Z-Trip is often referred to as a young Rick Rubin. His roots are based in Hip Hop, but he covers and loves all music styles. Considered by many as the godfather of mash-ups, his style of mixing and producing reaches way beyond that. Z-Trip received the award for America’s Best DJ and still remains on the top 10 lists year after year. He has collaborated with some of the very best to ever do it: Nas, Bassnectar, Public Enemy, DJ Shadow, Rakim, Shepard Fairey, Talib Kweli and many others.
As a performer, he is one of the very few able to play traditional festivals like Coachella, Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, SXSW and Australia’s Big Day Out, as well as the EDM circuit. His Electric Daisy Carnival and Electric Zoo sets were both festival highlights. Z-Trip’s artist debut album “Shifting Gears” received 4 stars in Rolling Stone and he has remixed the likes of Nirvana, The Beastie Boys, Dead Weather, Jay-Z and The Jackson 5 to name a few.
As he prepares for his return to Australia, Grindin’ caught up with Z-Trip to discuss his history and influences along with where he sees DJing headed.
Who is Z-Trip?
A DJ, world traveller and lover of Thai food.
What are your earliest memories of music?
Listening to my mother sing me to sleep in a rocking chair as a child.
Who were your musical influences coming up?
Led Zeppelin, James Brown, Bob Marley, Public Enemy, The Clash, AC/DC & Run DMC.
What was it about DJing that first appealed to you?
The ability to manipulate music and make it do what I was hearing it do in my head.
How did you make a name for yourself as a DJ and what made you stand out from the rest?
Before it was a “style” of mixing, I pushed the concept of mixing two extremely different types of music genres together, to the masses. I helped start the Mash Up sound before it was a “term”.
When did you realise you could be a DJ as a living?
After I played my high school’s prom while I was still attending the same high school.
How would you describe you DJ style?
What 5 DJ’s/turntablists inspired you and why?
Marley Marl & Red Alert – These were the DJ’s I studied in NY while listening to them mix live on the air.
Jam Master Jay – He was the 1st DJ I ever saw command a crowd with his voice. Plus he had amazing skill and timing.
Jazzy Jeff – He has that style and technique.
Q-Bert – He is the guy who took scratching to the forefront. He still pushes it to places I can’t comprehend.
Along with touring the world with your DJ performances you also DJ for LL Cool J how did that happen and how have you found the experience so far?
We met in a meeting for a potential show someone was pitching us both. The show never happened, but I asked him to do a surprise guest spot with me for my set at SXSW. He agreed, we did it and the performance was so full of energy that we decided to do more, that was 5 years ago. The dynamic of two masters at what they do, joining forces like that. It’s just crazy. As a fan, I would say it’s one of the best live Hip Hop shows you’ll see. We continually push each other to make each show better than the last. It keeps evolving, it’s amazing.
What are your thoughts on the current DJ/turntablist scene compared to when you first started out?
I’m happy with where things are going skill wise, people keep pushing the art form to places I’ve never seen before.
Where do you see the future of DJing and turntablism going?
I think there will always be a place for a proper turntablist on turntables, but I also see the interface changing up over time. As much as I like them, turntables are extremely antiquated in this day and age. Don’t get me wrong, I still play on them all the time, but technology keeps moving forward. You have to allow for improvements. I see more of that coming down the line. I also see real young cats flipping things on a variety of controllers with ease. They have zero connection to turntables, it’s wild.
What do you most love about the art of DJing?
The camaraderie with the DJ community, it’s so tight knit. I also love the exposure we all have to new music. We are all constantly sharing song titles and remixes with each other.
In terms of production what is your favourite track you have produced and do you have any more releases coming up?
I have more stuff coming out very soon, been working on it for a while. My favourite track I’ve produced however, would have to be “Listen To The DJ”. It’s so filled with funk and scratching. It’s the first song on my very first major label album. My favourite remix that I’ve done on the other hand, is The Jackson Five “I Want You Back (Z-Trip Remix).
What can people expect from your upcoming shows in Australia?
It’s been a few years since I last played Australia, so I’m excited to be back. My show is continuously evolving. It’s based around all types of music, but more importantly how I can manipulate and rearrange all those styles, live in front of a crowd, on turntables with a Hip Hop approach. Each crowd and city is different, so depending on what crowd I have in front of me, depends on where we can all go, really. I will say this though. Australia has always been one of my favourite places to play. The energy you people give me when I’m on stage allows me to really go into places I don’t normally get to go. I can’t wait.
What has been your career highlight so far?
Closing out the Grammys with a supergroup I help put together consisting of me, LL Cool J, Chuck D, Tom Morello & Travis Barker. Runner up would have to be opening for the Rolling Stones.
What advice would you give to young and upcoming DJ’s?
Don’t follow the path that everyone is on today to get to that magical DJ throne. That’s for the masses, there’s enough people in that lane. When the next sound comes, they’ll all switch lanes and follow that anyway, so do you. Create your own path, find your own sound, then create your own ecosystem to work in. Keep your heart in the right place. Make it be about the music and your connection with the crowd. Also, really know how to mix. Not just music, but everything. Find the right balance on all things. Know how to stand out while blending in.
What does the future hold for Z-Trip?
Lots of releases happening for me in 2017. More touring, more collaborations.
What’s your definition of Grindin’?
Staying on that road for months at a time, missing family gatherings while beating up your health to give people a great show every night no matter how you feel or what shape your heads in. Sometimes it can be a grind to do that. Honestly though, once you get on that stage, the music starts bumping and you feel that energy from the crowd… it all blends perfectly and that grindin’ feeling turns into inspiration.
Interview by Duggs.