There’s not many producers I follow where I will instantly buy a record by them before checking it out. However, Manchester-based, Preston-bred DJ and producer Henzo is definitely one of them. As described in the press release for his latest release ‘Iron Lighter’ on Left, Right & Centre, Henzo’s signature style can be known as ‘dancehall indebted slow burners with a touch of distress and drama for good measure – and swagger’. Those slow burners are intoxicating and could be heard at festivals across the world this summer with support from the likes of Ben UFO, DJ Python, Mosca, Florentino, AYA and more. Notoriously bad at track IDs, I’ve lost count of the amount of times I asked my friend what the track was that I knew so well and loved for it to always be ‘Iron Lighter’ – eye rolls galore! Aside from Left, Right & Centre, Henzo has released on YCO, DJ Python’s Worldwide Unlimited and Strange Riddims – the party he has co-ran since 2016 – as well as self-released a bunch of club-ready pop edits on Bandcamp which quickly became DJ staples.
Last Autumn, Henzo launched a new party series, Heathens, which is a project focused on extended back-to-back sets with friends and contemporaries. Celebrating its first birthday later this month, so far guests have included TSVI, Debonair, Mosca and INVT. For the huge birthday party, Henzo will be joined by all star crew at The White Hotel – AYA, ELSA, Florentino, Korzi and Piezo – steering away from the usual all night back-to-back set up.
A long time in the making, we finally got the Lowdown on the Northern legend, digging into his beginnings, influences, creative process and the motivation for starting Heathens.
Starting from the beginning, how did you first get into music? Were you surrounded by it growing up?
I was brought up with music in the house for sure. My Dad is a musician (not professionally but could have been) and a more than competent producer. My Dad got me into playing electric guitar when I was 10 years old and was adept at getting his hands on production software by nefarious means so he sorted me out with Reason 4.0 when I was a teenager. I played in bands and then fell out with Rock and Metal when I was 17 and got busy with beatmaking and eventually ended up in the club world!
How did you first get introduced to electronic music? Who were your main influences during that time?
I remember seeing the video for Linkin Park – In The End on the TV and being mesmerised by the electronic elements in that track – definitely a pivotal moment. My Dad bought Hybrid Theory and Meteora on CD at the same time and I took them out his hand on the way through the front door and never gave them back to him. There are tracks on both of those albums where Joe Hahn does a scratching and sampling routine that are absolutely insane.
Have you always been creative? What did this look like when you were growing up?
I still don’t think I’m massively creative if I’m honest. I was definitely more interested in Lego over football if that helps to paint a picture of my tendencies as a kid though. I was into skateboarding and BMXing a lot as a teenager and messed around with filming and photography a little and I did a degree in Graphic Design so you could argue I’m more creative than your average Joe haha.
How do you think Manchester has shaped your sound and style?
Manchester as a city hasn’t really done anything in a way. Most of my friends that live here (within music and outside of it) aren’t from here and neither am I. I’d definitely put it down to serendipity that I’ve come across some amazing producers and DJs that happened to be here whilst I’ve been here. Eclecticism is probably the main factor that has culminated from these circumstances though – It’s a small city and a lot of different circles of friends overlap which obviously creates quite a rich tapestry of styles and sounds, but I’d say that’s replicated in places like Glasgow as well.
You’re part of this exciting wave of artists that are coming through in Manchester, most of who you collaborate with through various different projects. How would you describe the scene there? What makes it so special?
This probably overlaps with the previous question a little – Small City, very active producers, promoters and DJs pushing in varied directions inevitably makes things exciting. The thing that I do like about being here is the attitude of people backing each other. It’s not a big enough space to start in-fighting and people that don’t operate on the level get called out on it pretty quickly.
I’m curious about how you have managed to maintain a steady creative output with releases on YCO, Left, Right & Centre and Worldwide Unlimited to name a few, not to mention the various edits and remixes you’ve also released – what keeps you inspired and motivated?
I make edits when I’m bored mostly, or I try a blend in a club and it works so I try to commit that to one file so I can play it out without using both CDJs! More of a practical solution than a creative endeavour. Inspiration and motivation are something I struggle with constantly. I don’t churn tracks out constantly by any means, I sometimes go through months of not doing anything at all save for a couple of edits here and there. When I do get in the zone (something that I try to recognise as and when it happens) I’ll lock myself away, cancel plans and crank out 20ish tunes at a time over the span of 3/4 weeks and then sit on those for a while.
What does your production process look like? Do you usually have an idea in mind before starting or is it a lot of it improvisation?
I never have a specific idea in my mind. I can’t think of melodies in my head and write/arrange them. Sometimes I’ll hear something that I’d like to sample and that’ll be a starting point that gets iteratively expanded on. Most tracks that I intend to finish get at least 3 or 4 different versions by the time they reach my Rekordbox or get sent to my sounding board of trusted people who I know won’t bullshit me on whether it’s good or not haha. My actual process is pretty boring; No hardware, a handful of plug-ins and some shitty earphones from Klas Ohlson (shout out to K Means for hooking me up with the plug in Sweden!)
You mentioned in an interview that you’re not technically trained and something that you’ve leaned into – did you struggle with this at first? Do you now feel that because you’re not technically trained it has allowed you for more creative freedom?
It’s definitely liberating when you can somewhat accept your abilities (knowledge or lack of available tools and resources) and work within them, or set your mind to learning something via any means necessary and overcome it. I used to struggle with the idea of not knowing how to do things that are technically correct – the more objective stuff like mixdowns and all that. But speaking to people like Aya who very deliberately subvert a lot of these “rules” has helped me to not care too much about being “correct” and just make stuff that sounds good. I’m not reinventing the wheel with what I do, its music for massive speakers in tiny basements that people hopefully dance to. If it does that I’ll be happy.
Where do you source your inspiration? Is there anything outside of music that you look to as well?
Not overly! I like art and architecture and fashion but trying to translate those into my music isn’t something I do deliberately.
How do you know when a track is done?
Aya tells me lol – Or when it goes to mastering and then working on it further doesn’t serve a purpose.
And how do you select which tracks to release? In your interview with Mosca it comes across like you are very particular about the tracks you release and have this idea in mind of how you would like Henzo to be perceived.
The stuff on my Bandcamp is mostly edits and stuff that I can’t put out officially anyway so that’s the only method for getting it out. For EPs I like to send a bunch of tracks to the prospective label and see what’s working for them and what needs doing with the music. Sometimes that will spur on writing more music inspired by the collated pool or just editing a demo into something else. I’m concerned with putting out things in cohesive bodies when it’s a proper release, even if it’s just functional dance music it should still feel like there’s a thread between all the tracks on that release. I’m a huge fan of Night Slugs’ Club Constructions series and the way those EPs all feel like the tracks are perfectly suited to each other.
You also recently posted on socials about promoters hitting you up for slower/100bpm focused sets and clarifying that you are able to play at faster tempos, do you feel that because of your releases / distinctive production style, people have you pigeon-holed you and that it’s been way easier for people to do this to you because of your releases? I feel like perhaps people who only DJ might not struggle with this.
To preface this I am somewhat of a gobshite on social media so things that I say are frequently tongue in cheek or just for my own amusement. Re: the 100 bpm thing, I’m obviously somewhat to blame for putting out quite a lot of tracks in that area throughout my discography. I’ve played parties where promoters have asked me to play a 100 set but I know the crowd aren’t really in that headspace and my allegiance is always to the dancefloor. I don’t want to be known as a specialist DJ in the way that Slimzee is to Grime, you know what I mean? If you can specialise in a genre in 2022 then more power to you, I think that’s a really tough position to hold in the current DJing climate – but yeah, I’ll play what I think is going to work in that moment.
What was the motivation behind starting the Heathens parties? What do you hope comes from this series?
DJing isn’t something I’ve been good at for very long – in fact I still don’t think I’m that good. Some of the Strange Riddims crew will mix me under the table any day of the week! I spent a lot of time mixing at home in late-lockdown with 96 Back when we lived together. I got a lot better at it than I was previously and found out that I much prefer playing a longer set than one hour or something like that. Playing b2b with people you’ve never played with before is, for want of a better word, the vehicle for keeping me on my toes and forcing me into playing a different set. My hopes for it are just to afford me the opportunities to play with people that I admire and haven’t played with before!
Through your back-to-back series and productions, what have you learned about collaborations and how to successfully collaborate?
I still struggle to make tunes with anybody else apart from Everett (get to know if you aren’t clued up already), so I’ll refrain from passing advice on that haha. Playing b2b with somebody commands a degree of openness and the usual give and take – If it’s 1 for 1 and the other person has a good blend in mind don’t get stingy and let them have it! A bit of a game plan is always good too – Where are you going to start, what are the blindspots in both your rekordboxes, where are you going to end up in an ideal world? How long you are playing for and where you’re playing could dictate a change in style as well. Talk to them, it’ll probably help 🙂
How do you prepare for these all night long sets?
Sift through the promos for gold, finish off the tracks that I want to road test, organise a new playlist of the things I want to play on the night. Big dinner beforehand, copious amounts of Guinness throughout and hope for the best!
What are you excited about the most right now?
Getting the substantial amount of music I’m sitting on out into the open! There are 3 confirmed EPs that I have at the time of writing this, hopefully they’re all out in the next 6 months or so. I’ve also got the Heathens First Birthday party on October 22nd at The White Hotel with Aya, Elsa, Florentino, Korzi and Piezo which I’m buzzing for!
Heathens First Birthday will take place on the 22nd October at The White Hotel – buy tickets here and you can buy his recent Bandcamp release ‘Loose Ends’ here.