The notoriously visceral and otherworldly DJ/producer known as Henry Brooks is on fire right now and destined to make his mark on techno as we know it, while staying true to the underground.
Hot off two emotive sets over Movement weekend in Detroit, Brooks is practicing endurance, staying focused and grounded while traveling internationally and pursuing his passions. It’s a balancing act, “penning a new blueprint for dark dancefloors everywhere,” while playing shows, making original music, and managing his own event series, Anatomy.
As for his distinct sound, Brooks “draws inspirational firepower from the classic, dizzying elixirs of techno elite like Jeff Mills, as well as many modern techno artists — all the while staying true to his own unique authentic expression as an artist, which translates to each original release and club set.”
Every time we experience a set from Henry Brooks, his sound evolves and shapeshifts, leaving us breathless and inspired. His Movement 2023 set at the Underground Stage was no exception, as he busted out two hours of brutal rhythms with dark undertones contrasted by his playful demeanor behind the decks. The hypnotic and sophisticated side of Brooks we heard after hours earlier in the weekend shifted into his signature; driving, high-intensity techno to open the final day of the festival properly.
We were grateful to catch up with Henry Brooks on this very special occasion and hope you enjoy hearing what’s going on in his world.
After playing in so many new places around the world, how does it feel to be back in Detroit this weekend?
It feels great to be back in Detroit for Movement!
Coming back from Europe, I definitely feel more accomplished as an artist. I’ve reached a goal of mine that I’ve had for years, to travel overseas and play over there – and I’ve done that. I feel inspired after being exposed to different scenes and then coming back to America and wanting to build things in certain ways or different ways in Detroit.
It definitely changed me as a person and as an artist. I’m feeling very inspired, also musically. Watching other DJs play in Berlin got me to reflect more on how I can evolve myself as a DJ and producer. I’m able to understand different crowds better and have learned how to navigate different styles; matching what the crowd is resonating with, but while also staying true to what I want to play myself.
Last year you played Movement’s Detroit Stage and now you’re back at the Underground Stage, full force! What are some shining moments from the past year?
This past year has been about elevating my career and being able to do this almost full time now. What has changed the most since I played Movement last year is being able to travel more and getting more and more gigs. I signed to an agency after Movement, released two other tracks, worked a lot on production and have some more tracks coming out soon as well.
How did your Movement 2023 sets go — the testpilot afterparty and your proper set in the Underground?
Both of my sets during Movement weekend were amazing! They were both quite different from each other as I had to cater to each event I was playing. Saturday I opened for testpilot, so I dialed things back a little and played more hypnotic and groovy. Monday at the festival I put the pedal to the metal and was able to go all out, setting the pace for the rest of the day at the Underground Stage. It was an amazing weekend overall.
Do you remember what your first Movement was like?
Yeah, my first Movement was in 2016 and it was a life-changing experience for me. I was still fairly new to the scene and I was able to absorb the different sounds and styles that were present at the festival back then – and overall broaden my horizons with various styles of house and techno.
When did you first fall in love with techno — was it at Movement?
Yeah, I officially began to fall in love with techno itself at Movement. Before then I was definitely more of a house head, but once I went to Movement and was exposed to more techno the genre started to grow on me. When I started out DJing, which was only just a couple of months after my first Movement, I was mainly playing house & tech house. However over the years, I started playing more and more techno, until I reached the point where I decided I only wanted to play techno. It was a natural progression.
You’re a natural, so passionate and dedicated to your craft. What keeps you laser-focused like that?
What keeps me focused is simply holding on to how much I love this music and love expressing through the tracks that I like to play, striving to tell a story in every set. It’s just a great form of expression for me.
What inspires you to create your best work?
What inspires me to create my best work is that I am somewhat of a perfectionist, so I’m always trying to better myself and do better than the last thing I did. I’m also trying to add my own stamp on techno and my own style and taste as a producer into the genre so I can build a collection of music that is uniquely me.
What are some of the challenges you face as a DJ/producer?
I think one of the hardest challenges is trying to find the balance of being both a DJ and producer. Being able to make enough tracks while still staying on top of my DJ career and traveling, because it definitely takes a lot of energy out of you. On the DJing side of things, it’s about staying on top of current music. I never try to play the same set twice, ever – so I’m always constantly finding new music. Managing all of that while still trying to manage my personal life as well and find the right balance.
How much unreleased music do you have right now and can you describe it?
Right now I have about three tracks fully finished that are unreleased. Most of the tracks I’m making currently are more on the textural, percussive, and hard tool side of techno. I’m trying to broaden my horizons instead of just making the harder techno that’s more based around heavy melodies. I’m finding new ways to push my sound design. Finding a balance between hypnotic elements while still keeping things hard and industrial.
What’s the current state of your Anatomy series and the future of it?
Anatomy is doing well. It’s been a bit of a challenge at times managing my DJ and producer career and on top of that booking artists and throwing events. But yeah, I’m definitely going to keep that going. I want to build the scene in Detroit and bring artists who haven’t ever been here or haven’t played here much. I’d like to bring through different styles of techno that are not played in Detroit as much year-round. So, yeah, definitely more events coming – I have a very exciting one coming up in July!
Do you plan on taking Anatomy to other cities?
Yes! I plan on taking Anatomy to other cities and building my brand in other places for sure. That’s definitely a goal of mine. Right now, I want to keep it mainly based in Detroit, but do have some ideas outside of the city as well, which will be coming soon.
What was your experience like playing overseas, including the legendary techno nightclub Tresor Berlin?
Playing overseas was incredible. It was great to see what the scene was like over in Europe and how events happen over there, the different crowds and being able to be a part of those parties. Playing at Tresor Berlin was insane as well. It’s like a very dark, grungy basement with just a few strobes and some fog. The current venue has been around since 2007 and before then, the original location started in the early ’90s. So in total, it’s the longest-running techno club in the world and it was an honor to play there.
You’re checking off so many accomplishments that DJs aspire to do – like your HÖR set, which was brutal by the way! What was it like prepping for that set, knowing it would be seen and heard live around the world?
Prepping for that set was a bit stressful, but I also didn’t want to overthink it. I grabbed some of my best tracks and some new tracks that I really liked, and put together a playlist of different energy levels and vibes as I always do. I picked the first two tracks I was going to play ahead of time – and other than that, the rest was all impromptu and on the fly.
That’s very interesting when you have no crowd to read — and it’s not just a mix, it’s a performance!
Yeah, you’re completely on your own. It was a small room with just a mixer, some CDJs and two small speakers. It was a little nerve-wracking at first, however I’ve done similar live streams before and after the first three or four tracks, I got fully locked into my groove and was just able to mix.
Flash-forward a few weeks later to Charlotte De Witte KNTXT’s takeover in New York City. What was it like playing that show?
Playing opening sets for bigger events can sometimes be hit or miss in terms of if people come early or not, however this one was amazing. It was a great crowd early on and within the first 30 minutes it was already starting to fill up really quick. Also, playing b2b with Hiroko Yamamura was a great experience. We meshed very well with our different sounds and styles. We ended up getting an extra 30 minutes to play as well.
Do you have any dreams or aspirations you’d like to speak into existence?
Some dreams and aspirations I have now are simply to play more across Europe until I’m at the point where I can go back and forth overseas on a regular basis. Also to play more around the world, Asia and Australia would be fun places to visit. Overall to keep broadening my scope of where I’m playing while coming back to North and South America to continue growing my fan base here.
I’d also love play some major festivals like Awakenings, but continue to stay true to more intimate style underground clubs and still play a bunch of those. I don’t want to get to the point where I’m so big I’m only playing massive festivals, because I don’t want to lose the intimacy of smaller events.
What does it mean to you to be representing Detroit techno right now?
It feels great to represent Detroit techno and be a part of the next generation that’s pushing this genre and style. I want to keep pushing my sound and the style to new areas and always innovate – always adding more to the genre.
Connect with Henry Brooks