TOKiMONSTA: The Industry Insider
One of the most prominent figures in electronic music production and a creative force to reckon with, the year of 2014 with TOKiMONSTA is already packed with fresh releases, some intimate re-releases, a full serving of her signature flawless instrumental composition -- and it's only April. A female artist in a largely male-oriented industry, TOKiMONSTA is a key player not only for the ladies, but stands out as a definitive artist in the industry as a whole, with a creative edge that has pulled unwavering support from the likes of the Red Bull Music Academy and BRAINFEEDER, and an ear for perfection that has taken her to tour stops everywhere from Shanghai and Manila to New Zealand and throughout Europe -- just to name a few. Attesting her own success to the city she grew up in and the supporters who follow her every creative move, we caught up with TOKiMONSTA at Arkham nightclub in Shanghai, China to discuss her thoughts on the state of the music industry itself, the distribution and consumption of music as a free entity, the challenges faced by up-and-coming artists and the issues faced by those who get a taste of success too early.
You tour a lot. Does it help you as a musician in terms of creativity or rather the opposite?
It helps more than it hurts. Being on the road is really inspiring, but it can be difficult at times to execute ideas when I’m not in my studio.
You re-released a remastered version of your 2009 song "The World Is Ours." What made you decide to do this?
There were a lot of different factors, but the main reason is that I thought people deserved to have a proper version of the song. It was never properly released and yet it was everyone’s favorite song from me.
What in this world is yours?
I know it sounds cliché, but nothing and everything.
You've been working with Red Bull Music Academy for a few years now. Can you outline your relationship with Red Music Academy, how has it developed since you started working with them? Are you more involved?
I attended the RBMA in 2010 during the London session. Since then, I’ve played several Red Bull stages at festivals and have helped with their RBMA program. I really appreciated how they really support niche or unknown musicians—they want to see them succeed. I’ve seen them support me and the LA music scene without impeding on anything creative, which is rare these days.
Shlohmo just bashed the entire music industry in an interview, saying that there isn't one thing that doesn't suck. How far would you agree with this statement and where do you see the biggest difficulties that you are facing as an artist?
A lot of it does suck, a lot, but that isn’t the end all be all of music. I guess there’s a fine line between achieving something on a larger scale and being a sell out. I’ve seen blossoming artists get signed (right after they put out some big song on youtube or whatever) to a crap deal on a large record label—their record never comes out or they fade away. I’ve seen small cool labels get big label distribution deals and their balls get so big they can’t see in front of them. Then again, I’ve seen artists that worked their way from the bottom to the top and labels that stay true to themselves. I’ve seen people who work for big labels really struggle to get good music out to the masses. It’s just rough now because there is no separation from “indie/underground” and “mainstream” anymore. This is good because it means everyone is very open minded towards different sounds, but this means the style of music that was precious to your hipster ears is actually accessible to that mainstream girl wearing pink Beats by Dre headphones.
Should music be free?
I don’t know. I put out a lot of free content, but I need people to buy something in order for me to continue making music. Most of my income comes from touring, but what happens to musicians that don’t tour? However, I read a study that said that people who download music wouldn’t have bought the album anyway. It’s better to have more people listening to your music for free then no one because they don’t want to buy it.
You once mentioned that you met your Analogue Monsta partner, Suzi Analogue, through mutual friends in the relatively small LA Beat Scene. How would you describe this scene and how has it developed since you started working together?
The LA beat scene has grown so much. I feel like many of the artists that arose out of it have become their own unique musician. I think in the beginning, our music sounded more similar, but now that time has passed, our music is more about ourselves than just the scene we came from.
What is the mission of Analogue Monsta, what's its current status and can we expect a next release?
Analogue Monsta is done for now. It ran its course with the release in 2012 and I’m glad we did it.
You've previously mentioned that when you first started off as an artist, you didn't want people to know that you're female. Do you think imbalanced male/female dynamic still exists in the music world and did you face any chances or struggles once the gender of TOKiMONSTA was revealed?
There is an imbalance in producer-based music, definitely. However, I see so many cool female producers coming out and they are a force to be reckon with. I never struggled much with being a female musician because I worked to earn the respect of my peers. The worst people I deal with is on the internet, but I’ve learned to ignore them. Nevertheless, I never liked the “female” angle. It’s gimmicky and isn’t as important as the music. The music is 1st, and people can contemplate and discuss my gender second.
What do you consider your biggest professional mistake?
I think I’ve made a couple, one particular one I really regret. However, I haven’t made a mistake I wasn’t unable to overcome and talking about it definitely doesn’t help the process.
What was your proudest moment?
I don’t think I’m there yet. Looking forward to that moment keeps me on my creative hustle.
What is one track of your own that stands out as a favorite and why?
“The World is Ours” will always be my favourite because it’s a song I made years ago and am still excited about. You will find most musicians don’t like referencing old albums or old songs of theirs because they have moved on and don’t want to be pigeon holed into an old sound. For this song, I still think it represents me and the sound I want to continue to achieve.
Photography: Benoit Florençon/HYPETRAK