Latest release: Outside the Box (UNFD)Website: www.facebook.com/Hacktivistband
UK five-piece Hacktivist unleashed aptly titled debut album Outside The Box on March 4. It has been issued worldwide via UNFD, the first global signing for the Australian label. Outside The Box has certainly been a long time coming – fuelled by the success of their self-titled EP, it comprises more than five years’ worth of ideas. It also features guest performances from Rou Reynolds (Enter Shikari), Jamie Graham, Astroid Boys and cyber rhymer Jot Maxi.
Hacktivist brought their djent/hip-hop/nu-metal hybrid to Australia for the first time and won numerous converts as part of Soundwave 2014. Their substantial touring landed them main stage appearances at Reading, Leeds and Sonisphere festivals in the UK, as well as Rock Am Ring and Rock Im Park in Germany. Loud got the lowdown from Timfy James (guitar/electronics/vocals) shortly before the record’s release.
Q: The album is completed and although sections of the media have heard it, you’re now in that limbo period of waiting for the release and ensuing response from the public. Are you nervous? Excited?
A: I’ve obviously done a tonne of interviews over the past few days with a lot of people, big UK magazines and that sort of stuff. People that are really worth impressing, first off, and we’re getting rave reviews back from people already, people saying they’re loving it. People that I would be worried about, and they’re coming back saying that they love it, and it’s everything they wanted it to be and more. I think I’m just really excited to get it out, ’cause I just want everyone to hear it from start to finish. I want people to have it in their hands. For me, it’s been so long, but it’s obviously so short. I’m just counting down the days, because I just want everyone to hear it.
Q: Have you always anticipated there would be critics who wouldn’t approve of the band’s genre-bending style, and you’ve had to rail against that attitude?
A: It’s got better over the years. When we first started, we were having a lot of mixed reviews. We’ve always been a Marmite band; I guess the Aussie version would be a Vegemite band (laughs). There’s a joke in the UK where Marmite, the slogan is you either love it or you hate it. So people either think it’s the worst thing ever and it’s made by the devil, or people like it so much that they eat it off a spoon. So from the start, yeah, we had haters, but that only fuelled the people that loved us. It started arguments, and there’s no such thing as bad publicity really. I mean, the Kardashians could probably tell you a few things about that (laughs).
But I think we’ve been made on other peoples’ opinion and passion to either love it or hate it. We still get people who say, ‘what the hell is this?’ But half the time you notice these same names coming up, and then they’ve just ordered the album and posted your video saying how amazing it is. So we convert them in the end.
Q: I remember first becoming aware of the band when Metal Hammer scribe Dom Lawson gave the band’s EP a rave review online. For some metal fans such an authority, or tastemaker giving it the stamp of approval was almost affording them permission to enjoy it; an “it’s okay to like this” type of sentiment.
A: It’s funny you say that, because one of the people I was referring to was actually Dom Lawson. I spoke to him yesterday and he loves it. And he’s one of the people, like you say, that you do need to impress. If he’s on board then it’s going to be plain sailing.
Q: How long was the writing process for this record?
A: It was a lot longer than it should have been, just purely because of problems at the top really. When we were a young band and had only been going for a couple of months, we got so big so quick that the demand for us to go on tour and do these huge shows was just overwhelming. So we did it; you don’t waste any time sitting around thinking about it. But doing that meant that we didn’t have a lot of time at the beginning to try and figure out where we really wanted to go next from the EP, and what sort of sound we wanted to do. So that played a heavy part in how long it took.
And some of us have had some personal problems and personal effects that affected the production as well. Like I always say, life gets in the way of music and music gets in the way of life, and it’s just a sort of yin and yang really. One minute you’re just kicking out music and for some reason a series of events happen and it stops you in your tracks. But another thing I keep saying is I really believe the album wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as it is now if it had come out when it should have done. So I’m happy.
Q: The EP captured a unique fusion of styles. There’s a common belief that essentially every possible riff has been played, for instance, and now we’re now just recycling existing ones. Therefore, perhaps the only real way forward is to combine genres in a unique fashion. Was it in any way a preconceived mindset, to borrow from this style and this one, mix it together and create something fresh?
A: No, it wasn’t anything like that really, although a lot of people assume that was the case. I had previously been in a band called Heart Of A Coward and started as well. I was just looking for something different. I had no idea what I wanted to do, and back then I had, J (Hurley, vocals) came into the studio to record some vocals on one of his grime albums. I think I’d met him a few times only in passing.
We just got talking, I was telling him about the band and he said, ‘what sort of stuff are you doing now?’ Just when we were having a five-minute break from recording his stuff. I played him an early demo form of the self-titled tune Hacktivist, and he just said, ‘this is awesome… I’ve got to spit on this’. And I was like, ‘wow’. I can’t really explain what happened, we just recorded it, and I think it was a freestyle at the time. The lyrics never changed, and I think I put it online on SoundCloud. At that point I was still thinking, ‘I’m not going to make a band out of this, I don’t know what to name it’. I was working under the alias of Hacktivist, but I didn’t realise what it was going to become, and it kind of just made itself. I didn’t sit down and think, ‘I’m going to put rap and metal together’, it was just that J was like ‘let me spit on this, I’ve got something for this’, and it just ended up where we are now.
Q: There are collaborations within the metal world, but it’s certainly not as prominent as it is in hip-hop. Does having several guest spots on this album somewhat feed off that hip-hop ethos?
A: Well, we’ve got a couple of lads from Astroid Boys, they’re a UK grime, they’re like a weird crossover, they’re more hip-hop/grime, and they have the odd guitar breakdown. It’s quite a strange combination, but it works. And we’ve got Rou from Enter Shikari, and Jamie Graham from Heart Of A Coward. It wasn’t really specifically for the style, we didn’t want any rappers, we didn’t want… it wasn’t specific. We just thought those people would fit the sections that we wanted to bring in someone else and have them add to the music.
Q: Who else is on your collaboration bucket list?
A: I would love to have Skin from Skunk Anansie on a track. She’s just got an iconic voice to me and I’d just love to have her on a track. There’s obviously some big grime artists at the moment that we’d to collaborate with as well. Nothing like Jay Z or anything like that (laughs). We like the underground stuff. We’re not the kind of band that would sell out if we had the opportunity to have Katy Perry on a song or something. I don’t think that would really take, even though it might help (laughs).
Q: What are the plans for the Outside The Box touring cycle, and is Australia in the mix somewhere?
A: One hundred per cent. We hope the album takes off… We love the album and if we love something and we’re feeling it, then nine times out of ten everybody else does too. We’ve got to come back to Australia, especially with UNFD. I just love playing there. I love the fans there and everybody’s crazy about music out there. Obviously we know the Northlane guys and bands like that do massive over there, and the Aussies just love that tech-y, sort of different heavy vibe, which we definitely bring to the table.
Q: I caught the band at Soundwave and looking at the audience, you could see some initial confused reactions, and a few people even walked away from the stage. But those who allowed some time seemed to connect with it. Do you feel like, perhaps more so than many other bands that you really have to get in audiences’ faces for your music to translate?
A: We just get in peoples’ faces ’cause that’s what we’re like. We haven’t had many shows to be honest where people have left or not taken the show very well. Maybe in territories like Australia where people clearly, there’s no way of them hearing us (beforehand) and then not giving us the chance. I definitely think the second time we come to Australia is going to be a lot different. We know we’ve got fans in Australia contacting us, and UNFD obviously believe in us.
Q: Any famous last words?
A: Any of your readers who haven’t heard us, and they’re searching for something completely different, something they’ve never heard before and something that could possibly make you break your neck while you’re listening to it, check us out, (laughs), ’cause I promise that’s definitely what you’re going to get from it.
Hacktivist will be on tour with Enter Shikari in September:
19/9: 170 Russell, Melbourne VIC
20/9: The Triffid, Brisbane QLD
21/9: The Metro, Sydney NSW
22/9: The Gov, Adelaide SA (All ages)
24/9: Metropolis, Fremantle WA