WHP FEATURE 016
DJ Zinc has always been doing his own thing. There are few artists who kick off their solo career with a track as seismic as Super Sharp Shooter- with that monster debut Zinc could have never made a track again and still earned his place in the rave history books. As it is, he’s spent the last two decades flinging out British bass music, tearing between genres and carving classics from a subtly shifting palette of deep subs and earworm melodies, aided by a constant desire to push himself further. His drum n bass back catalogue is littered with killers, from scene defining anthems such as the Ready or Not remix, to deeper cuts loved by heads – the tempo switching tricks of Reach Out, the lush melodies of Casino Royale or the nutty drum patterns of Ska. But the same depth in discography is equally there in his work with house and garage; tracks like 138 Trek and Wile Out saw Zinc define the dancefloor in the ‘00s and ‘10s as much as he had in the ‘90s.
Before his appearance at Rodigan’s Ram Jam this Thursday, we grabbed some time with Zinc to get some rare knowledge from an artist who has remained in demand for decades. As he moved from reminiscing over classic electro albums, to dropping surprisingly passionate advocacies for piracy, two things were clear; he’s driven by a relentless thirst for the new, and he loves his job…What have you got planned for the Warehouse Project show?
I never know what you’re going to play… Well, I’m on after Matt Jam Lamont and before Randall So you’re the bridge?
I guess so. When I saw the itinerary come through I thought, yeah this is great. It means I can start off with the more house-y stuff I’ve been into lately and then lead into the jungle for Randall’s set Have you written any tracks that switch tempo, that can specifically take you from house to jungle?
I did a track called Faster on the album of the same name – that went from 60bpm from 115bpm – but I’ve never made one that switches from house to jungle. Marky did a remix of Wile Out that goes from drum n bass into house and back into drum n bass. If I need one track that goes from one straight through to the other I use that.I’ve heard various edits of your tunes – there’s a house edit of Super Sharp Shooter, right?
Yeah, there’s a Jack Beats edit that didn’t come out, and Riva Starr did an edit that also didn’t come out – there’s a few versions of it out there. Is it odd messing around with speeds? Back in the day you would have played a drum n bass set that would have stayed pretty much solid at one tempo all the way through.
Exactly, yeah. I used to play one tempo, now it depends where I’m at. Last Saturday I played a jungle set, the week before it was all house – it depends what I’m doing, I don’t have one set thing. But there are different ways that you can use technology now, you can loop stuff and increase the speed- you can be quite creative and I really enjoy that side of things. When I look back on how it was when I used to play jungle and drum n bass, I’d just be playing dubplates, one record into another with occasionally a third deck – now, although I know it takes a lot of skill to do that well, it seems quite limited compared to the options you get with current technology. I always got an impression that you’re sets were quite crafted-
Hahahah…. Maybe [he doesn’t sound convinced] yeah… I think with DJing what I’ve always tried to do is keep myself interested. I use my own preferences as a barometer of what to do. So do you ever find yourself booked for, say, a drum n bass set and find yourself wishing you were playing house?
It’s funny, when I was playing a drum n bass set last weekend, the three requests I got were for my house tracks – Wile Out and Show Me. And then when I was playing house in Sheffield there was some bloke in the front going ‘play some drum n bass! When’s the drum n bass coming on!’ he was very enthusiastic. But drum n bass is like a satellite thing – if you’re into house you can listen to a bit of techno, and if you’re into techno you can listen to a bit of house, but if you’re into drum n bass, house is not close. Still, sometimes I’m playing some jungle, I drop into house and people go crazy – I always think it’ll be the other way round. It’s hard to predict. But personally, I don’t get frustrated and think ‘I wish I could play this or that’ – I only play music that I like. When I say I use my own preferences, I mean that sometimes there’s been tracks within the scene that I don’t play because I don’t really like them, and I know that I could get a massive reaction from playing them, but I just think, I’m not that bothered. I’m not thinking, ‘oh what will work?’, I’m thinking, ‘what would I want to hear if I was in the club now?’ So when you are playing house, whose music are you into?
I heard Lorenzo’s new album and I’m really, really into it. It’s coming out in November, and it’s really impressive. I’ve been listening like, fucking hell! It’s really good – which I love. As a producer, I love hearing something that I think is really good – it’s nice to have inspiration, and to hear people who are on the same sound – otherwise you’re thinking, ‘I like what I’m making, but I’m not sure if it makes sense to anyone else’ We’ve done some studio work together and I’m really looking forward to hearing more. I still feel it’s pretty hard to make a good dance album…
Yeah, but what is an album? The idea has changed, we don’t consume music in the same way that we used to. When I was young an album was one piece of vinyl that you’d listen to. You might pick up the needle and skip a track, or listen to the whole a side and b side, but it was very different to what we do now. Out of interest were there any albums you used to rinse when you were younger?
Well when I first got into music I didn’t really have any money to buy an album, so I used to tape things. I had a Westwood show from when he was on Radio London or something – this was when I was around 14 – and I listened to it again and again. It was just some random radio show but for me it was really important. I’d say to people ‘have you heard this thing!’ And it was just a random show, but because it was all I had it was a big deal to me. There wasn’t the internet, you couldn’t acquire music, it was so, so limited. Things are better now, it’s nice to see what we’ve gained, but it’s important to keep an eye on what we lose by the technology changing stuff. I feel like the sampling culture of hip hop has had a big influence on your sound
Yeah hip hop was really influential on me from the start. I love sampling and still do a lot. If you use a breakbeat you’re taking the soul of this dude from 1970 or whatever and putting it in your song, it gives it a new dimension and life. You’re borrowing a little piece of vibe and I love that. But getting back to the album thing, I think the Crucial Electro record was the one – again my mate recorded it for me on a tape to tape set up. Was that one of the Street Sounds compilations?
I think people really underrate what a massive impact Street Sounds had on the music scene in this country Yeah! This was when I was in school and I was trying to do breakdancing – that was the first album I would listen to and listen to – When you say you were trying to breakdance, how good were you?
Hahaha fucking shit! I could do a bit... There were no camera phones then so I can’t say how shit I was, but let’s be honest, I wasn’t going to go on and represent Forest Gate for breakdancing. It’s mad to think just how big the breakdancing craze in England was – it really fed into a generation being ready for house music
It’s interesting, the way dance music swept in. I was talking to someone the other day and he was asking me, ‘oh how long do you think you can keep going on with DJing?’ And when I got into it, the oldest person doing it was 24, so I thought that was the oldest I could do it til, then Id have to do something else. Now you get someone like Rodigan who’s 65 and incredibly inspiring. And Westwood’s no spring chicken-
No, so the whole thing about the music that came along at the end of the 80s is that it really was revolutionary. It was a big deal, and the electro stuff really changed the state of music. And tape to tape copying... Pirating kept music alive rather than killing it-
Yeah, I love pirating. I always say to anybody, I’ll put it on twitter or facebook, if you’ve got any of my music on your hard drive, give it to everybody. People are surprised, they’re like ‘wow, why would you want to give it away?’ They don’t get it, it’s like they’re stuck in the 90s – the fact that I can make a track and give it to ten people without it costing me anything is great. I used to have to pay for vinyl, and if I make a record I’m not gonna say, here take a copy, it’s free, because I would have had to have paid to have it manufactured. But if I don’t have to pay for something I’ll give it to as many people as possible! On the other hand I guess I’m lucky that I DJ and I’ve got other bits and pieces going on so I don’t have to rely on the income from records – thank God… (laughs) People do fetishize the 90s in a funny way – there was a lot of shit back then.
Nostalgia is interesting, people really do remember the good and forget the bad. Fuck, I so much prefer to live now than then, the way the internet has changed the world, so much work that I do now has been made so much easier by the internet. Talking of technology, you mentioned that it’s changed your DJing – what do you play on?
I use Traktor. I did use Serato for a bit when I first switched from vinyl around 2008. At first I found switching from vinyl- where the only visual clues are the groove – to go to Traktor where there’s loads of information on the screen was too much for me. Serato felt more like you were playing records. And then after using Serato for a couple of years there were a couple of things that I wanted to do that they hadn’t implemented, just stuff to do with moving tracks between different decks and using multiple inputs, but you could do it on Traktor. I had to get my head around looking at a screen in the club though – when you see a DJ looking at a laptop it looks so shit doesn’t it? I really cringe if I see pictures of myself doing it – it’s just not quite right, but I love using Traktor though, I find it really intuitive. OK, finally are there any tracks that you’re almost certainly gonna be dropping on Thursday?
I’ve got a new track coming out in January, it’s got a girl singing on it, it’s a housey thing and in my sets recently it’s been the biggest thing I’ve been playing, so I’ll definitely drop that. I’ve got a few other things I’ve been working on – a new track I’ve made with My Nu Leng I’ll play. And somehow I’ll get in the jungle stuff...