Almost as famous for his elusive nature and online antagonism as he is for his eski-indebted, anxiety-inducing productions, London-based producer Zomby is a difficult artist to pin down -- let alone get a hold of. Luckily though, we were able to land a rare interview with the masked producer in honor of his highly-anticipated fourth full-length, ULTRA, out today via Hyperdub.
A sharp, menacing deconstruction of well-known UK club sounds from the past several decades, ULTRA is a surprisingly raw and jaded examination of the tropes of raves past -- not to mention a subsequent sledgehammering of what you'd expect from a square wave-indebted track. It's a record that is undeniably Zomby, in all its unapologetic, brazen impudence, so it's no surprise that our discussion about the album is constricted to his craft and conducted on his terms. Because while ULTRA comes at a time when contextual social conversation is beginning to change sound and club culture (even amongst several of his own labelmates), things for Zomby are still strictly confined to the world within his studio. Then again, in regards the shitshow that is 2016, who could blame him? Read our Q&A below.
You obviously got started with Hyperdub, so ULTRA is a homecoming of sorts. Why do you feel like this album was best suited to Hyperdub, rather than XL Recordings, who put out your previous efforts?
Yeah, I mean I started writing for Zomby around 2008 and was contacted by Burial and Kode9 pretty quickly. We met up, hung out, clicked and have remained friends ever since, so it's very natural for me to be working on Hyperdub. ULTRA was curated by Kode9 and myself and just seemed to fit perfectly at this moment and for myself on Hyperdub with the passage of my work recently.
Speaking of XL, the record you put out last year had two distinct sides, sonically speaking. Where did acid Zomby came from and will he ever return?
I've always used acid lines in my music. I mean, the [Roland TB-303 synthesizer] is as much a part of my sound as the [iconic drum n' bass sample] Think Break, but on that release for XL, the "Acid Surf" version was set up, as a DJ tool to the other "Surf" versions [I&II].
This is the first full-length you've released since you moved back to London, do you think going back home affected the release and/or anything about your overall work or aesthetic?
I move around quite a lot. I mean writing music allows me a necessary amount of freedom, but London's home, so I come back and forth obviously. I don't know if it affects my work, it may affect the fluency of my routine -- allowing me to work with more dexterity -- but I do prefer to write my work in London and always have. It just feels right.
Speaking of home, what you make of the recent grime and jungle revivals? Not to mention its arrival stateside? Would you consider the new wave of interest a good or bad thing?
It's nice for people to discover great old music, but you have to remember in England and Europe we've been creating this sound -- not just dancing and playing these records --ever since they were released. So a revival in this sense is only someone coming to the sound who hasn't heard it before.
Obviously electronic music has always been inherently political, but the political aspect of an artist's oeuvre has become a much bigger talking point of late. For example, take ULTRA collaborators Darkstar, who just wrote a record that tackles political disillusionment with the UK's conservative government. What do you make of this?
I'm not sure I agree with that, but I mean while I admire Darkstar's bravery to use their music as an outlet for something so poignant [and things that] they feel strongly about, personally my work is solely about music itself. My music is allowing Zomby to explore its obsession with music, so the conversation and all references point back...to that and moments in my life inspired by that. That's really where my work comes from. It has nothing else to tackle, but music itself.
Out of curiosity then, what do you make of the Brexits and Trumps of late?
Yeah, I mean I'd sooner stay in Europe and I wont be voting for Donald Trump, but as I said, I'm not looking to be compromised really. Zomby is for music and only music. There's really no other concern for myself when it comes to creating my work.
Speaking of collaborators, I've always admired your curatorial taste. You have the ability to find some of the most obscure, unheard producers and then stick them on an album next to Burial. What's your artist discovery process like? And what specifically drew you to the likes of Banshee for this record?
Usually it's just the song. I'm not deterred by how unknown or known an artist is if the work's good. The work's good and I'm just glad I can hear that lol. In this case, Banshee has a great track. He wrote "Let Me Fly," which Actress had heard and was due to release on his label, Werkdiscs. Myself and Banshee spoke, and I wrote a couple of versions of the track and this is one of them. There's two versions of the same track; one is essentially slower, creating a slightly different groove and texture.
I'm also curious about why some of your tracks, including a few on this record, tend to just kind of abruptly stop? Some people say it's just to fuck with listeners, but I doubt that's your main impetus.
The momentum of the sequence has simply ended. If the tracks are built on a hardware sequence, I'll simply leave it to just fall out. If the tracks been gifted an outro, it usually means I've gone soft.
Are you also planning to change up your look for this forthcoming release? I know you kind of switched the Guy Fawkes for the 3D printed gold for a while, but it seems like you're back to the old-school Guy Fawkes/Anonymous look now.
I understand the mask is the initial focal point so its become a conversation, but truthfully I don't really concern myself with it. It simply to allow me to separate myself from the audience. I don't have a preference for any mask, tbh. Anything will do that allows me to [keep my distance].
What else are you into fashion-wise right now? Is streetwear dead? What does Zomby think of Vetememes?
Not really interested, tbh.
Speaking of this, your Twitter is a pretty big talking point for a lot of music journalists, but you seem to have kind of kept it relatively quiet lately. Why? I heard you also keep trying to quit, but what do you think is stopping you?
I don't really care about social media, tbh. I could just delete the app right now, but as it stands it's the only official outlet I conduct to the world, so I have some fun with it and also get to cheaply promote my work.
Zomby's ULTRA is out now via Hyperdub.