Nathan Biddles

Interview: Hacktivist, JJ Olifen “We’re self-released. We haven’t got a label behind us at the moment. So, everything we’re doing is in-house and it’s organic. And I like that.”

Hacktivist have been away working very hard since they announced JJ Olifent, previously of metalcore act Borders as their new co- vocalist at Tech- Fest last year. We caught up with the man himself to chat about their upcoming musical campaign to bring Hackitivist into sharp focus in 2024. An assault that has just kicked off with the ‘Crooks and Criminals’ and ‘Forgot about H’ singles. You’ll read as a bonus that we ended up on all sorts of topics we didn’t expect to chat about, but as JJ himself might say, “You’ve gotta catch ’em all!” 

Hello JJ , it’s been roughly a year since we last interviewed you, the last time we spoke was at Techfest. You had literally just been announced as the new vocalist. You did the interview then jumped straight on stage.

“Yeah, so you caught the nerves yeah, and then you came at us with oh do you want to try some spicy stuff?”

No, you see we’ve learned a lot since then, vocalists have got to watch their voices, you know. They can’t do Carolina Reapers and the like before a performance!

“Oh, you can’t mate, you can’t. Maybe after the show though, we did say that we might do that at some point soon!”

So, how’s it been since Techfest? That was a big gig! What happened after that?

“So, we pretty much put all of our focus into writing music. We had like a few gigs. We played one in Helsinki which was wild. That was my first European show with the band. We played Techfest, the Techabilitation thing as well. But mainly we were just using the time to get together like a body of work and start working on which singles are going to be next in the plan of attack really so we’ve not really geeked too much but we’re ready to come back and build the momentum back up again.”

Yeah, absolutely it’s been a minute since ‘Hyperdialect’ came out but obviously that’s to be expected with the lineup change and Hacktivist material is mega technical as well. It takes a while to write those tunes, doesn’t it?

“Yeah, it does. James spends hours in the studio, man, just writing stuff. But he’s always sending his ideas back and forth. And then of course, we need to, with the lyrics, we need to make sure that it’s hard hitting and we’re talking about the right topics and also topics that we haven’t spoken about before. So, we’re really, really trying to work hard on this next release, man.”

Because there’s two of you writing lyrics, do you just compare notes? You’ll say, we’ll write about this, you go away, do your bit. What’s the process?

“We really bounce well off each other, me, and Jay writing lyrics. I mean, the rest of the guys will give us little bits and bobs of things to change things up, but me and Jay, if he’s written a hook or he’s got an idea for a song, nine times out of ten I agree with his opinion on it, and then I can be like, oh it’ll be cool if maybe we do a back and forth with it, or maybe actually you do my lyrics, I do your lyrics. So, we’re really open to each other’s bars and this new release Crooks and Criminals, that was actually the first song that I wrote entirely lyrically with the band and Jay was just vibing with it. Jay can turn up in the studio and you can be like bro here’s a sheet of lyrics and he’ll be like say no more man I’m there! He’s so quick to adapt and he’ll come to me with me with a song and I’ll be like sick it’ll just fit those bars so well its great you’ve got that relationship where there’s no like ego. It’s like an hour and a half coach to Dan’s in Milton Keynes for me so like we do meet up probably every month, grab a Wagamamas, write some bars, a few beers and that. It’s good.”

So, ‘Crooks and Criminals’  recently came out, it’s definitely gone in hard with the grime influence. It’s really impressive. Also impressive is that you are responsible for the bars on that because your previous band, it was different stylistically, now you’re full-on writing bars.

“I know it’s kind of a crazy transition right, but you know I used to, probably the same as yourself, you were into dance music, but I used to listen to a lot of grime growing up. I used to go to rap battles, not, that I never performed at a rap battle, but I’d always be there and supporting the local scene for it. But also band wise like Linkin Park, Korn, Limp Bizkit, all of these bands growing up, so the influence was there, so I think it’s been quite a challenge, but it’s been quite easy to step into. And now back and forth with Jay, I feel confident in writing bars on a metal track.”

Art Credit: Josh Turner

So, getting into a well-established act such as Hacktivist who made a splash when they first hit the scene, you couldn’t move for Hacktivist stuff, and have still got that really hardcore following because it is such a unique band. How did it feel joining such an established act, where you know it’s already a thing you don’t have to build from the ground up. Now you’ve got to build a new version of it.

“Exactly! Like I’ve got to make sure that I come correct for the fans because I know they’ve got almost like a cult following from back in the day. I think I wanted to bring something a little bit different to it as far as aggressive vocals go, because I feel like naturally, together we’ve kind of evolved, because the music was getting slightly heavier, and then as the vocalists have changed, like from Ben to Jot, Jot to me, like Jot was starting with a few more screams and a bit more of the fast-paced, Attila-style, heavy, rappy, screamy vocals. Now, because I’ve got experience for probably 10, 11 years in a metalcore band, I can bring full-on screams to it. It’s just a wild one live man!”

Oh yeah, it’s doing damage. I mean, it’s got that grime influenced keyboard hook on it as well, it sounds so bloody British it’s just such a UK sound. You wouldn’t hear that coming out of America. Grimes about the only thing that makes us feel patriotic, we’re really glad that came out of our country.

“Yeah, I’m not a fan of drill music to be honest, that’s like the new grime.”

It’s just gone too far.

“It is for me. It’s like the UK mumble rap!”

And we’re over auto-tune, man.

“Just give me a Dizzy Rascal, D-double-E, any day.”

There we are.

“Yeah, the real shit!”

So, is the album done? Is it written? Is it in the bag?

“We’ve definitely got a body of work; we’re just fine-tuning and working out which songs blend together into a release. For now, because we want to stay consistent, like I know Hacktivist in previous years has gone quite some time between releases, so what we want to do now is just come back all at once and release singles every month, every two months, whatever. So, we’ve got  three or four in the pipeline of just singles and then because we’ve got that ready to go from now until like the middle of the year, towards the end of the year, we’ll be planning the actual release of the album or whatever it ends up being. It might not be an album, it could be an EP, it could be two EPs, whatever’s going to work.”

This is the same conversation we think a lot of bands are having these days. The way you release music has changed. The emphasis being on singles a lot more because the listeners changed. So, you can do that where you drip feed the singles. It’s a bit more exciting.

“Yeah, and you used to have to kind of rely on things like magazines picking you up or radio stations picking you up. But now it’s the complete opposite. Like I know that these magazines, radio stations still exist. It’s really cool to get on those. I think Kerrang! actually listed us in their top singles on their release chart, which was pretty wicked. But now every band has got a budget behind them, every band is marketing. So, I feel like there is competition and you have to stay consistent because the fans want releases. So yeah, a lot of people, bands like Holding Absence are an example, they’ll release, but they’ll do a single a month until it turns into an EP or an album or whatever else. So yeah, we’re choosing the same strategy.”

Yes, it does seem like the way people consume music is changing the way bands can market themselves. So, you can have like someone like Ren who, it’s just fully his own thing and self-released, he was on Sony for a bit and then they dropped him, then he just went and did better on his own, so this is sending warning shots out to the labels, it’s just like hang on you know, careful. We could beat you at your own game and make more money!

“At the moment, we’re self-released. We haven’t got a label behind us at the moment. So, everything we’re doing is in-house and it’s organic. And I like that. I mean, labels do offer a lot of support and we’re open to that in the future. But for now, we’re just having fun, man.”

Absolutely, if you can get a good PR behind you, that’s half the battle these days

because you could just put the music out there yourself. So, we’ve not talked about pressing plants and stuff like that, unless you’re gonna do vinyl. So, with that being more media friendly, you need the label to pay for promotion. Now the promotion is the side you can struggle to do as a band really because you haven’t got the time a PR has.

“Well actually we’re quite lucky because I work for a PR and marketing agency Doing everything inhouse with, Sick Set Media So it gives me the opportunity to push it in the way that I want to push it and the rest of the lads are behind that as well.”

We’re seeing that a lot with bands, especially the sort of bands that we interview, quite a few have got day jobs in the industry. So, I know a few that are tour managers, guitar tech, stuff like that, they just stay on the road.

“It is amazing. I mean, I’m, I’m slightly different. So, I have got that side. I’m also a Pokémon dealer.”

Right, that sounds so shady. Like, you know in a dark alleyway kind of way….

“Yeah man, I started off as a collector and now I just deal Pokémon.”

There’s money in those things!

“There’s a lot of money in those things yeah and it’s enjoyable because I get to relive my childhood. It’s wild man, I do enjoy it, I’m always going to have a passion for music and Hacktivist is definitely the right place for me.”

You seemed to fit in really quick, we were aware at Techfest this was your first gig, but some of the audience wouldn’t have been, but you just looked like you’ve been there the whole time, like straight in, just confident you know?

“Yeah, I put a lot of work into the actual live performance and with the lads we’ve got such a good connection, such a good friendship, so it felt natural and after that show at Techfest, lads were just like, “it felt on stage like you’ve been there forever.”  I like to feel the energy on stage, I get that back from the crowd, it’s such a buzz, it’s like a drug to me, so I crave it and when I go for it, I go for it and people often say like you’re always smiling which is weird for a metal vocalist. They say when I see you smile it makes us smile it makes us buzz off it and I love that man so… I know we have to be super serious in parts, but I don’t like to adopt the generic you’ve got to be super serious and angry and write stuff about the devil. There’s room for a bit of fun in Hacktivist.”

When we’re photographing the bands, if the band looks like they’re having a great time your photos come out really well because it’s good to have a smile in there once in a while you know. We were talking to Sam from Employed to Serve about literally the same thing last week and he was saying, there is serious subject matter there but at the end of the day you go to a metal show as a laugh, it’s meant to be good fun you’ve been working all week you let loose and have a good time.

“Exactly you want to be jumping about, mosh pits, wall of death, like crowd surfing and yeah, I get it’s different for people of maybe different ages or like, because I do like to go to a gig and stand at the back with a pint. That is my vibe now, going into my 30s. But you’ll get kids at the front that are 18 going wild. So, there’s different vibes and whatever people want to do, it’s cool.”

There is a third phase there you get to 46 and become a journalist.

“Well, listen I expect to see you in the mosh pit there’s no excuse!”

In the photo pit, how is that? So, are there touring plans coming up this year, festivals? you are confirmed for Mangata aren’t you?

“So, on the 13th of July, we’re doing the Mangata Festival, which is quite special because it’s in Nottingham. And Hacktivist hasn’t played Nottingham since 2017. It’s also my hometown, it’s where I’m from. So, it’s a bucket list for me to headline the Rescue Room Stage. So, anyone that wants to come down, it’s our only gig for now, so it’s going to be a big one. I’m going to put a lot into it, but as far as touring plans go, we’ve had some discussions, some offers of certain things to get on towards the end of the year. I think the focus is just get the releases out first and then see what happens off the back of that.”

Absolutely! Stamp out the new tunes so everyone knows what they’ve got to mosh to this year. We’re so glad to hear that it’s all working out so well. We knew it would be because you can’t fake that chemistry. Hacktivist is a vibe!

Is there anyone you want to shout out to before we sign off? Anybody catching your eye at the moment?

“So as far as up and coming bands, there’s two that come to mind. There’s a band called In Retrospect who are actually from Leeds. So, they’re like a Nu metal type vibe. We recently did a feature for them as well on their new track. So, shout out to those guys, they’re absolutely killing it. And then there’s a band called Waterlines as well. I met them when my old band Borders played at Download Festival. They were on the same stage, I made really good friends with the vocalist, and he’s literally come to my wedding. He’s a good mate, we were just running around like kids at Download. We ended up getting in the main stage area and all these celebrities walking past us, we were like, “Jesus Christ!” You know you said earlier about adapting to being in an established band and stuff. I’m still a massive fan of other bands and I don’t think that will stop!”

That’s important for any journalist, musician, video maker etc. You’ve got to think as a fan, what would you want to hear? What would you want to see? What would make you excited?  You’ve got to stay a little kid at heart really…

“Exactly yeah, I think staying humble, staying kind to people, appreciating the fans, not getting like a stereotypical rock star persona. You know I mean if I go to shows I love speaking to people. I think staying true to your roots that’s the main thing for me.”

Interview By George Miller –

Band Photos: Nathan Biddles