Monday, 13 October 2008

Pitchfork Interview with Zomby

The Month In: Grime / Dubstep

The Month In by Martin Clark
Meet Zomby, last seen exploring the badland territories beyond grime, dubstep, garage, rave, dubstep, bassline, or kuduro. He describes his M.O. as like a confused pirate on a sonic treasure hunt, who "only has half the map" but keeps "finding 'X's." On this year's output, he's going to be one infamous pirate. Whether he's fallen off the edge of the flat earth is entirely another matter.

Zomby first appeared on dubstep's radar in 2005 with ragga bouncer "Spliff Dub", though in fairness he'd been raving and DJing for many years before. Also from that era, "Memories" evoked imagery of raves long since gone, yet it was the 12"s on Hyperdub and Ramp in 2008 that signalled he'd found a few "X's" and located himself somewhere fresh and new.

Take for example his explanation of how he built recent track "Aquafre5h": It gives you a glimpse into his mindstate and the sounds he's chasing. "I sampled some Pharrell bits'n'bobs and a Mario NES game I sampled and processed so all elements of the song are correct...I've been working with a custom palette of sound for a while now. I suppose these songs are the result of that and great skunk."

However it was created, Zomby's music has found fans in many of the current sonic pioneers of new directions, like Jamie Vex'd, Starkey, Darkstar, and even Burial. Yet Zomby's sound is most impressive when its effect on regular listeners is observed. While other producers can generate impact or momentum, Zomby dubs tend to induce a unique mix of shock or confusion; a stunned sense of "what the…?" Recent beats "Gloop", "Parrot Stew", and "Aquafre5h" feature mutating bottom ends, unstable and chaotic bass bubbles that seem to emit gasses like some primordial soup. And while Zomby's sound regularly travels into other moods, these mutating aquabass tracks are by themselves alone good enough to warrant acclaim.

"Garage is my wife. I cheated on her a couple of times but wholly regret it," he explains in interview. "Darker garage was more the sound I was planning to work with but grime was also a massive part of the jigsaw for me. Eski and dubstep really went hand in hand for me. I didn't see any difference in the style only the sounds used so I got really interested in transposing styles. Like negative imprints of other peoples beats that would be called on genre or style and then having sounds transposed would lift it into another…"

Other massive influences on the Zomby sound are rave, hip hop/crunk, house and kuduro and in this he's found kinship with acts like Darkstar, Rustie or Joker. But despite moving in similar orbits, Zomby still remains alone, isolated on his own trajectory, spending nights in on the 'net consuming music old and new on YouTube, mentally recyling it through a skunk filter and rebuilding it, wrongly but oh so right.

"It's not so much a new direction," he says of his sound, "it's just about writing real songs or tracks that are justified in more than one sense. Nothing novelty or formed for its own sake is really doing it anymore. Every element has to be looked at and analyzed and really it's a state of minimizing to move forward, when you've worked out how to refine what you do you can turn the taps on as such. I think that's what's started to come through now."

In interview, Zomby bares more than a few traits in common with Burial. Both are fiercely passionate about their own music, hark back to the spirit of rave for inspiration and produce fragile, unpolished but startlingly original music. It's little surprise then that Zomby declares himself Burial's number one fan, while his new side project, a throwback-to-'91 rave album on Werk is sure to appeal to fans of Burial's influences.

Judging by interviews, so much of Burial's inspiration is the bittersweet memories of raves now long since extinct, and as Zomby expounds his passion for the era, all his influences-- hip-hop, garage, dubstep, jungle, rave, kuduro, grime-- seem to coalesce into one coherent whole, now facilitated by the vast visibility of music on the 'net and bathed in the fading afterglow of hardcore. Perhaps every "what-the?" moment he creates in new listeners' brains is just a by-product of his own urge to forever re-create that first rave-rush again in his own.

"I get those rushes now man," he explains. "The songs I like make my hairs stand on end. That's when I know the song is a winner. For me there's not gonna be enough time in my life to devour all the music I want so the real rush I'm searching for I'm probably never gonna find. Eskimo was a rush. Crunk's been a bit of a rush. For me its forward ahead at full speed really. I'm not looking to bring something back. It's more just my vibe I carry through the music. It's the vibe that's gone now. It's totally gone now but I remember it. That's the thing that inspires me. I write from that place."

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