Pete Tong & John Monkman Push the Envelope on 'Placebo': Exclusive

Andrew Farrar
Pete Tong and John Monkman 

Pete Tong, the global tastemaker and legendary Radio 1 broadcaster, doesn’t collaborate with a lot of producers, but in John Monkman, he’s found a trusted ally.

“John has great taste and energy and is clearly a member of some secret society of synth wizards,” Tong says.

Over the years, the pair have united on various occasions to contribute standout dancefloor offerings like “Aurora” and “The Bumps.” Their work has graced some of Europe’s most celebrated labels like Kompakt and Suara, while enlisting remixes from artists as diverse as Moby to Pleasurekraft.

The pair’s latest work is “Placebo”: a forward-thinking collaboration which packs the punch of a peaktime club record while offering some highly inventive synth work. While much of their previous work has been written remotely, “Placebo” began in-person in Tong’s home studio in LA. “Over a glass of wine or two we discussed the crossover with the current underground Trance and the Melodic Techno scenes,” Monkman says.

The melding of genres is immediately evident on “Placebo,” with its driving bassline and kinetic synth melodies evoking the paralleling styles of modern techno and trance, while also showcasing Monkman’s aforementioned synth wizardry.

Pete Tong and John Monkman’s “Placebo” is due out on Monkman’s Beesemyer label on Friday, Sep. 28. Pre-order it here.

Read an exclusive Q&A with Tong and Monkman below.

John has been your most frequent collaborator over the years. What do you enjoy about working with him?

Pete Tong: “John has great taste and energy and is clearly a member of some secret society of synth wizards. When we first met we quickly established we were on the same page when it came to making music. What turned us on and what didn't.

At the beginning it was an odd marriage as we didn't spend that much time together in the same room... but when we do the magic happens. I remember on "Aurora", we met at The Electric on Portobello Road and hid in the corner with two laptops and headphones on and managed to get the core of the track laid out in about and hour and a half. It was insane like some reality tv challenge. Lot's of expresso's!”

What does this track mean to you?

Tong: “We always seem to come up with something emotive, our only agenda is to make music we like to play and hopefully a few other people agree. "Placebo" is the result of a great day we had recently at my home studio in Los Angeles. As much as I don't mind working remotely I have learnt with John that nothing beats being in the same room. Most of the time we're trying to make the record we are missing in our live sets at that moment.”

You've written a number of tracks with Pete over the years. What is it like working with such an iconic figure in the dance world?

John Monkman: “Working with Pete is a unique experience.. Collaboration is an intimate process, you can spend hours in a room, discussing ideas whilst expressing various  thoughts and emotions. As he mentioned, a lot of our earlier work was done remotely so to now be spending more time in the studio together is a game changer. When it comes to Electronic Music, Pete has an encyclopedic mind. Discussing and working on ideas with him is a treat. We’ve spent hours talking about songs, dissecting  how and why they sound like they do. In the studio he knows what he wants and is quick to get ideas out. He’s collected some great bits of studio hardware over the years so when I'm at his place I’m like a kid in a sweet shop.”

From a technical standpoint, how was this track created? Were there particular sounds or synths that inspires the track.

Monkman: “We started Placebo in April 2018 at Pete's studio in Los Angeles. Over a glass of wine or two we discussed  the crossover with the current underground Trance and the Melodic Techno scenes. There were definite sounds we were drawn to in particularly the FM gated sounds which would  later become one of foundations of the track. We started in Ableton and straight off the bat dug into NI Maschine where we developed the initial melodic ideas that kick started the song and  provided us with the initial themes - melodic and percussive. The main white noise percussion that flutters through the track was made in Massive plus various delay and reverb combinations. Massives great when working on white noise as the envelopes are tight and noise generators unique. Once the attack/release and filter macros are set up you can have a lot of fun performing live automation takes over the track to build the pressure at specific points.

In our previous collaborations  the bass lines tended to be more melodic/chord driven however with Placebo we wanted there to be a more consistent, driving feel to the bottom end. For this we flipped over to logic to create the bass patch using Logics in built mono synth, the ESM, The patch was made then resampled into the Exs24 for consistency. Once the main structure was in place and we knew where it was heading we did a few passes with the the Prophet 6 adding the pads and textures that only the prophet can do. In the end the final song was a nice marriage of analogue and Digital processes.”