Live at MEMFest, Memphis, TN
By Randy Harris
Hailing from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Headphone Activist came down to Memphis extremely excited for the second annual Memphis Electronic Music Festival (M.E.M.Fest). His set went down beautifully on the Main Stage, invoking a tremendous reaction from the Memphis crowd. Citing a very wide range of influences and claiming catchy subgenres of bass music such as Cloudrap and Luvstep, Headphone Activist has been steadily gaining traction, and at M.E.M.Fest, he showed us all why. The man himself was nice enough to take the time to sit down with me for a quick interview before the weekend was over.
Ragin’ Randy: So, first off, how did you get hooked up with Nolan and Jody?
Headphone Activist: Alright, so you know Gutta Chick?
RR: Yeah, yeah.
HA: Yeah, well, she’s awesome by the way, everybody should check out Gutta Chick and Gutta Kick too. So, she found my music, and then linked me up with Jody and Nolan, and they just kind of made it happen for me to come out here.
RR: So this is more of a recent connection?
HA: Yeah, I’d say it was about last year or so. It’s been awesome, especially all of the positive support and people.
RR: Cool. So, you played some of your original tunes toward the end of your set, right?
RR: It seems to me from some of those tracks that you have more of a musical background than a sound design background. Is that correct?
HA: Yeah, so a lot of my background, it stems from Classical, Roots, Punk, and Hip Hop and Electronic. My parents were a part of the classic rock era, you know, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors and that type of stuff. So I take a lot of influence from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Then, myself, when I was a kid I listened to a lot of classical music, my mom would bring home a bunch of different classical CDs for me to listen to. I ended up loving Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. So when I started trying to make my own music, and I learned about sampling, I thought, you know, I should see what it’s like to sample the music I used to listen to when I was younger, and it just worked out [laughs].
RR: So a lot of that was sampling?
HA: Yeah, so I have a track with A$AP Rocky vocals featured as the hook *ASAP* but the original melody behind it was Beethoven’s Moonlight sonata [laughs]. So, basically, I took that, I put it in FL Studio and chopped it all up.
RR: That’s awesome!
HA: Yeah man, the possibilities are endless.
RR: So how long have you been making music?
HA: Since I was like 9 or 10, a long time. It runs in my family, so, I mean, I’ve been playing music since I was a kid. My grandparents gifted me a harmonica when I was a kid, and there was a piano in our house that I learned how to play and write music on around the same time.
RR: Do you tour a lot outside of Pittsburgh?
HA: I’m just starting to, actually. I’ve basically locked myself in my house for like 3 years, and I’d go out and do shows once in a while, but I’ve just been working a lot on production and making sure I have enough original material to play. So, like, the stuff I played tonight was my favorite, but I’ve got plenty more material.
RR: So, I noticed after you got done with your set that you are kind of a people person.
HA: [laughs] Yeah, I love people man. I love sharing music with everyone. It’s like a universal language, man, there is no color barrier, or any types of walls set up. It’s just meant for anyone and everyone to enjoy. Plus, if someone is taking the time to thank me for my music, the least I can do is reciprocate with an equal thank you for supporting what I am doing.
RR: Yeah, I agree. I actually have a song about that. It says “House music does not see color. House music does not see nationality…,” etc.
HA: It doesn’t man! It doesn’t see religion or anything, and it doesn’t even see male or female. You know, the people here are all just so stoked for the music, and when I hear them say “Thanks man” after my set, that’s the kind of stuff that makes this all worth it.
RR: If you had to cite a specific goal as an artist, what would you say that goal is?
HA: Well, I’m fortunate to be reaching and finding goals for myself, so I guess one of my biggest goals is to keep setting new goals [laughs]. I do have one big one though. I want to do film and T.V. work, you know, scoring films, or even video games. I’d love to score a game like “The Last of Us” or “Call of Duty”.
RR: Well, you know, Junkie XL does a lot of that. He started out as a DJ and producer in the ‘90s, and now he just does film scores.
HA: So cool! I’d love to get into that because it’s not just a track, it’s a project, you know? You’re telling a story on top of a story. So, film scoring would be very cool.
RR: Yeah, that’d be great! There’s always a high demand for that, you know, there’s always going to be a movie business, that’s not going anywhere!
HA: [laughs] Yeah, definitely!
RR: Ok, last question. Besides the Barbecue, what’s been your favorite part of M.E.M.Fest and Memphis in general?
HA: Definitely the people. I was telling Jody that I’ve felt just like I’m in Pittsburgh, you know? It’s like a family man, so it’s been just like playing at home.