Something about anonymity makes Headless Horseman intriguing. But did you know he has been producing for more than 20 years and only recently, became one of the most talked about techno artists?
A well-seasoned producer and an equally great performer, Headless Horseman removed his mask to speak with us after his brilliant Movement performance at the Underground Stage.
Let’s start off with the basics, where are you from and how did techno find you?
I’m originally from New York, but I’ve spent the last 16 years in Berlin. I started playing heavy metal music, hardcore music with my guitar. I was in a lot of bands, but I was in a situation where it was hard to get people together for band practice.
One day I saw someone playing with records and a mixer after a late Sunday night show that we had just played. This was in the mid ’90s and I was like, “What is this person doing with this gear?” I was curious and started saving all of my change and bought a few vintage machines, turntables and started from there.
What inspired you to do techno?
I have always been into abstract sounds, sounds of nature, industrial sounds, metal sounds from playing the guitar, banging on pots and pans and all of this stuff. What I really loved about techno was the variety and that there are no real limitations to what you can do. There’s no set formula.
You can break the molds all the time and you can experiment, with an intention or without and utilize what you’ve made as if you’re throwing paint onto a blank canvas until you’re happy with what you’ve created. New colors, new textures. This is what I like about electronic music. It’s danceable, there is a kick drum and I like to tell the story with an atmosphere and a melodic structure and form to create something fresh to my ears and hopefully, that translates into the audience in the live situation.
Where did the name Headless Horseman come from?
I grew up near Sleepy Hollow, and so the legend of Sleepy Hollow has been ingrained in my head ever since I was a kid. Especially during Halloween, it was always fascinating. As I got older, about 7 years ago, I lost my father, I went through a divorce, just a really heavy time and I didn’t want to make music anymore.
I lost the urge and felt like I couldn’t be creative ever gain. However, by changing my mind state into this character, I was able to psych myself out and create music again with no boundaries. The name kind of came simultaneously with the situation I was going through of losing myself and finding myself. By shutting down who I normally am and putting this new facade on, I felt like I was invincible and I could create sound with no format. I didn’t have to start with a certain instrument and I didn’t have to tell the story like I did before because things got redundant. At this rate, I started with a fresh palette.
Was this your first year at Movement?
Playing the fest, yes, but last year I played an afters and I had a wonderful time. I visited the festival that year and was pretty amazed by the size and variety of the music. There is something for everyone here.
This time around, I had an excellent time playing the festival with a different form of nervousness since I played early in the day. It’s not dark and you absorb everything that is happening. It’s literally run and go. You run in, play, and get out for the next person. A good experience and I would love to come back.
What’s your favorite tool or instrument right now and how did it help you grow your skillset?
I use a lot of vintage instruments, but my favorite tool right now is this Native Instruments plugin called Absynth. I spend a lot of time using this. It’s kind of like a semi-modular hybrid digital-analog synth. It has a high learning curve but offers a lot in regards to simple sounds to drums and percussions to noise. With this, a lot of the time, what I do is record one part of a sound and I’ll modify and record it, re-record it, and layer and layer to get this huge atmosphere.
That’s kind of my secret weapon to a project. A lot of people negatively say, “Oh, you use that?!” But it’s a nice plugin, super versatile and definitely what I use the most.
I have a lot of gear in the studio as well, the 909, 808, the Moog voyage, and I like using really old things and new things mixed together.
Where do you see Headless Horseman in five years?
Each release has a short story about it and will eventually be pieced together to make a short film, like a mini-Shakespearean novel thing and I want to put that into moving images to make a 25-minute film out of it. A couple of years ago, I started the project trying to find people who could help out and I was rather naive since I didn’t know what I was doing. Especially because I love film and I love images, but I’m the guy that does the sound. So this is an ongoing project that I will be working on for the next couple of years.
To me, it doesn’t matter where it ends up. If it ends up on the internet channels or the theaters, it’s more of a release of energy, thoughts, emotions, and a lot of things that have built up over time, it’s just the next step for me.
As a DJ and producer, it’s not all about making music and parties, that’s only a part of it. I like to write things down and I want to combine these two to create another form of art from the inside. For the past two years, I’ve been working on a soundtrack for this thing. I want it to be something massive and beautiful. A little baroque influence and electronic, without it being a classical attempt to make electronic music. Just something unique and mind blowing for myself.
Another moving part of this project is an AV show that was inspired by the short text that I wrote for this film. I’m trying to push myself because doing the same thing over and over again can get redundant.
Anything we can look forward to?
My next AV show and a couple of releases. I had an idea come to me over this weekend and I’m already starting to work on it. Cassette tapes are a rather hip thing right now, and that’s due to records taking forever to get pressed since the plants are overbooked. I want to do an old-school, mixtape style thing, with bits on a 20-minute cassette. I’d release one every 2 months and they will tell a story together with matching artwork.
I have a lot of ideas and a lot of tracks I don’t finish, so I can piece these together into a sloppy collage and make something that is listenable or for bedtime sounds, whatever it is.