Conor Corrigan is in a good place right now; personally and as both of his aliases Monuman and Emperor.
We don’t need to tell you that, though. The music does that very well by itself; last year both his Polychoral and Boxcutter EPs (as Monuman and Emperor respectively) contained some of the most beguiling, varied and refreshed material he’s given us since his debut album Dispositions in 2016.
From hurters to compositional whirlwinds, few stones have been left unturned during these releases… And a lot of that is down to having two very distinct aliases with two very distinct sounds and mindsets, allowing him total freedom, scope and more blank canvases than a firesale at Hobbycraft.
He explained why he created his freestyle ‘anything goes’ Monuman alias to us last year when his Inspected EP Polychoral landed. But once again the music speaks at a clearer volume; his debut album Provenance explicitly details everything you need to know about Conor’s scope, vision and desires from his music. Laced with equal measures of gritty textures and comic tendrils, weaved with some deft and complex composition and steeped in emotion, it’s his most immersive, delicate and alluring piece of work to date that transcends any rigid concept of genre and simply shows him in his natural creative state. Beneath the surface it also documents how he’s worked his way through a pretty dark and frustrating place to get to that good place he’s in right now.
Everything you said in our last interview, and the broadness of the music itself, translates to me that Monuman means freedom. Freedom from genres, from a label, from fan expectation. Freedom!
It’s nice to know that you can hear that. It is freedom from all those points you mention. Freedom from constrictions, I guess. Not to say that labels are constrictive but there’s a still a subconscious idea I have when I’m making music for labels. It’s not made completely without boundaries which is what I wanted to do; purely make music for myself. That’s what this project is about and it’s why it sounds so varied. Sometimes I feel like making a dubstep track, other times I feel like making a really compositional piece. It’s nice to put it together as an album and put it out there in my own way.
You need that outlet to be true to yourself I guess?
I think so. Especially if you crave making more than one style of music. I love drum & bass. I love making it and listening to it but I often spend a week or two not listening to it or making other things. It keeps me inspired and fresh.
Yeah it’s no coincidence that some of your best Emperor tunes have come out since you’ve launched the Monuman project…
Thanks. I had to slow my head down a bit when I’m making drum & bass. I had this driving sensation that I had to make something new to everything I’d done before and I’d overthink things way too much. I’d over analyse things and get into a really negative headspace which didn’t let those creative spirts flow. I was thinking of it like a problem…
….Instead of a puzzle?
Overthinking is a curse of the modern age!
There’s so much content from everyone now. You’re constantly in a state of comparison with them and yourself. Social media feeds that toxically, too. But that was another way of Monuman being free. There’s not very much of a profile so it’s another reason why I can be creatively free. I could just focus on the music and not have anything to compare it to.
It’s the closest thing you can get to restarting your game or having a fresh blank canvas…
Definitely and over that time I feel the mentality in drum & bass has changed a lot and it feels like you don’t need to have the best mixdowns or loudest noises to have a good tune. People don’t seem as fussed by that and just want good music again.
Definitely. I’ve heard a lot of artists saying that, it’s back to a vibe thing…
It is and that’s great and really inspiring and something that will influence how I approach Emperor tunes in the future.
Remind me; are you musically trained or have a classical background? You said compositional earlier and there’s a lot of classical references and sounds on the album. Like Emerald or those plucks on Ratty…
I’ve not had a standard theoretical background or schooling. I can’t read music, I just know what sounds good together in terms of chord sequences and arrangements. I go off what works in terms of emotion than sonics. It’s not what sounds good, it’s what feels good. It’s quite intuitive, especially when you’re in that zone. That’s something I missed for quite a while.
There were elements of that in your Emperor album Dispositions, too. An album is a blank canvas in that way isn’t it?
Yeah the alum gave me freedom to step away from convention. That was a liberating experience too.
When was Provenance written? Something tells me it didn’t come from a happy place…
That’s very true. Some of the tracks actually go back about three years. It was going to be an EP but more things came together and it felt more appropriate to put it out as an album that plots the journey over time. It worked well as a body of work and it’s how I like to experience an album myself. But yes, the earlier stuff on the album didn’t come from a very good place but over the course of writing the tracks, especially the newer ones, there’s a lot more hope in there.
I can hear that. I think Sinking is the lowest track on there and from Interlude onwards there’s this sense of light at the end of the tunnel…
Yeah I guess. I didn’t want the album to be too depressing and Sinking was written two years ago which was a very heavy time.
How are you now?
I’m in a really good place now thanks. Better than I’ve been in a long time and the creative process has been cathartic and helped me express myself.
Can you pin point pivotal moments where things became brighter?
Emerald was a real turning point for me actually. That was a moment when I stopped approaching production so negatively. I was just playing piano bits and it came together in a different, much more natural way. It was around 4am in the studio and I just mixed it really quickly and put it away. I felt like I purged myself of all that negativity I was getting while writing.
Amazing. It’s always mad and sad to hear about frustration behind the bangers. To the outside eye it looks like you’re having the time of your life but that’s not always the case, right?
I know it’s easy to say it’s due to social media but the life you portray isn’t always the life you’re living. Being a DJ and producer is an amazing thing and you make things you love, you go to places and meet cool people and you see people reacting to the music. That is priceless and I wouldn’t change it for the world. But to get to that you’ve had 10 hours of travelling, two hours of sleep, it’s a lonely process. It’s an odd disparity.
The extremities get me. You’re either on your own in isolation or you’re out in hyper social environments. Sometimes it can be inspiring… you don’t always want to be alone, you don’t always want to be social.
Yeah you’re right. Especially you meet like minded people and realise you’re not alone in this weird lifestyle and a lot of us are very similar in how we react to things and do things. But generally those extremes can be quite jarring. I can’t complain though; I do love so many aspects of what I do.
So in terms of releases and your output… We’ve only just recovered from Polychoral. That was a pretty substantial release. Very close to an album itself and now this one’s dropped!
It was written in a similar way. Polychoral was the first time I realised Monuman had a voice and could work. I know provenance means the beginning, but I guess Polychoral was the actual beginning of this. But the album is much more of a statement; no limits and making whatever I want to make.
Will you be doing any Monuman shows or this just a studio project?
I’d love to do some! I’ve done a few in America. One was Black Box in Denver which was so sick. Cosmic Synergy are pushing really cool sounds out there. I did an Inspected show at Boomtown a few years back and recently played at the Koan Sound event.
Oh that looked so good!
It was amazing. It was a nice experience being relatively unknown and playing one of the first sets. I debuted a lot of music there and could see people in the audience like ‘who’s this guy?’ and slowly there were getting into it. It was great. It felt more like a gig rather than a rave. I haven’t done that type of show before.
I bet that’s scarier than playing to a massive festival crowd?
Yeah totally. DJing for a while you get a sense of what works and how you can get people back on side, there’s less risk. But with a gig like that there was a risk. I was proving myself from nothing and I had no idea if people would like it.
So where do we go from here?
There’ll be a few singles from the Monuman album, lots more Emperor stuff, including lots of collabs and more shows. I’ve got some Emperor and Monuman shows in the US soon too which I’m really excited about. I’m really happy with the balance I have between everything at the moment, it’s a nice feeling…