Mo Manley At Home – Creative Isolation

It’s been just a little over a week since we’ve had our last featured guest in our At Home – Creative Isolation series and with each new one, I come the the continued realization that I have some of the most creative and talented friends from across the globe in my circle. People that are truly inspiring in different avenues and outlets of creativity and in general, good humans. Our next guest here at Nostalgia King fits the “good human” category perfectly and is one of those people who will shoot me an unexpected text or call just to say what’s up and make sure that I’m doing alright. He’s also one of the people in my DJ circle that has amazing tastes in records, an eye for attention and detail when he’s in graphic design mode and turns label artwork in to visual masterpieces. Flying in from the Windy City ladies and gentlemen, I have the pleasure of introducing to you and yours, Mo Manley!


Skeme – As a DJ, being out and playing parties is a major part of your life. Now that DJ opportunities have come to a standstill, how are you shifting your creative and musical time to fill the void of being out late nights?

Mo Manley – I’ve been nocturnal my entire life; I’ve never really been wired to sleep for eight hours—I’m much more of a five-or-six hour person, and even that is divided into shifts sometimes, so even if it’s not a late night in a club it’s still going to be a late night. There’s too much to do—too much to read, see, listen, whatever, and that’s not to forget the most important thing (to me, anyway), which is to protect time for making things and not solely consuming other people’s things. Either way, the music is still turned up around my way. Sometimes, especially post-midnight, I stream. Sometimes I don’t.

Skeme – Your primary occupation is a graphic designer and now that we’re in an isolation period, has there been a drop off in client work or is it a situation where jobs are still coming in and you can effectively work from home?

Mo Manley – Well, my life has a couple different facets to it; I do a lot of editorial and identity work for music, for sure—record labels, covers, logos, zines, and all that—and then also have a separate job building and designing interfaces for software, and that keeps me swamped, too—so the day’s a busy mix of a bunch of different things that need to be done, which I’m lucky to be able to say. I think keeping yourself busy is key to keeping one’s sanity in check a bit.

As far as “the arts” side of life, it really hasn’t slowed down at all; it’s really been more that the order of things needing to be done has changed. For example, record pressing plants were offline there for a bit—but are slowing opening back up—yet all that really meant in the day-to-day was that the digital-only stuff went to the front of the queue versus work that was going to be for a physical product. Even so, I’ve been keeping busy helping people getting their physical product lined up, so when all these manufacturers are back online they’re all going to have a backlog to catch up on! One label I do a lot of work for just submitted materials for just under twenty different releases to get pressed, which was great to hear. Creation and culture never stop.

Skeme – Do you have a specific place at home where you work or spend most of your day?

Mo Manley – Mostly in the front room of my house at a basic sawhorse table, surrounded by books, magazines, and records. One of the things the pandemic has taught me—and it’s a lesson I’m exceedingly fortunate to be taught, on a ton of levels—is that I’m a pretty good introvert, and am very comfortable making a little zone for myself and hanging out in it. I’m perfectly happy flipping through magazines and drawing and not really saying a whole lot for hours on end. One of the things I’ve always dug about DJing is that taking time to dig in your own collections is always rewarding—all the stuff that one collects is collected for a core reason, and a lot of those reasons don’t typically change much over time, so it’s pretty cool to go back and get self-stoked off of things maybe you hadn’t listened to, watched or read in a long time that are hanging out waiting for you in the crates.

When I’m done for the day doing all the stuff that needs a computer, I head down to the basement where I’ve set up a little studio where the decks are and some video projectors, and am trying to figure out how to get this Risograph machine (think a copying machine crossed with a silkscreener) downstairs and wedged in there so I can start making zines and posters out of the basement.

Skeme – Now that you’re not leaving the house as much, do you find yourself caring less with getting dressed or do you still have a routine that keeps you balanced?

Mo Manley – While the general hygiene-and-getting-dressed thing hasn’t changed much, there’s a lot more routine I could still bring to the day, particularly around exercise. I’ve probably gotten to the point where I look forward to that five o’clock beer a little too much as the marker of when one part of my day shifts modes into another part, and need to tonic that with some better exercise routines. It’s also tough sometimes balancing family with work when it’s all in the same space—I’ve got pre-teen twins around the house, and while they’re pretty self-sufficient, it’s important to make time to hang out with them so we’re all not just in the house “together, alone”—it always bums me out when I walk around the house and we’re all in the same spot but all also under headphones looking at screens or whatever. Total Black Mirror stuff. All the interacting with people, both around the house and online, keep a sort of rhythm and expectancy going to things.

Semi-relatedly re hygiene-and-getting-dressed, I also dug out the heavy-duty barbershop clippers a couple weeks ago and gave myself “The Lockdown”—I found that I can put down a pretty nice crewcut with a smooth fade by myself, so one thing that I’ve learned in all this is that I probably don’t really need to go to a barber ever again if I don’t want to! It’s like found money for records, but socking that haircut money away in the ol’ Emergency Funds bucket is probably a good idea, too.

Skeme – What’s inspiring you at the moment to stay creative and productive so that when this period of isolation is over, you can set right back in and keep it moving?

Mo Manley – To me, creativity has always been a kind of survival tactic, so have been working to keep the pace either to where it was before this whole situation, if not increase it. The graphic-design-and-record-playing thing is the same as it ever was, but have been adding to it these days with brushing up on my Spanish, teaching myself calligraphy, messing around with Polaroid manipulation and other photography work, and trying to catch up a ton of films that I’ve never seen. I try to balance it by alternating days of “making things” versus “looking at things”—if I watch a movie one day, that means tomorrow I have to make a poster, even if it’s just for myself, and work to my own constraints. I mean, not to be grim, but every day is a day closer to the grave; these days count just as much as the pre-pandemic ones, so it’s best to not waste them.

Skeme – What does that average day for you look like right now?

Mo Manley – If it’s the weekday (ha! who can tell?), I’m usually up by 7AM, as the “software” part of my day typically has some sort of meeting kicking off by 8AM. That part of the day can get pretty long—there’s always things to design, build, or critique, and I’m working with teams from across the world, so sometimes I’ll see that part of my day not sew up until 8PM or later.

Then the evening part kicks off, where I’ll crack that brew and shift gears into catching up on design work for labels or magazines, then usually finish off with playing some records, or pick up one of the things I was mentioning earlier—watch a film, practice some Spanish, draw a little bit, try to make a dent in the stack of books by my bed, whatever. I’m usually in bed by 1AM, sometimes a little later.

On the weekends, it’s the same thing but in reverse, mixed in with all the domestic stuff there is to do around the house, and I stay up later—so it’s more like a 3AM–9AM flow for sleep.

Skeme – With most DJ’s going live and streaming to fill the void of playing in clubs, do you think this will ultimately affect the club going experience in the future?

Mo Manley – Temporarily, sure—but in the long view, I really don’t; not in ways that would be a replacement for the club experience, anyway. We’re social creatures, and even in the darkest parts of history people still went out to blow off steam, connect, find a mate, whatever. Not to diminish any of the hell that’s going on right now at all, but people went out dancing in the 1920s, a couple years after millions of people were killed by the 1918 Pandemic. I’m assuming people went out in groups after each historical plague one can go read about, as well as any of the lesser-quoted plagues or other disruptive events that barely get remembered.

This sort of reminds me of a book I read once about life in Beirut during the 1980s, particularly around citizens coming to terms with going out at night to eat or dance; they knew that the odds of being killed by war violence was on the list of distinct possibilities, but at some point a sort of resigned normalcy with that realization settled in, and people shrugged at the danger and went out anyway, albeit carefully and in full knowledge of risk. I think the world will have a phase like that again as we figure out how to reassemble things within acceptable levels of risk. (I also think we’re starting out towards that reassembly right now completely backwards and dangerously in the US, personally, but we’ll see what happens, I guess.)

Maybe once some sort of normalcy returns, this whole moment will serve as a super healthy reset towards creating places that are original and worth seeking out. Maybe all the people who wanted to use the club as their personal living room will actually just stay in their own living rooms from now on, and the thirst for real human connection will mean the club will get a phone-free, be-present renaissance. Dare to dream, you know?

Ultimately, streaming DJ sets from home is fun and all, but strike me as a weird, temporary flatland that we settle for in trade for real, in-the-physical experiences because it’s really the only option we have at the moment. That’s just my view, and a middle-aged one at that, as someone who relates to digital media completely differently than those who have never known media to be anything but digital and all-encompassing. Like a lot of people, I’ve had many experiences in clubs that I can honestly say were truly memorable and very human, and changed me as a person. The same dynamics, I guess, can happen in a chat room or live stream, too—it’s not like no human connection can be had that way, as the adult entertainment industry has long proven—but to me they’re not easily comparable, and hardly a substitute. But until then…music and togetherness has to happen, so it’s better than nothing, right?