DJ Z-Trip

Zach Sciacca doesn’t like to define himself by media produced terms like ‘mash-up’. “In one sense I totally am accepting of it,” Sciacca, better known as DJ Z-Trip, says of the ‘mash-up’ label that’s often applied to his style. “People are going to call me what they’re going to call me, and if that’s how they know me and describe me then that’s fine. But at the same time as I evolve as an artist people are going to want to put me in my own category, my own sound. To me ‘mash-up’ is a very disposable name, it’s a name that came on the scene recently, and I don’t necessarily like to look at myself as being something that is that disposable.”

“But I don’t call it mash up, I’ve always seen it as blending or mixing, and just as something that DJs do,” he explains to me. “It’s what DJs have been doing for years, and it’s only just now seeing its own light and people are starting to identify it. But really at the end of the day if people identify with me, period, and they identify with my music, however they want to label me I don’t really care, as long as they’re getting to hear stuff and keeping an open mind,” he smirks.

With the release of his debut album, Shifting Gears, Sciacca was hoping to smash the ‘mash-up’ term, and have people call him “‘that really good DJ, guy that you need to check out, really top priority’ rather than ‘that mash-up guy’”, and it’s certainly moved him towards that goal. The album is a collection of straight up old-school party hiphop, with a little bit of rock thrown in for good measure. It features many big named hiphop MCs, alongside lesser known but equally talented performers. “A lot of these MCs I am a fan of and dug what they’ve done,” he says. “The goal was to put really well known people with those not so well known, and old and new. Put Grand Master Cas and Whipper Whip and Chuck D on there with people like Busdriver and Luke Sick, MCs people might not know, to make it as wide open as possible.”

But considering the album is so non-commercial, being devoid of modern day hiphop clichés like sped up vocals and dirty beats, I had to ask Sciacca why he put it out on a major label like Hollywood Records, rather than a more appropriate indie label. “I wanted to go with someone who would put my stuff out a little bit further and whom I thought would have a little bit more steam behind them”, he says. “But it’s funny, in hindsight I’m wondering if that was the right choice. On the one hand they definitely did the job of getting it out there, but on the other hand I still find myself doing a lot of other stuff an independent would do, like pressing up my own promos, and paying for my own tour support, that type of thing. The dream of ‘Yay, I’m gonna get signed, and then I’m never gonna have to worry about it again’ is more of a pipe dream. I learnt that through this whole experience with Hollywood. It wasn’t a bad experience, but it was definitely a learning experience,” he adds philosophically.

When it comes to live performances, you simply have to witness Z-Trip in the mix to believe it. Never have I been so enraptured by a DJ, never before has a DJ held my attention from start to finish like he did. One minute we were dancing to the Who, the next Run DMC, the next moment Credence Clear Water was juggled with Eric B & Rakim’s Paid in Full and then we’d find ourselves grooving to some drum & bass. “My thing is I’ve always tried to find the common thread with music. And good music is good music, period. No matter what genre and where it comes from, if it’s good and it rocks you and is good quality, I can throw it in the mix. It’s really been my deal – if it’s dope, and I flip it a certain way and keep it dope, people technically should be open minded and appreciative of that and should get it,” Sciacca proclaims.

We can expect to see Z-Trip in top form when he plays Adelaide, as it’s his first gig in the country, and in addition we get to see MC Supernatural, one of the world’s greatest freestyle MCs. “I’m looking forward to it,” he enthuses. “I don’t get to perform with Supernatural often. To fit Supernatural in the mix obviously we’ll perform some songs off my record, and then do some freestyle stuff, and then do some stuff off his new record. It’s nice to actually have a bona fide MC that I know can handle it. If anyone has seen him, they know what to expect, if not… whoa!” he whistles, “He’s definitely one of the best freestyle MCs out there. To have him in with my mixing is going to be something interesting and really fun.”

Five Dees

Originally going to be called The Fifth Dimension, but with a group already with that name, Five Deez is all about getting in your headspace, twisting the notions you have of hiphop and rapping. “When you experience music”, explains the main producer / DJ, Fat Jon, named so for his ample girth, “it is in five dimensions. You have the first three that we experience daily, and then there is another dimension of time and space, and finally a dimension of spirituality.”

Five Deez music attracts your attention subtly, not with harsh swearing or stolen 70s hooks common to hiphop, but with sweeps and processes common to trance or electronica, and a very different sound all around, even compared to other alternative hiphop. Beginning in Cincinnati in the 90s, now separated between Berlin, New York and Cincinnati, the groups’ sound is standout in a world of sameness and label clones. My favourite track on the album Kommunicator is BMW, which is to be the first single, and also Fat Jon’s favourite. “I think that track is a good synopsis of the album actually, the sound of it, the energy of it. It’s funky, it’s different, but as far as hiphop goes its familiar, but not really, you know?”

I ask Jon if he thinks living in Berlin has given this album more of a techno edge, with him hearing more techno there than he would in the USA, but he hesitates to agree. “I’ve always done different kind of things with hiphop production,” he explains. “This record being a hybrid of hiphop and electronic beats is to really try and make something different; as our third album and also for hiphop too, to try and take it in a different direction. The truth is, I’ve been doing music a long time, and I want to do something to challenge myself. Making the same stuff over and over is just boring. Being in the studio and doing the same thing you did years ago is just not fun. Trying to do something new, and making it sound dope, is hard,” he laughs, “and that challenge is fun for me, it keeps me on my toes.”

“The general hiphoper is close minded, and they just want to hear what’s on the radio,” Jon states. “They don’t like thinking. They wanna turn on a song and not have to think about it, just background music and they do whatever. My music requires your brain to come on and process it. It’s not club music on the radio; it’s something that requires a little bit more from the listener. I’ve heard this a thousand times, but with the Five Deez stuff, people come up and say ‘I don’t really like hiphop but I like your stuff.’ But my stuff IS hiphop. It gets to people who aren’t really into rap and hiphop, and I find that really interesting.”

“I think if you listen to my stuff, you need a certain level of imagination to appreciate it,” he says when I bring up the very obvious sci-fi elements contained in the Five Deez works. “I’m all about space, time travel, different dimensions, all of that – I think about it every day. I think science fiction reflects real life. I’ve always been enamoured with the concept of the future, and where man can go in the process if we don’t destroy ourselves before we get there. And a lot of the concepts are ‘yeah, right, bullshit’ and completely untrue, but at their root they’re based on some type of theory that does exist that needs exploration and experimentation.”

Fat Jon has also got his own record label up and happening, and he plans to bring out re-releases of older tracks and stuff released only in Japan. “A lot of those releases I’m going to be releasing internationally on my new label, Ample Soul. I started it to release some other side project material that I’m working on. It’s a way for me as an artist to have another avenue for my stuff, and maintain the kind of control a lot of artists want over their music. We had our first release back in November with Rebel Clique, featuring Ameleset Solomon, who I worked with on Black Rushmore and BMW on the Kommunicator album.” When I ask about the Japanese only releases, he says, “I release stuff in Japan only mainly for fun, actually. I’ve been to Japan and lived there for a minute, and produced a record strictly for the fans… I feel in some connected to Japan –. Even when I’m there, I don’t know I can’t explain it; I feel like I’m some long lost Japanese dude or something, you know?” he chuckles.

Krafty Kuts

Chatting to Martin Reeves, aka Krafty Kuts, in the morning is a sure fire way to brighten your day! He’s jovial, chatty, and a lot of fun. For someone who’s been in the music scene for a while, and been burned in the past, he shows a lot of enthusiasm and respect for his peers, and is really positive about the scene as a whole. However, his usually hefty output of tunes and remixes has been a little thin of late though, and I wondered what he had been up to. “I’ve been slogging away in my studio working on my new album,” he explains. “It’s come along really well and its nearly there, it is a few songs off finished, so I’m going to have it ready to bring over to Australia. I’m really happy with it. It’s taken two years to make, a few tracks have changed, and it’s got a kind of funk feel – it’s one of those records you can listen to in your car and you can play certain tracks in a club.”

He’s worked with a few old favourites again, most of whom worked on the incredible Trickatechnology. “Dr Luke is back, and A-Skills has done some uptempo funk stuff which is interesting, Ashley Slater is on there – he’s worked on the title track Freak Show which is a dark punk meets Krafty Kuts sound if you know what I mean… it’s quite quirky,” Reeve laughs. “ MC Dynamite (part of Roni Size’s Rapresent crew) is on there, along with B-Spoke, an American rapper. I’ve just been working with people who are easy to work with and can tour the album, be part of the whole thing, rather than if I used Method Man or the Beatnuts on a track, it would be quite hard to do the album live because of their tour schedule.”

He’s also been busy promoting the Supercharged night club, held on Wednesday nights in Brighton in the UK, as well as been hard at work with his two labels – Supercharged and Against The Grain. “The Supercharged club night is still going on strong, and that’s keeping us really busy booking the DJs, and putting on really great breaks line ups continuously is really bloody hard!” he exclaims. “And putting out all the releases – Supercharged has put out a lot over the last few months – Split Loop, Superstyle Deluxe and some of the other guys. Against the Grain has been a little quieter, but next year looks to be really busy with a few artist albums and 12 inches and remix packages. But we hoping next year will be really big for us.”

Reeve’s speciality is breaks, although he often dabbles into hiphop and drum and bass, just to give himself, well, a break. But he always returns to it. “Breaks has so many different styles, funky, techy, bassy, hard, and so on, and elements of all of them creep into my sets, and I think that’s what people like about them, I capture every side of the coin of how good breakbeat is. And that’s another good thing about the breaks scene – everyone is really together. Although you have some people, say like Lee Coombs or Meat Katie, and they’re not usually on the same line ups as say Aquasky or Rogue Element, but then there’s shows like Eargasm and three rooms of breaks, and you think that would be too much, but and people are screaming for more at the end of the night. I played with the Plumps the other week and security had to push people away because they just wanted one more!”

We chatted about the differences in club shows to festivals, as he’s going to be doing both when he lands in Australia for the New Year party period. “I’m touring with an MC – T C Islam – so I’m obviously doing the live thing with TC, with Ill Type sound and Tricka Technology live, but I’m doing lots of bootys and lots of new tunes. Up until the last few days I’ve been clamouring to get my hands on as many exclusive new tunes that I can, a lot of effort and planning, but it won’t be rehearsed. But I do tend to enjoy DJing on my own because I create a whole atmosphere, and get the crowd into a vibe.”

“Festival gigs are very different, and a lot more difficult,” he explains. “You have to play bigger tunes and the connoisseur of breaks may feel disappointed because he has not heard the new or certain tunes you expect in a club. When you hear a DJ in a club he can take you on a journey and weave in and out from place to place, but when you play a festival you’ve got to keep it on a high, because you’ve got so many people and many people don’t know a lot about breaks. You’ve always got to take into consideration that there’s a few people new to it and if they came and hear a hard or dark or deep set it could put them off. It’s like easing your way into any form of music really.”