On the Rise: HEADCLEANER
Trent Mosley | April 23rd, 2023
On the Rise is an interview series aimed at exposing DJs, party series and collectives in the Midwest and beyond that are molding the next generation of electronic music in their local scenes. In this interview we sit down with Headcleaner, a monthly dance party in the heart of the Columbus’ dance music scene. The party series has existed over six years featuring various DJs from various genres and geographies while also uplifting those in their own community by spotlighting local talent. Behind the current formation of Headcleaner is Brenner, Simplicity and foi oi oi. Read more about Headcleaner’s history, their mission behind their curation and also goofiness between the crew members.
Reg: Hi, I’m glad Trent and I got all of y’all together. Super excited for the convo! To get things started let’s start with intro’s!
Nick: Yeah, I’m Nick. My moniker is just my last name Brenner, I’m one of the co-founders. I’ve been DJ-ing since like, 2012-ish. Go to my Bandcamp and purchase lots of my music. I was one of the original members. So 2017 is when we started. It was me, Evelyn, Corey, and at the time, Evelyn’s wife, Ariel. She was a member, but she stopped after a year or so.
Corey: Hi, I’m Corey. I started with Headcleaner in about 2006. I’ve been DJing since 2004. As I said before, I started out with the happy hardcore and then went to rugged jungle and then breakcore. I found a love for house music and have been producing music since 2005. I went to school for it. I don’t release music, so it’s really not important.
Nick: One of Columbus’s greatest tragedies is that you don’t produce more and that you don’t release some of the stuff, that makes us very mad. Honestly.
Corey: I’ll send you my Google doc but I do have a release actually in August, which is when Alex Falk said it’ll be released, my EP. It will be really cool. So I’ll finally have my own solo EP. So yeah, you just said August but yeah, that’s me.
Rocky: Alright, I’m Rocky. I DJ under Simplicity. I’ve been playing music in general since—I’ve played vinyl—oh, 18 years ago. House Records. All house, so much house, house music is my entire heart. I play a lot of different things now but that was where I started. I joined Headcleaner a little later. You know, they had several shows in some time before I joined up. I was very happy to be asked to join Headcleaner and could not have imagined the trip that it would take me on. A hike. Those years ago I could not have imagined how this thing would blossom.
Nick: Rocky and I met in Toledo when I was living there and so she was coming down a lot for Headcleaner and then we were just like, “You should just be a part of this if you can commit to coming down every month.” and she’s like, “Done.”
Nick: Okay, for all intents and purposes, Rocky’s from Columbus.
Corey: Wait, really?
Rocky: I get to claim it. Nick just told me I get to claim it, so I am.
Nick: I was actually looking today for when you first joined and I think it was when we had Jarvey.
Rocky: I don’t think that was my first one. But probably that maybe it was like my second one as a member, maybe.
Trent: Cool! Now moving onto the first question. How’s everyone doing? What have your days been like these past couple of weeks?
Nick: So I got sick last week. So that wasn’t fun. Or two weeks ago. No, last week. I got COVID, but other than that, this year has been great. I haven’t been going to— I’ve been going to things that are close to my apartment, you know, the Oracle and then like, AWOL, and then Headcleaner. So I haven’t really been exploring going to other things per se, just music related. Other than that, I mean, the job is fine.
Rocky: I’ve been doing the opposite. Like the last three weeks, I was going to as many shows as I could since I actually had some time off from DJing for the weekend. So I went to Detroit and I saw DJ Wawa at Marble Bar. Amazing. Then the week after that I went to see Huey Mnemonic in Detroit. So good.
Nick: You’ve been following Huey a little bit!
Rocky: I know! I’ve been staying. Yeah, last week’s party. It was called TIFF— in Columbus. Amazing new party, yeah.
Trent: So, when would you say Headcleaner first began? And how has it transformed since that time? Since its first inception?
Nick: So right around 2016 going into 2017, we had another member, Evelyn, she approached Corey and I because we were doing an event called Headspace and she wanted to do something just a little more indicative of the Midwest kind of sound. At the time, Midwest Fresh was going on so we were piggybacking off the energy that a lot of events in Columbus were experiencing success with, so we decided to start our own event.
Corey: It was more focused towards acid house and like classic house, techno vibes as well.
Nick: Like within the first year or two we got more into broken beats and the Hessle Audio kind of sound and then, I don’t know, it varied so much as far as what we were feeling at the time or like, who we book and like what they show up with. But I would say for the most part, it keeps wandering into house-tech now. Breaks. Like those three. Yeah, and it’s always kind of been that way.
Trent: Yeah. Has the venue always been Summit?
Corey: Yeah, well, so when we originally started there, it was with different venue owners. They were more focused towards the punk crowd. And it was like a super DIY space or not super DIY, but rather they just didn’t care about their venue. They would let us drill holes into it. That’s how we started.
Nick: Just like on a ladder drilling hole, yeah, I remember the first one. We were smoking cigarettes while DJing. Like yeah, that was never allowed, but we just did it.
Corey: And it smelled so bad. Yeah, it was a smelly venue. I think that was sewage issues, Evelyn even ran electrical wires for them. Just helped us out as well, I don’t remember. Yeah, but now, the new owners purchased that in 2020. They’re more towards the bass crowd and like jam, festival-circuit kind of music. And we’ve just been grandfathered into their line-up.
Nick: Which has been a blessing.
Rocky: Yeah, yeah. Seriously upgraded the sound, the lighting. Little makeover for the place. It’s in good shape now.
Nick: And that helped us grow with the crowds coming in. We don’t have to worry about finding a venue every month or worrying about something getting shut down, you know? So it’s been a space that we have had no reason to ever leave. If we want to touch on just how our crowds have changed since the beginning, during our first year, year and a half, it was a lot of heads. People who you would see every weekend, going to various events. And now it’s turned into— like at one point, I felt like I knew everyone and now it’s impossible to know everyone. There’s a lot of people that were like, “How did you find out about this?”
Rocky: Like, everyone brought a friend with them at the last one.
Nick: So that’s been great because promotion can get very tiring, especially with social media. So when it can promote itself, that’s very, very helpful with longevity.
Rocky: Shout out to Nick on social media. I’m not great at it.
Nick: When I first started DJing I was on top of everything, like I am a social media kid. And now I’m like, how do you post on Instagram? Things have changed.
Corey: How to tag people.
Nick: Still not good at it?
Corey: What is a hashtag?
Trent: Oh, yeah. So it has always seemed like safety has been important to the party series, that kind of intention. And I want to ask, how do you all come up with or maintain Headcleaner’s intentions? You know, how do you keep the community you’ve built up over these past years?
Corey: I’d say with any issues that have happened, we address it directly. So one time someone called us out. You guys might have to correct me if my memory is kind of shaky on this, but someone called us out saying our venue or our event was not safe because someone had gotten in their space even after they told them no, like in their personal space. So we message them directly saying, “Hey, sorry that happened.” Like, we are always at the merch table, the bar staff is always willing to help, we stand behind you and not any aggressor. So anytime you feel uncomfortable, please come find us. And we will address the situation and make things right to continue to have that safe space.
Rocky: And it was a big eye-opening to let it be known that on every front we are that space. I think that showed us that we had to just let everyone know who walks through the door that that’s the kind of place this is, you know, this is a safe place. This is a welcoming place. We want you here and we want to make sure that you know that you’re feeling comfortable here.
Nick: Yeah, we’ve had people that we’ve had to like, keep their pictures at the door, you know, and that’s just the easy stuff. Like okay, this person made someone feel uncomfortable. So they are not allowed back. Door person, “Hey, this is what they look like and they’re not allowed inside.” Because there isn’t security, specifically at The Summit. We have to kind of be that security. The bar staff has always been amazing at that. The door people, we always make sure to inform them. We check in, “Hey, are there any issues?” I guess that’s like, more immediate stuff. We’ve been pretty fortunate not to have any egregious situations happen.
Nick: Yeah, I think whatever energy that we have been pushing, I have a theory that the music kind of filters a lot of people because like, it’s not really high. Like [our music] isn’t bottle service music. So you’re not getting a lot of Bud Light people. You’re just getting like a peep. You’re getting artsy kids who just want to have a space to dance and we’ve been fortunate to have that filtration, I guess.
Rocky: This is what I think is so important too, is that I feel like Headcleaner has a brigade of friends right? Like people that we know that are friends of the party, right? Like, they see the vision and those people are going to help you out too if they see you in trouble. I mean, just amongst my friends I’ve been like, “Oh, hey, you know someone in the bathroom?” And they’re like, “They didn’t feel well, I helped them out.” Or they’re like, “Somebody lost their keys so we went and searched for them. It took 20 minutes, but we found them.” I mean, it’s people reaching out to make sure that nobody’s feeling alone.
Nick: There’s numerous people there that I would like, readily let drive my car. Yeah. So we actually have an idea to test in the future too, it was Rocky who came up with this. Or at least she saw it at a different venue. We’re going to start wearing armbands, like a little bright armband, just to signify who the security is. And so if anyone has an issue, “Hey, come up to one of the people with the arm bands.” We’re thinking about starting that.
Rocky: Yeah, just for a clear point of someone you could talk to, you know? Because the numbers are bigger than intended.
Nick: It was really easy to secure 100 people then, now, it’s 200 people. It’s like, there’s a lot of people and they’re all different and at different stages of mental alertness, you know, and toxic.
Rocky: We literally preface it with chaos every first Saturday.
Trent: So do you guys have any favorite Headcleaners in particular? Any shows you’ve had in the past that have really been personal favorites? What do you like to look back on?
Nick: Every month we say “This is my favorite.” But I actually wrote down a few that just stick out in my head. I really, really liked Martyn Bootyspoon because that was right before the pandemic. And it was just like, one of our first bigger bookings. And it was just really fun to be like, “Hey, shit, this is catching on. Like, this is cool.” And Martyn Bootyspoon is one of my favorite producers too. Then, I really liked DJ Psycho, just because I’ve been following that guy for years. I’ve seen him play in Columbus at other parties and he didn’t really get to do what he does. And when he came, he got to do those things.
Rocky: He does things with vinyl that you can’t imagine. You have to see it.
Nick: We somehow didn’t have any vinyl issues, too. So that was awesome. And then the residents one after COVID, that was one of my favorites just because we were all back. Then in 2018, we had Rachel Noon and that was one of my favorites.
Corey: That one is so good. That has a lot of like— there’s a lot of love surrounding that one. Yeah.
Nick: For sure. She’s the biggest of sweethearts.
Corey: The last one was awesome, too. So yeah, that was just like, speaking solely just for the set that you and I played Nick, [It was] like, three and a half hours.
Rocky: Yeah. That was an amazing energy.
Nick: That was super fun. That was top five favorite sets we’ve ever played for sure.
Corey: And it was just like, the way that we responded to the crowd. Like, it just felt good. Like it gave me all sorts of confidence. And I’m like, yeah, this is why I’m doing it.
Nick: Yeah. It’s nice to actually play at an hour that you can just like feed off of people instead of being like, “All right, come on. Everyone come inside [the Summit].”
Rocky: I think about last time we did an interview and I got asked this question, my answer was different. Like my favorite’s clearly last April. Sel.6 blew my mind, stole my heart.
Nick: Sel.6 was a special one. Did you open right? Like, direct? Yeah, that was one that was just like you weren’t even up there. It was like these ethereal beings that just like—
Rocky: I don’t know. I was like, “I’m having an out-of-body experience.” I was looking over myself playing music like, “Damn. She’s kinda alright.”
Corey: DJ Holographic was a great one as well.
Rocky: Oh, so good. Always, so good.
Nick: Second one or the first one?
Corey: The second one.
Corey: Well, both probably, but I remember the second one more because she played D Train which is one of my favorites. I had to get up from the mercy booth and just go head to the dance floor.
Nick: Steal it, I don’t care if anyone steals anything! Just take it all! Yeah, those are definitely some good ones.
Trent: Okay, so Headcleaner. I think it’s definitely a large part of the Columbus music and nightlife scene. How do you see the city playing a role in the ways you organize and hold this event, if at all?
Rocky: I’m not from there, but I can answer that too, as well. I feel like Columbus in the last like, 10 to 15 years, catapulted onto a national scene, as in, people across the country were like, “Columbus, Ohio. People are doing stuff there.” They’re like, “Oh, it’s a city.” It really just shot up with recognition, maybe on a more national level. And in doing that, there’s so much more exposure for something like that. And I feel that Headcleaner uniquely, really showcases that by pretty much always having local talent on there. Like, I’m not talking about residents. I’m talking about someone local, someone regional, someone that’s like, kind of from the backyard, where we’re like, “You guys gotta see this, like, come to our show and see these amazing artists.”
Nick: Yeah, we’ve been able to maneuver having a healthy guest schedule where they could be from each coast, but mostly Midwest stalwarts that we’ve been wanting to have at our party and then involving locals every time too, and just creating a party that is desirable to be at and desirable to want to play at, you know. I think we definitely piggybacked off of a lot of the energy coming from like, 2014 to 2019. With a shout out to Midwest Fresh, like, that was definitely one of the bigger events that were like, “Oh, shit, you can have these producers, these DJs, and these people that we want to see in the city,” You just have to promote the event well, and there’s obviously been a lot of other parties and people that have helped hold it down over the years, like, Restart. And I’ll even give a little shout out to like, Run 614. I mean, they’ve been doing it for years and years. We just have a little different style from them. But point being, when no one was doing stuff, like 15-20 years ago, they were out there doing stuff or whatnot. And Columbus has always been a footnote in the conversation of Midwest house and techno. It’s an important footnote, but from what I understand of the history, like, back in the early 90s, you had elemental parties, there were some specific clubs that people went to, like raves here and there, but I think it’s just been in the past 10 years that it’s felt healthy, where we can coexist with what’s going on but also have our personality. And I think being very inclusive is extremely important, too. We almost never talked about that but we would definitely include a lot of marginalized people in our events and like, just making sure that that’s on the forefront without using it as a badge. It feels weird to talk about that, but I think it’s worth mentioning because I think that also creates the safety and the healthiness to people wanting to be involved or whatnot. Yeah.
Corey: Hey, that’s Corey. Definitely. Well, it’s definitely something that we feel strong about. Yeah.
Nick: Yeah, I mean, you’ve been around for 20 years in Columbus, how do you feel it’s changed?
Corey: It’s changed a lot, moving from like, warehouse raves into clubs, and then having to go to your only outlet for electronic music was Skullys for a bit. Like before Midwest Fresh, it’s Skully’s or then like, I don’t know, maybe like Brothers Drake, where you can kind of like let loose but you’re still like, stuck, with a big Bud Light sign staring at you.
Nick: We really hate Bud Light here. I mean, it is very, very topical.
Corey: Yeah, I don’t know how else to add on to that, I think you said it very well done.
Nick: Yeah, I think the DIY spaces and collectives that have happened in the past decade have been extremely important in helping people get exposed to stuff that we are also trying to expose people to musically, and that helps. Our party is just different in the sense that it’s a very safe bet for us to be at that space, and to push it at that space. There’s not as much risk, so that helps create a consistency, because Columbus loves consistency.
Corey: I think we do a good job at balancing, like, the culture and the old school ways, while welcoming the new and also being inclusive to the younger crowds.
Rocky: No gatekeeping here, the gates are open. Come on know.
Corey: I think it’s nice. Like, things are changing.
Trent: I mean, talking about change, where do you guys see Headcleaner in the next few months? In the future, or just moving forward?
Corey: We have some ideas.
Rocky: Nick has a vision for this, I’m just trying to live in today.
Nick: Well, after we started, when we sold out in January, I was thinking we should start thinking about what the next step is. I don’t think we’re gonna make any rash decisions like leaving the Summit unless there’s like, consistent space issues where we can’t fit everyone that wants to come, because that’s going to take away from the energy anyway. We’re not really worried about that right now yet. So I think one way that I’ve seen other events series or collectives move is that they start collaborating with other cities with the brand, or, I mean, I’m not really interested in starting a new brand, and then a different city, that’s wack, in my opinion, just because it’s like, we’re not there. But we do have some people that are open to Headcleaner coming to their city, and us bringing what we can to that city. We don’t have anything set in stone, so I can’t really say for sure, but there’s definitely some interest in like, building the brand beyond Columbus and going to a different city with a trusted group of people in that city that are fucking with the vision. As far as locally, I think it would be awesome for us to be able to have a DIY space that we can rent and consistently throw events, but it’s just a lot. It’s a lot to do that. So we’re not committing to that yet. If you know somewhere, we’re always looking. And then collaborating with other events too, and just helping other events grow because like, it’s definitely more about community than competition with us. There will always be people that are throwing things somewhat similarly. But I think we kind of stand alone as far as the musical things that we do.
Rocky: We’re booked for July 26. In the year 2046. I mean, we’re like-
Nick: My child would be going to Headcleaner then.
Nick: Like, we’re booked through July and that’s the farthest we’ve ever booked ahead.
Corey: We’re on it.
Rocky: Yeah, and it feels ambitious.
Nick: It’s not like we couldn’t do that in the past, it’s just that we’re like, “Let’s see what we want to do in a month,” because our interests change too. Like, what if we pick someone and are just like, “Oh wait, we don’t really fuck with that kind of music anymore”, or that hasn’t really, like, changed too much.
Rocky: I was like, “What kind of attention span is that? We don’t fuck with that anymore, that was yesterday.”
Nick: Yeah, then, I mean, we’re at the mercy of the Summit. They’ve been a blessing and very communicative about changes. Date changes, for example. Like, this month, and we had another one in September, we have to do a second weekend. But like, they could just be like, “Hey, we’ve sold it,” you know, and they don’t have to talk to us about that. So we’re really at the mercy of that.
Trent: Now, what kind of advice do you think you could give to others trying to start their own electronic party series, or collective whether that’s here or in another Midwestern City?
Corey: I don’t know. I’d say one thing is individuality. Like, be yourself, and don’t be afraid to be yourself. Because like, you can really see clones from a distance, other parties wanting to imitate other parties, which I mean, we kind of started out as kind of like a Midwest fresh clone but we’re just heavily inspired. But we definitely, shortly thereafter, very shortly thereafter, we found our own path, and that really benefited us because people could see us standing on our own from a distance, you know? Yeah. So musically, design-wise, marketing and promotion.
Nick: Like, if the venue, or if there’s an outside source telling you what you should be doing, then you need to find out however you can to not let that happen. I’ve seen a lot of parties start in Columbus, but because they’re at a certain venue— that venue has an aesthetic— they won’t let them do too much differently. And then it’s like, they’re watered down for no reason, even though they have quality ideas, but somebody else is calling the shots, you know? Like, if the Summit started doing that, then we wouldn’t have a party there. I think a big piece of advice is just go to events, go to things, you know, like, build a relationship with people, find someone to help.
Rocky: Support other local parties. Same team, yeah.
Nick: If you do, you’ll eventually find someone that sees eye to eye on things, you know.
Rocky: I think I’d like to say to nurture momentum. If something catches fire, pour some gasoline on it, because it’s like, it could be over tomorrow. This could be the last one. And when they say like, don’t leave anything on the field, I don’t want to leave anything on the field. I want to say we did this, this thing, to the best of our ability, with everything we had. We didn’t want to look back later and wonder what could have been.
Nick: Yeah. On a personal connection with that when, wow, during the first three years of Headcleaner I was also throwing a party with Corey for a little bit called Tilt Shift. By the end of doing that, we did a year of, like, bi-monthlies in a DIY space. And that was just like, that’s exactly what we wanted to do, and we did it, and then COVID hit, and then we’re just not feeling it anymore with that series, so we don’t do it. And we lost the space so we couldn’t use it anymore. That’s just an example of things were going fine, but then they could be gone. Like, not to the extent of COVID, but there’s a lot of variables. So yeah, building on the same stuff like that. What I’m trying to say is, I’m agreeing with Rocky.
Trent: Now I don’t want to take up too much of your guys’ time. So is there any other exciting news or last minute things you’d like to share?
Corey: Send us mixes. I guess that’s one thing. Yeah, honestly. Link in the bio.
Rocky: Yeah, what we wanted to say is like, why haven’t you visited us yet? Or why haven’t you sent us mixes and tried to connect with us? Like, we’re out there. We’re looking all over the place high and low.
Nick: We really are, especially for locals. If you send me a mix, I’m gonna listen to it. Like, we’ve listened to everything. Yeah. Like, I can listen to a mix. And we’ll give you our honest feedback. You know, we want people to be involved. And then there’s some collaboration efforts that are kind of in its infancy stages, which are kind of exciting. We might find some motivation and start doing a mix series. If you’re a good social media person that would want to do that, hit us up. If you want to be part of, or if you have the desire to maneuver and help put together a mix series with us, we need help.
Corey: Guess essentially, our close out is like work. We want to build, we want to grow with a community. So we would love other people’s talents to be a part of Headcleaner. And we would also love Headcleaner to be a part of whatever anybody else wants to do.
Corey: Yeah, we just want people to bring stuff to the table.
Trent: And I already know the answer to this last question, but how can people keep up with Headcleaner?
Nick: We’re on every social but Twitter. I mean, I advertise on my Twitter, but we just don’t have a Twitter. But we have a linktree and it’s just too much. We thought that would be another job of the mythical person that would help us make a mix. That would be part of the job description.
Nick: But Instagram is—
Rocky: Don’t click the fake one.
Nick: We’re usually at the Summit [though], usually the first Saturday of the month!