Interview by Jessica Plumb
Photography by Jo Blackened
Firstly, thank you so much for this interview today and hope all is well especially with what’s going on at the moment with COVID-19. Can you please introduce yourself and tell us about yourself?
Hi, thank you. My friends call me Jon, or Coco, hence Jon Coco! I was born and raised in Milton Keynes, with quite an unremarkable childhood. I was quiet and slightly nerdy, with a small circle of friends, growing up on video games and MTV.
At 19, I finally moved away from MK to go to university in Derby, where I studied English Literature, Philosophy and Film. It was during this time that I was able to discover and explore an alternative lifestyle to the cookie-cutter and beige world that Milton Keynes has to offer. Goth shops and rock clubs became a new haven, something that I’d only seen in the movies, and they allowed me to explore new aspects of myself. It was also during this time where I was able to come to terms with my sexuality, and later come out to my family.
Outside of studying, I also fell in love with the alternative nightlife scene. Local rock clubs like ‘The Blue Note’, ‘Mosh!’ and ‘Rock City’ became a very large part of my life, not only shaping my tastes musically and aesthetically, but they also ignited this deep passion for being involved these magical and euphoric worlds forevermore. But, as quickly as it all started, it was all over.
I finished my studies, and with no money and no work to find, so I moved back to Milton Keynes.
I picked up a job in makeup and cosmetics, and it wasn’t long before I started to explore the dark nightlife underbelly that London had to offer, just a small 50 miles away, before eventually moving to the big city in 2014, where I truly felt like I could be more myself once again. It felt like just as I arrived, so many of the nights I’d come to love began closing their doors; I suppose gentrification and rising costs were tearing a hole through the underground scenes.
Fast forward to two years ago, and Monster Queen is born – a new alternative, queer club night, put together by myself and two friends, that weaved together elements from everything we loved, and more. As we entered 2020, the business was really starting to pick up; the nights began selling out, and momentum was really behind us. We had a product that everyone loved, but then enters, COVID-19.
Then definitely enters COVID -19! But so fantastic for what you have achieved so far. You mentioned your club ‘Monster Queen’ started two years ago with some friends; how would you describe Monster Queen and what do you like the most about DJing there? What’s your favourite set and how do you prepare for it?
Aarron O’Conner, Lais Pattak and myself sit at the forefront of Monster Queen, which we describe as “a lustful symbiotic energy, a synergy within.” For us and many regulars, it’s become a huge family of creative individuals that were either lost and who found themselves again, or who came to explore their darker side, without judgement and without limits. We attract individuals from all walks of life, within drag, BDSM, goth and so many other underground cultures. What I like most about DJing here, is that while we provide the space for these people to explore, I get to curate the sound, and it’s a really fun brief. It’s dark, it’s edgy, it’s contemporary – the goth scene particularly is very prone to getting stuck in a time warp, but I also like to throw in moments of surprise. It can also be camp, it can be nostalgic, and creating these dancefloor journeys and seeing people react is so euphoric on a personal level.
I will often do two sets at Monster Queen; one is a loose mood, with some of the more current as well as favourite sounds for the dancefloor; lots of darkwave, and throbbing electro, then later on, after the witching hour, I come back with something more curated. It’s here where I like to go up a gear. The sound becomes louder, and we enter the world of EBM, dark techno and power electronics. It takes me upwards of 30 hours to get into a mood, source new music, and arrange it together until I’m finally happy with it.
My favourite set is actually the most recent I worked on for Halloween! There’s a really fun moment happening in dark techno, with lots of gnarly synth-lines accompanying the pounding drum machines, and it sounds like a retro horror movie, so diving into that for a week was really good fun. I just wish I could play it to a live crowd! But we have to make do with the online streams for now.
How do you like to wind down after clubbing or DJing a set?
I usually absolutely cannot listen to music for a while. Instead, I dive into a good horror movie, and oftentimes, pizza.
What made you decide to be a DJ and what do you love the most about it?
A new rock club had just opened while I was at Uni, and this very fascinating individual sent me a message, doing the promo rounds, and he invited me to the very packed opening night. He turned out to be the resident DJ, and I suppose it was half awe, half infatuation, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. He had such a fine edit of music that deviated across the alternative spectrum, and I became obsessed. We later became good friends: we shared music libraries, and he eventually taught me the basics of his trade, letting me shadow him on quiet nights, to later working the lights. Seeing the dancefloor react to what you put out there is something quite special, and hugely addictive.
When I moved to London, I quickly got to know my favourite DJs. I remember on one’s particular birthday, drunk, he asked me if I wanted to take over his set while he went to get more drinks. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity. But his elder counterpart was furious at the sight of some “kid” behind the decks and threw me out. But I was humbled by the chance.
Little did I know that Aarron had been cooking up the idea of launching a night with another friend, Lais, who had a lot more experience in the nightlife. When he broke the news to me, I immediately told him I would DJ for it. The rest is history.
Are you all very “hands-on” in the business and promoting side of Monster Queen? How do you feel is the best way to advertise?
We all play our part in the promotion, sourcing performers, hosts and other DJs. I do a lot of the copywriting, and overseeing to make sure we don’t get any shadowbans. One of the big challenges is getting exposure. The tech giants have a huge vendetta against queer bodies and attitudes, censoring us at every turn, so it’s a very tricky line to walk. But it’s a challenge that we, and other nights that are opening up, will continue to fight. Word of mouth is still one of the best ways to get your product out there, though!
What are your favourite bands you like to listen to and which ones first drew you to the alternative/dance/gothic scene?
This is everchanging. It’s no surprise that it all began with Marilyn Manson, growing up in the 90’s, as well as greats like Deftones, The Cure and Siouxsie and The Banshees. Moving to London exposed me to a lot more 80’s goth, and it’s here I began to fall in love with drum machines and synth melodies. Now I find a lot of my inspiration comes from artists like Zanias, Boy Harsher, Blind Delon, and Hante, to name just a few!
Do you still work in the make-up and cosmetics industry? And what drew you to the make-up world?
It was actually American Psycho that caught my eye and made the cosmetic world so appealing to me. There’s a scene where Bateman is in the bathroom, ritualising his skincare routine and I wanted to be that person. I’m quite a perfectionist, perhaps due to my Capricorn tendencies, so cosmetics really gave me a way to perfect myself, and those around me. Makeup naturally followed that journey.
What are your favourite brands of make-up you prefer to use and why?
I am a Yves Saint Laurent brand ambassador; I love brands with a strong message or a rich heritage. Saint Laurent was a pioneer of his time, and really leading the fight in gender and race equality, transforming the world from his platform. I like my products to look nice, but also work! My makeup kit contains so much, but right now I’m a big fan of Pat McGrath and KVD Beauty.
Do you have anyone you admire or draw inspiration from when it comes to your image or style?
It’s almost like I have a certain character in my head, or alter ego, probably inspired by the many beautiful androgynous creatures I encounter in my life. My close friends are my greatest muses. But I often get compared to various movie or anime characters, which I don’t mind at all. I really admire those with the courage to live their style so ubiquitously.
What is the alternative London scene like and what does ‘Goth’ mean to you personally?
The alternative scene here in London is so inspiring. It’s very open, and everyone is so friendly and creative in their own way. I enjoy seeing it shift and grow and change, as each year a new generation appears. To define “Goth,” that is the age-old question! To me, it feels like the anti-mainstream, a counterculture. It can be quite difficult when your thoughts, your beliefs and even your tastes don’t align with Society’s at large, so I think it brings out that darkness and disdain that we all share deep down. To then dress in a particular way, is like putting on armour, a shield from the mundane. It’s war paint.
You are very inspiring, what advice can you give to someone who is on the same journey of sexuality and what advice would you give them if they wanted to tell their friends and family?
As soon as you know you are different, I encourage you to express yourself as soon as possible, whether it be coming out, buying those stockings, or getting that piercing. Life is too short! Don’t go it alone. My mum struggled a lot with my sexuality to begin with, but now she’s my number one fan. I firmly believe that you make your own families. We’re not plants, we don’t have roots; you can be whoever and go wherever you want to be.
What’s your favourite thing about the LGBTQ+ community in London?
The LGBTQ+ community again is so diverse, but I appreciate the way the community can come together and rally support in times of need. The political landscape continues to be so turbulent, so it’s important to reach out and support each other. Support Queer artists, support Queer venues, be the ally.
You’ve also done some modelling, what made you get into this and have you considered a career in modelling? What has been your favourite shoot to date and why? Is there a photographer you’d like to work with?
People often tell me I should model, and while I’ve dabbled, I’m actually quite nervous in front of a camera and it really shows! I really enjoyed doing a photoshoot for Hunger Magazine, who were looking at the Queer Goth music scene in London, and it was so magical to share a space with Parma Ham, Lewis Burton, Francesca Mendola, Judith Klempner and Metaraph.
However, I’m much happier behind the scenes. I’m still working on getting a perfect portrait from the indomitable Damien Frost!
If you weren’t in the music scene DJing, or the makeup industry, what other career path do you think you’d have taken?
The first job I ever applied for was actually for a Funeral Director. I’m not sure how my life would have panned out if I had gotten that job. I’d be quite content working in a library or teaching Film Theory to post-grads. The dream is to own my own club venue, though!
Are there any other hobbies and interests you like doing?
Since the lockdown, I’ve actually taken a keen interest in plants! They’re the companions I never knew I needed in my life.
You said earlier you studied film at University. What genre of film do you enjoy watching the most and why?
This could be a Pandora’s Box of a question, so I will limit myself to Postmodern Science Fiction. And Horror.
Is there anywhere you’d love to travel to or DJ in the future?
Of course Berlin, or Leipzig, for the Goth credentials. Or New York. But really I’m happy anywhere there’s a good sound system and a good vibe.
Do you have any exciting projects coming up after COVID restrictions are lifted or eased?
I am practising secrecy so that my haters can’t bring me down! But there is definitely more to come in the music world, and once we can reopen our Monster Queen doors, expect even bigger things there.
Thank you for your time today Jon, is there anything else you would like to say to our readers?
I just wanted to tell you ‘good luck, and we’re all counting on you.’