Zeds Dead talks Deadbeats Records, production, and exploding birthmarks [Interview]
Bass music heavyweights Zeds Dead have spent more than a decade producing music together since pairing up in 2006, building a massive following, and relentlessly touring. Beginning with a mutual love of hip hop, they began to experiment with electronic music and DJing not long after the duo’s inception. Now, the artists are moving in a new direction after having put in the work to establish themselves as well-respected tastemakers. Introducing Deadbeats Records in early 2016, Zeds Dead have taken a new, curative role in electronic music, showcasing their favorite smaller artists via label releases, radio show features, and tour support.
The diversity in Zeds Dead’s genres and production styles has carried over to their devoted fan base, with open-minded people happy to take in what the artists have to offer. With that in mind, the Deadbeats imprint seems to be purely interested in sharing new music with their following.
These dedicated fans are as ready to keep the party going as much as they are musically savvy, as evidenced by one of the strangest tour stories ever brought to Dancing Astronaut where Zeds Dead shared exactly how dedicated their fans can get. After what was thought to be a stabbing at the duo’s show in Sweden, the artists were in for a major surprise.
They stopped the show and said somebody got stabbed in the crowd. We were like, “What? Someone got stabbed? That’s not the vibe.” Obviously that’s never happened before. We thought this was going to be bad… Then, the cops got there and they found out that nobody got stabbed and actually, some guys birthmark exploded because he was getting so rowdy or something. I don’t know, but his birthmark his exploded and there was blood all over the place. I didn’t even know a birthmark could explode.
Zeds Dead have worldwide appeal, ensuring they rock any global setting they find themselves in with nothing but raunchy, heavy bass. Their production, as well as their mindset, signifies a respect of and engagement in the global dance music culture. Influenced by U.K. bass music, the scene in their hometown of Toronto, and more, the duo put forward authentic and innovative electronic music on a regular basis.
Dancing Astronaut had the privilege of chatting with Zachary Rapp-Rovan, better known as Hooks of Zeds Dead to talk about their record label, touring, and more just in time for the music video for their most recent single, “Blood Brother.”
I wanted to start by asking you about your record label, Deadbeats. You guys have established yourself pretty quickly as a label with your Deadbeats Compilation, tour, and radio show. What do you guys look for in signee?
We have kind of an aesthetic in mind that we’re interested in, but at the same time we’re very open to a lot of different things. We have our fan base, and we always wanted to be able put them on to cool stuff that we like plus our own music, so a label is a great way to do that. When we find artists we like, we can show it to them and build the label for its own fans. We’re really open to different styles, but we are aware of what our fan base is. Like if we give them something that’s way, way too poppy, it might be weird. But there’s so much that falls under what we would consider putting out on Deadbeats.
Do you guys have any favorite producers out there right now, any prospects for the label?
A lot of the people we’ve put out so far we’re really into. Champagne Drips is doing really cool stuff, Nebbra’s really dope, they’re about to put out an EP. I find there’s so much new music but there’s not a whole lot of artists that I know of for more than just one song. I’m digging all the songs for the radio show. I put together a bunch of cool stuff I find in the week, and sometimes I don’t even remember who the songs are by. I feel like a few years ago, there were more people who were like constantly working, not that there aren’t now. There are a good amount now, there a lot of people who are putting out one really good track.
You mentioned your fan base, which is an extremely dedicated and almost cult-like at times. Is that something you aimed for when you started off, or were you surprised by how you amassed such a following?
We were pretty surprised, we didn’t aim for anything like that. When we started, we were just trying to get our music heard. We had a hip hop group called Mass Productions, and we took like a year, after messing with electronic music, to make some that we thought was good and have things to release under Zeds Dead. So at the time, we were just trying to be heard. I guess through just constantly releasing music and touring we developed really hyped up fans. Its amazing, someone we kinda looked up to is Wu-Tang, we do the hand sign too [laughs]. But there wasn’t really a thought about that when we started out. When we started, we had to learn how to DJ as well. So we didn’t even know that that was a way that could get us to that level.
When you’re putting out your music on the label, do you feel any pressure to cater to diehard, old fans of yours or are they pretty receptive to the new work and styles that you dive into?
I feel like over time, we have shown that we do a variety of types of music and never really stayed in one style. A lot of artists don’t understand why people are like that. If I really think about it, my favorite bands, I’m always the one who’s like “I liked their first album.” Take Wu-Tang for example. I’m not really interested in hearing them on modern style rap beats, like I enjoy the music that I know them for, and that sound. But that being said, we’re a different type of artist, I think. As a producer, you do have more freedom and I’m super happy that people have been down to let us progress.
It seems like you guys have so much range in what you’re able to produce in terms of electronic music, you’re proficient in making dubstep, drum and bass, future bass, house, hip-hop. When you have that much range, what is your production process like. Do you go in and just mess around and see what you get, or do you usually bring in specific ideas?
I don’t really do it with a genre idea, it usually starts with melody and vocals and then just figuring it out as we go along. Sometimes there’s an idea we work towards though, it’s always different. Sometimes we make several versions of a song , that’s one of the hard parts I think, when a song could sound good in a few different genres. For example, the song “Slow Down” that we did. It started off as a house song that then went into a trip-hop, kinda dark dubstep kinda thing. We split it into two and put the trip-hop version on the album. But then we always liked the house one too so we eventually just put that one out. We rarely do that, but for that one we felt like both of them were legit.
It seems you guys have always been fans of collaboration, obviously on the new album with Rivers Cuomo, Pusha T, and Diplo. But even going back to your collabs with Big Gigantic, your EPs with Omar LinX, what draws you into this collaborative process?
We like it when its good [laughs]. There are collabs that haven’t worked out. There are collaborations that we’ve tried, and we’ll probably try again. When it works, it’s great. In a sense, we’re like collaboration too.
That’s true, you’ve already got two minds in the studio. Do the two of you usually just work together in the studio with other artists in mind, or do you try to get together in a creative space with the people you work with?
It’s always different. I would prefer to get in the studio with everybody, but it doesn’t always work out that way. And sometimes it’s cool when someone sends you a vocal first and then you can work from there, but usually we try to get in the studio with someone, play them some stuff, and then work on it together.
The last time I saw you guys live was in London, your show at Heaven last November. After studying electronic music in London, it became obvious that the dance music community seemed to embrace an electronic culture that doesn’t always align with the EDM culture in America, but still has this reverence to drum and bass, dubstep, and grime. What are you thoughts on the scene and the London sound?
For sure, I think that London and the UK are very much a driving force in electronic music. The BBC plays cool music. We don’t have radio that plays cool music, and that’s a big difference. They support British artists a lot so you hear cool styles that started there. And a lot of the styles originated there, not to say that there isn’t a lot of original stuff in north America. But I think that in a lot of ways, it’s because of the BBC and the DJs on there who get to play basically what they want. Over here, the radio is controlled by the major record labels, so you don’t hear cool underground music on the radio. Over there, smaller artists can get up there.
I’ve been to Toronto, your hometown, a few times and it while its not exactly the same, it seems to have a similar vibe. Do you see some parallels between the two cities?
Well, in some ways. They said that Toronto was like the second drum & bass capital, behind London in the 90s and 2000s. It was before my time, I didn’t go to raves and stuff growing up but the drum & bass scene was huge in Toronto. I do think that the grime stuff hits over there too, obviously Drake has been really interested in that.
You guys have been intensely touring for most of your career. Do all these tours and shows affect the way you make your music?
Yeah, it does, I think. First of all, if you make something, you can play it the next day probably. You can see how people react to it. If it’s a song meant for the dance floor, you can do tests and stuff. You can also see what other tracks kind of work with it. Flights can you the opportunity to work, but they can also be bad. Sometimes I get motivated to do a lot of work on flights, sometimes I’m just asleep.
Do you guys have a craziest tour story?
Gosh, I need an anecdote [laughs]. Here’s a funny story. One time we were in Sweden and we were playing a show. It was a good show, everything was going great. Then we heard, “We gotta evacuate.” They stopped the show and said somebody got stabbed in the crowd. We were like, “What? Someone got stabbed? That’s not the vibe.” Obviously that’s never happened before. We thought this was going to be bad, someone was going to write a bad piece about this, saying our music inspired people to do something like that. Then, the cops got there and they found out that nobody got stabbed and actually, some guys birthmark exploded because he was getting so rowdy or something. I don’t know, but his birthmark his exploded and there was blood all over the place. I didn’t even know a birthmark could explode.
Wow, yeah, that’s absolutely insane.
We’re just thankful that nobody got violent.
You have a new video coming out, right?
Yeah, it’s for “Blood Brother,” with DISKORD and Reija Lee. The song is about friendship and we thought it would be a cool twist to make the video about dogs.
So what can we expect in the future from Zeds Dead? Is there anything big on the horizon?
We’re working on a lot of new music, we’re trying to build up Deadbeats from the ground up, so we’ve got the radio show going, which were really excited about. I love making that show. We’re trying to do these Deadbeats shows, we’ve got one in Miami coming next. We’re just focusing on doing stuff with Deadbeats for now.
And just one final question, what is Omar LinX up to? You used to work with him a lot, is there anything going on with him?
Yeah! Omar has got new music coming, we’ve got some stuff with him that will be on his next project as well.