Headman is just one of several names that Robi Insinna has been known and appreciated as since the late '90s. Born Swiss and based out of Germany, Robi is the face behind Relish Records. For those unaware, Relish is a label responsible for the no-wave disco and futuristic electronic sound and has been pushing it long before the USA even began its “indie dance” craze. While expressing his forward thinking taste through his own productions, DJ sets, and even art, Robi has committed himself 100% to the lifestyle in which he represents. The label itself holds a very respectable catalog, ranging from early releases from key figures such as The Rapture and Soulwax, all the way to rising stars of today like Daniel Avery. I remember when I first heard “It Rough” by Headman a handful of years ago and was surprised to find out it was released back in 2003. Most people would consider the Chicken Lips remix of that track an all time dancefloor classic, and I couldn’t agree more. To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of that iconic underground hit, Robi re-released it this month with four new versions! “It Rough” gets two new versions from Headman himself, alongside a pair of remixes by Remain and Scott Fraser; two producers that Robi has worked with before and considers his favorites of the moment. Accompanying the remix package is rather great music video that Insinna shot and edited himself. And we've got the exclusive premiere for you right here. This isn't the first video Insinna has shot; he did one for Daniel Avery’s "Airstrike" EP and a few others for Relish artists and is already developing a video concept for his next single.
I don’t really see such a difference in art and music…I always did all the designs and artwork for Headman, Manhead and Relish.
Exclusive "It Rough" Official Music Video
I was able to get in touch with Headman and discuss everything from his beginnings to “It Rough 2013.” Kids, learn a little something from a man who’s mastered the game. And while you're doing it, enjoy this exclusive DJ mix that Headman put together for you.
Exclusive Headman-Robi Insinna DJ Mix:
Headman Mix(right click, save as)
I thought there were a lot of boring dance records in the late 90s...I thought it’s about time to bring some roughness and punk back...
So, starting from the beginning, prior to creating Relish recordings, how were you involved in music? Were you ever in any bands growing up? When did you begin DJing and eventually producing?
First thing I was always music obsessed! Since I can remember as a child. I was never really in bands, my friends had bands sometimes I would go to the rehearsal rooms and mess about. I played guitar when I was younger. I started DJing at around 20, just for fun. I started going out to clubs at about age 16, that’s when I first experience club culture.
I was living in Italy back then and I was really into dance music and hip-hop, so DJing was something I started getting interested into.
And you come from an art background. Where did you go to study fine art? Did you ever have trouble deciding whether to focus more on music or art, or did you know you could find a way to do both equally?
I studied Art in Milano at Brera Art Accademy, but before that I attended an art college.
I was always interested in both. I don’t really see such a difference in art and music and see both as the same. The last few years, music was taking more of my time, but recently I started to do more art again. I always did all the designs and artwork for Headman, Manhead and Relish.
There’s no Relish sound, as I never wanted to get the label pigeonholed.
Do you feel that studying art has influenced your music, or opened your mind in new ways when it comes to creating? How would you define the relationship between both passions?
Yes, I think the artistic approach is very important and both influence each other. I was always interested in art phenomenons or scenes where music and fashion was all one and influenced each other. Just like in the '60s or '70s, '80s and '90s.
When did you first start producing under the name of Headman? Was that around the same time you started Relish? Who were some fellow DJs at the time that were helping you out?
When I started Headman I was doing a club night in Zurich called Relish. I invited people like the Psychonauts, Trevor Jackson, Chicken Lips, DJ Harvey, Phil Mison, Black Lodge etc. So those are all people who really influenced me musically.
I was also going loads to London, so that’s why I was very influenced by things that were happening in London. There was a club called Electric Stew which musically was very ahead of its time. Later on I started actually DJing in London, so it became even more influential. And in NY there was DFA and The Rapture who were also doing similar things, while in London Trevor Jackson was doing Output.
What did you originally have in mind when beginning Relish? Wasn’t it supposed to be a home for your own music at the time, and then evolved into a full family?
Yes, I wanted to have my own label and release my music. Just like all the labels I really liked from the past. Like 99 Records, Y Records, Sire or Fetish and more obscure dance records.
I was mainly playing old records from the '70s and '80s, so that was what I wanted to do. Also I thought there were a lot of boring dance records in the late '90s, was all trip-hopped and chill-lounged out. I thought it’s about time to bring some roughness and punk back again.
It was also a party in the late '90s, right? How was the scene in Zurich at the time?
Zurich always had a pretty vivid nighlife scene. I think my club night was pretty unique musically and not many people really understood what I was doing. I just did what I though is interesting. It was a bit ahead of its time.
I try to split my time between office work and creative work. Sometimes office work takes too much time, I wish I could just be creative.
Relish began in 2001, a time when the whole no-wave disco and cross-over electronic movement was in heavy revival. Yet your sound pre-dated that wave in music, it seemed like your label worked with a lot of names that later became responsible for making that sound last. Did it feel like this type of music was catching on in the beginning, or was it not noticeable until later? It seems like your label did what DFA did in America, but on the other side of the world.
In the beginning it was just some people that where doing similar things or had the similar influences, later on it became like a scene. Again, we all just started getting in touch through the records and music we were putting out.
How did you meet guys like Soulwax and The Rapture in the early days and get them involved in Relish releases? You’ve been known for collaborations with contemporary greats along with some of your influences from the past, what’s it like working with other people after being used to producing solo?
Just through the label output and while DJing. People started noticing and that’s how you start becoming friends and do projects. I always liked to work with other people. A highlight was working with Dieter Meier from Yello or with A certain Ratio or remixing The Units and Roxy Music... all artists that where big influences on my music.
What were some of the hardest aspects of getting your label off the ground? Did you have any knowledge of how that game worked prior to starting Relish, or did you just go for it?
I just went for it. That’s how I do things. It’s just after that you realize that running a label is not so easy. The smaller it is the better.
I’ve always admired Relish for staying away from the trends and pushing the envelope with every release, yet never going far from its roots. How would you describe the label’s sound and the roll it plays in today’s setting?
I guess that’s what I try to do with Relish, always try and put out interesting music without following any trends. There’s no Relish sound, as I never wanted to get the label pigeonholed. There’s maybe a line that I follow.
Explain the importance of being a stylish yet playful DJ. Is that a balance you strive for? Being forward-thinking and unique, yet still keeping it fun and interesting to the listeners?
As for me, DJing was always about showing people something or challenge them while at the same time entertaining them...and make them enjoy the music.
You’re in a fortunate situation where you can release whatever you want without doing anything even close to a commercial sound or look. Do you put much thought into what people will like, or do you hold tightly to your personal definition of quality?
I’m in a position where I can do what I want. That’s why I first started doing this. I don’t care what is trendy and if it will sell. Although it’s always a business and it’s also good to sell some music, I rather try and do things that are timeless.
When did you first get a chance to tour the USA, and how did it seem different from what you’re used to? For our readers who have never been to your end of the map, how would you explain the similarities and differences between your scene and North America’s? Does it ever change every time you travel?
I think the first time I came to the US was around 2003-4. Musically it was a bit different back then. Over the years it changed. I don’t think these days it’s so much about the place or city but more what styles or scenes are happening. With the Internet, the music spreads so quick and people all over the world listen to the same things.
How have the last few years in a newer digital era affected your career and label? Is it necessarily harder, or just different? What are some positive ways to look at the situation?
The digital era changed loads, some good and some bad things. People don’t tend to discover so much any more. It’s more what they get served and the better someone can promote themselves the more spotlight they get. Sometimes it feels like a saturation, there's so much new music out there. At the same time it’s easy to spread music.
People discover it in a different way. I’m a firm believer in quality, it does not matter how it gets promoted or discovered. People will still get it.
Always trust your ears and not the gear…Sometimes restriction can make you very creative. Restriction is the mother of invention someone once said.
What’s an average day like for you when you’re not on the road? How do you typically search for new music? Are you digging online much?
I do loads of daytime work, for the label and in the studio, doing music and artworks. A&R for the label as well. I try to split my time between office work and creative work. Sometimes creative work takes too much time, I wish I could just be creative. I discover music online, I get sent loads of promos and demos. But I also read a lot and go to record stores. It's still a feeling that can’t get beaten... having someone in a store you know or trust and they give you some records and you listen to them in the store.
At the moment, what are some exciting things going on in the dance music world for you? Who are some rising producers that we should keep an eye out for?
I think the music is very good right now, there is loads of interesting music. Most of the people I really like I worked or released records with some of them are: Daniel Avery, Scott Fraser, DC Salas, Remain, Daniel Maloso and Andrew Weatherall. Factory Floor as well.
Tell us a little about “It Rough 2013.” That original release from 2003 is still a beloved classic today, and it’s great to see it come back and re-introduced to a younger crowd. What made you decide to re-issue it with new versions? Tell us who you got to do remixes and why you chose them.
First of all, because the rights came back to me, and second I think it still sounds relevant and not dated. The Chicken Lips remix was never gone, but I also think the original sounds relevant to this day. So it was to bring it back and re-introduce to some people who maybe where not around when it came out in the first place.
The remixers are both artists I really like at the moment and both added their own touch to the track. I did not want to compete with any version, but just give it another twist.
And how about the music video for the revived single? Did you create that video yourself? Have you ever worked with video before, and do you see yourself getting more into it in the future? Is the visual side of the label an equally important element?
I filmed and edited the video. I started doing a few videos for me and some artists on Relish. I did the video for Daniel Avery’s "Airstrike" EP. For me it’s a natural progression and a combination of both my passions; music and visuals. I’m also very much into movies. Video is something I want go get into more. I’m already developing the concept for the next single.
What can we look forward from you and the label in 2013? What’s next on your agenda for music and art? Touring?
There are a few things planed already. Next Relish will be DC Salas "24" EP with an amazing Abstraxion remix. Then will be my next single, which I worked on a track with Scott Fraser and the vocals are by Douglas McCarthy from Nitzer Ebb. There are some excellent remixes by Daniel Maloso and Hardway Bros. There are some other releases in the planning and then my new album. There will also be a a series of 4 vinyl releases with new material and Relish music that has come out over the years.
You’re working on a full album, how is that going? Any collaborations you can announce yet?
On this album I want to do loads of collaborations not only with vocalists but also on the production side. What I can announce already: tracks with Daniel Avery, Scott Fraser, and The Emperor Machine are in the making.
What has the production process been like on the new material? You use the best of both worlds, digital and analog, yes?
The production process is: always trying to record as much analog as possible and then work in the Box. Use synths, Drummachines, Bass and effects like Tape Delays and pedals external. When all is recorded use plugins.
Mix and fine tune with plugins. I always try to have a very analog sound even if it’s also done with the computer.
From all that you’ve learned from working in your own studio over the last decade, what is some of the best advice you can give to aspiring producers and audio engineers?
Always trust your ears and not the gear. There are certain things that just sound great, like real synths or effects, they just have that non precise thing. That’s what real analog gear has. But since I’m not a gear snob, I think as long as you are creative and have ideas you can create and produce with everthing. Sometimes restriction can make you very creative. Restriction is the mother of invention someone once said.
As far as non-electronic music, what records have you been enjoying lately?
I always listen to loads of non electronic music, mainly old records... Talking Heads, Bowie and loads of records from my vinyl collection.
Alright man, thanks a lot for chatting. Any last words?
Faith, Hope and Charity!