One of the performers at last year’s Red Bull Thre3Style World Finals in Chicago, Z-Trip is a pioneer of mash up music, or ‘extreme mixing’ as he puts it. JUICE got to speak with the sage-like veteran DJ-producer about the nature of dance music, taking chances, and heavy f*cking metal!
A lot people acknowledge you as one of the pioneers of mash up music. Do you recognised that yourself?
It’s interesting, a lot of people recognise me as that cause at the time, there were people who were doing that style of mixing, but I think I sort of helped popularise it in a way, me and this guy called DJ P. We both made a mix called Uneasy Listening, and at the time that we put it out there, nobody had done a full mix of all that stuff in one place. It’s something that you would mix into your set to let people know what you were into but we were taking all the other music, stuff that you would normally play, and filled them up with really interesting combos. I think that really helped people wrap their heads around the concept of mixing, but for me mash ups weren’t really an idea, it was just really mixing the most extreme mixes we could make, and it’s interesting cause my angle has always been about mixing from any style of music, all the guys who I grew up listening to, Kool Herc, Jazzy J, Grandmaster Flash, those guys were all taking different kinds of music and mixing them together and that’s my approach. Around the time where everybody was trying to stick with just hip hop, or just house, or just whatever, I was like, let me just take it all and mix it, I guess I got popular off that mix and it opened up a lot of doors and it’s kinda cool to be recognised for that but I’ve been on so many other things lately. I’m kind of happy that that fad died down a little bit so I can actually focus on other stuff. It’s kind of interesting to see how it goes from style to style, whether is Mash Up or Moombathon, or trap or dubstep or whatever, it’s like everyone gravitates to what the hottest thing is. The more a new thing pops up, it just comes back, building a bigger craze.
Does that mean mash up music is sort of what dance music is all about?
Yeah! It’s the epitome, mashing something up or mixing is a bit of a redundancy when people say mash up. Like I say, you’re mixing music, and that’s what the DJ should be doing. When people were like “oh I’m a mash up music DJ” it’s a redundancy because if you are a DJ that’s what you should be doing anyways, mixing and mashing. I like to see more of that and I think it’s happening a bit more. There used to be a time where it’s like when you spun house music you’ll never mix in some hip hop or mix in some rock. But now you go to these festivals and you see these guys who are just playing some electro music and all of the sudden they’ll throw in the Jay-Z thing or something, it’s kind of interesting because we are in a world now where it is acceptable to hear all kind of music and hear the journey but there’s a moment there where people like the hip hop community didn’t really f*ck with the house community and vice versa but in this age I think there’s a lot more cross polarisation, thank God, cause it makes for better music and it makes for better parties. So I was just taking chances a little bit earlier, which I’m happy that I did because it’s also allowed me now to have a career where I can go wherever I want musically and people are cool with it because I started out like this. But I look at people like other guys who have been established for a long time in one style that are now trying to break out into another style because their one style might be drying up and it seems a bit force, you can hear them really trying to force themselves into a new world, then it’s like had they just done all that early on then people wouldn’t be so like “oh what’s he doing now?” He’s just mixing this new thing and trying to keep it pure. Everyone wants to keep it pure, I was never about that, I was always mixing it up as best as possible. And people won’t flip out if I threw a heavy metal song in the middle of my set, they’d all actually be like “Yes! That is awesome!”
You mentioned Jay-Z and we recalled Danger Mouse, what do you think of the Grey Album? You were obviously doing mash up way before that.
It was interesting because if you look at the timeline there’s like all these different people doing different blends of cut and paste or mash up style mixing. We did our thing, there’s always people who did their component leading up to it, but Danger Mouse? His project really hit at the right time because we sort of pushed the door open, everyone before me and everyone after him were all pushing the ball uphill, the next person pushing up a little bit further, he came in at the right time where people were open to it, and when that happened it was a concept album. On top of it there was a concept of Jay-Z and the Beatles, and it was really kind of cool because nobody had done anything like that so once it made all this noise, I was like “Good, good for him.” There were a couple of things I love down there, couple of things I didn’t love but I liked the idea and the concept of it and I thought it was just another component to doing it the right way, but there are also a lot of people doing it who did a lot of stuff at that time that sounded horrible. But because of the band wagon and the hot thing people would just be like “I’m going to take this vocal, and this thing and put it together” and they do it like some concept. Say that the concept was like wood, take this song about wood and this other song that had wood in the title and they put ‘em together and it would sound like sh!t, but there’d be like this common thread about wood and wood chopping. It was more concepts than it was sonic and for me sonic always overpowers everything.
So what kind of styles do you favour these days?
As much as I’m into new stuff that comes out, dubstep, trap, EBM, whatever house hip hops, the staples of anything current, I’m still a huge fan of reggae and music proper, and roots music is always an anchor in my set and early 80s hip hop and early 90s hip hop is always a staple in my set. Scratching is already a staple in my set but also stuff I grew up on that never made its way into the DJ culture so much. Rock music is a big influence for me, heavy metal, anytime I can throw some heavy metal into the mix I will. Had I not played any of this, and just played it safe, nobody would know how many heavy metal fans were in the party. Sometimes, you just got to look at the crowd and go “I know there’s got to be somebody else in here who listens to this kind of music”, and if you do it right, and they lose their mind then yeah I’m able to connect the dots between all the music they have heard and all the music they’re going to hear and I’m the guy in the middle, who actually took in and fused some southern rock, just to make a difference, just to connects some dots. If you do it right, you take the level of the party up a couple of notch versus derailing it. I’ve always prided myself in trying to do that, as much as I’m playing the latest sound of the day.
It’s said that heavy metal fans are probably the most loyal fans in the world.
I would have to say so, yeah.
What’s your favourite heavy metal band?
That’s tough, I a big fan of Slayer, I’ve always liked Slayer cause they’re very cut n’ dry, what you see is what you get, there’s no tricks. Megadeth, Pantera, I’m fans of them. Kreator, I really like Kreator, they’re dope.
What do you look for with the Red Bull contest? You’re not a judge this time around, you’re a headlining act. But let’s say you were a judge, looking at the contest, what do you think makes a good DJ?
I think originality. Originality to me is the biggest thing that will separate you from the next guy. It doesn’t necessarily have to be skill, skill is a huge part of it, but more than anything it’s your selection and what you’re doing to separate yourself.
If Slayer, your favourite metal band, calls you up and asks you to work with them on a song…
You don’t even have to finish the question, hell yeah!
How would you approach that?
I would approach it 2 ways, I’d approach it from a traditional sense, let’s do something really traditional, really raw, double bass heavy, really proper riff-open-riff kind of thing. But once we get that out of the way, let’s try something completely forward thinking. Let’s try hooking some 808’s up to some stuff, let’s try like making a really heavy, current sounding metal record, but with you guys playing it, not syncing it up to computers. Let’s try and apply these sounds, maybe triggering some things, just to see the difference between the 2, y’know? Do something really forward thinking, and do something really classic, like 5 mics in a room and just play. I want something as raw as that, but something as futuristic. Let’s all smoke a whole bunch of weeds and drink a whole lot of whatever, get into a whole completely different head space and push the boundaries and do something none of us has done yet. Whether it’s amazing or not, we’ll see, but I think it’s about doing that and then maybe make something that’s in the middle. Look at any bands, like The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper album, they did that sh!t, just really went off on Yellow Submarine, things that at the time were like “What are they doing?”
So safe to say it won’t sound like dubstep?
No, no, but we’d probably f*ck with that too, maybe I’ll have them do a reggae tune, metal reggae tune, dub trio style.
We look forward to hearing that one. Metal rules!
Keep up to date with our local Red Bull Thre3style rep and see how he does in the finals this year at www.redbull.my.