Friday, May 08, 2009

Interview: Headhunter

Haven't updated this dusty old thing in a while, so here's an interview that I did last year with Headhunter before his 'Nomad' record dropped on Tempa.

You started getting into dubstep from more of a drum’n’bass angle, right?

I did a music technology course, took a year out, and when I came back I was in the same class as Laurie (Appleblim), Gatekeeper and Wedge. I didn’t really know them, and in the second week of uni we had to play our own music. They played one of Appleblim’s tracks and I was kind like ‘that sounds like dubstep!’. I didn’t really know that much about dubstep, so I went and asked him about it, and that’s how we met. The more uni went on, the more I started making tunes, but I got into making music in the first place because of a pirate radio station in Bristol.

You did a radio show with Whiteboi, right? I hear you started off playing grime instrumentals...

I hadn’t DJed for years – I just stopped DJing from the age of 19. Before that I was playing drum’n’bass – sorta techstep stuff. At 19, I got really into my bike – all I wanted to do was ride my bike, and Whiteboi came along and gave me an opportunity to do this radio show. I was just like ‘what the fuck am I going to play? I haven’t DJed in years and I want to play something new. The first thing that I thought of was grime, as it was quite a new sound.

So you hadn’t been following grime for that long before that point?

Not really. I just wanted to play something because it’s Bristol. You don’t want to play drum’n’bass because it’s been done, but you want to do something related to it because it’s home. I thought that the grime that I was playing was quite underproduced, so I started making my own. I played it to Blazey, and he told me ‘this isn’t grime – it’s dubstep!’. He told me to speak to Pinch, so I gave my stuff to Pinch.

So just how aware were you of dubstep by that point?

I started my music tech course in October, and that’s when I got the radio show – I didn’t really know Appleblim then, so I was kinda making dubstep without even knowing it.

How did your relationship start with Tempa?

Well, I was making this stuff, and after giving it to Pinch, he said ‘You’re doing something good - we’re going to get you down to Dubloaded.’ I played before N-Type. It was my first DJ gig in a while... well, ever! And you’ve literally got Benga, Skream, N-Type, and Cyrus – all in the crowd. I was kind of aware that they were all there, and I was nervous as hell – shaking! I’ll tell you a little secret though... I put all my tunes at the same speed! Now though, I’m mixing techno, dubstep, whatever – I’ve got it. I was a good drum’n’bass DJ when I was a kid though – well... I thought I was!

You’ve been playing a lot of different types of nights – both techno and dubstep orientated. Do you treat them differently, as far as your set is concerned?

Before I DJ, I usually like to find out what the night is about, or who’s played there before. For example, last night was an electronica night, so I started thinking about playing Various Productions. Also things like Midi Miliz, which is trancey techno. They also produce under another name, Extrawelt, but the Midi Miliz stuff is a lot faster, at 138 or 140. When I was really into Psy-Trance, their album was just my favourite album. Whatever name they’re using, or tempo they’re doing, you can always tell that it’s them, and they’re a big inspiration to me.

So, do you play the faster gear at the dubstep nights, and keep it slower for the techno ones?

Usually, if I’m playing at a dubstep night, it’s not always faster bpms, but it’s heavier tunes. The tune selection is different. Normally, you’re doing a night and you can tell what they want. If it’s a mixed up place then you can usually get away with the more experimental stuff, which is my favourite kind of gig, but I like playing to the kids too – you get a lot of fun from it. I played at Exit the other week, and the whole crowd must’ve been 18 and under, and they were just loving the bangers! That’s what they come for though, and I’m not going to be selfish. As a DJ, you’ve got to play to the people, and that’s the good thing about not being stuck to one sound. If you listen to a lot of my releases, it doesn’t stick to that half-steppy wobble kinda thing. There are other directions, and the DJing does that too.

You did a collaboration with Ekelon for Mary Anne Hobbs’ ‘Evangeline’ compilation. Have you got any more planned for the future?

I’ll probably get booked for a gig out there and something will happen, but that was a bit of a weird one. I went to Greece, and the guy who booked me said to me, “I’ve got a mate who makes tunes”, so I went to this gig and met him. We started chatting, and he told me, “I’ve made my first ever dubstep tune, but I normally make world music.” I really liked some of it, but didn’t really think that it was finished, so I took the parts and added that crazy bassline.

Can you tell us a little about the album title, ‘Nomad’?

I don’t live anywhere. I’m a bit like a skanky fucker, you know? I’m not really - I’ve got Prada on and everything! Seriously though - in April this year I was living in Ashton in Bristol. I was DJing so much that it just got to the point where I thought, ‘Why should I pay rent, when I can go from place to place, and when I’m in Bristol I’ve got a few friends that I could stay with...’ So that’s exactly what I did! The album was made going from place to place, so one track was made in America... On the CD, I think there’ll be a map showing where each track was made, and that’s quite personal touch. I remember where each of the tracks are made. The last tune on the album was done in my ex-girlfriend’s halls of residence which was called Birks Grange, but the tune is called Birks Range. That’s probably my favourite track on the album.

There’s going to be a set of coloured vinyl coming out alongside the record, right?

It sounds really complicated, but not if you think about it. They’re releasing three vinyl, 750 of each, just in colour. Of course there’s the LP on a triple pack as well, but when we went to the meetings about the album, the one thing really wanted to do was have some coloured vinyl. It’s more of a techno thing, but I like the idea of having some art behind the music. I used to love buying the coloured vinyl, man.

How do you find the gigs in Europe at the moment, compared to a typical UK gig?

In the UK, it’s kind of hard to say, because last night I played a really good gig that wasn’t a typical dubstep night. When I play a typical dubstep night in England, you’re expected to play quite heavy, and lately I’ve been put onto the 1am-2am slot, where I’m expected to... In Europe; I can play techno, minimal, and deep dub-techno with dubstep and they appreciate it. More than London, anyway, and I like that. I’m playing out in America as well. Over there, they like it hard. You have to be ready and you have to have a bag of hard stuff with you. They like the hard, and the poppy stuff. In Europe, you can be play the more experimental side of dubstep, so in a way, I’m feel more accepted over there.

Where do you keep your records, then?

My records are stored in my grandparents’ house, in her attic – pretty much the whole of her attic, actually. Some in my mum’s house as well. There are tunes that I know I want, I know I’ve already got them, and I end up just buying them again because I can’t find them. I’ve got vinyl at Jakes’ house... It’s kind of scattered, so I don’t know where anything is. The plan is to find a house at the end of the year, and then I’ve got somewhere to put them!

You’ve pretty much made this album with just a laptop, right?

Yeah, a laptop and loads of plug-ins. I need to buy some new headphones, because the Sennheisers just lack frequency, but it just fits what I do. Most of the tunes were made in other people’s living rooms, because I’d go to places and play for people, and I’d just be making tunes quietly in their living room.

You said before that each track reminded you of where you made it. Do you think your surroundings influenced the music that you were making?

I listen to the tunes, and it reminds me of where I made it in a small way. I don’t know if the place influenced the tunes, it’s just if it sounded good, that’s what it was. If anything influenced my tunes, I’d say that it would be what I’m listening to that week. If I’m listening to techno that week, it might be quite techno. If I’m listening to drum’n’bass, it might be a bit more like that. I just listen to so much stuff, and it affects the music. One of the tracks, ‘Royal Flush’, has got a saxophone in, and that’s from when I was listening to loads of dub, not that I know anything about it!

So you’re quite into sampling stuff?

Yeah, definitely. Another one, called ‘Grounded’ has got this 1920’s music in there. I like to sample films, mostly though. Not speech, but the actual noise. Sometimes, I just use a noise, amplify it a hundred times, run it through a compressor and made it really loud over some of the tunes. It works really well, I think. On tunes like ‘Technopolis’ and ‘Birks Range’, I’ve used these techniques where I’ve sampled films and the noise the noise is added to the rhythm of the track.

You leave here for a long tour of America tomorrow. Are you looking forward to it?

When I went there in September, my expectations were that it was going to be kind of like England, in the way that it went from drum’n’bass into dubstep. I thought that I was going to be playing to thirty to forty people, but every place I went, it was rammed.
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