Cue airhorns—a rare Q&A with the anonymous firebrand on his new record label, the secret history of EDM, and punk DJ tactics.
Zomby, the elusive and effusive producer responsible for some of the decade's most striking tunes, returns next week with his first album in two years—With Love. Its two discs offer a fractured world of collision and growth, jungle, grime and house breeding and molting into wide-eyed chimeric forms. His rarefied video for With Love exemplifies Zomby's language of visual and sonic extremes—he traffics in angels and devils, gold and geometry, incandescent synths and stark piano composition. His combative, irreverent presence both on vinyl and Twitter feels increasingly vital in today's publicist-yoked media environment, where, unafraid to demand a standard of formal precision from himself and his peers, he's taken aim at electronic music culture's tasteful, flaccid midsection. Now he's gone and blessed us with a rare Q&A, speaking over email on his new record label, the history of EDM, and punk DJ tactics.
Noisey: You've spoken of an interest in mathematics, particularly complex dimensional geometry. What draws you to these forms?
Zomby: I'm not sure really, it grew into that as time went on as an abstraction for myself when composing or sequencing. You know, I'd stare at paintings and sculpture and could see form around it and within. That would relate to a numeric structure which I could adapt analogously into music. That gave me a huge freedom and realization about music and art. Without that 75% of my work wouldn't exist, I don't think. I write viscerally or consciously in analogy—that at least gives me a real world angle rather than just moving sounds about. Which is fine, you know, but you get bored of that quickly.
I've heard that you ended a recent DJ set in Boston by looping Lil Durk's "Dis Aint What You Want" until the sound guys cut you off. As someone who thinks modern DJ culture has become overly polite and fetishized, I think that's sick—what inspired you in the moment?
Well, they have a 1:30 AM curfew in Cambridge and I didn't know it went off. I mean, the crowd responded, they went apeshit...by the time I'd moved into the part of my set where I'm playing Durk it was late, so I just rewound it 'til they cut me off. The track's sick, I'd play it all night if I could. I do think DJs are mostly adhering to some high-quality studio mix CD shit now a lot more. Me, I like to bring a bit more punk to it and do what I want. I'm the DJ, and if you control the music that way the crowd responds...usually, lol.
You've had a lot to say about Americanized "brostep" and "EDM." What aspects of the legacy of British electronic music do you think are most misunderstood or ignored in the states?
I woudn't say it's Americanized or I'm targeting that, I wouldn't even say that really exists. Honestly it's just that the brostep sound was embraced by America a lot more than the original garage and dubstep sound we have in England. It kind of ruined that sound, so it's whatever, but things move on. You know, EDM is really European trance called a new name and sold here, but it's not my business. Honestly I don't make either, but that's the story of how it went down for those sounds. I don't care, I mean, people do what they want but when my name's mentioned with either style I have to set the story straight on the history, is all. There's no malice though, just a quick recap is all.
As far as Cult Music, where are you finding these anonymous producers, and what can we expect from them in the near future?
Mostly friends and family...the first track Benji B played on Radio 1 not long back, but by now I've about 50 tracks from each artist. They're more than ready, completely unknown and great people. It's a dream come true for me—the worst shit is trying to find and jam with artists and be friends in business, et cetera. It's a nightmare, I just want to write my music and enjoy my life.
Any message you want to pass along to haters or imitators?
Fuck 'em all.