Talking Headz, Scottie And “Cats Can Hear Ultrasound” With Agzilla

I’ll never forget the first time I heard “Rollin Like Scottie” on Enforcers 3. It captured everything I loved about the music, abstract sounds, bass that made the walls shake, a rolling amen and a Jekyll and Hyde nature where the track flipped from nasty and evil to beautiful and uplifting. Originally by Agzilla and DJ LSK, Goldie helped revamp “Rollin Like Scottie” for inclusion on the classic Reinforced picture disc.

Now 26 years later Agzilla is about to release his debut LP on Metalheadz, we caught up to discuss Headz, Scottie, the influence of Goldie and the futuristic soundscape that is “Cats Can Hear Ultrasound“.

You started off, like a lot of us, listening to Hip Hop in the late ’80s then Hardcore in the early ’90s. Can you tell us a bit more about this time, what you were playing and any particular artists or tracks which got you into the early rave scene?

First of all, I’m incredibly grateful for having been there and that I got to take part and experience the whole thing. Magical times. We were sold on this and went all in. Considering the small population here, the scene in Reykjavik was electric and thriving. I had a store back then called “The Underground”, where I sold records and streetwear clothing. I wanted to share with the other kids what I had discovered in Europe. After the Hip Hop era, Dance music took over my world. We were throwing parties wherever we could (legally or illegally) and doing radio shows. We bought a bunch of people over to play and it was a regular thing. In terms of artists and labels, the material I was playing at that time included: Shut up and Dance Records, Ibiza Records, D-Zone Records, Think Tank, LFO, 808 State, N-Joi, 4 Hero, Egyptian Empire, A Guy Called Gerald, The Shamen, Quadrophonia, Altern 8 and all the old R&S stuff, tracks like “Dominator”, “Mentasm” and “Vamp.”

Most people probably know you from your collaboration with Goldie “Rollin Like Scottie” on Enforcers 3. This was a redux of a track you’d already released alongside DJ LSK. How did this come about and what can you tell us about that session?

Goldie was visiting us in Iceland quite frequently back in those days. He was already working with Biogen and Thor on their Ajax project. Biogen had been engineering “Rollin Like Scottie” for me and Leon around the same time. We were excited to work together and Goldie believed he could bring something extra to the track and push it further.

A lot of the main elements in the Enforcers version are also contained in the original but the addition of the pads etc really lift it. How else has Goldie helped in your sound and productions in the run-up to “Cats Can Hear Ultrasound”?

Goldie has always been a great supporter of my music. He used to call me up in the middle of the night to let me hear new tracks through the phone or send scribbled down faxes with ideas on arrangements as some people might be familiar with, haha… His sound and work ethic have always inspired me, he’s a great motivator.

The early Reinforced days spawned some of the most creative drum and bass the scene saw. To be featured on both the R and Headz is on top of a lot of producers wish list. What makes these labels so special and what does it mean to you to be featured on their roster of artists?

What makes these labels so great is, of course, the body of artists that are on them. Pushing the future sound, featuring new innovative talent and quality production. In the early days, this was all so new and was taking place very fast and changing so rapidly. There was a lot of room for progression, and it just kept coming, blowing my mind with each release. To be able to join all these amazing artists on these labels means the world to me. It’s a true honour.

Moving onto the album I have to say I’ve been blown away by it, mainly due to the fact it features so little Drum and Bass. It really goes against a lot of preconceptions on what a Metalheadz LP would sound like. Whose idea was it to have so much Techno and Downtempo on there and what was the reaction from the label?

Thank you, glad you like it. There have been a few alternative tracks here and there on the Metalheadz roster over the years, like Hidden Agenda’s “Channel Beyond” and Photek´s “Into The 90´s” to name a couple, so we knew there was some room for it. But a whole LP with that type of material had not been done before. Goldie has wanted my tunes to appear on the label for a while, it just took a long time compiling the right ones together.

How did you go about creating the album? I heard it took around three years to complete, can you run us through some of the highs and lows?

It took much longer than three years. The oldest tracks on the album date back to the era when I was living in Brooklyn. I guess they sprang from one particularly difficult year. That year seven people passed that were close to me, family and friends, all different situations. It had a devastating impact on me mentally. I was struggling. I quit my dream job at Tsao & Mckown, a superb architecture firm in Manhattan that I was working for at that time. I closed myself off for a whole year and tried to heal. I found that making music helped, it created a narrative I could have a dialogue with. The music in a way became my psychiatrist. There were some really emotional sessions that took place. I had a ball of fire inside of me. I knew I had to let it loose and point it at something specific.

My drive has always been to try to come up with something different and interesting. When sitting down and starting a new track I might have an idea of what I would like to do, then something takes over, not sure what that is? My heart or feelings perhaps, and I allow that process to manifest and I go with the flow. I pick a BPM and start. I try not to box my ideas into a particular genre or chase other people’s sound, but of course, some influence may seep in unnoticed. I really try to create my own sound, otherwise, this process would be pointless to me. It’s about experimenting, trying different things and having fun with it.

Cats Can Hear Ultrasound by Agzilla

“Reneri” has to be one of my favourite tracks from the recent Headz catalogue. The way it builds and morphs in style is a true journey taking in House, Techno and Breaks. What was the story behind this track and how did it come together?

Nice! Yes, I also think it’s quite the journey. “Reneri” was a long time in the making, it’s one of the oldest tracks on the album. It was ifluenced by an after-hours DJ session with a good friend of mine, Dexter. He was one of the early Chicago House DJ cats. I somehow made an impression on him that night with DJing House music. He insisted that he wanted to give me part of his collection and pass a few crates of records to me. He felt I was a good candidate to play and take care of them. We drove to a couple of spots in Brooklyn where he was storing records, in the end, I came home with 15 crates of priceless classics. All the original house tracks, and doubles of some of them. There were also a bunch of disco tracks in there, that contained all the original samples that were used in ´those´ House tracks. It left a big imprint on me, and “Reneri” was made around that time. My wife Atsuko translated the lyrics I wrote for the track to Japanese, which we then recorded. The lyrics roughly convey the idea that even though the music is composed of electronics and computers it is still genuine music. The track was also Biogen´s favourite, he is the one that coined the name of the track “Reneri”.

Goldie and James have just put out their Subjective LP that also features lots of different electronic genres. Like yours that also unfolds into an emotional and unpredictable ride taking in all of life’s ups and downs. Is it easier to express yourself through tracks at different tempos and styles rather than just making modern jungle?

Yes, it’s easier for me to work with different BPM´s, there is less pressure. I can slip into whatever groove happens at that time, there are no rules and I’m not bound by anything. With Jungle and Drum and Bass, it’s a little different, it’s more contained within a formula or certain parameters, which is often hard for me to commit to, I always have an urge to break free. I can also be too selective about Jungle and DnB music, so that makes it even more difficult for me to produce. Perhaps I’m too hard on myself in those regards…

Personally, I’m loving the fact that producers are experimenting again. Whether that’s the half-time 170 stuff, the Techno influenced four-four industrial sound or just Drum and Bass producers making music in other styles. How do you see the current scene?

Right now I think is a great time for Jungle and DnB, there is a healthy amount of really good stuff coming out. In my opinion, when Dubstep broke into the scene more than a decade ago, I feel like it had a positive impact on the dance floor and bedroom studios, things opened up a bit. DnB fans became less purists and different BPM´s were more tolerable. The influx of that made people more inspired to write different sub-genres of DnB, the half-time stuff, industrial Techno influenced tracks and Footwork etc. I love the plethora of different soundscapes that are doing the rounds, it makes the scope of things much more exciting. When you have all these options in that whirlpool of sound it becomes much easier to start stitching an interesting story together.

Going into the 25th year of Headz this LP makes me excited and intrigued for the future… I’m sure you must have heard some upfront tracks from the label. How do you see Metalheadz developing over the next year or so?

They’ve done a great job of continuing to evolve as a label whilst also helping to keep the scene interesting… Metalheadz have always been cutting edge. I´m glad to see them taking in so many new artists as well as some of the heavyweight players that have been around, like Gremlinz. They have countless classics in their catalogue like everyone knows and they have been an instrumental drive for the scene to move forward and beyond. They are broadening their horizon and evolving even faster now than before. Last year I think they did especially well, with consistent top-notch releases as well as running quality club nights. The hard work that Goldie, Ant, Tom and Karl have been doing is definitely paying off.

You’ve got me intrigued by the title “Cats Can Hear Ultrasound”. Can you please explain the LP title and artwork?

The title struck me when I first saw it, I related to it immediately. It is a known scientific fact that cats can hear inaudible higher frequencies, used for hunting etc. When I came across this I conjured up my own interpretation. I don’t want to give it away completely, I would prefer the listener to make their own conclusion to the meaning, if you read into it I think it’s pretty clear. Who are the cats? Does the inaudible represent the emotional realm?

The original artwork was made years ago. The costume design was made by my dear friend Ragnar Jónasson, he made it for a final project he was working on for art school. He let me borrow the thing, we did a video skit of me wearing it in the local supermarket, Bónus, shopping around, clumsily trying to get products into my cart, I’ve never laughed so hard in my life. After getting thrown out by security, Ragnar was kind enough to let me hold on to it for future projects. Later I arranged a photo shoot with the local junior brass band in their beautiful octagon rehearsal building. A talented photographer and graphic designer called Jónas Valtýrsson took the shots and also the post-production. Years later I felt that the image was a bit too gloomy and it reminded me of a slaughterhouse, it didn’t really go with having kids in the picture. So finally my friend Sig Vicious, a great artist who has worked for Metalheadz and countless other DnB labels, re-worked our previous version. We made it more bright and clean, with a bit of psychedelia weaved in for the final layout. He did an amazing job. I´m really happy with it.

How do you think this LP will be received and what would you say to someone about to play it for the first time?

So far the reaction has been great and the feedback has been very positive. For someone listening to it for the first time, I would say listen to it more than once. I think it’s one of those albums that does not seep in completely on the first listen. Every single track has a different vibe, there is a lot going on and it’s quite different if I say so myself. What I noticed and what really struck me was that people who are not necessarily big into electronic music were drawn to it. It seems to push people’s buttons and tap into unknown emotions, that means a lot to me.

What hopes do you have for the future?

I´ve always been a DJ first and foremost, I´ve been doing this for 30 years now. My goal and dream are to hopefully get out there again and perform in different parts of the world. I´m playing many different genres besides Drum and Bass. Leftfield House and Techno, Bass Music, Broken Beats, 140 BPM material, Jazz, Ambient and Drones. I would like to pursue a DJ career in multiple genres.

Also, I have loads of promising unfinished material, enough for 3 albums. It was important for me to get this one off my shoulders, it has taken its toll and it has been affecting my writing. Now once it´s out there, I will have some space to finish all these tracks that are waiting for me.

There are a few collaborations that are ongoing, for instance with Sinistarr. I´m really excited to be working with him. We´ve worked on a few tracks together in the past. The latest one that is finally about to get released is called “EMO” and it is coming out on a brand new EP from Sinistarr on Defrostatica Records, a great label from Leipzig, Germany. Keep a look out for that!

One last thing… Why no “Rollin Like Scottie Remix” on the album?? I’d love to hear what a new version of that would sound like!

I have been playing around with that idea. A few years back, Sig Vicious made a promising attempt, it would be nice to hear that completed. Yeah, I´m pretty sure we will have a few remixes down the road!

Buy “Cats Can Hear Ultrasound”: Metalheadz Bandcamp

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