DJ Zinc Interview

Kmag touches down with the legendary DJ Zinc ahead of his debut at Brixton Jamm Friday night for a wide-ranging chat about everything from returning to his roots and his ongoing evolution as an artist on through to the birth of ‘crack house’ where he continues to explore the possibilities of the 128-130 bpm range.

Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane and talk a bit about your childhood. Where’d you grow up? Was there anyone particularly musical in your family?

I grew up in Forest Gate, London E7. My parents weren’t really into music but mum can play piano and dad played guitar, so I guess it’s in the genes. Nothing particular was played around the house when I was small, it was more Radio 1 I reckon.

At what point does electronic/rave music enter the picture? From what I understand this was in the late 1980s which would have placed you around the point where house music was beginning to blur with early breakbeat hardcore and the like, is that right?

My first exposure was via friends’ big brothers and Pirate Radio. I wrote about this when I started doing the ‘Trust Me’ mixes – here’s what I put:

In ‘86 and ‘87 I was still at school, so can’t be certain which tracks were big in the clubs but thanks to the London pirate radio scene I was able to hear what I reckon was pretty much the same music in my own home. This was an era before mobile phones, before the internet – I’d be stuck to the radio all night long scanning the pirates with a pen and pad waiting for the presenter to say the name of any track to add to my list of tracks to buy (even though it took me a few years to finally get ‘em cos I was skint, and some of ‘em I’ve only bought recently – thank god for discogs and a good memory!!).

Electro had been big in the couple of years previously, but acid house was the new sound taking over the underground! By 1989 I’d left school and was working 9-5 then spending all my other time listening to pirates and buying music. I didn’t have enough money for turntables at this point so I used to chop up tracks using a crappy home hi-fi using the pause button. Luckily nowadays I have turntables.

‘91 was the year I started on pirate radio with my DJ partner Swift (not Mampi Swift by the way, a different one!) we were on Impact FM and our first show was the first time I’d touched a pair of Technics – till then I’d been using decks without pitch, or if I was lucky some Soundlabs. The studio mixer was an MRT 60 which was futuristic business at the time.

Swift and I did 4 hours every Saturday night and 4 hours Sunday night, plus any cover shows we could do. Keen…

Music wise – ‘91 was a real turning point, you can really hear the UK sound starting to take off, most tracks had a breakbeat instead of the 4/4 kick that had been more common before and it sounds like the samplers were getting used in the studio more and more – for me, the music up to this point was great, but from 1991 on it just becomes exceptional.

I think what’s most interesting about the early days was that the music didn’t seem to be quite so rigid in terms of genre distinctions – if anything, things tended to be grouped by bpm which in so many ways brings us full circle to your own evolution as an artist.

Absolutely – so when people say “get back to your roots” (meaning d&b) I reply – I am! The stuff I’m making now is a modern version of what I first got into I reckon…

For those who may not know, talk about how ‘crack house’ was born, what it stands for, and how it does or doesn’t differ from other labels out there (deep house, progressive house, etc.).

When I started playing and making house in 2009 there was little or no house with basslines – just a few people like Fake Blood, Jack Beats, Boy 8 Bit, etc. So I was playing a mixture of their stuff, some tech house, but there wasn’t a term for that sound (now maybe they say UK bass?) so when I started playing house, I wanted to introduce it with a new name so people would listen to it without the preconceptions they may have had about simply ‘house music.’

In many ways this is the natural evolution of the direction you were headed with Bingo when it first came out. At the time Bingo was formed did you feel like you were heading into uncharted waters? Was there an initial pushback from the d&b scene in general as you began to experiment with different styles and tempos?

The d&b heads were all cool, I think a few of the punters were pissed off but that’s to be expected. I think re: uncharted waters the LP ‘Faster’ was more on that tip.

I imagine to this day you are still dealing with this from the d&b purists who expect you to be Zinc circa 1995 for the rest of your days … Have you ever thought about switching up your production/DJ moniker to shed some of those outside genre expectations?

Yeah I think most of the people that have switched the genre they’re focusing on changing names; it makes it cleaner in terms of people expecting you to play music you no longer play, but I felt like keeping the same name.

Now you’ve got a massive show lined up this weekend at Jamm in Brixton – have you ever played there before? With Oscar Luweez and Codec in support, I imagine it’s going to be a proper deep vibe going down all night long. What kind of set should we be expecting?

I’ve never been there but I’ve been to Brixton loads and it’s always good. I’ll play house, maybe some mixed genre bits if it feels right. I never plan; I just see what feels right.

For those out there interested in following you down the 128-130 bpm rabbit hole what sort of artists or labels are you feeling at the moment? We’ve been rinsing your August 2014 Soundcloud mix all month long so maybe fill us in on some of your favorite cuts off that mix.

Hmmm I find that there’s never really one artist that I focus on, but individual tracks from a really wide range. From that mix I like the Frankie Rizardo track, the Lorenzo mix of My Nu Leng, the Redlight tune near the end, there’s a few.

Last but not least, give us a quick glimpse at what else you’ve got cooking project-wise that we should be keeping an eye out for.

I’ve got a series of EP’s coming out on Bingo Bass called ‘Structures’ – the first one in about 6 weeks, featuring some tracks included in that August mix.

DJ Zinc touches down at Brixton’s Jamm on Friday 29th August. Full details can be found here.