It’s no doubt Headroom has become a dance floor favourite since releasing his debut album Artelligent on Nano Records in 2008. The last few years have seen Adam Metcalfe perform across the globe on a regular basis while maintaining his roots in Cape Town.
Howzit Adam! So from what I know you grew up in Zimbabwe and moved to Cape Town in 2002. Do you think your home country influenced you, or did Cape Town play a larger role?
Headroom : Well I was already passionate about EDM long before I came down to the Cape and already followed a couple Psy artists and labels, like Flying Rhino Records. However, l was certainly given a more thorough schooling once I moved to Cape Town.
I always see you’re busy in the studio, yet you haven’t released many tracks.
Headroom : Hmmmm, well observed. It’s due to a few reasons in my opinion. Firstly I am a little overkill about my music and spend a lot more time on every detail than I perhaps should. The fact that I spend so long on individual songs often means I end up hating them before they’re complete, so I waste a lot of time and music this way. Secondly finishing the tracks requires lengthy sessions in the studio and the last year was pretty busy on the gig front, which has made focusing and finalizing stuff difficult. Thirdly is the lack of real deadlines nowadays. Most third party labels used to pay you for individual tracks you made and gave you a deadline to wrap it up by. This was important for me as I will tweak a song endlessly without a cut off date. At present however, due to the music piracy and resulting low sales, labels can’t afford to pay for the tracks and therefore there are less deadlines. I know I should just appoint my own deadlines, which I do, but it’s not quite as effective obviously.
I’m sure you get this a lot – when can fans expect a follow up to your debut album Artelligent? Has the track-list changed considerably?
Headroom : I can’t give an exact date but it will be soon. It has to be [laughs]. I have been at odds with what I want it to focus on in [terms of] style. One issue people must realize is that it is extremely tough to sit on an album’s worth of music when it takes me so long to write it. I need to release tracks as often as possible to maintain an international demand for my live act. Without the foreign gigs I would struggle to make a living. There have been some delays, yes. There have also been some remix’s and collaborations that had to finished up. The album track-list is evolving continuously.
Artelligent was released early on in your career, and I’m sure your production techniques have grown leaps and bounds since then.
Headroom : Yes production techniques have changed a bit. Earlier on I had to be very creative because I knew less about sound design and mixing techniques. Problem with learning more, when you have a tendency to tweak forever, is it’s easy to waste time trying out all the possible options. My main focus for my second album is to simplify, write hooks that you can focus on and follow through the song’s journey. Less is more sounds easier but it actually shines more attention on those fewer sounds, which then need to be far better chosen and worked.
And is there any added pressure to deliver, considering the success of Artelligent?
Headroom : This is a pressure I feel for sure. One reason is I have changed somewhat in my taste and techniques, so I don’t want to disappoint my old fans. That album was half written before music became my living and as a result, it was far easier to write and fun to make. However, whatever I write will sound like Headroom and have the same heart and soul put into every beat.
I’ve found your sets vary depending on the party and time you play. Have you incorporated a broader sound in your sets these days?
Headroom : Absolutely, yes. As a DJ of 13 years I have always felt it’s one’s duty to play appropriately for the time you’re given and also for the dance floor in front of you. Nothing worse than a selfish DJ playing solely for him or herself.
Take me through your typical approach to writing a track. How do you decide when a track is completed?
Headroom : I will often start off with the groove section, that is, kick, bass and percussion. As Psytrance is heavily focused on groove, this must always be on the money. Following that I start playing around with acid sounds and synth stabs, which I sequence in such a way that they form what some call a ‘grid’. This is the acid foundation of most of my tracks. These rhythmic grids need to complement the groove you are working with and can formulate melodies too, depending on the keys of acid and synth lines you implement. I also try work out what my finale will be as I will aim to sequence the tune towards this. This is important for flow. It’s finished when nothing bothers me anymore. That means musicality, mix, sequencing, flow and crowd response all have to be bang on. The dance floor is the final test!
Are there any production trends you hate hearing these days? How do you maintain a signature sound?
Headroom : Definitely, but I won’t be specific about these as it can be insulting to the copycats out there [laughs]. Luckily signature sound seems to have come naturally to me. I have in my head a specific way that I want things to be delivered to the listener. My biggest asset in my opinion is sounding original, so I don’t take it lightly.
You spend a lot of time playing overseas, which must have been a goal for you early on. Were there any surprising downfalls to constant touring which you never considered?
Headroom : It can be exhausting when you have a few back to back international gigs but lately it’s been nicely spaced out. The main downfall for me was the effect on making music. You need 1 or 2 days just to settle back into the studio and then you often have to leave again. Another problem was that for a long time it played havoc on my social life but lately the balance has been restored.
Any reason why you don’t play versus sets?
Headroom : I don’t really see the point. I have a different taste to most, especially in Cape Town, so it would probably result in poor flow and have little to no journey. Also the set times recently are quite short and leave little to no time for such sets.
I believe some of your first parties were hosted by Alien Safari and Vortex. What’s it like having been a spectator on the dance floor, and now featuring on their line ups regularly? How has Alien Safari grown since you started out?
Headroom : It’s been such a long process that it feels natural in some ways but if you told me I’d be playing at these events in 2004 I wouldn’t have believed you. Vortex was already a huge event by the time I moved to Cape Town but it’s Alien Safari that has grown the most over the last 10 years. They have always had great production, shut and dance lineups and importantly, an underground edge. This has obviously done them well. Years of consistency have paid off.
You are booked overseas regularly yet still manage to play many Cape Town parties. Do you see yourself moving to a more central location for bookings?
Headroom : I have toyed with the idea of moving to the UK permanently but never followed through on the plan. I often go to Europe and stay for their summer festival season but it depends on how many bookings I secure prior to going. I have a UK passport luckily and UK family, so this allows me to do such things, but ultimately I love Cape Town and prefer to live here as much as I can. The scene here is so rocking lately it’s hard to leave.
Thanks for the interview! Anything you want to add before finishing things off?
Headroom : Love, support, nurture and cherish our scene!