When musicians-cum-producers Rocky, 26, and Rufio, 27, joined forces with singer Skaar, 24, they created a MONSTA—that is, a band by that name. The trio takes its work seriously: instead of haphazardly strumming out tunes, they gradually weave together vocals and instrumentals, creating flawlessly synched compositions. Combined with the uplifting message of the songs, the result is a refreshingly natural take on dubstep, relying on strong original vocals and adept instrumentals rather than samples and convoluted electronic rhythms.
Rocky and Rufio attended London’s Trinity Laban Conservatoire, where they met in the jazz program. The concerted spirit of jazz now informs their work dynamic with Skaar, whom they met in late 2010 after hearing a recording of him singing.
As the newly formed MONSTA took shape, a few tracks found their way to dubstep superstar Skrillex, who signed them to his label OSWLA almost immediately. Mere months later, over this past summer, the trio toured in the United Kingdom, and this fall they have been making rounds in the United States and Canada. The Skrillex/Nero take on “Holdin’ On” is the most famous in a slew of remixes that has helped the group get attention.
With their first-ever New York show approaching, Rufio, MONSTA’s keyboard player and co-producer, spoke with us about the group’s background in jazz, their excitement about working with Skrillex, and their wariness about becoming complacent.
HOMETOWN: London, England
BASES COVERED: Rocky’s a drummer, and I’m a keyboard player. It’s quite handy, because together the three of us can pretty much do everything. We started playing more traditional, straight-ahead jazz, and then got into synth and that kind of thing. It was quite natural to go into producing, because if you’ve got someone who is in charge of the rhythm and then someone who can play piano, you’ve got access to strings and synths. It’s all we need.
SKAAR MAKES THREE: We heard the name and we heard clips and recordings and we were like, “Wow.” But, you never quite know what to expect. You don’t know what someone looks like. Then he walked through the door, and we were like, “Wow. This guy is already a superstar.” He just got on the mic… it was absolutely formidable. We were aghast, texting our manager, “Jesus Christ, this is sick.” It was a game-changer. It made us want to up our level, and up what we were doing, and up the kind of music we were trying to write.
THEIR PAL SKRILLEX (AKA SONNY MOORE): We just saw on Twitter one day that Sonny’s manager, Tim, had mentioned [our song], and we were like, “Boy, is that—is that our track?” We were massive fans before, of him and his whole camp, and he loved the aesthetic of what we were doing. He is a lovely, good guy, and we were telling him we were very grateful. When you get acknowledgment from your peers, it means a lot, and it’s humbling when people you consider your hero complement you.
JAZZ VS. EDM: In jazz, there’s collaboration. In that, it’s had an influence on us. You have all that improvisation—every night, you play a song differently—so it’s less formulaic. It felt like a nice return for us, working more in dance music, because everyone’s very keen to collaborate, everyone plays shows together. You go off and play tracks by your friends, and people you respect, which is quite unique. If you’re in a band, you wouldn’t get up on stage and just start playing someone else’s songs. Whereas, this way, it’s like paying respect to people you know when we go and DJ. And when you remix, or you get remixed, it’s kind of a collaboration of sorts. So, the collaborative side is really important. Everyone wants to work together.
ON AMBITION: The moment you become complacent, you are finished. It’s time to quit, because you’re not hungry anymore.
NONSTOP TOURING: We’re just so happy to be doing it. There’s time to sleep later in life, you know?
PERFORMING IN NEW YORK FOR THE FIRST TIME: New York’s a rocking place. To me, it’s always been a dream to go there, because, going back to when I was a kid, so much jazz came from there. All our heroes, they played there.
MONSTA MAKES THEIR NEW YORK DEBUT TOMORROW, NOVEMBER 16, AT WEBSTER HALL, AS PART OF THE OWSLA TOUR. FOR MORE ON THE TRIO, VISIT THEIR WEBSITE.
Photography: Mitchell McCormack
Styling: Adam DeNino
Skaar (center) wears Dior.