Zeds Dead's Hooks on Their Early Days: "We Made Our Own Scene"
Maria Jose Govea
Toronto's Zeds Dead are Dylan Mamid and Zach Rapp-Rovan, two friends who came together ten years ago over a shared interest in making beats and cultivating an unpretentious bass scene in their hometown.
Since their weekly party Bassmentality blew up back in 2010, the duo, who go by DC and Hooks, have garnered international attention for their productions and remixes, eventually getting signed to notoriously out-there dance label Mad Decent, headed by Diplo. And while they may have been lumped into the all-encompassing EDM genre, their tunes are anything but generic. A unique mix of hip-hop, drum 'n' bass, dubstep, jungle, house, and even touches of dancehall, the Zeds Dead sound is a welcomed breath of fresh air in a world of mass-produced throw-away bangers.
This Saturday, Zeds Dead perform at the annual, and sold out, Mad Decent Block Party, set to take over downtown Fort Lauderdale at the Revolution Live complex. They also headline the after-party at the same location later that night. Between tour dates, Rapp-Rovan, a.k.a. Hooks, took some time to chat with us from his hometown of Toronto about Zeds Dead's earlier productions, his thoughts on the state of EDM, and what we can expect from their shows tomorrow.
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New Times: So, you're one half of Zeds Dead.
Zach Rapp-Rovan: Yes, I'm Hooks.
Where did "Hooks" come from?
It's a nickname I've had that I created for myself when I was like 13 and started making beats. I thought it was clever at the time, like Captain Hook, you know? I used to like Peter Pan, and you know, the song, there's a part called the hook. So I thought it would be a cool producer name to be like, "Captain Hooks," and shorten it to Hooks.
And what about DC?
It stands for Dusty Crates. He used to be called Stylus, and there was this other guy in Toronto called Stylus -- like the stylus of a record. Yeah, there's a really stupid story behind that to tell you the truth, but I'm not gonna go into that.
How did the two of you meet?
We met when we were pretty young. We knew each other through a mutual friend -- our cousin, his neighbor. He had been making beats for a few months and -- it was actually later on. We met, and then I found out he was producing like hip-hop stuff, and I was starting to get into that, so I would show him my productions, and he would show me his productions, and we would critique. Eventually, we decided to start a group together because we kind of had the same taste and were making similar stuff.
So that group was called Mass Productions, and we put out an album of instrumentals called Fresh Beats, and that was in 2008, I believe. And then 2009, we started Zeds Dead because we started liking electronic music. Mass Productions was going to be the thing that we used for hip-hop stuff, like if we were gonna send our beats to rappers, which is what we were doing at the time, and then we just completely went with Zeds Dead, 'cause it kind of encompassed everything. We've been producing together for probably 10 years.
In 2010 you were doing a party called Bassmentality. Could you explain that a bit?
We weren't really getting any gigs in Toronto, and the ones we were getting were like, we'd have to play pretty mainstream stuff -- there was no place for us to play this other cool stuff we were listening to, what we thought was cool. So we weren't really getting good gigs, and our stuff was only getting somewhat of a buzz in the U.K., so we started this Bassmentality party just as a weekly thing to sort of hone our DJ skills and play whatever the heck we wanted.
It was a free party and we didn't even get paid or anything. It was just really fun, and it blew up and kind of became the bass party for Toronto. We had to move to a bigger venue and it lasted for a couple years, and yeah. It was really good, Bassmentality, every Wednesday. We had a lot of people before they kind of blew up, like Skrillex and Borgore, Nearo, and Doctor P, all when they weren't that big.
What was the scene like then in Toronto?
There were other bass parties, but this one became sort of the main one. The other ones, they weren't booking us. We weren't in any sort of a scene, but we made our own scene. Because the other guys were -- I don't know, it's sort of like a snobby, older, exclusive club thing. They weren't really trying to book us for anything, anything cool at least.
How would you describe your current sound versus productions you were doing earlier on?
It's really anything -- I always struggle with this question. It's always sort of remained the same in a way. It always represents what we've soaked up over the years, like hip-hop is a main influence. Different sound textures of drum 'n' bass and dubstep. We make whatever, though, very different tempo ranges. Sometimes we'll make a house beat, sometimes dubstep or drum 'n' bass, or hip-hop. Or sometimes it's in-between, weird stuff. Like our last EP with Mad Decent had some tracks we didn't know how to classify. Right now, I'm really into kind of dark melodies, and we've been working with some vocalists. So, kind of lullaby-esque vocals and like hard bassy elements -- but groovy.
How do you and Dylan share production duties? Do you each take on different roles?
We both do pretty much equal parts. We kind of produce stuff separately and then come together. We make something to a point where we can show the other guy, and he'll understand it, and then if we both like it we'll start critiquing it and figuring out how to finish it together.
When did you link up with Diplo?
The first time I met Diplo must have been like three years ago or something. He was doing a show in Toronto, and I was able to get back stage and give him a CD. So I gave it to him, and he told me that he had already heard of us and he played one of our songs on BBC. That was pretty cool. And then that CD had a bunch of unreleased stuff, and eventually we kept in contact and did that Rumble in the Jungle EP, sort of up Mad Decent's alley, with the sound in it. One of the songs is more of a reggae kind of thing, kind of dancehall. And the other one's just weird bass music. We've always liked Mad Decent's stuff, because it's just different, you know? Not usually the typical formula.
Is this your first time doing one of the Mad Decent Block Party tours?
No, this'll be the third year we've done the Block Parties.
What are they usually like?
Well, they were free the last few years, and just a really crazy vibe -- just people coming in off the streets and stuff. This year, though, I'm sure it's gonna be the same vibe. They're selling really well at all the places. We've been to a couple so far, and it's been crazy. I don't know, the Mad Decent fans are mostly down for whatever, and our fans come out, and yeah, it's a great time.
And then you also do Holy Ship in January?
Yeah, I'm excited about that. We've never done that one before. I've never even been on a cruise ship before.
EDM -- what are your thoughts? Any trends you think need to die?
I don't know, I think the corny formulas that are really prevalent. People need to experiment with more stuff. I hear some of the biggest guys in the scene, their sets are like, you know, it's just everything breaks down to nothing. It's like a whooshing sound, like pshhhhhhhhh, and like it builds up and there's the corny vocals that come on top, talking about, you know, something that's not that interesting. And then, you know, it drops into the same old thing. And then it happens again -- pshhh -- breaks down to nothing. I don't know. I think that kind of stuff, when I hear that, I think that's kind of corny.
But I don't know how to specifically say it. I think it's whatever. I know we're part of the EDM thing, but I don't really think about it. It's just music, really. At the end of the day, everybody's doing their own thing. There are certain aspects of what I think is considered EDM that anybody would be like, "Yes, that is EDM right there." They're pretty cheesy. I guess, it's with any music really. When there's trends, a lot of stuff starts to sound the same. You know, when you go through the Beatport charts, you're gonna find a lot of similarities in a lot of songs. But that's really the case with every single genre, like EDM, rock, jazz, whatever.
What do you think about the youth culture -- all these young people going to festivals and doing drugs?
I'm a little bit resistant to being associated with EDM, because there's so many people at the top of it that I don't even find represent me at all. Like, I'd rather be mentioned in the same breath as other people who are considered other genres. But, I've sort of warmed up to it because, you know, the fans are really awesome. I don't know, I guess it's electronic, but it's just a name. I like being a part of it, you know, I think if we could make some sort of a contribution to it, to make it be not as typical. But, you know, we have our own flavor of it, and if people dig that, it's cool. I don't really worry about what other people are thinking so much.
Are there any other artists, in EDM or otherwise, that you would like to work with, or that you really admire what they're doing right now?
Yeah, there's people I'd like to work with. We've got a collab going with Diplo, we've got a collab going with Bassnectar. Just have to finish these things. There's some other people, singers mainly. I want to work with people who have cool voices.
How do you usually find the vocalists you choose to work with?
Someone will show us something, and we'll like and we'll just connect with them through SoundCloud or email, sort of like that. It seems like with the major labels they tend to hook you up with people, but we sort of do everything ourselves.
Are you working on something specific now? What's your next project coming out?
We've got a remix coming out soon, and we've got a couple tracks we're dropping this summer. And then we're gonna have an EP for the fall hopefully. We're working on a lot of materials. It's just about choosing which stuff goes for which project. That stuff that we might save for an album in the future, singles. We're working on a lot of stuff constantly. We're quite perfectionists, so it's kind of hard to get stuff to the point where we're happy with it.
Well, it's better to put out less and keep people wanting more, I think. Can't go wrong with that tactic.
Yes, quality over quantity. But we do put out a constant stream of material, actually. Sometimes we find beats that were sitting around for like three years or something, and put them out, because they're still good. We forget about stuff that still has legs. Every so often we find one. That's the thing about doing a project where we release a ton of back-catalog stuff that we forgot about, they're like the lost tapes, so to speak.
Do you know anything about this after-party that was just announced? You guys are headlining.
I don't know anything about it, but it's probably gonna be awesome, 'cause I like playing after-parties a lot. When we play after-parties, we always play a completely different set from the one we played earlier, so we try not to play any of the same songs. So if you come see us twice in a day, you're gonna hear two completely different sets.
What's your mentality usually when you're playing for a crowd -- what's your goal when you go out there?
Most circumstances, it's like a mix of playing your own songs and putting people on to stuff you think is cool. We try to make it a ride, where it's not just one energy the whole time. There's time when it's more chill, and there's times when it's more energetic. Some people I find play at one level the whole time and I think it's more interesting when -- it makes the highs better when there's a low. But the low is enjoyable in a different way. People might be nodding their heads instead of jumping around. You know, it doesn't always have to be fist-pumping and jumping around. Even given that, I'd say our sets are pretty high-energy.
Zeds Dead. Mad Decent Block Party with Major Lazer, Flosstradamus, Big Gigantic, Riff Raff, Kito+Reija Lee, Herobust, DZA, Robb Bank$. 2 p.m. Saturday, August 3, at Revolution Live, 100 SW Third Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $34.50 in advance and $40 the day of show, plus fees. Call 954-449-1025, or visit jointherevolution.net.
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