Need to Know: Monarchy
By Alex Panisch
Andrew Armstrong (left) and Ra Black (right)
Tune into any Top 40 station and you’ll find the airwaves crammed with songs and sounds that would have never found radio play even a half-decade ago. Now, with Calvin Harris’ “Summer” creeping up the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 and molly-fueled music festivals cropping up across the country, it’s clear that Americans have embraced electronic music in a big way.
Despite the fact that it’s a genre that was partially born in the States—Techno, like Motown, is a Detroit invention—it’s only recently (perhaps within the last 3 years) that America has become truly enamored with EDM. Electronic dance music has found a home in the U.S. of A., but there's something distinctly un-American about the current EDM scene: its lack of diversity.
From A to Z—or rather Avicii to Zedd—the genre is overwhelmingly made up of straight white guys. While there are many talented DJs and electronic acts who are queer and/or of color, they seem shutout of the mainstream. Andrew Armstrong thinks this will all change.
The Australian born musician is one-half of electro/Nu-disco duo Monarchy, believes that it’s only a matter of time until electronic music—cashed under the perhaps too-broad umbrella of EDM in the United States—becomes more diverse. “I think the EDM movement in America is born out of people getting sick of the radio stations and moving more to the internet to find music and even just festivals,” Armstrong says via a transatlantic phone call from London, where he currently makes his home. “I guess it’s just a crazy thing. I guess maybe it’s still growing up and still changing.”
Armstrong has a unique perspective on the genre. Monarchy—a duo comprised of Armstrong and his friend and collaborator, Ra Black—is decidedly not an EDM act, though it’s often branded with the catch-all label. “We were sort of born out of the indie electro, Nu-disco movement," Andrew explains. "So, alongside Empire of the Sun, Cut Copy, The Presets, those kinds of bands. When we perform live, we have drummers and bass players. I guess we’re a live electronic band.”
Andrew even admits that he doesn’t like most of what’s branded as EDM. “I’m not really into that movement. I’m not really into the massive breakdown drumroll and everything comes back up again. I’d probably like to listen to just about any other style of music other than that massive breakdown EDM-style.”
Founded in 2009, Armstrong and Black made a bold entrée into the music world. During their debut performance at Cape Canaveral, their set was transmitted into space, making them the first band to ever be broadcast live into the cosmos. After releasing their first LP, Around the Sun, back in 2011, Monarchy then followed it up with two singles—“Disintegration” in 2013 and “Living Without You”—earlier this summer.
So far, 2014 has been a banner year for Armstrong. Apart from the release of “Living Without You,” he also decided to come out publicly to his fans. Though he told his parents when he was 19, Armstrong admits that he’d mostly toned down or hid his sexuality publicly until now. “I really wasn’t ‘out.’ It’s only within the last year that I’ve been more open about it. About a year ago, I made a conscious decision to be more open. I found that I was always modifying my speech and always saying things to people to not let them know that I was gay. I realized that it was actually doing me quite a bit of disservice because basically I was lying.”
Riding high on the success of “Living Without You” and his personal pride, Armstrong is bullish about the future. Monarchy’s gearing up for a U.S. tour this September, which culminates with a performance at San Francisco's Folsom Street Fair. “I’m not sure we’re ever going to do another album actually,” Armstrong says. “In a lot of ways, the album format is kind of dead. I think we’d like to put out EPs.” In the meantime, there's plenty of summer fun to ahead.
Living Without You is out now on Ultra Records.