April 19, 2014

Zeds Dead: Dynamic Duo

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In 2004, the guys from Zeds Dead began as a hip-hop production team known as Mass Productions. But over time, the duo’s style evolved into a winning amalgam of dubstep, glitch, breaks and electro-house.

Now, with several releases on Mad Decent, Dim Mak, Ultra, and Hypnotic Records, music placement in a GQ video shoot, a No. 1 hit on Beatport’s breakbeat chart, and more unofficial remixes and bootlegs than you can shake a stick at, the Toronto-based duo of Hooks and DC have become established as a DJ/studio crew to keep an eye on.

Touring heavily since 2010, Zeds Dead completed its largest tour yet this past May and continued to hit the festival circuit through the summer. As Zeds Dead prepared to close out Steve Aoki’s “Dim Mak Fight Club” stage at Belgium’s Tomorrowland festival this past July, we caught up with Hooks to discuss its latest EP “The Living Dead,” and more.

DJ Times: What’s the story behind Beatport re-categorizing your first single (“The Living Dead” with Omar LinX) off the EP?

Hooks: It looked like the Beatport people were arguing whether it was electro-house or dubstep because it bounced from one to the other. We thought of it as more of an electro-house, but it does have a halftime drop. At any rate, I suppose it’s a good thing when it’s hard to determine a song’s genre. That probably means it’s not formulaic.

DJ Times: How has your sound evolved from hip-hop beats to what it is today?

Hooks: The evolution was a change of mentality. In the early days, most of our productions were made to suit a rapper, so the beat would, in a sense, not need to be as intricate and able to act on its own. We still sample old songs, but now it’s much more about crafting a completely new piece of music out of it, rather than just looping the sample and making a more minimal section to rap over.

DJ Times: And your production process?

Hooks: We go a lot more in depth than we used to. We spend a lot of time designing the sounds we use. There’s also a lot more fine-tuning of the mix, but that’s just come with learning more about production. We used to mostly work with samples, so it was easier to be satisfied, whereas now we make all the sounds ourselves. We’re much more critical if it sounds too cheesy or too much like something somebody else did.

DJ Times: Why is EDM so big now?

Hooks: Musical trends seem to be cyclical. Now a generation of kids is looking at [EDM] as something new and exciting. Also, the affordability of music-making software has led to a lot more people dabbling in it and, as a result, there’s just a lot more of it. There are lots more new genres and interesting productions—as well as lots of crap. It’s a burgeoning scene right now.

DJ Times: What gear do you use live?

Hooks: An [Akai] APC40 controller and a [Native Instruments] Maschine on two laptops.

DJ Times: Studio hardware and software?

Hooks: At the moment, just our laptops, MIDI keyboards and studio monitors. We use Ableton and FL Studio. As for the synths and effects, I feel like it takes a bit of the mystique out of music when people get into exactly how it’s made and what programs make what sounds, so I’ll just leave it at that for now.

DJ Times: You’ve had success self-releasing tracks like “1975.” What do you think of the trend of producers self-releasing music (via Bandcamp, etc.)?

Hooks: The most important thing is getting your music heard—that’s what will get you fans. Especially when you’re unknown, you really need to make sure there’s nothing getting in the way of somebody discovering you, and money could deter some people.

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