Headman tells David Pollock how his love of rock and dance helped shape a genre ahead of his date with Death Disco
When he released his debut album It Rough in 2001 (which contained the single of the same name), Zurich DJ Robi Insinna, aka Headman, helped presage a whole movement. Around the same time, everyone from Belgium’s Soulwax to New York’s LCD Soundsystem was helping to develop the punk-funk style, whose name is a bit of a contrivance but whose sound has endured and matured.
‘What I liked about this scene when it started was that it was somehow against the same boring four-to-the-floor stuff, and that these new disco people played a lot of old songs,’ says Insinna. ‘When I started DJing ten years ago, I pretty much played old music. There wasn’t anything new which I thought was interesting, everything just sounded boring and straight.’
Insinna’s musical background was such that the same old reference points were never going to be enough for him. Growing up, he listened to the hip hop of Public Enemy, Run DMC and The Beasties Boys, and the indie rock of Faith No More. ‘I think I always had an ear for alternative music and everything that goes with it,’ he says. ‘But I liked dance music too and couldn’t figure out how people only liked dance or indie, how they couldn’t combine the two. So I was about 20 when I began DJing, and I started out by playing hip hop, rock and funk mixed with some cosmic Balearic stuff.’
What he calls ‘digging’ records – ie out from the racks of old record shops according to painstakingly researched lists – also led Insinna to the back catalogues of artists such as A Certain Ratio and Talking Heads, who would prove to be the most crucial influence on his brand of punk-funk. ‘In Zurich it was paradise,’ he says. ‘Ten or twelve years ago there were four record shops, and there weren’t many people after the same records as me. It was like my library, I would spend afternoons in there discovering all this music from the past.’
Eventually all these influences were put to good use on Insinna’s own productions, which started with the ‘Anarchy’ 12in in 2000, right up to the recent third album Catch Me, under the name Headman, to go with another under the Manhead alias. Historically Insinna has released on Gomma, although he’ll be switching to his own Relish records in future.
Although he also spends a lot of time in Berlin for work, Insinna actually prefers the more homely mentality of Zurich, where people don’t come flowing through the city and then leaving when the weekend is done. ‘Berlin,’ he says, ‘is a good place to work and to play, but not so much to live.’
It’s the same streak of traditionalism that leads him to make music the way he does, using analogue equipment where possible, and to befriend and work with similarly retro-futurist artists like Soulwax, The Rapture and Erol Alkan. ‘I don’t think this scene has peaked by a long way,’ says Insinna. ‘For a while it got loud and noisy, which is good for peaks in a club, but things do seem to be getting a bit more relaxed, to be influenced once more by older styles rather than the hard, ravey sound. I think that this is a good thing.’
Headman plays Death Disco at the Arches, Glasgow, Sat 16 Aug, along with guests Rory Phillips (Trash) and Bonde Do Role.