Smile Politely

Sunday night’s “listening lounge”

Every Sunday at 10 p.m. Cowboy Monkey turns into a “listening lounge,” as music enthusiasts of all types come to enjoy DJ Matthis Helmick’s unique repertoire of tunes.

“I spin all vinyl on two turn tables,” Helmick said. “I’ll play anything from Golden Era Hip Hop, rock, old soul, 80s jams, and whatever else.”


A great feature about Helmick’s sessions is that listeners can come and enjoy the musical mix for no cover charge. “You can go out and get a little crazy on a Sunday for cheap,” Helmick joked. “Cowboy Monkey is super affordable with their drinks.”

These factors help explain the diverse crowd that shows up on any given Sunday.

“Some stoner rock fans will show up during a hip hop mix and they’ll have this sort of reaction until something comes on they’re used to,” Helmick said. “The same goes for the hip hop fans when I’m playing some obscure rock. I really like seeing that sort of play go on.”

Helmick wants his night to draw a lot of different people. “I went to a hippie college,” he said. “There is that sort of utopian ideal that music can bring others together. Whether or not they come to the show and then become friends is super optimistic. Just having others talking amongst themselves about really liking a mix, that’s good enough for me.”

Many area DJs attend Helmick’s night to enhance the audience and give their support.

“I appreciate that. There are a lot of DJs definitely doing their thing around Champaign-Urbana,” Helmick said. “They’ll come out to relax. I think they respect the listening lounge type of environment.”

Nevertheless, the laid back vibe doesn’t stop those in the crowd from getting up and dancing to a set of 80s dance music.

“That’s always cool, and I want people to have a good time,” Helmick said. “After a few of those types of songs though, I’ll put on some soul.”

Management at Cowboy Monkey backs Helmick’s philosophy and overall vision for Sunday nights. For the past three months Helmick has been setting up his tables next to the venue’s historic stage. Prior to, the DJ had been working in Chicago, but grew tired of the club scene.

“I’m not as in to the whole high energy thing,” Helmick said. “I like being able to play what I want.”

When Helmick first started spinning in the mid-90s while attending college in Olympia, Washington, he didn’t incorporate such variety in his set.

“I listened to what is the WEFT equivalent out there called KAOS and really liked this hip hop DJ from Hawaii,” Helmick explained. “We had different tastes in music, but he liked what I requested.”

The two became friends and Helmick started going to the DJ’s hip hop nights at an Olympia club. One week when his friend had plans out of town, Helmick was asked to cover, and after successfully blending six songs a passion to become a DJ was born.


“I always had a ton of records, even a bunch I’d take from my mom,” Helmick said. “Over the years, that collection just kept growing. Now, I’d say I have about 3,500 LPs. That number used to be larger but I got rid of a few records after I moved from Chicago.”

Each week the DJ thumbs through the collection and pulls out what will be played on the upcoming Sunday.

“I really like that process,” Helmick said. “No matter what though, there are a few records that always tend to make the cut, some early Madlib, a band called Goat Snake.”

It all serves to fulfill somewhat of a duty Helmick believes is entrusted to him as an “older” DJ.

“I like for people to know that there was some awesome music back when I was younger that doesn’t get played enough,” Helmick said. “When people hear something they’ve never heard before and I can see they’re enjoying it, that’s great for me.”

Though this particular event is somewhat young, Helmick is not new to the area. He was a DJ at the original Blind Pig for about a year and a half before moving to work in Chicago. Fittingly, that same building is now Cowboy Monkey. The change is part of a change in the music scene around Champaign that Helmick is pleased to see.

“It’s great to be able to walk down Walnut on any given night and hear music,” Helmick said. “There is music from the Blind Pig, Radio Maria, around the corner at Cowboy Monkey, and there are just people walking the streets. I like being a part of the Sunday night aspect of that.”

Be sure to check out Helmick’s website where the DJ maintains a blog, posts photos, and lets you know where he will be spinning next.

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