In 2023, the UK music scene could be better described as a cluster of similar performers as opposed to a collection of unique artists. The consumer climate has shifted over the past decade so that (at least on a commercial level) thought out, visionary art in the form of music feels scarce today. This isn’t a revelation which has been overtly unique to the UK, but it feels particularly pertinent here; for a country so historically renowned for our ability to push musical boundaries, there is a distinct lack of focus on innovation and standing out currently.
Who is left to defend the importance of being different? Monster Florence are a shining example of how no matter how much the mainstream may wilt, the UK underground scene remains an enclave of unsung talent.
It feels almost lazy to simply lump them into the ever expanding umbrella that is UK Rap music. Indeed, much of the art that Monster Florence produces sits completely alone in the current scene from both a musical and visual standpoint. Blending influences ranging from 90’s rap to Psychedelic Rock, the diverse musical heritages of the 6 members inform their musical decisions and final product in a way that seems unique when compared to their so-called peers.
Starting out as a group of friends from Colchester, their bond of making music to challenge sonical conventions provided the spark for a band entering their seventh year of releases. Since, they’ve embarked on a journey, musically and personally, cultivating a loyal fanbase and garnering praise from people in the know. The only frustration from the outside looking in was that more people didn’t appreciate what they created.
However, February 2023 saw the release of Master System an extended project which sought to build on everything that garnered them fans and critics alike – with the same relentless drive to create something different. Built upon discussions within the group about the changing reality of our world and the way technology feeds into it, Master System is introspective as it is absurdist, seeking to find clarity in what we experience whilst also recognising sometimes all we can do is ask questions. There is no doubt that this is their most impactful project to date, both in terms of executed artistic vision and commercial attention.
With all of this in mind, it felt necessary to speak to Monster Florence and really dive deep into their craft and how they view their current position within the wider UK music scene.
Speaking over Zoom with Tom (Production) and Wallace (Vocals), we discussed their journey, what we should take away from Master System and what we can look forward to in the future (amongst a whole lot more).
Firstly, I wanted to ask how things are in Monster Florence at the moment, with the release of Master System two weeks ago today?
“You kind of get so bogged down with doing all the release stuff and all the campaign that goes with it, and then the moment you can see a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel, it’s like straight back in. We did a lot of Tuesday, we got in and we were just grating on it, finding new ways of working, kind of just getting excited about doing new stuff again.
“During this entire process, obviously, we’ve been constantly making stuff, probably when we should have been finishing the album off. We’re just constantly like, oh, yeah, I’ve got a new idea. So it’s always evolving.”
I just wanted to talk about the process behind coming up with the name and the concept behind Master System. I know this isn’t just surface-level music. I know there are conceptual ideas going on here. I just wanted to talk a bit about that first.
“In regards to the idea of the album, it was the same with Cowboys and Idiots as well. We usually start with a song. Once we create a song and a sound, it’s kind of like, okay, well, this means something to us, and we could take this way and build something. And the first song of the album that we actually made was “Bad Graphics”. And once we created that, we knew how different it felt, how futuristic it felt. But also how nostalgic it felt as well, which is quite a strange feeling, right? Something that’s relatable, but also so far in the future that it’s like, how does that make sense? And that’s the kind of feeling that gave me. And then obviously, you start speaking to Scribbler who was the creative director across the board.
“He helped come up with the name, come up with the idea, and come up with kind of what it meant. But if I’m honest, it kind of starts off as a shell and it starts off as something very small. At the point where we named it, it didn’t mean what it meant. Now, really and truly, the music kind of shapes it that way. How we are feeling kind of shapes it that way. The current climate of the country kind of shaped it that way. And even though it was not by accident, it kind of feels like it in a weird way, it was.”
“Yeah. Tagging on to that. I think “Background” was the song that kickstarted the album as it was. There are a couple of songs that we did back before that, but again, we shaped those once we had the basic concept. We actually took it to Scribbler kind of like towards the end of it, once we had the concept, but we didn’t necessarily have the name. Things have been batted about, but obviously, Scribb came up with the real name for it. Like Wallace was saying we started off with one song, actually.
We had this song, which actually, we didn’t put on the record. We kind of cut it up and interspersed it within the rest of that EP album. So with this album, obviously, we went full pretentious on this.
And this does sound ridiculous. This was like 2019. We came up with “Bad Graphics” and we kind of like sat down and we were like, what? What do we need to kind of, like, bring this whole thing together? And I think it might have been Wallace’s idea. I think it was you that said we need, like, a mood board. And we were like, yeah, fuck it. So bang. That PowerPoint. The big screen, the TV. And we had the word bad graphics and we just pinned everything off of them. Midnight Club. And then we started drawing from all of that. But again, at the time, VR wasn’t really a thing. The Metaverse would never really have the Metaverse. We certainly hadn’t had a lockdown or anything. All of the things that you said, the current political and social climate. So towards the end of it, as we were getting towards the end of it, we were like, Fuck. We came up with this idea. But the reality is caught up with us now, what we’ve created, even to the point where now people are getting AI artwork.
“You’re like, Shit, all this stuff we’re talking about is actually a real thing now. So, yeah, it’s good to have interviews like this because you can get the point across and say, that guy. We did it first. We created this. We created this mess of the world. This is us. This is our idea.”
You’re saying that art imitates reality. Was that something that was very much in your kind of mind at the time when you were coming up with the subsequent songs, for example, being very conscious of the world which we’re living in and wanting to reflect that through music? Or was that more of a kind of a reflection of your personal feelings, would you say?
“I feel like it was probably a little bit unconscious also in regards to where the writers were at me, Science and Dream Mclean. So I think that’s kind of where the whole time thing comes in as well. I mean, for me personally it was more just yeah, we need to make this happen or you have to start thinking about things and so on and so forth. I think that was just like a natural pressure that was kind of happening anyway and then obviously with the whole lockdowns and so on and so forth, I think it causes this moody element to the music as well.”
“But then you get deeper into it. I think time has been something that we talk about a lot and a lot of songs leading up as well. And we always look at us again, delving into the pretentious route. We all like films, we all like TV, we get in the studio, we spend more time at the start of the session just chatting about oh, have you seen this, have you seen that? Because we’ve got Scribbler and we’ve got Above Ground and people like that working with us. And also now we have a label, we’ve got the funding to be able to do these things. I’ll just sit there and come up with an idea. We’re always looking at the whole picture, the visual aspect, and how it sounds. It’s very cinematic.”
“It’s quite funny to say that actually in regard to my writing process, it’s usually visual. So I usually start with an idea – to give you an instance on “Lag”, I have this idea of Sims characters kind of crossing over in the world and being kind of like this evil energy that’s just out to kill humans in a way. And that’s the visual element that I’ve seen whilst I was writing it. I don’t know if it affects the song, really, but I need to see something visually whilst I’m creating, I need to see colours. I need to see an image for me to be able to fully be immersed in that song. Because for me, I mean, the greatest art is kind of create this little world of this little pocket that you live inside. I remember listening to Nas when I was a kid. I was like 10/11 years old and he took me to a block in New York. I couldn’t even comprehend half the stuff that he’d been through. But through listening to the music, all of a sudden you can see these visual aspects. You see these rooftops in New York and you feel connected to it.”
But music videos for me are something that really extends your artistic process and should be conceptualised with the creation of the song itself. I mean, a song like “Borstol”, for example, looking at that, the visuals just seem to capture the absurdist reality of the song so well. And I was interested in how that process kind of works out for you. Are you thinking of the visuals whilst you’re making the songs? How do those ideas come together?
“For me personally, yes, it would be like I said, I have to visualise something. Or it could even be like a camera effect. Like something as simple as that. But if I’m honest, the whole visual aspect, it’s like it’s all well and good, us having ideas as the songwriters, but we’re not directors and we can only lend our insight into what we think that’s going to be. I think, that the biggest thing as a creative is that you want to put your stamp on it. It’s like, I’d be super pissed off if Scribbler stepped into my office and said, “I don’t like how you wrote that eight bar or something like that”. That’s not his bag, that’s mine.
“So I think we’ve been fortunate enough to work with some extremely great creators who get us. It’s not your surface level. It’s deeper than that. I mean, Above Ground, he created the “Borstol” video. We’ve been working for years. Scribbler is a friend that we’ve known for coming up to ten years. So these kinds of ideas, they’re shaped by us because our community is just our little team, and we’ve been working together for so long.”
“It’s a collaborative effort. And I think I know it’s a very cliched thing to say, but from the outset, we never really set out to make music for anyone else other than ourselves, because we never saw I mean, if you look at it on paper, it’s kind of like from the start. It’s a weird setup in terms of the dynamics of every woman in the band, but it works. And we get in the studio, we never get in there and go, right, this is what’s popping on the radio, like We need to be doing drill or whatever.
“And then we’ll set off and make something. And people like Above Ground and Scrib, as you said, they’re day dots. They’re people that have been working with us from the start of all of this, and we know that we can trust them implicitly. We work with other people. We go to them, we say, this is the track, and we know that they’re going to get it, particularly with Above Ground on the balls to Video, because me and Wallace, we worked as producers on there as well. So he throws the treatment into the group chat, and we’re like, what the fuck are you talking about? And it’s almost like a challenge. He’s like, I need chickens. I need ducks. I need a coffin. And then it’s like, all right. It’s like some kind of taskmaster challenge.”
A lot of people today in the UK rap scene write lyrics and then they find a producer who’s already made a beat and then they try and do a sort of mash-up together – this is the common practice.I know your style couldn’t be any further away from that. I wanted to hear a bit about that and I guess kind of how you think it gives your music a bit of a different edge in this current scene.
“Well, it’s weird because I’m a trained music producer, so I work across all different genres of music, from grime to death metal. And it’s kind of an interesting day-to-day job, I get to see how all sorts of people write in the studio. We’re not like a band in the sense that we’ll all come in and everyone just grabs an instrument and will rehearse. We very rarely rehearse. We’re quite lazy in that sense. We are always trying to find different ways of writing because obviously, we get bored. We get bored of like, all right, there’d be a time when everything was set up and we would just jam and then just take little bits out and just chop it up or whatever.
“Or there are other times when someone will throw something into a group chat and then say, what do you think of this? And then we’ll just rip it apart. Or it starts from a concept, like, for example, if you take it back to the film title. When we did “Fandino”, obviously this was like a single we dropped many years ago, Wallace and I sat down and he’s like, got this idea and he just throws this idea and he’s like, I need something that does this. And he just sort of hunts an idea and you’re like you’re just staring at a freaking mountain looking up wondering how you are going to climb it. But that’s how it always starts, staring at a mountain. Your idea is so massive from just one sentence. How do I get there? I’ve got a guitar in my hand and I’ve got all this stuff around me. What do I do?
“I think as a band, as writers, as producers, as creators, we have an underlying obsession with creating something new. It’s always about something new and always something that hasn’t been done before. Whether that’s still touching on a sound that you have before, but it’s in the Monster Florence way. Not to sound cliche, but that’s something that always drives us. And like Tom said, I think that’s purely just because we’re like six kids with ADHD, we get bored easily. Once you maybe master a sound or master something within that feel like you must say, now I’m not sitting here like I’m some fucking guru. Or once you feel like you’ve done something enough to the point that, okay, where else can I take this? I think it’s time to jump ship and go in a whole other direction. And that’s something that we constantly do and I think that’s kind of what makes the music different. And also the six of us, just from the writing aspect, Alex is very poetic from kind of like rock background. His family, listen to things like The Clash and so on. And then Dre was like this New Age hip hop head deep into like, Papoose and New York rap.
“And then I was like, that kid more into Common and the jazzy feel of it already there. You have three completely different writing styles. Completely. And then you get into Tom, Johnny and Cam who literally, in their own right are completely different. Anyway, so I’m proud of this album and I’m really glad that people are getting it. And I think it’s taken us up until now to get it right. Like you said, obviously you took in some of “Cowboys and Idiots”, but with Master System it sounds like you’re taking in the whole body of work. I think we’re getting to a point now where everyone’s pulling in the right direction, but from their own little corners of music, if that makes sense.”
Yeah, I completely agree. And I thought it’s really interesting that you guys have that conscious obsession to always create something new. Because, as I’m sure you’re aware, and I don’t want to talk about other people too much, but I think specifically within the wider umbrella of UK rap music there’s such a herd mentality at the moment, it seems, with regards to music both sonically and visually. How do you guys stay away from that?
“Yeah. The other thing as well is, like, if you’re jumping onto a scene, jumping onto something, you’re just like, all right, this is popping now, let’s do that. If you’re jumping on that, you’re really too late, it’s already done. There’s already a heritage of foundation there. Me personally, anyway, I can see when someone’s jumping onto something because that’s what’s popping. And why would you want to do that? Like, if it’s not you and it’s what people talk about as well.”
“Right now, you know, definitely music is similar to that. Fashion, man. As Tom says, as quick as everyone’s wearing flare jeans, by the time you get your pair or whatever, people are going to be off that and then onto the next one. Right. I think how you actually survive artistically, I’m not talking about financially or successfully, but for me, to be a successful artistic artist is by creating your blueprint. And also, we’re in a small country, there are masters in their niche. And that’s not to say I love Drill music, I love Afrobeats, I love all of these things, but there are masters in those sectors. There are people who do that out and out, and then there’s everyone else who’s just on a one or two-year spell of getting loads of BBC One extra radio play. And then after that, where are you going? Because you branded yourself. I think you have a much better chance of surviving by just creating something. And already we’re kind of in this fast fashion kind of period of time with music. As soon as people listen, they move on to the next one.”
“Why would you want to just jump on a bandwagon that’s going to die? I’ve lived through Dubstep, I’ve lived through Funky House, I’ve lived through raw grime. And then you just come back and in this polished version of grime, Drill, all of these different things, and they come and they go, but what stays is long-lasting quality music. I’m still listening to the first Streets album. I love that.”
“I still stick on the Mitchell Brothers and still play it to this day, honestly, I do, because it’s great. And that’s how I think we stand the test of time and I think, as musicians, as I said, with the obsession of obviously creating something new, I think we’re arrogant in a good way, to the point that we don’t want to be like that. That’s not us.”
I’m also keen to drill into some kind of individual songs on the project and talk a bit about them and I guess the process behind them. One of them, which I wanted to talk about was “Wolf In A Woolly Hat” mainly because obviously, the visuals have come out recently. But I think also it stands out to me in a sense just in terms of how gritty it is and how harsh it is almost, in a sense. Firstly, let’s to dive into the name itself “Wolf In a Woolly Hat” – what can you tell us about the concept behind that?
“I think Dre just initially started and Dream Mclean. So Cam made the beat drama. But it really was sounding like an analog version of the song. And then it’s like, no, I want to change it. So and so forth. Then he came and polished it up and all of a sudden Dre had already written a verse, of course. And Dre was like, no, that’s not it. It shouldn’t sound like that. And I was sitting there like, obviously because I loved your verse. I’m like, no, it sounds beautiful. What are you talking about? But he said, the song isn’t beautiful. You might feel that way, but it’s not beautiful. It’s great. So then we purposely dialled it to that point. Then Dre laid down the idea. And I think that Wolf in a Wooly Hat lyric that specifically for me, as soon as I heard that, it just opened up a whole realm of thinking, I think it’s great. I think it’s genius. Honestly, I do. When we’re drunk, I don’t know how you thought of that, but it just opens up.”
“I remember it clearly because it was the day when Dre came in and he had just somehow got an old Mac working at his house. It’s flat. And he did it. He’d recorded. He came in with the hook for “Borstal” and that idea for “Wolf in a Woolly Hat” because he sent it to me via email. I was like, fuck is this? And we did it over that one day. It’s happened two or three times where I’m in the studio, where he’s kind of like, I know he’s working on something, so I’m just like, let’s not bother him. Let’s not bother him at all. I was like, step out. Leave it just playing. Leave it playing, leave it playing. And everyone had done their bits and was like, I’m not sure how he’s going to top this, and I’m ready to go.”
“After a few hours, I was like, I don’t even think he wrote it down. And then you went in to rehearse, and it was one of those moments of just like, kind of those cold, quiet moments within the studio. And then you went, that’s it, I’m done. I think you emotionally drained yourself from that. This has happened a few times. And then “Jiggy Jiggy” was another one of those moments where you just blast, this sounds again, pretentious, but that kind of like deep, raw emotion. And it just goes through the studio and everyone’s like, I don’t know whether to talk to him or not. I don’t know what you do, because that feels like that was some kind of counselling, some sort of music therapy.”
Yeah, I completely agree. It reminds me of a quote I’ve heard being banded around so many times, but it’s all about how sometimes you have to kind of just live life a bit before you can actually write. And if you’re constantly writing and trying to kind of put lyrics down, it’s not necessarily going to be reflective of anything new or insightful. Do you feel that sentiment in your own writing process?
“Very much so. I think I’m quite an emotional writer, I like to write off emotion. I mean, it’s not always my own. Sometimes it’s other people, and sometimes it’s something that I’ve observed. I’ve been on the bus and I’ve seen a mum with three kids struggling and she’s just dropped her meal on the floor and that made me feel a kind of way, you know?
“So it does take me a little bit longer, if I’m being completely honest, to write than everyone else. But yeah, I can’t write unless I feel something unless I fully feel and I fully believe something. I mean, I can start, but it won’t be the best version. That’s the truth.
“I’m the same way with the music as well. I’m the sort of person that was just literally cannot I’m not happy to put anything out until I’ve spent there comes a point when I know I’ve done everything I possibly can to get it the best I possibly can as well. So in that sense, obviously, the musical side of it, I’m the same. This album should have been out about two years ago. I spent so long working on it, the label is asking us if it’s done. I was like, no, I just need to do something that’s completely irrelevant. It will make no difference to the track, but until I’ve done that, I need to know that I went there before I give it to you.
“I guess one moment won the moment on the album which stands out to me as a release of raw emotion is Alex’s verse on “Borstal”? I was curious if the two of you were there in the studio when he was writing that, or what the process was when he was recording it.”
“With “Borstal”, particularly, I think, from everyone’s point of view, we kind of had an idea of how it’s going to sound. We started writing it and then we realised that we achieved everything that we needed to achieve with a minimum amount of things and got the point across and got everything that we wanted to get expressed across from the musical and lyrical point of view, and we just left it, which is very rare for us. That was a surprisingly easy song to write, and I think that’s why we’re so proud of it, because it was like we set out to write a song in a certain way and sound a certain way and we did it off the bat, which is very rare. Very rare.”
We’ve been looking at time throughout this album a lot. Looking to the future, I’m interested, what can fans expect of Monster Florence in 2023?
“We just announced a tour with Professor Green about an hour ago. So we’re on tour, Professor Green in April, end of April. We got a date lined up.”
“More music. Definitely loads more music. And it’ll be completely left field again.”
“Like this point that we’re at right now, everything before has been an introduction. This is step one. And, yeah, we’ve got a lot more gears to reach and we will reach them.”
Be sure to check out Master System below, and keep it locked on GRM Daily for further updates from Monster Florence.