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Interview with Headgear (Part 1)

I first met fellow Midlander, Alister (Headgear) at Listening Sessions (Birmingham, UK), and went on to find out that he has a pretty deep history in Jungle/DnB. From various chats and facebook posts I found out a lot more info about his involvement with music including the music he makes. This week, on 5th June, he and a few other peeps are putting on an incredible night at an incredible venue, so this seemed like a good time to be my nosey self....

FPZ: Who are you and how did your interest in music begin?
Headgear: My name is Alister Head I'm 37 and I'm from Birmingham. I'm a Drum and Bass / Jungle producer / DJ and go under the artist name HEADGEAR. In the 90's I went under the names Soundcraft (Tech Itch Recordings), T.I.C (Back 2 Basics), Threshold (Second Movement Recordings) and Logistics (Dubz).

My interest for music goes as far back as I can remember, I started learning the saxophone when I was 8 and picked it up pretty quickly. I knew then that music was something that I wanted in my life. Jazz was one of my early influences, Hip Hop was something I also loved as a kid and during the late 80s and into the early 90s dance music started becoming more accessible to me through pirate radio. Hearing stuff by Frankie Bones, Silver Bullet and Rebel MC drew my attention to sample based music. 

I was heavily into my gaming back then, I owned a Commodore Amiga and would get magazines with demo disks taped to the front. One of the disks had a demo of OctaMED, a clever piece of software that allowed me to sequence samples together using four channels of audio. Thankfully I gave it try and from that point on, I was hooked. 

FPZ: You mentioned Back2Basics which gets me excited because I used to go record shopping there, but before we get to that, can you give me the names of some tracks by the artists you mentioned like Rebel MC etc... that caught your ear at the time?
Headgear: Luckily I discovered the names of some of these tracks in my more recent years - gotta love the internet haha. I was 10-13 years old when I heard these tracks.
The 'Rebel MC' album 'Black Meaning Good' had 'Tribal Base','Wickedest Sound' & 'Comin on Strong' on it. All of them had a prototype jungle sound to them.

Looney Tunes EP Vol 1 (Frankie Bones & Lenny Dee) - Another Place Another Time

The Ragga Twins had some wicked tracks like 'Spliffhead', 'Hooligan 69' & 'Wipe The Needle'.

The 'Silver Bullet' album 'Bring Down the Walls No Limit Squad Returns' was one that I'm pretty sure I wore out the cassette from playing it so much.

Then you've got the first 'Bomb the Bass' album 'Into the Dragon' which I've not heard in years so not sure how it holds up now but as a kid I loved it.

FPZ: What pirate radio did you listen to? And were there specific DJs that you looked out for?
Headgear: Starlight FM was the one station that stuck in my mind from that period, unfortunately I can't remember any of the DJs.

FPZ: It's interesting that Jazz was one of the first types of music you listened to, sometimes people start with Hip Hop, House, Jungle etc.... and then get into Jazz via samples and crate digging. Is Jazz something that you still listen to and get influenced by? Are there any albums/tracks that you always reach for?
Headgear: My dad was into his Jazz when I was young so I got to hear a fair amount of stuff back then. I don't listen to Jazz now to be honest as I have limited time as it is to listen to the stuff I really want to hear. Some of the artists that stood out to me were Courtney Pine and Steve Williamson they were also part of the group Jazz Warriors which was co-founded by the vocalist Cleveland Watkiss. Years later Steve Williamson and Cleveland Watkiss featured on Goldie's album Timeless then Cleveland Watkiss went on to MC at the legendary Metalheadz Sunday Sessions held at Blue Note.

FPZ: You've mentioned how you started taking an interest in music, how did this progress into buying records? Where did you go record shopping?
Headgear: Well, being a kid I didn't have an income except for a bit of pocket money I was lucky enough to receive every other week. With this I'd make the journey into Birmingham town centre to Pure Records which was run by Lee Fisher and MC Lenni (think he just hung out there to be honest) who was one of the better known MC's on the rave circuit at the time. I'd heard of MC Lenni through a DJ SS mix tape that someone gave me in '92. You can find the mix on Youtube under the name 'Dj SS Mc's Lenni & Bassman - Dance Planet 1992'. The set was jokes due to the amount of technical issues and Lenni screwing at people on the stage. It's maybe difficult to listen to now, but I'll always remember the effect it had on my little impressionable mind at the time.

Anyway, back to the answer. As my craving for music grew I wanted to check out other places that I'd heard of and one of them was Bang-in Tunes in Coventry. Now this place had some serious history connected to it as well as being not far from the The Eclipse which held some of the best raves in the Midlands at the time. DJ Luke & Neil Trix (FBD Project) worked there so you'd know that what they stocked was always worth checking out. I pretty much tried to make that long ass bus journey to Coventry every weekend and I rarely came away disappointed.

FPZ: When I saw you last we chatted about record shopping at Don Christies in B'ham. And you said that you worked there, what period was that? And what was it like? I feel like record shopping is an important part of music culture.
Headgear: I was never a paid employee at Don Christies but I helped out occasionally around '95 when Shock C worked there. Ian (Shock C) was a mate of mine back then and he used to have a regular slot playing Jungle on Choice 102.2FM. He also put on a regular Wednesday night do at Marco Polo which I played some of my first DJ gigs at. Don Christies was one of the best reggae outlets in Birmingham and in the basement they sold Jungle, this is where I spent most of my time. Unfortunately the building no longer exists as it needed to make way for the new Bullring Markets. 

FPZ: I'm gonna skip a few questions now, as I'll save these for part 2 of the interview! There's a Rupture X Skutta Recs X Listening Sessions night happening on the 5th June, how did that come about?
Headgear: Well, back in 2011 I went to Rupture at Corsica Studios (London, UK) with my long time friend Ben (Rondema). He'd been on about this night for ages and said I needed to witness it first hand. Now for me, I'd not been doing any kind of production and had little interest in Drum & Bass for over ten years. Ben kept passing me CDs that he'd burnt from either Equinox's 'Scientific Wax' or Double 0 & Mantra's 'Rupture Sessions' show that are on The sounds they were playing reminded me of what was missing from the music I used to love. The Amen break was being smashed all over the place and the basslines had weight that you could feel.
For me, going to Rupture was a life changer - I'd not witness such vibes and great music since the 90's. Everyone down there was so into the sounds being played, you had DJ's, producers, music lovers all going there to witness something special. No egos just love for the music. At that point I knew I wanted to get back on the beats and start contributing again to a sound that I once loved.

Being a Rupture regular and chatting with people online I started to develop friendships with many of the people involved with the night. Obviously Double 0 & Mantra are the heads that have been putting on these nights for nearly 9 years so getting to know them has been one of the factors in getting them to bring Rupture to Birmingham for the very first time.

I've known Anthony (Baddesley) from Skutta Records for many years and he's always wanted to put on a night here in Birmingham. I took him to Rupture a while back, I think he was a bit sceptical at first but that changed quickly. Like everyone that has been down there, he loved it. 

The final piece to the puzzle came about by going to the Listening Sessions nights held at PST (Birmingham, UK). Tom and Mat have been providing a platform for up and coming Birmingham producers to listen to their work on a real sound system. It's an opportunity to get their music heard by other producers and like-minded people. Listening Sessions, PST and all involved just seemed to create a unique vibe that you don't get anywhere else and for the first time in a long time Birmingham had something I could get excited about. So it didn't take long before we all started talking about bringing something special to Birmingham and that's how the night was first conceived. 

All these factors seemed to have converged at the right time along with the recently built sound-system that has had a number of showings at PST. Those Creative Hertz guys have built one serious sound system so it made sense to get them on-board. We want this night to be memorable for a lot of reasons and having a thunderous sound system always leaves a good impression.

FPZ: You're playing b2b with Threshold on that night. Will you be trying to 'out do' each other (in a friendly way of course)? What can the crowd expect from yourself?
Headgear: Threshold likes a good old fashioned sound clash and I know he'll be bringing some unreleased dubs for the night. This man has too many gems at his disposal so I'm just looking forward to hear what he brings. I've got a few bits he's yet to hear so I'm hoping to get a couple of 'what's this tune?' reactions from him. Let the battle commence.

Listening Sessions presents Rupture vs Skutta is going to be something unlike anything brought to Birmingham before. The wealth of talent across both rooms, the venue, the Creative Hertz sound system all need to be witnessed by as many people as possible. So, run go tell your friends, family and neighbours this night is not to be missed. 

Look out for Part 2 of this interview as there is still a lot more history to dig into. Big up Alister Headgear! Check his music out here:

PS: Another interview soon to come from another artist that will also be featuring on the night on 5th June :)