Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die: An Interview with Headhunter
I found myself in the mix a short time ago slipping in a couple of Headhunter classics for good measure, when I realised how much I miss this producer’s presence within the dubstep underground. His sound is just as relevant now as it was five years ago clearly demonstrating that he was way ahead of the curve in his Tempa heyday. His attention to percussive arrangements, soundscape melodies and bassline grooves crowned him as one of the leading pioneers of the dubstep sound. Given the many sonic offshoots dubstep has evolved into, the dubbed out techno route is certainly one of the most popular. Many of the new wave producers edging through today have broadened the scope with their cutting edge production, twisted samples and multi-genre mutations yet still reference the interstellar voyages of the techno aesthetic. As many of you know, Tony Williams launched his new project Addison Groove in 2010 with a blast finding instant success with “Footcrab”. He’s been a key figure ever since uniting the rhythms of footwork to the bass-heavy traditions of UK dance music. It came as a complete surprise then, when the legendary Youngsta dropped a couple of new Headhunter beats in his Rinse FM show. The style, the sound, the groove, was still there but upgraded and updated. Curious as I am with most aspects of this music, I wanted to know more. I decided it was time to interview Headhunter and find out whether these new beats were just him having fun, or signalling the beginning of something bigger.
TRUSIK: Yes Tony, glad to finally have you on here brother, how are things?
HEADHUNTER: Hi dude, thanks for this. I like the stuff you post on your page, as I have been out of the whole dubstep thing for quite some time. It’s one of the few reliable places to keep me updated on what’s fresh. I’m kinda bad at keeping up with people and asking for ‘dubs’ so your page makes me humble and reminds me why I got into all this at the start. But yeah, I recently finished a pretty big tour of Canada and the States where you will be pleased to know that I did a few Headhunter gigs, and last week I was in Japan. Of course it was mostly dominated by Addison Groove shows but it seems like there is a good following of the deep dubstep sound out there especially in Denver and up in Canada. And even my Addison Groove sets have the odd dubstep tune in every now and then. These days I’m looking at things as tempos not necessarily genres. As we all know dubstep falls around the 140 mark which is pretty great to transition between 130 and 150/160 and you can usually guarantee a person in the audience was an ex-dubstep head so the reaction generally goes down well when I drop an old Coki tune.
TRUSIK: Thanks fella. Before we discuss all things Headhunter (HH), lets begin with your current work. Addison Groove (AG) has been a tremendous success hasn’t it? Looking back, did you ever think your AG alias and the juke / footwork direction would be as well received as it has?
HEADHUNTER: Only a few times have I had a feeling of alienation when hearing music. It happened when I first heard dubstep and again with footwork. The music had no reference point when I first heard it, so it’s hard to compare it to anything else. It forces you to decide if it’s good or not and not take other people’s opinions, and it hasn’t got a herd of people hyping it up (or down). You can’t forget this feeling and I really hope it happens again in the future with more mutations of genres. But yes, back to footwork, it’s got quite a story to tell now looking back at the last few years I’ve been involved in it. It started off as something I’d start with in my Headhunter sets when I discovered it, maybe the tail end of 2008 when there were creeping suggestions dubstep was becoming ‘Americanised’. I know you have a lot of US readers and that’s nothing against anyone out there but for me that’s the way I was seeing things go, so my ear was curious at finding new directions. Fast forward 5 years and it’s a heavily followed genre and the guys who I discovered all them years ago are still right at the top of the genre such as DJ Spinn, DJ Earl and my late friend DJ Rashad. It’s good to see people such as Kode9 push the sound, he’s doing a lot of good things with footwork and Hyperdub.
Now to say I am a footwork producer is a bit wrong. From day one I made a decision to not really pursue that in my productions, however many people say to me that ‘Footcrab’ is a juke tune… well it’s not really, it’s a dubstep tune, just done from the perspective of a juke producer. So I took my dubstep arrangement ideas and just applied the juke sounds such as the 808 and funk samples. That happen to come good and it became a big tune. When Loefah was about to release it, there was a DMZ party in London and I was at home trying to sleep (no idea why I didn’t go down – I think the day after I had a gig somewhere abroad so I was being sensible), anyway my phone kept receiving texts by people from there every 20 minutes saying “Footcrab has been played again”. Almost every DJ that night played it and every time it went off, that’s when I knew it was something special.
TRUSIK: Your crown jewel, ‘Footcrab’ is now four years old, five actually if you consider when it was first made (April 2009). It undoubtedly took the world by storm, and was recently listed in Pitchfork’s ‘The 200 best tracks of the decade so far’, how does that feel?
HEADHUNTER: It’s alright, that Pitchfork list contained some shitty music, so, not sure if that’s any decent measure of it’s success. However looking at it on a broad scale, it’s pretty good to be lined up with the likes of Nicky Minaj and Skrillex… cheers mate!!
TRUSIK: Your output has been steady and consistent too. About ten singles/EPs and two albums along with the recently released ‘Turn Up The Scilence’ EP. How would you say the new EP stands out from your previous work, and how do you keep ahead of the curve when it comes to original ideas and keeping the sound fresh?
HEADHUNTER: The new EP has 4 tunes on, 2 of them are at about 135 and were heavily inspired by grime, it’s just my take of that sound. The tunes are not really grime tracks but that was the first point of reference for those. The other tracks are at 160 and it’s safe to say the one with Rashad is really footwork, however the other one ‘Masamune’ is like a crossbreed of AG and Headhunter. I suppose I’ll aways try and push for something a little different with my releases, I take a gamble with all my output. Sometimes people dig it, sometimes not. I can travel the world and people tell me what tracks of mine they like and I’m often surprised with what I’m told, especially when it’s something older or even a old Headhunter tune that never came out, as we know there are a few out there that remained dubs.
TRUSIK: OK so moving onto your Headhunter work – it’s had a profound impact on the dubstep underground and there’s still a lot of love for those records. We’ve been speaking on and off about whether you would return to your darker sound and to everyone’s delight, you have. Does it feel good sitting down in the studio brushing off those synths in Headhunter mode, after all this time?
HEADHUNTER: I love it to be honest. I remember that old dub techno shit use to be a massive influence for my HH stuff, and because of that, I’ve been making some of it recently. I have no real plans for it, maybe I’ll make a bunch of things and think about putting them out. I like dub techno, it’s not really got a time stamp next to it. Yes you can listen to old ‘Maurizio’ and say ‘very 2005’ but, it’s not as 2005 sounding as a genre like jungle. It can easily exist today on an underground level and it fits in with the whole atmosphere of my Headhunter sound, so along with that a few new 140 tunes have been made. My go-to-guy for that stuff is of course Youngsta. If he’s playing it then its a good sign. Who knows, I could wind up making a album full of stuff or decide to just do a EP. With EPs you can get them tied up pretty quickly, abums take forever to make. Thankfully the underground dubstep sound lives and even if something came out next year, there’s no true sign it can sound dated, not like some genres such as crap… I mean trap. I remember talking with Pinch ages ago about what makes genres or tunes outlive dated-ness, and I think we came to a conclusion that drums have a timeless sound. Once you start adding hi pitched synths and melodies it tags it to a year or style, maybe we should all just make bongo music and move to Africa.
TRUSIK: I’ve read in previous interviews that your music is influenced by what you are listening to at the time. Around 2006/07 it was techno, hence the dub techno sound of your Tempa EPs and Nomad album. Fast forward seven years and the production style between your two aliases couldn’t be more different. Has moving onto Addison Groove and the music you’re listening to now effected the way you approach your new music under Headhunter, and if so, in what way?
HEADHUNTER: Not massively. Maybe my production is better now that I have new toys (UAD Card, real 808, culture vulture) but making that HH stuff was like stepping back to 2007, and it’s all still inside me, it comes out a lot easier than an AG tune. I still have the samples I used back then so it’s simply going back through those and re-living it. Not sure if you could tell but the ‘Clone’ tune was pretty much bass drums and fx samples – that to me was kinda easy to do and I enjoyed the results. I’m sure I’ll pursue that more and make some more dark sample heavy tracks.
TRUSIK: Youngsta has premiered some of those new tracks on his show recently. Two original productions ‘Stand Alone’ and an untitled one, as well as a VIP rework of one of your classics – ‘Prototypes’. Is there still fire inside you to pursue Headhunter any further, or was it just spare of the moment? Another Headhunter album would be sensational, even a new single for that matter…
HEADHUNTER: As I said before, it might be on the cards. The only thing working against me at the moment is finding that time in the studio. Until the start of next year, I’m pretty much away from my home doing gigs. I’ll end up playing in New Zealand on NYE this year and even after then, I’m back in the States for a bit. I suppose I’m really living like a nomad again.
TRUSIK: (laughs) You have played as Headhunter a few times this year, earlier in March @ Sub.mission SXSW and more recently @ Bass Coast. Do bookings like this come often?
HEADHUNTER: Not often at all, however I have taken a few more for the future – one in London soon and next year in Amsterdam, so people still care, this is great. The music sounds as good as it used to and I’m excited to play it. As for Bass Coast, it was so good. I think it’s the first time in 3 years that I did a Headhunter DJ set. I played mostly old tunes and it worked perfectly.
TRUSIK: I found this picture from Bass Coast when you were playing as AG. Are you often as animated as this? (I believe it was an ‘Original Nuttah’ moment). Touring certainly has its moments as well as its crazy adventures, do you have a favourite anecdote you would be willing to share with the readers?
HEADHUNTER: I’m often surprised when I go and do midweek shows, like a Tuesday somewhere and the crowd get wild. You expect it from a Friday or Saturday but seeing eager raves out midweek is great, reminds me of the parties we did in Bristol. But yes, I’m animated here, of course (laughs) who wouldn’t be after half a bottle of hi grade mescal and feeling the drop of classic jungle. I’m lucky to be in a good position these days; I can go out there, play pretty much whatever I want, it’s a great place to be as a DJ. I was always fearful to be confined to a fixed genre and thanks to my switch up, I’m able to go out there now, see what the crowd are up for (or how far I can push them one way) and roll with it. The problem with that is, it makes you less specialised. I’m lucky to get sent a lot of new 160 stuff but not all of it is for me, so I have to shop around for other things that might take my ear – keeps me on my toes as a DJ. I’m often finding music that’s old, that to me is new and then when I go out and play it, the audience… they either don’t care that it’s old or assume it’s something fresh.
TRUSIK: Your Bristol background has been well documented along with your connections with Pinch, Peverelist and Appleblim. Given the size of the city and the close musical community, are you still keeping taps on the new talent coming through; Kahn, Neek, Boofy, Joker, Hodge, Lurka, Sorrow, Asa etc?
HEADHUNTER: I’m trying but it’s not easy. They are sending me things still and I usually play it, from the Livity Sound stuff to the new Joker shit, but I’m listening and paying attention. A new night has just started in Bristol that should help people connect easier. Since Dubloaded has gone its been hard to have a regular spot where people go every month but that’s changing it seems with the new event called Who Cares. This should re-ignite the local scene in Bristol and it’s very handy for DJ’s like me who are usually away on the weekend to have a event happen midweek.
TRUSIK: I would also like to touch on something that perhaps some people might not be aware of. You ran a label for three years with Tech Itch called ‘Ascension’ then ‘Transistor’ for two years, and now you’re managing a third, ‘Lost In Translation’ which is currently on record #3. Things have been a little quiet though this year. Is LIT still up & running, and are there any plans to release LIT004?
HEADHUNTER: Well when ST Holdings went into liquidation anyone who had a label with them had to either look else where or move to digital. I did neither… why? because running a label is hard work and I’m much better at making music and playing the DJ role than running a label. I was lucky to have good music come my way and have a place to release it but keeping on top of that is hard. Maybe I’ll put out some of my new Headhunter bits on a digital version of Transistor, but that’s something I’ve not given too much thought yet. We’ll see… at least I have the labels there to play with, if I want to get back into putting out music, but for now I’m happy playing the producer role.
TRUSIK: So what else can we expect from you in 2014, is there any other forthcoming material, interesting projects, or up and coming music gigs you can inform the readers on?
HEADHUNTER: For now I’m touring a lot. As I’ve explained, I’ll be in places such as China, Australia, New Zealand, and the Americas with a bit of Europe too. This weekend I’m in Geneva but next I am looking to collab with with my good mate DJ Die and spend some studio time with him. He’s got a good vibe and energy and makes it easy for me to make music with. And yes, I know what you want to hear, I’ll look to make a few new Headhunter things and put some of it out.
TRUSIK: On a finishing note, did you ever find that record:
Influx Datum – Back For More…?
HEADHUNTER: Yeah course, it’s on Youtube 😛 As for vinyl, not yet. It’s about 3 quid on Discogs tho! Bargain, I think postage is more than that.
TRUSIK: Thank you for your time Tony, we hope your new album and EP have been well received by your fans – you deserve it. Are there any final comments / shout outs you wanna share to wrap things up?
HEADHUNTER: Yeah thanks for this as always. Just want to mention that me and one of my good friends that your readers are very familiar with, DJ Pinch, are making our own mescal (what’s mescal you ask? It’s a bit like tequila, my club drink of choice), so if you happen to see that about be sure to grab it. We are still in the 1st phase but it’s coming along nicely. We are done here… for now.
TRUSIK: A track… by your favourite artist: Aphex Twin – 4 bit 9d api+e+6 you’re currently opening your sets with: Addison Groove – Gin Go La (Edit) you give the rewind treatment every time: Double 99 – RIP Groove
As you can see, Tony is a very busy man almost always on tour. For this reason, he didn’t have time to record us a brand new Headhunter mix but he has kindly given us the VIP of Prototype to giveaway as a TRUSIK exclusive.