Hacktivist: Hacking Their Way To the Top
British grime/rap metal band Hacktivist on their India debut and playing the biggest festivals across the world
How many metal bands, or even rock bands, can boast about making it to the mainstage at festivals such as Leeds, Reading, Download and Sonisphere France in just three years of their existence? And this is even before the band has a single album to their name. But grime rap metallers Hacktivist from Milton Keynes, a town that also birthed prog metallers TesseracT, another band that took over the djent scene, have come a long way since 2011. Says Hacktivist vocalist Ben Marvin, “We were thrown in the deep end in the beginning, we kinda had to go back and work on something we would have finished if we didn’t have all these gigs.” With their 2012 self-titled EP and then singles such as “Elevate” and their heavy rendition of Kanye West and Jay Z’s “Niggas in Paris,” Hacktivist found mainstream acceptance very rapidly, with shows in over 15 countries. This month, the band adds one more pin on the globe, debuting at the first edition of two-day metal festival BIG69 in Mumbai. Says Marvin, “We’re looking forward to seeing the Indian fans, hopefully they’re going to be as wild as the rest of the world.” With two new singles ”“ “False Idols” that takes on London mayor Boris Johnson with sharp verses from Marvin and co-vocalist Jermaine “J” Hurley, and “Deceive and Defy,” which questions big media ”“ already released in 2014, the band are readying their debut full-length album for early 2015. But Marvin says it won’t be out in time for their India show.
In an interview with Rolling Stone India, Marvin and Hurley talk about how they incorporate rap into metal without being formulaic, among other things.
RS: You guys just heard about the India show ”“ what is it like getting called to play here?
Ben Marvin[BM]: We’ve played 17 or 18 countries so far, so we’ve done quite a lot of touring. But we’re really excited for India. We don’t really have a clue what it’s going to be like, but we’re excited.
Do you think the new album will be out by then? What stage are you at?
BM: We’re looking to release it early 2015, but I doubt it will be out before the India festival. We’re just finishing the writing process now, which is locked. Once that’s done, we’re going on tour and we’re lookÂing to record when we get back. It’s close to completion now.
Jermaine comes from a rap and grime background. What was it like getting inÂtroduced to metal?
Jermaine Hurley [JH]: It was good and kinda easy for me. I’m the same person as I am when I’m into grime and hip hop. I startÂed enjoying metal beats and I got into the lyrics, but it’s a little bit harder for me to pick up the lyrics, because some of the metal has screaming, but I can hear it better every day. I really enjoy it more than [being in] the hip hop scene, because we’re [Hacktivist] are a lot bigger. We’ve played more countries and got bigger.
What kind of metal bands are you tuned into now?
JH: [Australian metalcore band] In Hearts Wake. I quite like [Brit metalcore band] Architects at the moment and I’ve alÂways loved KoRn.
Do you think Hacktivist will ever get into making Jermaine go from rapping to growling?
BM: You never know, mate. Never say never. If we do, we’ll get J [Jermaine] to do the low vocals, we’ll train him up slowly.
JH: Heavy metal is around the corner. [laughs]
BM: With the album, we are expandÂing and experimenting more. There is more heavy stuff on there. I’m doing a bit of shouty stuff on top of the rapping as well.
Ben, you came from a rock and metal background, though, and you rap for Hacktivist as well. What did you grow up listening to?
BM: I first started getting into metal, it was probably at the age of 11 or 12, like Limp Bizkit, KoRn, Slipknot, Linkin Park, P.O.D. It was mostly the nu-metal thing ”“ it was kinda the same time it was kicking off that I got into it. I’ve grown up listening to AmeriÂcan hip hop and rap as well.
And you were vocalist with [UK metal band] Heart of a Coward. What was the change like?
BM: Yeah, I was in that band with Tim [James, guitarist]. I think the main difference was that when I joined Heart of a Coward, they’d already been going. It was more like getting on board. I still had my own scope, but the difference with Hacktivist is that I’ve been there from the beginning, so I’ve had a lot more influence and I’ve been able to shape the band the way I wanted.
Don’t get me wrong, I love all the stuff I’ve done in the past, but Hacktivist is definitely our best. It’s definitely the music I want to be doing. It’s more personal input, I guess.
Your combination of rap and metal has got you really popular. Now with the new album, is there a danger of being formulaic?
BM: There’s a danger, but I think we’re avoiding it. The album is still the Hacktivist sound, but when people hear the full thing, you can definitely hear a change and a step up. So it’s definitely an evolved Hacktivist. I wouldn’t say it’s close to the EP. We can get stuck in a formula, but we’ve done a lot more experimenting ”” heavier stuff, softer stuff ”” and we’re writing songs differently as well.
You’re fairly sociopolitical when it comes to lyrics and do support [worldÂwide hacking group] Anonymous as well. What kind of themes are you exploring on the new album?
BM: It’s a lot more diverse than the EP. With the EP, me and J were still getting used to writing together. The whole band was still like a new concept. But now we’ve found our feet. We’re experimenting with the music as much as with the lyrics. We’re still givÂing a message out and getting political, but we’re also writing about other life experiencÂes or stories.
JH: There’s some fun stuff on tracks that’ll make you happy. But also some sad stuff. We’ll get a bit emotional [laughs].
What was it like playing all those big stages at Leeds and Reading?
JH: It was easier than I thought it was going to be. When I saw all of us on stage, I just thought it was meant to be. It’s a lot easÂier when the crowd is going crazy as well. We feed off the crowd and we had about three mosh pits going on at one point. When you see all that, it just comes to you naturally and becomes a whole lot of fun. I think especialÂly Soundwave in Australia, we were first on the bill and we were playing at about half 11 in the morning. For those people to come out at that time of the day to watch a band from the UK, who have only been around for a couÂple of years, is insane. We can’t wait for more of that next year.
Ben, you mentioned how you see HackÂtivist as a love-or-hate band. What’s the best and worst thing you’ve heard about the band?
BM: The best thing is when people always tell us we’re the favorite band they’ve ever had. We get some fans to come to all our shows ”“ some people have already seen us 15 times over. To get that kind of following, the kind of connection I would have with bands I loved growing up, is one of the best things.
The worst thing ”“ don’t really delve on the negatives ”” but it’s probably people saying we’re the shittiest band in the world. It realÂly is one or the other. People seem to really dig us or really despise us. But I think people that despise us are really in denial. They’ll come around eventually.
Your cover of “Niggas in Paris” was a huge hit, but do you think it got people to listen to your other songs?
BM: The cover has only done good things for us. It’s definitely got us fans who hadn’t heard of us. It gets played out a lot in clubs and stuff as well. I remember Jermaine and I were in a club in Glasgow, and this is like a couple of years ago, and they were playing it! That was like a reality check. As far as outdoÂing it, I think we can. Everything we release is a step up from what we previously wrote, so we’re going to outdo that, at some point.
Are you planning to hang around after the India show?
BM: Actually, it’s Tim’s birthday around that time and we’re going to try and wing it with our management and spare about a week. Whether or not that happens is still unÂcertain. We don’t want to go all that way just for a couple of days. We might do some explorÂing and see what’s going down in India.
This article appeared in the January 2015 issue of Rolling Stone India.