By Ashley Zimmerman
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The life of a big-time dance-music producer seems easy enough. You travel the world, hang out with your buddies, meet adoring fans, and you make tons of money while doing it.
But that's just the surface. If you're a real artist, there's a serious balancing act between fueling your passion for creativity, writing something fans can relate to, and figuring out how to best package and sell your end product.
It can be a tricky tightrope to walk, but at the end of the day, that feeling of self-satisfaction is key. Dylan DC of Zeds Dead knows it's all about feeding that insatiable urge to write.
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"For me and Zach [Rapp-Rovan, AKA Hooks], we were always producers first before being DJs," DC said. "We'd be making music whether we were successful or not, continuously. It's almost like a need; it's like a drug. I go too long without making music and I start freaking out, feeling unproductive."
It's that kind of passion that attracted Diplo's label, Mad Decent. Zeds' latest release is Somewhere Else, an eight-track musical journey that delivers everything from big-room house to futuristic trap and sexy trip-hop beats, all while maintaining enough innovation to keep the most discerning listener bobbing his head.
Somewhere Else is aptly named. The cover depicts a commercial airplane destroyed by giant, creepy vines and alien tentacles. By the time the EP is finished, you might feel like you've been on an interstellar journey, and DC said that was due in part to the way it was put together.
"It didn't really take shape until pretty close to when the album actually came out," he explained. "That's sort of why it's Somewhere Else, because it's not an album in that we would create something that's conceptual, that would be a listen front to back, even though I do think the songs go together in a way. It's like each song is its own planet or realm."
If you're expecting a lot of harsh dubstep drops and gritty wobbles, you'll find a few hints of those days, but longtime fans will be happy to hear Zeds Dead flexing its musical muscles.
"Me and Zach have always done tons of different stuff," DC said. "If you go back and actually really look at our catalog over the last eight years and check out some of the releases we've done, to me, it doesn't come as a big surprise to venture into some of these areas. We actually already have."
When the group released "Hadouken," a pleasantly experimental trap-influenced house track that goes just as hard as it does deep, some fans commented on YouTube, lamenting that Zeds Dead "changed their sound."
"People's perceptions are that way a lot because our most popular stuff has probably been our dubstep stuff or harder-hitting stuff, but we've always made a point of making whatever we felt like or what inspired us at the time," DC pointed out. "In a way, it's been our mission to challenge people's expectations of us, not have people become comfortable or expecting any one thing from us. I think within our hard-core fan base, that's definitely resonated."
Still, he's not mad at those who take a shallower approach to their repertoire.
"I get it too, because you really identify with something," he said. "That style of music might really resonate with a specific time in your life or make you feel like it's part of your identity. Some people get really passionate when people change and do other stuff — it upsets them. But as a producer, especially as an electronic producer, it's just way too boring for me to stay in one place."
Somewhere Else is full of collaborations. Hipster heartthrob Twin Shadows makes an appearance, as does alt icon Perry Farrell, Mad Decent cosignees Big Gigantic, and many others. More than anything else, the guys were stoked to work with Sean Price.
"Me and Zach both grew up listening to Boot Camp Clik and a lot of old-school hip-hop guys like that," DC said. "He's a personal rap idol for us, so to be able to get in the studio with him was really cool. He's superpro too. We just played him the beat, he went in the booth, spat the whole thing one time, and it was done. He's also mad funny too, so it was cool just kicking it with him for a bit."
It's been less than a month since Somewhere Else was unleashed into the universe, and the guys are loving the response the tracks are getting in their live shows. "It allows you to build a whole new set around the songs," DC explained. "We have versions of the songs that aren't on the album that we play out live, VIPs of them and edits, so it's cool. Recently, we've been able to overhaul the set a lot and change things up, so it's not only exciting for the fans and people who watch it but also for us when we play."
No doubt you'll hear most of these new tracks and more when Zeds Dead makes its appearance as part of the Mad Decent Block Party lineup in Fort Lauderdale. The annual summertime traveling fest has become a fan favorite, legendary for its over-the-top antics and stacked lineups.
"The whole thing started out as that real block party vibe — no frills, no production, just free, crazy atmosphere," DC said. "Now they've gotten a lot more production put into them, but I think it still sort of retains some of that crazy vibe that the old ones did."
In Fort Lauderdale, Zeds Dead will be joined by Mad Decent faves Dillon Francis, DJ Snake, Flosstradamus, Flume, Remedy, Riff Raff, and What So Not. Headlining the event is very special guest, Action Bronson.
"It's the Mad Decent crew," DC noted. "It's all over the place, which goes with the whole label's mantra or mission, which is just to have stuff that's all over the board and weird and fun."
DC and Zach made it out to Revolution for the block party last year, so they're stoked about returning to what stood out as one of the wildest dates on the tour, especially armed with the new material.
"We're superexcited for the show and all the block parties," he said. "Last year at Fort Lauderdale was fuckin' insane, so I expect this one to be good too. They go hard."