Baboon! Shake the Room!

Finding someone who’s actually named after a Comsat Angels song is rare enough – but discovering that Britain’s most forward-thinking and mind-bendingly diverse DJ is prepared to admit that his chief inspiration was a scratchy post-punk Sheffield band is another revelation entirely.

But that’s MONKEY PILOT, host to what was, until recently, one of clubland’s best-kept secrets. A night at East London’s Whirl-Y-Gig, where the Pilot steers the entire four hours, is a collage of inspirational sounds collected from every corner of the known universe.

Reggae skanks glide into jungle beats while soul and Eurodisco shimmy in a beat haze which, depending on Monkey Pilot’s mood, could just as easily be followed by flamenco as the screaming Led Zeppelin samples of Prophecy’s ‘Man With A Vision’. It’s a polymorphous mix, perfectly in tune with pop’s current eclecticism.

But if, as Monkey Pilot points out, the Whirl-Y-Gig ethic is borne from the advanced technology that has allowed musicians to experiment with different genres, it has also helped him break free from the decks. He is one of very few
people who embrace the concept of computerised DJ’ing, almost exclusively using CDs and DATs – the digital clarity of which, he says, makes vinyl sound “dull” by comparison.

“I have to admit that I’m always mesmerised watching DJs mixing live with vinyl, but I’m also perplexed that nobody does what I do, which is pretty basic really, like making a compilation tape.”

Long before ‘global techno’ was considered fashionable, Monkey Pilot was spinning the quick-silver circuitry of Orbital and The Grid alongside the more earthy, backstreet bazaar sounds of Trans-Global Underground and the high-life pop of Sali Sidibe And The London To Africa All-Stars.

“I try to work on different levels,” he explains, “because music affects your emotions, and also people’s feelings change during the course of the night.”

which is why his set is a roller-coaster ride through an expanding musical cosmos. And, according to Monkey Pilot, it’s a never-ending process.

“I’ve always been into the pop music thing, which is about constantly looking for that new space, something you haven’t experienced before. I’ve never got into any of the great genres in any depth – just dipping in and out, which is what I do now.

“To me, DJing is like meditation. I used to play with my back to the audience, with my decks between the PA stacks. I wasn’t observing what was going on – I was feeling it. There’s a very delicate balance at Whirl-Y-Gig, it’s got its own culture and dynamics, and I’ve developed an acute ear for the club’s dance floor.

“There’s always been a strange blend of influences and values implicit in the music, but ultimately it has to makes sense to the Whirl-Y-Giggers”.

Obviously it’s making sense to the thousands of people who queue for over three hours every week.

“We’re creating a bubble of positivity,” Monkey Pilot smiles. “There’s just this whole new energy emerging out of midi-technology, and over the past ten years, everyone’s been influenced by this huge variety of global sounds which have allowed us to step outside of Western concepts. It’s like the beginning of the future, really!”

But you probably knew that one already.

Sam Steele

NME 26th Feb 1994