Mondo

THIS MONDO THING
September 26, 2016 9:59 am

At  the Mondo NYC music conference earlier this month, every conversation began the same way: “Sucks about CMJ, doesn’t it?” “Yeah, what do you think of this Mondo thing?”

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To be honest, I went into Mondo disappointed for various reasons; one, because it was not a rebirth of my favorite dance party, and two, because I was very much looking forward to (the currently defunct) CMJ. Though Mondo was created by Bobby Haber and Joanne Abbot Green, the pair sold the conference in 2012. Could Mondo hold a candle to CMJ, my favorite local music conference? And could it ever grow to compete with the behemoth that is SXSW?

ATYPICAL SOUNDS was lucky to grab a few minutes with Austin natives Kelly Barnes and Brian Cole of the band Darkbird (who put on an absolutely incredible Saturday-night show at Pianos), and get their opinion on Mondo vs potential-future-competitor SXSW:

Kelly: My feelings about SXSW from years ago were great, because it was aimed at getting newer artists like ourselves up and running, getting seen by people that can actually take bands to the next level, and now it’s Kanye West performing or Bruce Springsteen. And there’s thousands and thousands of people coming to see that.

It’s just becoming this huge shit show, [which] is probably the best way to put it. And it’s just over-saturated. So it kind of lost its focus. I think if Mondo were to grow into what SXSW was…[SXSW] did have a time, and it peaked, and it was something really great and useful.

Brian: SXSW has turned into a monster that can barely contain itself. It’s having issues keeping itself together because it’s so big now. There’s lots of corporations involved now, like it’s “Lady Gaga on the Doritos stage”, and it’s not really about getting bands exposure, getting them in contact. It’s about the industry and the bands, giving them a place to meet, and that’s what I would like to see Mondo do. And I think they’re starting on the right foot. I went to a couple panels yesterday, and it was inspiring.

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Kelly: The business has changed so much. It’s not like someone sees your show and is like, “Come on, baby. Let’s make you a star!” Everyone’s kind of throwing their hands up in the air like “How does this work?”.

When [music] is something you do to try to make a living, it’s really frustrating – you’ve got the talent, you have all these things you want to do. But how do you do it? How do you get there? How do you get your music in the right hands? How do you get someone to listen to it? And maybe these conferences give you some tools and ideas that maybe you haven’t thought about. And you feel like you’re learning something very valuable. There’s so many question marks about how to do it anymore. It’s frustrating.

Brian: One aspect that I like about Mondo is they’re bringing in new technology, as well. The music industry is changing because of new technologies. Nobody buys CDs anymore. Nobody has the attention span to listen to a full album.

Kelly: Record deals from big labels aren’t worth anything anymore. Now it’s independent labels, or people are DIY-ing everything. But it’s possible that way. Here, you’re learning about how to utilize technology.

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The utilization of technology was an important topic throughout panel discussions at Mondo, which included talks called Why Can’t Music Apps Get Funding? and Digital Entertainment and Content. The honesty of many of the panelists was refreshing and informative. However, it was jarring to watch these presenters, some of whom with 20+ years of experience in the music industry, insinuating they don’t really know what’s going to happen with the music industry since file sharing essentially wiped them out. Then again, no one should have had to pay $20 for a CD in the first place, so they kind of had it coming. And there seems to be a lot of freedom right now to figure out what the “next big thing” in the music industry will be, so that’s at least one positive to come out of the Wild West the industry has become.

Mondo featured 3 days of panel talks, with 5 days of music showcases happening at venues throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn. The showcases were not all day and night (as in CMJ), but happened only at night after the panel talks. While conferences like CMJ and SXSW thrive on their ability to offer band exposure from constant showcases throughout, Mondo limited this time by keeping the showcases nightly. Spreading the showcases out between Manhattan and Brooklyn also limited the number of showcases that could be seen in one night, with attendees being forced to choose one borough over another.

Ultimately, for their first year, Mondo made a pretty decent go of things. Having corresponded with the organizers, it’s clear they’re looking to grow and improve, and are doing so through open communication with attendees. Because of their willingness to “give the people what they want”, Mondo could grow into a strong contender in music conferences in the coming years. I’m looking forward to seeing that happen.

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Mondo’s Last Dance
August 31, 2015 9:00 pm

As a fifteen-year-old aspiring pop-kid in Southern California, without a driver’s license and few friends who knew or cared about Eithne Farry, most of my Saturday night dancing was relegated to my bedroom. Mondo was always mentioned on indie pop message boards and blogs and whatnot, and I was always bummed I was 3000 miles away. Then, in 2012, I moved to New York. Finally! I could dance with other P!O!P! stars and lose it when ‘Throw Aggi Off The Bridge’ came on. Saturday nights spent twisting and shouting like a maniac in a big, sweaty room where everyone knows the words to ‘Age of Consent’ or ‘Supreme Nothing’ or even ‘Die Matrosen’? What a dream! I mean, is there anything more fun than hollering ‘Common People’ at 3:30 AM with a hundred other people? No. – Mat Towles, Expansionista!

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Mondo is a monthly dance party that’s been running for 11 years. It began in Manhattan, but eventually found a home at Cameo Gallery in Williamsburg. The three DJs who make up Mondo have become known throughout indie circles for their effervescent mix of indie, Britpop, and girl groups, a catalog that keeps their fans coming back, even though the parties don’t start until midnight.

Mondo has become home for countless music aficionados who never thought they’d hear their favorite songs in a club, who would never even show up to a club, and shockingly, who would meet others that shared their love of the just-outside-of-mainstream. And they’d spend the night dancing until their feet stopped working and the sun started coming up.

Now, amidst rumors surrounding the end of Cameo Gallery, and Mondo DJ Kevin moving across the country, the group is calling it quits on September 19th. Here’s one last look at the party that changed so much for so many.

Mondo was my first real dance experience. It taught me that anyone can dance and that not everything was clubbing and EDM. Anyone can have a good time and come as they are. – Jake Geiger, fan

 

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Out of the thousands of people who have attended Mondo over the years, few of them actually get to know you three. So, before we start, please introduce yourselves.

KEVIN: My name’s Kevin but my DJ name is Kevington (thoughtfully donated to me by the talented Michael Grace Jr. of the band My Favorite). I’m 41, queer, and I’ve been in NYC since 2001.

MAZ: My name is Maz (DJ DR MAZ). I’ve been DJing at Mondo since 2005. Aside from being a DJ, I’m a dentist by day, and also dad to (soon-to-be) two boys.

MILLIE: I am Millie, better known to Mondo-goers as DJ Miss Modular.

Mondo encompasses a lot of Britpop, indie, and some 1950s-60s era girl groups. How did you get into those styles of music?

KEVIN: For me, it started as a teenager in the 90’s. My older brother took me to see The Cure on their Disintegration tour at their nearest stop, Detroit, MI. My mind exploded over their pop songs and their sense of melody and [singer] Robert Smith’s gift for hooks. From there, I quickly got into New Order, The Sugarcubes and Siouxsie and the Banshees. But the Pixies really scared, dazzled and thrilled me into opening up to American indie rock, Kim Deal and the 4AD catalog. A lot of the music that I loved in those days, I love today and I still play at Mondo along with brand new songs. I grew up with oldies radio playing in my mom’s car and even though I always wanted Blondie and disco and novelty 80’s hits, my mom loved Motown and girl groups so I suppose I was passively conditioned to love a shoo-wop and a handclap.

MAZ: Britpop was exploding around the time I was really getting into music. I was obsessed with the bands coming out of the UK in the early-mid 90’s. I would travel around the US to see bands like Pulp, Oasis, and Blur on tour. The internet helped me dive deeper into the music world and discover indie pop, Northern Soul, girl groups, Swedish pop, post-punk… all styles we have been playing at Mondo since the beginning.

MILLIE: I think that’s a hard question to answer for me on a personal level. Music has always been a sort of evolution for me. Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s certainly defined a lot of my musical tastes. But in regards to Mondo, those were the music styles Kevin, Maz and I shared most. So it seemed like a natural choice as we moved forward with the party. It was really an unspoken agreement though; I think we were just aligned in a sort of cosmic way. 🙂

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I have so many favorite Mondo memories it’s hard to know where to start! One favorite was a night with a particularly great crowd: no one seemed to want to go home, and we closed the party out in a big group circle, swaying unsteadily to some Jens Lekman song. The magical confluence of an inexpressibly packed and sweaty dance floor with a Joy Division song. Making dance floor friends with the other people singing along to Tullycraft. My friend dragging me up on stage to dance to The Jackson 5. The time I tripped on the uneven floor and ended up with a palm full of glass chunks (back when they allowed glass…) but just brushed it off because who wants to miss Mondo for a little bit of glass? I think the best nights were the ones when the whole room, people who didn’t know each other, seemed to band together somehow. It could be my subjective experience of course, but I think good DJs can really unite people. I’ve loved coming to Mondo because they play things you never thought you would ever hear at a dance party, songs I figured I was the only one ridiculous enough to dance to. When they did a Belle & Sebastian themed night, I can’t think how many times I looked around with a big grin on, thinking “I cannot BELIEVE people are dancing to this!” On the other hand, even though there were clearly some classics, they always kept it fresh with new sounds and new music. I’ve discovered a lot of new favorites over the years, things I might have otherwise missed. – Finlay Logan, fan

 

I walked in and felt right at home. Here was this enclave of people who would shake and shimmy and not care if they looked cool. The music was great and it was a much needed relief from being chained to my desk. Finlay and I met at that Mondo. Here we were, kindred spirits on the dance floor having a great time. At one point, some random guy looked like he was getting pretty close and Finlay looked like she was having less than a great time. I did what felt most natural in that moment and took her hand and we spun around in circles. The random guy left. Fast forward to a few more Mondos and, as luck would have it, my birthday fell on Mondo Saturday. I was so excited to hit the dance floor and bring tons of my friends with me. Suddenly, cupcakes appear! DJ Kevington and I have the same birthday! It’s the sort of random bouts of glee that make Mondo fun. You can go in not knowing anyone and come back with great friends. You can dance by yourself the whole night and have the best time in a crowd of others. It’s fun and it’s friendly and it really has been a pleasure sharing the dance floor with all of you. Christina Watanabe, fan

When you started Mondo in 2004, what was the New York music scene like? Did you ever worry that the music you were playing wouldn’t find an audience?

KEVIN:  The music scene in 2004 seemed healthy and exciting. I was going to shows all the time at Mercury Lounge, Galapagos, Bowery Ballroom, Rothko, which was on the LES, Northsix, which is now Music Hall of Williamsburg. I saw the Yeah Yeah Yeahs at tiny little Brownies on Avenue A—it seems like there were always great shows in smaller spaces then. So while I was going to see bands, I was going to a few gay bars and gay parties regularly. I would go see my friend Bill Coleman DJ around town and he would play a wide range of stuff, including some indie. I also loved this really wild gay party, Magnum, which was at the Park Restaurant in Chelsea near what’s now the Highline. At the time there wasn’t much there but galleries. It was on Sunday nights and there were strippers in hot tubs, go-go boys, back rooms, all kinds of depravity along with multiple DJs in multiple rooms and one would play a mix of more expected gay club stuff along with Le Tigre and the Ramones and maybe The Strokes or something. I remember thinking those kinds of curveballs at that kind of party seemed really smart and fun.

I never really worried that we wouldn’t find an audience. I don’t even know if that was the question, at least for myself. I was so excited to have met people who had such great taste that I always felt, how can people not want to come to this? We had the music on our side

MILLIE: When Mondo started in early 2004, New York had become epicenter of indie rock music. Bands like the Strokes, Interpol and Yeah Yeah Yeah’s were taking center stage. It was an exciting time in this city for new music. But for me, it was also an exciting time of discovering indie music from all around the world. (It’s the reason we have the name Mondo.) I wanted to play so much of what I was hearing and excited about. I was certain that there would be others who would too.

Mondo also seems to have a fan base in the LGBT community. Do you think there’s a reason, or do we all just love Britpop?

KEVIN: Being the gay member of the Mondo DJ trio, I would love to take all of the credit for that but I don’t think I can. I think that historically, gay people have had superior taste in a lot of things (although taking a peek at the taste level of music in a lot of gay clubs now certainly shouts otherwise). LGBT people know what being an outsider is like and a lot of music that we play speaks to that—The Smiths, Kathleen Hanna’s projects, even Pulp—all of these artists touch on being on the outside looking in. So when you have a dance party made out of some of that music, attracting gay people only seems natural.

On the other hand, early on, we had John Cameron Mitchell who wrote and played Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch guest DJ. He’s an old friend and he has excellent taste in music. I had been slipping him mix CDs that he would sometimes pull from to add to his own sets and I once asked him if he’d be into guesting with us. It was a fun and very surreal night.

I also credit my friend Greg who’s a very longtime Mondo fan – I sometimes refer to him as Mondo Bear Greg. He is a huge indie nerd and is more or less the mayor of a certain set of gay men in NYC. He is probably single-handedly responsible for hundreds and hundreds of stamps on the hands of hairy gay guys coming through the doors of Mondo over the years.

And finally, since I’m gay and Dr Maz and Miss Modular are super gay friendly of course we don’t and have never tolerated any sort of homophobia or anti-gay attitudes while working in nightlife, so I think that the LGBT community can sense quickly that Mondo is a safe space to be yourself.

MILLIE: Well I think Mondo has always been a safe haven for people on the fringe. And in that way, maybe the LGBT community has felt at home with us. But, also, we all just love Britpop. 🙂

Recently, there’s been a huge resurgence of interest in Britpop, and 90’s music in general. Is that strange to you, since you’ve kind of been doing that the whole time?

KEVIN: It doesn’t feel all that strange to me as the culture is constantly churning its past back up for another look or another spin on it. I also feel that the 90’s had a decidedly un-cynical “anything is possible” feeling and it’s not surprising that some people might want to gravitate toward that sensation now as it seems extremely lacking in the tone of the overall current culture.

MILLIE: Not at all. In the 90’s there was a resurgence of interest in 70’s and 80’s music. To some degree looking back at what came before is quite natural.

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Being a native to ‘the city’ doesn’t mean you’ve experienced all that the people here have to give. In fact, that sentiment seems to be one of the only true hallmarks of us city-folk. Mondo was the first time I really felt comfortable expressing just how much I love the things I love (dancing and indie pop) so loudly and publicly, even though my prior experiences with the people and events here instilled those passions in the first place. In a lot of ways, Mondo helped me become more of who I already was. I’m not sure if that is change or just coming in to yourself, but either way, I can only be so lucky to have another experience like it help me in my next transition. Yea, I like that word best. – John Mazzoni, fan

 

Formats like vinyl and cassette continue to be popular choices for releasing music in the indie community, despite not being very convenient. Did you ever consider using records to DJ?

KEVIN: Not Really. I have spun records very occasionally. I have some obscure 7” singles I like to dust off from time to time, but I am not one of those people who will wax (no pun intended) rhapsodic about the virtuosity of how music sounds on vinyl. I am more interested in having access to any song that comes to mind to have in my set without worrying about format.

MAZ: We’ve been using CDs from the beginning. It’s just easier. I bring about 300 CDs to every Mondo. I can’t imagine bringing that much vinyl with me. Plus, I don’t like the idea of spilling beer on vinyl. That said, I did occasionally DJ with vinyl when I had my own night in the Lower East Side.

MILLIE: It’s been considered and I believe Maz may have used some at one point or other. But ultimately we chose to keep things simple with CDs.

Last summer, you performed before a screening of the Pulp documentary, “Pulp: a Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets” at Rooftop Films in Brooklyn. Were you able to meet Jarvis Cocker [singer for Pulp]? What was he like? Is he the perfect man?

KEVIN: We were supposed to share the decks with Jarvis Cocker and co-DJ but I think the entire night ended up being quite overwhelming for him and we were told he liked what we were playing so he stayed back and left us in charge of the music. I didn’t actually meet him that night but Maz did. He’s a superfan to the degree that his wife, right before Rooftop, joked that he had better not make out with Jarvis that night.

MAZ: Ha! That was an incredible night. Kevin was instrumental in making that night a reality and I’m still on a high from it. It was actually my second time meeting Jarvis. I met him in Barcelona about 15 years ago while I was on vacation. He is as charming and lovely as you might imagine. I jokingly (?) told my wife that I wanted to name our next kid Jarvis.

MILLIE: Jarvis IS the perfect man!  Being so close to him was exhilarating (in fan girl/boy kind of way.) We weren’t able to speak to him much but I did manage to snap a photo with him and Maz though.

Mondo is unique in New York, but similar to other dance nights that happen in London and other parts of the UK. Have you had the chance to experience any of those? Have they influenced you at all as DJs?

KEVIN: I have not been to the UK! It’s criminal, I know. So I can’t claim any influence there. Maybe next year!

MAZ: Yes! I’ve been to several nights in the UK/Europe. In 2011, I was a guest DJ at the amazing London club night HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE LOVED? Fittingly enough, they were doing a Pulp special to celebrate the band’s live return show at Hyde Park. I also guest DJed at the BIG PINK CAKE Summertime Special in Bristol – which was wonderful! I’ve been to dance at the brilliant SO TOUGH SO CUTE club night in Malmo, Sweden and the incredible NATIONAL POP LEAGUE in Glasgow. There were several others as well, but these were the most memorable.

MILLIE: I don’t think Mondo has been influenced very much by other parties really. That said, we’ve always had a ton of respect for existing indie parties like Popscene (SF), How Does It Feel to Be Loved and Scared To Dance (UK). Not to mention NY predecessors like Tiswas at Don Hills.

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I first went to Mondo in early 2011. I had been to some dance parties in New York, but I had already noticed a pattern with most DJ sets, even the ones I thoroughly enjoyed. Ultimately I was satisfied with nightlife culture, but I never knew how much better it could be until I went to Mondo. I walked into Cameo and ‘Ask’ by The Smiths was playing (weird side note, this specific song has been on many, many times that I’ve gone to Mondo since, and I often arrive at different times). I immediately felt at home in the place, with all these indie kids dancing around under the clubs laser lights, but what blew my mind was that right after ‘Ask,’ they put on ‘Strange Powers’ by The Magnetic Fields. I got so excited, I texted a friend while hopping around. Since then, I’ve been a regular, and while they have their go-to crowd pleasers, they have thrown me for a loop over and over with their selections, whether it’s something like The Go-Betweens, or Throwing Muses, or White Town. I have never encountered a crew of DJs so daring with their choices while concurrently so successful for keeping a party filled and excited. They’re by far the most inspiring DJs I’ve seen in my years of club dancing in New York, and I’ve gone out dancing roughly 2-4 times a month. – Douglas Bleggi, fan

Are there any other music-related projects you work on? Maz, I know you’ve been responsible for Popfest for the last 9 years.

KEVIN: I was a music critic for many years. I used to write about rock and pop for Time Out New York and a few other magazines and websites. I guest DJ at a few other spots here and there when called on but I don’t pursue it in earnest. I have also occasionally done some music consulting and helped contribute to music supervision on a couple of films.

MAZ: Yeah, NYC Popfest has been my other big musical project besides Mondo. It’s a 4-day long indie pop music festival, and it will be 10 years old next Spring. It’s incredibly rewarding, and I’m proud to have helped indie pop gain some well-deserved recognition in New York City.

MILLIE: Nope, Mondo has had my full focus since I started it in May of 2004.

How are you preparing for the last Mondo? Do you expect it to be emotional?

KEVIN:  I should probably be preparing more than I am. I’m moving to LA at the end of September so that’s taking up a lot of the planning real estate in my mind. But I plan to set aside more time to make sure that I don’t forget any of the songs I want to make sure I play. I usually seek new music for every Mondo but for the finale I’ll be looking more at the past.

I already got misty playing “Age of Consent” at the August Mondo so I’m sure that the last one will be very emotional. But I hope that along with any feelings of sadness at saying goodbye to the party that just like every other Mondo, there’ll be a lot of joy.

MAZ: It feels strange. Mondo has been a true constant in my life in NYC. Essentially, for as long as I’ve lived in NYC, there has been Mondo once a month (sometimes twice a month). It won’t hit me until months later, probably, that Mondo is over. I’ll hear a song we used play at Mondo at some random place and have a total break down. We’ll see!

MILLIE: It will most definitely be emotional. I am preparing by listening to a lot of Mondo music from years past—I take a break from time to time so as to not get too choked up.

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Mondo: The Documentary

Many of us aren’t willing to let go of Mondo so easily. Videographer Kaina Dominguez of The Imaginarium Lab, herself a former indie rock DJ in her native Venezuela, recently began work on a Mondo documentary. Inspired by the longevity of Mondo’s existence in a constantly changing music scene, she wants to tell their story.

The main focus of the documentary will be exploring the history of Mondo, as well as the past and future of the New York dance scene. Still in its infancy, Dominguez has already completed shooting one of two Mondo dance parties, and interviews with Kevin, Maz, and Millie. She already has tons of footage of yours truly dancing badly. We will keep you posted on any developments.

Listen: Mondo’s Last Dance