In conversation with Happa

With now over six years experience spinning deep, dark and bass heavy industrial beats all over the world and a collaborative discography coloured by the likes of Four Tet, James Blake, Trim and David Byrne; it is fair to say that Mary Anne Hobbs’ prodigy techno wonder kid, Happa, is not such a kid anymore.

Happa’s music relentlessly drives at breakneck speed towards the new and experimental. From his dubstep roots, Happa has travelled through a diverse sonic world and refined a sound that is distinctly his own; gritty industrial techno with a pale nostalgic hue of UK dub.

Happa is currently a long standing resident and honourary family member of Treehouse UK, a small independent record label and events promoter showcasing the best of leftfield dance music in Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield. For a label putting in conversation such a wide array of dubstep, techno, grime, funk and more, there could not be a more fitting figurehead or a more appropriate residency for Happa to call home.

We caught up with him to talk fond memories, new directions, David Byrne and all things Treehouse.

Everyone knows you started very young, you wrote your breakthrough track ‘Boss’ when you were just 14, can you remember whether there was ever an actual starting point, some event or moment in which you decided this was what you wanted to do?

Yeah, I think it was around the time that I noticed more people listening to my music. Or possibly when Four Tet shared one of my tracks and quadrupled its plays in a day. Basically when I felt like I was actually reaching people I never thought I could. That was when I started to believe I could, maybe, just possibly, do this as a job.

It’s often cited that your big break or your first major point of recognition came from Loefah on Rinse FM, but you also had a massive amount of support from Mary Anne Hobs on Kiss FM and Four Tet really early on. What for you was the tipping point for your career and how quickly did things move after this? Were you prepared for the gravity of the change?

To be honest, all of the above! I really wasn’t ready for how quickly things moved, yet it didn’t feel stressful, just exciting. It’s still sinking in now to be honest.

We’ve touched on it already, but who would you say were your early inspirations and who today is really killing it for you and inspiring you to take new directions in your work?

Back in the day, I was definitely inspired by a lot of the output from labels like Swamp81 and Hessle Audio. Hessle are still a huge inspiration today as well really. However, I try to source inspiration from outside of music a lot more these days… or at least outside of that musical world.

I get scared of sounding too much like the people whose music I play in my DJ sets… if that makes sense? As for people I’m really feeling righty now… Parris is flippin’ great. And I have been listening to a shed load of Rhythm and Sound/Basic Channel/anything fizzy and dubby sounding. And also on repeat a lot is Miyako Koda, which follows on nicely from last year’s obsession with Reassemblage by Visible Cloaks.

Entering the dance music scene at such an early point in your life must have led to many funny clubbing stories, not least that you weren’t old enough to enter most of the venues you were playing in, are there any stories in particular that stick in your mind that you’d like to share?

There’s been a few, most of which I can’t recall unfortunately as I have an actual sieve for a brain. It was quite funny when my 50 odd year old dad got ID’d at Plan B in Brixton. There have been a couple times I have been escorted in 5 minutes before my set by security, and vice versa 5 minutes after I’d finished! Pretty intense. But most of the times, the promoters and club staff were extremely welcoming and treated me like an adult, despite just being a little boy in a big scary club.

You’ve recently been in the studio with David Byrne from Talking Heads contributing to his new solo album ‘American Utopia’ to be released later this year. You’re in incredible company here with other contributors including Brian Eno, Sampha and The xx producer Rodaidh McDonald, and obviously David Byrne is a living legend. How was he to work with? What was your creative process in the studio?

Yeah, that’s another thing that will probably never sink in! However I wasn’t actually in the studio with him. It was a process achieved over the internet, with other collaborators involved. I would create my own versions of pre-existing ideas and send stems. And then David and producer Rodaidh would pick out their favourite bits, and create these songs out of multiple artists’ ideas. Super excited and proud to be involved with this though!

What is your normal solo writing process, are you a ‘spend months tweaking a single subtle idea’ kinda guy or do you have a more immediate concept to producing method? 

I usually come up with at least 40% of the track in the first 4/5 hours. I’ll then sit and fine tweak for as long as it takes until it’s ready. This usually takes around a month or two now, however it can go on for much longer or be done in a quarter of that time.

I have noticed the fine tweaking stage has more than doubled in length in the last two years. As for what I start with… completely random really. I don’t really have a technique for starting I don’t think. I rarely have specific or vivid ideas; it’s more like a feeling.

You’ve travelled a long way in terms of sound and genre from when you first wrote the dubby wobbles of ‘Boss’. Do you have fond memories of your original sounds or are you glad to be rid of it? Should we expect more sonic shifts to come?

A little bit of both really. Always feels good to sonically evolve and never be stagnant. But I do still have a little part of me that likes those tunes for sure! I think I have definitely settled into a “sound” a lot more, yet as I said before I hope to constantly change, even if it is at a snail’s pace.

You have been a loyal Treehouse resident for a long time now and you’re obviously very much a part of the family. Can you describe Treehouse in 3 words?

“Familiar But Surprising.” I feel so comfortable at Treehouse now, as it’s usually packed with at least half of my nearest and dearest, yet I still come away from every night usually shaking my head, probably saying “F**k. Did not expect to hear that out! Amazing!” Much love for the Treehouse boys.

You recently played a show with Mumdance hosted by Treehouse and London based HMT Hard Cru. For those that didn’t witness the madness can you tell us a little of what went down on this raucous evening?

I played twice: Once on my own and once with Mumzy. For my solo set I played some slowed down, sluggy, chugging edits of trance songs… as for the b2b: it was fast, utter outrageousness. Three quarter lengths, Kelly Clarkson, dancing goths, football anthems and whistles it had it all. Carnage central.

What exciting things have you got in the pipeline for us in 2018?

Loads of stuff! The next releases in the PT/5 series should be out very soon… the David Byrne album I worked on will be out in March… oh and I did some production on the band Shame’s album, and I am actually in the midst of working on an EP for the label that launched them last year! Also a few other bits but I feel like I’m going off on one now!

Finally give us your favourite, end of the night, lights on, bring out the big guns, “one more song”, belter.

Words: Oscar Lister

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