Interview: COMPUTER DATA on California's House Scene and the Magic of Berlin
Like so many others, BabyStep discovered Brett Henderson, aka COMPUTER DATA, through YouTube. Blowing up on the site seems to have become a rite of passage for lo-fi house artists in the last 5 years; DJ Boring, for example, followed the same path. In 2018, San Francisco-based COMPUTER DATA released ‘Healing’, a wistful and emotional tune that has achieved a beloved status within the scene. As this release passes 2 million views, the artist behind it continues to grow. Naturally, we wanted to understand his journey, ideas for the future, and the underground mystery behind ‘Healing’. We reached out, and he opened up. Here is what COMPUTER DATA had to say:
'Healing' - COMPUTER DATA
How did you get in to the world of music-making?
"I played the acoustic drums back in when I was a kid, but never dove into production until my freshman year of university. I had a health crisis that resulted in me taking a year off, and a ton of free time, so I decided to teach myself Ableton as a means to get the sounds in my head out. It became a valuable tool for me to express myself in a really difficult time, and I spent an hour or two teaching myself Ableton every night until I eventually discovered my sound."
What do you think of the house scene on the United States’ west coast? How has this influenced you as a producer?
"The scene here is certainly interesting. To be completely honest I can’t say a lot of positive things about the bay area in this regard, as most artists have been pushed out of the area by astronomical costs of living. The result of that is an extremely small community and a secluded underground scene here. Outside of the bay, LA seems to be thriving and I’ve been really impressed with the growth of the scene down there."
"As a producer, I’ve felt a little lonely living in the bay area, and I don’t get a lot of love from the promoters here either. This has definitely pushed me to focus on moving myself to the EU, and naturally my sound has attracted a majority European audience as well."
So, do you have a rigid creative process, or do you make it up as you go along?
"No. My creative process is a mess, and always has been, but I’m constantly pushing myself to change things up to keep things interesting and to continue to push my sound. I started out using only software instruments and samples on my MacBook and have gradually moved to a hardware-based studio setup. I like keeping myself challenged and if I wasn’t doing this, I’d probably end up sounding stale."
What do you think of online streaming services (like Spotify and YouTube)? Are they beneficial for underground artists?
"Absolutely! I think both Youtube and Spotify have been absolutely crucial in my success as an artist, and I think it’s where most of my fans discovered my music in the first place. We’re long past the days of SoundCloud unfortunately, so being able to utilize these modern algorithmic based platforms is definitely critical to getting your music out to people these days."
I noticed you have a number of German-titled releases, like ‘Aufsteigen’ from the new album. Is this perhaps a homage to Berlin? If so, what does that city mean to you?
"Yep! My time spent in Berlin throughout my youth has been absolutely influential in my production and the direction I’ve taken my music. I also speak German and have family in Germany, so I’m frequently in the country and always taking in heavy inspiration while I’m there. Berlin feels like home to me, and hopefully I’ll be making the move there soon as well. It’s the only place in the world where I’ve been able to feel more alive when leaving a club than I was entering it."
What has been the single best moment of your career so far?
"This is a tough one, as this past year has been filled with so many moments of me waking up, checking my phone and saying, “holy shit!”. I’d have to say the best moment so far was back in July when I made my debut in LA with No_4mat. That show was the first time I realised I was playing to a whole room full of people passionate about my music, it was a really humbling experience for me. I remember playing ‘Healing’ and these dudes were just screaming at the top of their lungs the whole time, it was great."
COMPUTER DATA's Los Angeles Debut
‘Healing’ seems to be your most popular release so far. Is there a story behind this track? Why do you think it resonates with people?
"I wrote ‘Healing’ and the rest of the Emotional Shift EP back in June of 2018 after ending a pretty horrible relationship in May of that year. It’s really just a raw emotional output of how I felt at the time, and it helped me cope with what was going on in my life. I think as a result of this it turned into a very emotional track that people are able connect with their own life experiences. I receive messages all the time from people talking about the impact it’s had on their life and it’s truly incredible to see that and know you’re making an impact in people’s lives all across the globe. To me, that’s what this is all about and I’m so grateful to see the response that this release has received."
Also, where is that vocal sample from? (We just had to ask).
"It’s a heavily edited sample from some free dance music vocal sample pack I found around 2016. The original sample sounds pretty bad and sometimes I have no idea how I stumble across stuff like this that just fits."
Will we be seeing you in Europe anytime soon?
"Yes! I’ve been working on making the move across the pond and have been super eager to get some bookings across the EU. I’ve got some big releases coming up this year with one of my favourite UK labels, so I’m excited to see the opportunities this will present me with."
Lo-fi house seems to have amassed a solid audience in recent years, with artists like DJ Boring now performing internationally. Is the future bright for the genre?
"Absolutely. Everyone at the forefront of the scene seems to be taking their own approach and developing their sound in unique ways, and I’m really happy to see the global attention that the forerunners of the genre have received."
Finally, what’s next on the agenda for COMPUTER DATA?
"I’m looking forward to some big releases for me in 2020, and hopefully hopping across the pond. I’ve been diversifying my sound quite a bit this past year and aim to release some more heavy hitting, dance floor orientated records next year. I’m hoping that 2020 is the year where I can confidently say that this has become my career and I’m able to support myself from it."