Interview: producer of intelligent house music Heatsick

Interview: Heatsick

The producer prepares to play the Counterflows festival alongside Golden Teacher and Joe McPhee

Steven Warwick, who’ll be better known to many as the intelligent house producer, and maker of intensely danceable, cyclical-tropical, minimal disco beats, Heatsick, has ordered in lavender room sprays, hula hoops, fortune cookies and yoga mats before his four-hour Extended Play set tomorrow night as part of Glasgow’s Counterflows festival, where he’ll be joined onstage by Joe McPhee and Golden Teacher.
The List’s music editor caught up with the Berlin-based producer in his Glasgow hotel room before the festival.

I’m seeing lots of intriguing details being drip-fed on Facebook about what to expect from your Extended Play performance on Saturday – like hula hoops, perfume diffusers, fortune cookies… You’ve said in the past you like to create a ‘sensual environment’ during your sets. What can the Art School crowd expect tomorrow?
All that is true. I like to give people a few visual cues, and get people to participate too. It’s kind of a satire of the Google office-style chill-out area, all those corporate tactics, and props you’d find in business areas. That’s the set-up I’m going for. There’ll be repetition – feedback loops in the music, but also hula hoops, which bring to mind that idea of self-regulation and exercise. There’s humour to it, but it’s got an underlying purpose too.

The fortune cookies are fun, and obviously a disposable thing that people can eat – but it’s about precarity. That idea that during times of crisis or austerity people are often drawn to mysticism. Reading their horoscope, for example, during a time of uncertainty.

There’s an essay called 'The Stars Down to Earth' where the writer examined an LA horoscope column in 1950 for one year, and looked at the language used, and lifestyle changes it would try and induce. That’s kind of where I was going with the fortune cookies.

As for the perfume – yeah, that’s because I wanted the room to smell of lavender. If you go into an airport, it’s such a sterile environment, and it usually smells of perfume, with a lot of heavy branding behind it. I’m interested in the kind of effect all that has on you.

It sounds a bit like the scarily sophisticated methods they use in Las Vegas to control and manipulate the temperature and scent and lighting in the room – to influence people’s behaviour, and encourage more gambling…
Yeah, yeah. It’s definitely playing on the ideas of these environments, where you’re almost programmed to react in a certain way. I’m trying to use them in a different way.

‘Extended Play’ is a reference to those corporate tactics where you’re constantly working, but also playing, and it’s also a link to ‘extended disco edits’ – where you take the climax of a song and just keeping pushing it, into repetition.

Your sets always seem to do that clever thing of combining very hypnotic, droning, repetitive, maybe even transcendental beats, with very fun, colourful and tropical sounds. It’s not as po-faced as a lot of minimal dance music can be, which means the crowd are having their minds bent, whilst also wanting to dance. Your press photos look like you’re off on holiday, your tracks have names like ‘Mimosa’ and ‘Dubbed Sunshine’ – is there a deliberate theme of escapism to what you do?
Hmm, I don’t know if I’d say it was quite escapist. Maybe transformational or something? I also like the idea of it being like music for an escalator – where you can’t really see where the horizon ends.

For the live sets, it’s about being hyper-aware of your environment, a bit like some kind of consciousness experiment. But it’s also fun, and pleasurable to receive it, of course.

You’ve described your sets in the past as ‘sound installations’ – and they are definitely very considered, theory-based and conceptual, but always very palatable and accessible at the same time. Do you like the idea that people can consume your music in a purely superficial way, and just enjoy the amazing tropical, housey beats – or choose to have their thoughts provoked a bit more by it?
Yeah, exactly. It’s up to the person to engage with it as much as they want. If you want to walk past it, listen for two minutes then keep walking, I’m totally fine with that. It’s like watching an episode of The Simpsons or something – you can just watch it, or you can get all of the references and get an extra laugh out of that.

How would you label your music if you had to – or do you find it annoying when you have to?
I’m more interested in the descriptions other people give it – or the way they react when they hear it. I care much more about that. I don’t even consider my music to be that ‘musical’ – it’s more performative. It’s weird. I’d rather think of my sets as events. Or my albums as manuals – or tools.

Living in Berlin, which obviously has a very evolved club scene, and going to clubs there – has that influenced the performances you put on, or made you feel you want to ‘advance’ your music, to create something original?
I’d say living in Berlin in general is a big influence. You have access to an incredibly strong arts scene, and you’re saturated with art and music. I try and carve out something myself from all of that – and my interests.

You’ve played Glasgow before – what do you think of the crowds there?
Glasgow is cool. People let loose. They get really into it; I really enjoy playing there. I’ve come for a few days – so I’ve got time to check out stuff in Glasgow International, and other stuff at Counterflows.

How much did you know about Golden Teacher, who will be joining you onstage?
I was aware of them before, and I really like them – but I deliberately didn’t want to hear too much of their stuff before performing with them. And the same for Joe McPhee – I’m a big fan of his, but I want Saturday to work more like a live improv. Not exactly a ‘pure jam’, but I at least wanted the collaboration to unfold there and then – on stage. I want the crowd to be reacting to all the different stimuli, but I’ll be reacting too. The whole thing makes me quite nervous – but I’m really excited too.

Heatsick performs a four-hour Extended Play set, with Joe McPhee and Golden Teacher, The Art School, Glasgow, Sat 5 Apr, as part of Counterflows Festival.

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