme the beat, I bring the basic sound samples or just the sounds and I play the stuff. I play everything. It’s like recording an album with a band; but rather than five people, it’s just me playing half real instruments and half digital stuff. I do all of that but I don’t want to spend hours getting the sound exactly right. I think when you do that, you move too far away from the original ideas.”
By the time you read this article, Munk will have mastered his next album that he thinks will come out this summer. He’s already working on remixes for Hercules & Love Affair, Ellen Allien and Joey Negro and, if his track record is anything to go by, he’ll already be on to the next big thing.
“I don’t want to stand still creatively,” he says. “When it comes to music, you have to keep moving on.”
GOMMA HIGH NOTES
Some of the label’s finest moments...
Munk & James Murphy/Nancy Whang
‘Kick Out the Chairs’
This was a bonafide global dance hit that DJs across-the-board played and played. It marked a turning point for Gomma and kick-started the new rave movement.
‘It Rough (Chicken Lips Remix)’
This huge Chicago house remix was the first out-and-out house tune that Gomma released. It still sounds fresh now.
One of the best-selling Gomma tunes of last year.
‘Whomp That Sucker’
The Belgian super duo’s album released last year on Gomma marked the label out as a purveyor of some of the finest dance music artists of our time. Produced by Ray Mang (DFA), it’s still a corker.
MUNK’s TOP TEN
Here’s a list of what he’s dropping when he plays out...
1 Neurotic Drum Band
‘U Got Me Dancin (Piano Mix)’
(Gomma Dance Tracks)
‘Why Don’t You’ (Erol Rework)’
‘More Than Physical (Garage Mix)’
‘Whenever You Need Somebody (Munk's Cut Up Dub Version)’
‘Madder Red (Munk Remix)’
‘Spiritual (Round Table Knights Remix)’
(Gomma Dance Tracks)
The Rhythm Odyssey
‘Move Groove (Midnight Machine Rmx)’
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