“It was never the plan to do a hit single,” says Jarrod Gosling, one half of I Monster along with Dean Honer. “We were just mucking about in the studio.”
Experimenting, innovating and having fun in the studio with the results unexpectedly taking off has become the blueprint story for this Sheffield duo. From their 2001 track ‘Daydream in Blue’ going top 20 and featuring on endless films, TV shows and adverts, to twenty years later their song ‘Who is She?’ becoming a global TikTok sensation and racking up hundreds of millions of plays, the pair have consistently managed to create wonky electronic pop that feels simultaneously fresh and timeless.
2001’s ‘Daydream in Blue’, a beautifully woozy, unfurling and dreamy piece of pop music that samples The Gunter Kallmann Choir’s version of The Wallace Collection’s ‘Daydream’ was a re-worked track from their debut album, These Are Our Children, that laid the foundations for their 2003 acclaimed breakthrough album Neveroddoreven. A 20th anniversary reissue of the record is set for March 2024, complete with an entire album’s worth of additional material unearthed from the original album sessions.
This is preceded by a new single ‘The Weather’, once again recorded for the original album sessions, and is a track featuring choral-like vocals, gently gargling electronics, eerie atmospherics and beautiful coalescence of infectious melody with that distinct tone and groove that is the singular sound of I Monster. By utilising a snippet from the original album closer ‘Big End’, the track acts as connecting sonic bridge between the final moments of their 2003 album and their latest material, with both being made during the same highly fertile and creative period.
Despite being signed to major record label imprints – Instant Karma and then Dharma – and the album being a huge success, its origins were humble. “It was all done very DIY in Sheffield, no big studios,” says Honer. Neveroddoreven also features a selection of local guests who over the last 20 years have gone onto huge success. Richard Hawley’s guitar can be heard on several tracks, while Ross Orton – who has produced records for everyone from The Fall to MIA to Arctic Monkeys – features on drums.
The track originally picked as the follow up to the enormously successful ‘Daydream in Blue’ – which continues to be heard in acclaimed TV shows like Mr Robot and Severance – was ‘Who is She?’. A video was shot but minds were changed at the label and it was shelved. Ironically, twenty years later, it would come to be synonymous with video content.
Sampling ‘The Vengeance of She (Who Is She?)’ by Mario Nascimbene from the soundtrack of the 1968 film The Vengeance of She, the slightly brooding, mysterious, and haunted tone of the track – along with the catchy vocal refrain – lent itself perfectly to edited videos by teenagers of anime and video game clips and streams soon rocketed to staggering levels. “We said to the label: just you wait, in 20 years’ time you’ll regret that decision,” laughs Honer.
Such has been the spike of interest in the band, gaining a whole new generation of fans and listeners, that in 2024 they will embark on a UK and EU tour – the pair’s first live dates in 18 years. However, while Neveroddoreven produced countless success stories, such as the ‘The Blue Wrath’ being used in the hit zombie spoof comedy Shaun of the Dead – “it was hilarious, we got to go to the premiere and walk on the red carpet with nobody knowing who the hell we were” laughs Gosling – the album is not some flash-in-the pan success story. I Monster have been making consistently excellent music, that has managed the incredibly difficult task of being both experimental and commercially successful, for years.
Gosling and Honer began making music together in the early 90s. “We were both excited by what was happening with Warp records and the techno scene at the time,” says Honer. However, while they may have had a few years “making bleepy techno records”, they soon began to forge a style that was more distinctly their own. “The key change was when we had samplers and we started sampling old records,” says Honer. “We were looking for old charity shop records and then building little tracks around them.”
Gosling continues: “We were using a lot of 60s music, some jazzy, brassy stuff, and easy listening,” he says. “This was the same time as drum and bass with all the drum samples sped and chopped up. So we thought about using these samples and then chopping them up, rearranging them and speeding it all up like drum and bass, so that you get this really jerky fast music. Back then crate diggers were probably looking at funk records for breaks rather than something from an obscure album, so I think using these obscure samples gave us a different sound.”
The band’s first album was so heavy on samples it could never be cleared and was effectively given away in a limited run. So the band found a new way of working that could merge using existing samples that they could afford to clear, alongside tracks that were inspired by ones they couldn’t. “The way I like to work is to sample something, write a vocal over the top of it, then get rid of the sample and do new music underneath,” says Honer. “It’s still an interesting way to work to this day.”
The band has released six studio albums over the years and collaborated with numerous artists such as HK119, Keavin Pearce, and perhaps most notably being brought in to produce The Human League’s 2011 album Credo – with Phil Oakey singling out the pair’s vital contributions to the album.
While in 2023 the music the duo made 20 years ago remains in the spotlight due to the endearing and enduring nature of their songcraft – ‘Daydream in Blue’ soundtracked a H&M ad earlier this year – the pair remain focused on the horizon rather than locked in the past. “There must be 30 or 40 tracks we’re working on at the moment,” says Honer. “We’re really excited about what’s next.”