FOCUS PULLER is the DJ and production alias of Mike Healey and he returns to his home label Cubism this week with a fantastic new track Nørrebro.

The single has been universally well received together with the remix on the release from Lunacy Sound Division garnering support from the likes of Mr.C, Terry Francis, Bushwacka!, Jim Rivers, Camelphat, Carl Craig, Chris Fortier, Christian Varela, Pac Osuna, Anthony Pappa, Nicolas Masseyeff, Marco Faraone, Colin Dale and many more.

To mark the release of Nørrebro we caught up with Focus Puller for a chat.

Can you give our readers who might not be familiar with Focus Puller a bit of background to your journey so far in electronic music both as a DJ and a producer?

I started mixing around 1997- I’d been making tapes for people for years, compilations curated specifically for each person based on what I thought they’d like. I’ve been buying records since 1982 and have always cherished discovery, being educated, inspired, moved, and introduced to global culture. So these tapes filled a somewhat obsessive urge to pass that onto others, pretentious as that may sound. I’d be throwing reggae, punk, hip hop, metal, techno, ambient- all kinds really, onto these mixes, and eventually got frustrated with gaps between tracks. I wanted it to flow, so got some decks and started trying to blend it. I’m grateful that it happened that way as it taught me the value of curation and programming- making music work. Beatmatching came later, and to be honest, that’s the easy part of mixing.

Bringing together music and making it work emotively is where the magic is for me. Anyway, I taught myself to mix and cut my teeth doing nights around Winchester and Southampton, playing everything from alternative student nights to R&B nights for a bit of money. I got a couple of residencies and was allowed to do a techno night with my mate Nick every week in exchange for playing the other stuff on student nights. Regardless of what I was playing, I learned to work a room, and would pride myself on mixing any style properly and giving it the respect it deserved. Eventually I won a night at Turnmills through IDJ magazine’s mix completion, and kicked on from there really. I got involved with Cubism around 2007 and have been part of the evolution of that label from the early days. We love playing together, me, Mark, Deano, Saytek and a few others, and I’m delighted that the hard work and perseverance of playing to a lot of empty rooms eventually culminated with a few nights hosting Room 3 at Fabric.

I’ve been playing and making music most of my life but started making electronic stuff in earnest around 98-99, and kept at it. I got Signed to Sensei in 2005, and was chuffed as it was a really decent label at the time. Since then I’ve had releases out on numerous labels, and collaborated with Dave Robertson, Tony Thomas, Lunacy Sound Division and others, but I found a home at Cubism and have enjoyed a lot of freedom in terms of what I’ve been able to release with them over the years. I’ve never really been interested in what’s going on in the scene at the time- I just make music that makes sense to me, and thankfully, people I admire seem to like some of it. Can’t ask for more than that really.

You are a big fan of analog machines. Can you give us a run through of your favourite studio tools?

Ironically I got rid of a load of kit years ago and starting writing just within Ableton and Reason- actually my first Sensei Release ‘Ongaku’ was written entirely on Jeskola Buzz, which had a really unique sound due to the workflow. But over the years I started to find the process of working just within the Laptop ecosystem really claustrophobic and too laborious. I like having synths and drum machines around me so I can work spontaneously and build momentum from the spark of an idea. I’m not a technical player, but I get the machines running and eventually ideas start to emerge from the fog, and things suggest themselves. Then I can develop the ideas with energy and passion, messing about with modulation and filters or whatever. It’s just given my stuff a live feel again, which in turn has allowed me to let an idea evolve without overworking it. In a nutshell, I prefer playing music to labouring over it. The core of my set up at the mo is The Roland TR-8S, Moog DFAM and Erica Synths/Sonic Potions LXR-02 for Beats, & The Sequential Circuits/Dave Smith Take 5 and OB6, Korg Minilogue XD and Moog Grandmother for the rest.

Your new single Nørrebro which is out on Cubism today has all of your fabulous electronic hallmarks. What was the inspiration behind the track?

Probably a combination of optimism and despair. It’s been an intense few years for everyone, and I think most of us are living in this kind of ‘I’m grateful for such and such, but I’m angry at this this and this’ state of mind. We’re navigating polarisation, paranoia and mistrust on a daily basis, but trying to be decent people and find stuff to be optimistic about, and I think that probably defines my music- equal parts angry and optimistic.

Nørrebro is a district in Copenhagen, one of the few places I’ve been able to visit in the past couple of years. I find headspace getting out of town on long bike rides, and Nørrebro happened to be part of such a ride where I had a moment of clarity, and probably started getting the basis of a track down when I got back to my hotel after the ride.

You are pals with some of the South Coast crew such as Dave ‘Reset Robot’ Robertson and Alan Fitzpatrick. Have your friends been influential to the way you approach your music?

My style has kind of developed organically to be fair, although my formative years were definitely influenced by my friend Nick, who mixed beautifully. All I’d seen before that was people being hectic and making loads of noise so you ‘knew they were mixing’, but Nick showed me how subtle you could be in crafting a proper set.

Meeting Dave and Alan was massive for other reasons though. Alan and I both are from Southampton, so we’ve been mates for years. Other than Artful Dodger, Craig David and James Zabiela, not much has come out of Southampton, but then along comes Alan. I’m full of admiration for him. He’s a brilliant DJ and producer, really versatile, and of course, he’s built his brand from scratch to this huge global profile and owns the brilliant We Are The Brave label. All that said, he’s still totally humble and down to Earth, and values showcasing unknown artists. He’s really generous in that way. It’s impossible not to be inspired by who he is and what he’s achieved.

Dave has been huge for me. He’s one of my best mates, and was the one that encouraged me to send my stuff to labels back in 2005. I’m fortunate to have released records with Dave, and one of our tunes was featured on Nic Fanciulli’s Radio 1 Essential Mix, which I was particularly proud of. Dave is without a doubt one of the most talented, consistent and underrated artists out there. He’s released records on countless credible labels (Soma, Drumcode, Trapez, Ovum, Truesoul) but what people might not realise is that he is also the engineer behind some of techno’s biggest names at the moment. He’s humble, relentless in his work ethic, and also really funny- a true inspiration to me.

What other artists past, present and future inspire you and why?

I’m inspired by music on so many levels. If I had to boil it down to a few lifelong inspirations though, it would be Depeche Mode, Aphex Twin, Dj Shadow, Gang Starr, Sly and Robbie, Underworld, Marvin Gaye, Black Uhuru, Neil Young, Grace Jones, St Vincent, The Clash, Pixies, Massive Attack, Ryuichi Sakamoto, David Bowie, and Brian Eno. I’m drawn to interesting, emotive and pioneering Music. I like artists and labels that take risks and draw on a broad vocabulary, 4AD, Mute, The Trilogy Tapes, Warp, Mowax, ECM. Genre is irrelevant to me. I make electronic music, but both my production and Djing style are rooted in a really diverse palette.

What’s next for Focus Puller?

I’m working on a fair bit of material at the mo. Some of it will likely come out on Cubism and hopefully a couple of other labels, but I’m also starting my own label ‘Staple Diet Recordings’. I have a monthly DJresidency on Bloop London Radio, and put out monthly mixes under Staple Diet Sessions on my Soundcloud. I also have an ambient series called Kapuseru Hoteru, which showcases everything from musique concrète up to modern day stuff like Gas.

I was featured guest mix on We are the Brave Radio last month and played at saʊnd, a brilliant little private nightclub Deano Loco has built during lock down. I’m looking forward to playing there again, and previewing a live set at some point.

All told, I’m keeping busy, looking to play out some more now things are returning to normal, and generally looking forward to the next few months.