On Saturday, Aug. 17, Richard Haig returned home from running an errand in time to interrupt the robbery of his Little Haiti abode. Despite cutting the crime short, Haig — a Miami-based electronic musician and DJ who gigs as Panic Bomber — still lost his laptop, guitars, bass, banjo, television, SM58 microphone, black Levi’s, and Converse sneakers.
“I’m still kinda reeling from it,” Haig says. “Luckily, I didn’t lose any music. If I’d been gone for another five minutes, I would have lost everything. I got lucky.”
Actually, we’re all lucky the thieves didn’t sprint away with any of Haig’s unreleased tunes. Between Getting on My Mind (2010), Panic Bomber’s falsetto-fueled debut LP, and the just-released Domestic Violins, a five-track EP that largely eschews the straits of song structure for the resonance of canyon-deep grooves, Haig has proven himself one of Miami’s funkiest music makers.
Ahead of the Domestic Violins release party at Electric Pickle Thursday night (free entry with RSVP, open bar), I called up Haig on Sunday to ask him about his punk past, his Scotland roots, and the similarity between DJing and making furniture. Naturally, Bach and Bartók came up.
Your bio mentions a background in punk and indie bands without getting into specifics. Can you tell me a little more about that background?
Haig: Yeah. I used to have this raging three-piece garage punk band called The Dead Hookers’ Bridge Club. That’s “Hookers’” with the possessive plural apostrophe. So it’s multiple hookers’ bridge club. We thought long and hard about that one.
I was playing guitar and singing in this three piece. It was a tongue-in-cheek garage punk band, and we just kinda raged.
A Miami band?
Haig: Yeah. Based in Miami, we did some touring around, Tejas, Nashville, all these places. We had a blast. People really liked us. We put out a seven inch on New Art School records. We were the kind of band that the show wasn’t done until at least one of us was bleeding. We’d start each set by pounding shots on stage. It was absolute mayhem, but super fun.
It was basically a hobby. It’s funny — it was me and my two best friends from college. We were all at U.M. studying classical music and this was our release. This was our way of making music fun, to get rid of the stuffiness and just rage.
You studied classical music in college?
Haig: Yeah, I’m talking Bach, Beethoven, Bartók, Chopin, all that good stuff, playing classical piano. That wasn’t my major. I was at U.M. studying music engineering and technology.
I graduated in 2006, and then I joined the indie-pop band The Jean Marie. I was playing keyboards and doing back-up vocals in that. I started in ’06, and I fell out with them around ’08.
To go back to the beginning, you were born in the U.K., right?
Haig: Yeah. I’m originally from Scotland. I was born in Glasgow. My folks, they were teachers, and they got offered this job teaching at a high school in California. So when I was five, we all moved out to California, and that’s where I got this disgusting accent.
So how did you end up in Miami?
Haig: Well, I finished high school, and I was like, “What the fuck do I want to with my life? What do I like?” The things I liked at the time were rock climbing, music, and computers. Rock climbing — can’t really see much of a future in that. So I was looking around for schools that offered music and technology, and I found the U.M. program. I was like, “This sounds like it’s worth getting in debt for.”
I came out here to go to school, and, then, you know how it is. You get friends, you get girlfriends, you get a life, and then all of a sudden it’s like, “Holy shit, Miami’s my home.”
“Visit from the Grave (Featuring Madam Asuka)” off of Domestic Violins
Coming out of the punk scene, how did you get into electronic music? Was that something that took root in Miami?
Haig: The first electronic music that I was turned onto that really resonated with me was — and I bet so many people have the exact same answer — I was still in high school and I heard that late ‘90s Warp Records thing. So, Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, Plaid. That stuff really struck a chord with me. At the time, I was listening to metal, punk, ska, you know, whatever was going on in the Southern California scene. And then someone turned me on to Aphex Twin and Plaid, and I was just like, “Holy shit.” It blew my mind.
Does your classical music background seep into the electronic music you make today?
Haig: Oh yeah, definitely. When I get stuck writing a piece, and I really don’t know where to take it, I go back to old classical scores, and I’ll just rip them off. The way that I think about it is, take Bach, for instance — especially him — he is perhaps the biggest influence on Western music of all time. He defined a lot of what we now take for granted. I think of taking, say, an Alberti bass pattern by Bach — it’s the same thing as lifting the “Amen Break” today. It’s just reaching back further in history.
I’m not saying I plagiarize Bach, but I’ll go back and be like, “Wow, that’s a great chord progression” from, say, Handel. So I’ll use his chord progression to get through a certain part of a piece. Because those guys are the masters.
I think of it as, I don’t really sample other people’s work. I like to do everything from scratch. That said, I will sample a progression and then reuse it, using it as inspiration. Every musician, every artist out there, all we do is we write what we know. And what we know is what we listen to.
You used the term ‘tongue-and-cheek’ before in reference to The Dead Hookers’ Bridge Club. Panic Bomber can come off that way even though the music is sincere. Can you explain the Panic Bomber persona?
Haig: Panic Bomber as a project — which is my main artistic outlet at the moment — it’s constantly evolving. It started out kinda tongue-and-cheek. Basically, I was in the process of breaking up with The Jean Marie. I was writing all of this music on my computer. It wasn’t really cohesive, it was kinda all over the place.
One day I wrote this one song, a cliché electronic song called “Smooth Sailor” … about having a girl locked up in my basement. That ended up being the first Panic Bomber that was picked up by France’s biggest electronic magazine [Trax]. It was bizarre, because it was very tongue-and-cheek, but I thought, “Maybe this is something I should pursue more.” So I did a bunch of tracks that were more poking fun and … that was fun for a while, but then I decided that I could actually do something meaningful. So I started to take it quite personal. That was around the time between the Getting on my Mind release and the Discipline EP.
Now as time goes on, I’m starting to get a little more serious about it. Electronic music a lot of times isn’t about having a personal agenda. It’s more about making something that fits a mood, sort of like making furniture. You write this music to fill up space and curate space. It’s less about having a personal agenda than giving a setting to a room. Which is interesting. It’s a very impressionist way of writing music, and I think that’s what house and techno really are, that kind of space–filling aesthetic. And that’s what I’m starting to work on now.
So, yes, there was a time when Panic Bomber was kind of a caricature, but it’s evolving.
Can you talk about the Pickle show Thursday night? You’re going to be performing a live set and a DJ set, right?
Haig: Yeah. I have a couple of new horn players. My other ones moved away. So, I’ve got a new horn section, I’ve got Madam Asuka singing. I’m going to be singing and playing keyboards. It’s going to be a high-energy live set with a bunch of musicians.
Then I’m going to be doing a DJ set later on, which will be a little bit of improvisational stuff. I’ve been experimenting with this kind of this deep, groove-based stuff. So there will be stuff like that, which is more heady, dancey, as well as the house, techno stuff I’ve been listening to. So there’s going to be something for everyone. It should be a fun night.
The Domestic Violins release party at Electric Pickle starts at 11 p.m. Thursday night. It is free entry with RSVP through Flavorpill. Panic Bomber is also performing at Identity Festival on Thursday.