Zeds Dead are a relatively new name in the world of dubstep. Formed in 2009, the Toronto-based duo needed a fresh start from their original project, Mass Productions. Keeping the distinct hip hop flavor of Mass Productions, but finding major inspiration in drum and bass, Zeds Dead dove head first into producing electronic dance music. Just a few years into the project, they’ve released countless productions online, established a wildly successful dubstep weekly in their hometown, and acquired a massive fanbase that’s allowed them to perform for large crowds all across the continent.
Despite a supremely busy touring schedule, the pair recently took a few minutes of their day to talk with me about their early musical influences, describe the madness that has resulted from their weekly party in Toronto, and to share a few pieces of advice for up-and-coming DJ’s.
MOJO: You are often cited as naming hip hop a major influence to your music. How did you find an interest in hip hop?
Hooks: I remember I had my first hip hop tape when I was 7- the Dangerous Minds soundtrack. It had the song “Gangstas Paradise” by Coolio. That was my shit!
DC: I got into hip hop through the stuff that was mainstream when I was young. I think the first song I actually remember noticing was Biggie’s Notorious. Later I got put on to more underground stuff like The Pharcyde, The Roots, and AZ. The love just grew from there.
MOJO: How do you incorporate those influences into your work?
Hooks: The hip hop influence comes through in our music’s attitude I think.
DC: And in the amount of sampling of old songs we do. We sort of took that mentality of sampling, instead of remixing, from our hip hop productions to our electronic ones.
MOJO: What other early influences ultimately had an effect on the Zeds Dead tunes we hear today?
Hooks: My dad’s rock and blues records, and him playing guitar and piano around the house when I was little.
DC: Same, plus getting stoned.
MOJO: Strictly speaking electronic music- what DJ’s or what genres have had an impact on the development of your sound?
Hooks: Drum and bass was the first electronic sound I got into and then electro house and dubstep shortly after that. The sound design in DnB inspired me to step my game up. At first I felt like dubstep was just DnB sounds with a slow beat, and I dug that a lot.
DC: DnB was definitely a big influence. What really made me want to start producing electronic music was dudes like Justice and Boys Noize. I really liked that distorted electro house sound. At the time it was really fresh and inspiring. It got me really excited about changing directions, especially at a time when hip hop was getting really stale.
MOJO: How did you meet each other? How did you start making music together?
Hooks: We’ve known each other for a really long time. I think we decided to team up one day while just sitting in the garage smoking weed. Like “Duuude. We should totally make an album together.” “Yeah, that would be dooope”.
DC: (laughs) Yeah, a lot of ideas and inspiration came out of that garage.
MOJO: Shortly after forming Zeds Dead, you teamed up with The Killabits to form BassMentality, a weekly event in Toronto. Tell me how that came to be… and how you managed to get some of today’s biggest dubstep artists to perform there (Nero, Skrillex, 12th Planet, Borgore, Mary Anne Hobbs, Plastician, Netsky).
Hooks: We just wanted to play what we wanted… and the parties we were getting booked at weren’t that wild about dubstep. It took a few weeks to get going, but once it did it was like a movement and before long we outgrew the place.
DC: Yeah, it was a crazy vibe. I kinda miss the tiny little basement. It was like a living room inside of a haunted house. Kids used to go crazy and rip down the ceiling tiles and try to hang off the foundation. We had to change venues before someone killed themselves in there.
MOJO: Have you seen incarnations of BassMentality? By that, I mean does it have peaks and valleys over time, as far as local attention and support from the fans? Has it been on a steady rise, or do you feel the event still maintains the same spirit and energy as it did in the beginning?
Hooks: It goes up and down. Some weeks are much better than others, as is the case with most weekly parties. I think there was something special about the party in the beginning though, just because it was so many people stuffed in a little tiny basement.
DC: It’s still at the center of the dubstep scene in Toronto, we just can’t bring a lot of the heavy hitters back to our party because they have out grown the venue. There’s so many up and comers that we keep the bookings rolling through constantly. 9 times out of 10 it’s still a wild Wednesday party.
MOJO: I’ve also read that you believe in grassroots ideals (free downloads of your music, etc) and have garnered a large fan base in a relatively short amount of time as a result. What else do you think has attributed to this phenomenon of your rapid rise to stardom?
Hooks: We just tried to get our music out on as many internet outlets as possible: blogs, youtube, myspace, etc.. At first it’s all about getting heard. You won’t make any money off music if people haven’t heard of you. We just kept at it, releasing music often and it got our name circulating. We are now able to tour because of it.
MOJO: On that same subject- what advice do you have for DJ’s on the come up?
Hooks: Making your own music or remixes will take you to the next level. I don’t know of many successful DJ’s these days that don’t also produce.
DC: Don’t try to copy what everyone else is doing right now. So many people are just trying to follow the same formula and the sound is getting over saturated in a big way.
MOJO: Tell me about what’s on your plate. You just released an EP and have another one in the works? When can we expect a full-length?
Hooks: I can’t speak on the full length, except to say that it’s the thing I take most seriously, which is why it may take a long time until it’s ready. We’ll be putting out a lot of material over the next year though- including an EP with Omar Linx that combines rap and heavy bass drops. We’re getting towards the end of the tour and I’m looking forward to going back home to Toronto and playing our biggest show there to date.
Catch Zeds Dead when they make their Indiana debut this Monday night at Deluxe in the basement of the Old National Centre (official Facebook event listing). Local favorites Ed Trauma and Hollowpoint will open evening festivities.