Stockholm’s HNNY announced himself towards the end of 2011 with a divisive white label: a house edit of Mariah Carey’s 1984 power ballad ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’. With its menacing bass notes and jagged synth stabs, HNNY’s weird and wonderful edit almost sounded like UK garage if it weren’t for its slo-mo house tempo – a meagre 80bpm. It was a fantastically ballsy debut.
The young Swede continued to confound expectations with a slew of distinctively nonconformist releases. His edit of Steve Reich’s ‘Nagoya Marimba’ saw him cut a dark bassline under Reich’s chirpy marimba melodies. He also released a 90’s throwback EP on Local Talk in late 2012 to much acclaim.
Tom Rae caught up with the up-and-coming house producer to discuss UK garage influences, the often hostile reactions to his Mariah Carey edit and why digital DJing isn’t such a bad thing after all…
Tom Rae: Hi HNNY, thanks for taking the time out to talk to us. I wanted to start by asking about the sort of music you grew up on?
HNNY: Well I started making and listening to music a lot around the age of 12, so I started kind of early. Then I was really into hip-hop and then a few years later started listening to electronica, people like Four Tet and Manitoba – who is now Caribou and Daphni.
Those two in particular both focus on a certain ambient, atmospheric sound….
Yeah I suppose I didn’t really think about dance music in that way. I didn’t start going to clubs until I was 13 or 14, so I’d listen to electronica just for enjoyment at home, a lot of WARP records and stuff like that, but I didn’t know anything about genres. I mean, when I listen to some of those tracks now I hear 4×4 and house, but back then I’d just think ‘this is cool, this is funky’ and I liked it.
So on the hip hop side of things, were you listening to the US output or stuff coming out of Scandinavia?
There were actually a few Swedish bands, I think that was kind of the start, a few Swedish rappers .From that I moved on to American stuff, mostly the ‘nice’ hip hop: De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Pharcyde… I wasn’t into ‘gangster rap’. I liked the smooth, nice music – but all sorts of genres.
Are there any old haunts you hung around back then?
Yeah one of the guys who owns Studio Barnhaus – the label I release on – was a manager at a club and it had this really cool name ‘Spy Bar’. He’d play techno and electro – that was about seven years ago. It was a little harder than it is now – but they still play house music.
I recently bought the 10” on Studio Barnhaus with your Maria Carey edit and it gets some mixed reviews, I love it but some people hate it…
Yeah that’s the whole thing! Everywhere I play it, there’s always someone who goes mad or just leaves… they ask whether I’m gay for playing it out … (laughs)… but you know it’s just nice that people have an opinion on it, that’s a good thing.
Was that release meant for club play or just a bit of fun?
It was the first one I did as HNNY so I just did the song very quickly, it was just an idea. I saw the video on MTV and heard that phrase and I don’t know why, but I just wanted to try to do something with it. I just played it myself for about a year – I’d either start or end my sets with it. And then somehow Kornel Kovacs [the Barnhaus owner] found it. I didn’t know him at the time, but he played it in almost every DJ set and one day my friends heard him playing it out and told Kornel: “that’s our friend HNNY’s song!” He said he’d been playing it for a good six months! He later emailed me and said: “I’ve played this so much, do you want to release it on vinyl?” So I was like “yeah!”
I think it’s mainly because of the sample, you know… plus they have this 10” coloured vinyl series so it worked well with that.
Do you shop for many records?
Well, when I DJ I only play CDs, so I buy records from time to time but I don’t buy dance music. I only buy other types of music on vinyl, mostly for some kind of sampling process. I just don’t really buy new 12”s.
We’ve seen a rise in vinyl sales in the scene over the past few years. With Local Talk are you releasing on both vinyl and digital?
Yeah with Local Talk we release on both, but at least for me there’s the whole copyright on vinyl: it’s easier for labels to see what goes on and what slips through the cracks.
Moving onto DJing, you’ve had a lot of bookings lately. In terms of preparing for a gig do you go with a preceded idea of what you want to do or…
I find new music of course but I don’t ever have anything planned. Five minutes before the set I’ll have a think about which song I’m going to open with, then I just go from there. If you play in a new city, you try a few different songs and gauge the reaction. I have friends who just bring two CDs and it’s all thought out, but for me it’s more fun to search through my case and stumble across something and think ‘I’ve got to play this!’
Do you think availability and easy access to music these days degrades the value of music?
From the DJ perspective I think it’s great to be able to have a huge array of music, plus you can now be sent tracks via email, or do small edits of songs for DJing purposes – but of course none of that can be done with vinyl. It makes things easier. But at the same time, there isn’t the magic that came with buying music 10 years ago – that’s sad – you know, you’d buy an album, go home, put it on and just look through the booklet and listen. That doesn’t happen a lot anymore – I think it has a lot to do with the easiness and the quantity – you want to listen to 500 songs rather than just one album.
When it comes to your own productions I can hear a lot of 90s UK garage influences. Do you draw any inspiration from any artists or DJs from that era?
I try not to be influenced by anything in particular when I produce. So I try to listen to something entirely different. If I put on a house mix and then start making music, I fear that my track will sound just like whatever I was just listening to.
I think a lot of my sounds come from stuff I listened to years ago… it just sits in the back of your head, you know? I listened to a lot of UK 2-step seven or eight years ago: Artful Dodger and all those smooth, RnB influenced artists. And I’m really inspired by Chicago house music as well as all the UK stuff.
Are you set to release on Local Talk again soon?
Yeah in a couple of weeks there’ll be a new track and a B-side – a DirtyTwo remix of ‘For The Very First Time’.
Your Steve Reich edit is really something. People who listen to your music may not know who Steve Reich is but…
He’s really one of my greatest idols… I saw him live once and I actually cried…
So I wanted to ask you, do you know the BBC?
Well they have show called Desert Island Discs: people choose the records they would take with them if they were stranded on a desert island. Which three would you take?
Well I’d take a few different genres. A Bob Dylan album, definitely. Um, a Steve Reich box set – or is that cheating? And the Four Tet album ‘There Is Love In You’.
Some good choices. And when you’re DJing, if more people are heading for the door what record would you pull out of the bag to get people involved?
Well two records sort of stand out for me at the moment:
Genius of Time – Tuffa Trummor Med Synt
Nick Nikolov – Come Down
‘Come Down’ is a great house track that was released on Liebe Detail a German techno label and if you play it at the right time it just does the trick.
I heard you’re also releasing on Let’s Play House, when is that happening?
It’s all got to be finished… a few remixes we’re waiting on, so hopefully this summer. And then I’ve also got a track I played on the Beats in Space radio show called ‘Boy’ and that’s going to be out as a white label pretty soon.
Well thanks very much for your time, for any people wanting to catch you I know you’re playing your first UK gig next week at the Dance Tunnel?
Yeah it should be good fun!
Have a listen to HNNY’s recent Beats In Space mix here.