Squelching basslines, raucous yet restrained drum breaks, and throwback rave sounds and samples. It’s a simple albeit deceivingly complex formula that has been slowly perfected upon by Jesse and Sam, a funk-ridden pair of bass-slinging humanoids that are better known as ZeroZero. The pair have been consistently rolling out tunes under this moniker for about eight years now, yet it’s in recent years this formula (and sometimes lack of) has become ever-more refined, and ever-more destructive on the dancefloor.
Take the latest EP as a fine example of this polished sound, sitting comfortably on DLR’s Sofa Sound label. The whole release is a masterclass in raw, rugged drum and bass in an era of mixdown perfection, loudness wars and constant technical progress. It hits both ends of this spectrum, and is built upon a foundation of sound design and sampling finesse, and years of experience in piecing together 170-ish tunes that are designed to get feet moving. A-side to the release Tracker illustrates this sound we know and love, focusing ultimately on the interplay between drums and bass, with every other element standing in between to support them.
In the last couple years, the pair have touched down on labels that include Dispatch Recordings, Rebel Music, Flexout and Sofa Sound, and this list only continues to expand in new directions. Their approach to music is one detached from current trends, instead focusing on their methodical and abundant approach to music creation. Don’t expect to see any gaps in this duo’s release schedule for the distant future.
Check out full chat below for an insight into the pair’s approach to drum and bass production, their humble beginnings at university in Amsterdam, and their future releases on the likes of CIA and DARKMTTER.
How are you guys?
Sam: All good man, just landed at Jesse’s in Bristol.
Straight from Austria?
Sam: Nah, I’ve been in my hometown of Jersey for the last eight days, just checking in with the family and that.
Nice one! So… Sofa Sound. You recently put out your first full release on the label following a couple of compilation tracks. It feels like a really represents your current sound… all about that funk!
Sam: Yeah, we’re really happy with the release. They’ve been getting played quite a bit, and considering the tracks are all around a couple of years old already, they are still sounding fresh. There’s nothing worse than a release coming out after a couple of years and the tracks sound old already.
Jesse: The first one we started was Blud with Brain, I think. If I remember correctly, I started that one and sent it on to Sam and Brain.
Sam: Brain is one of my favourite people to work with. He’s got such a creative way of working and he’s an easy person to bosh tracks out with.
Jesse: He’s non-stop with his ideas, constantly flowing.
Sam: Then we have Gobi which actually features my girlfriend, known as Linja. She’s been getting into production over the last couple of years, and the whole sampling side of that tune was done by her. So big up Linja. I believe Tracker was then the third and final track we wrote for it. We wanted one solo track on there that fully represented our breaks-y rolling sound.
Jesse: I’d say it’s a very ZeroZero track. It’s very stripped back but it’s got all those elements that we’re known for. It’s all about super funky drums, a real head-nodding break, and then some focus on sound design. More importantly though, the focus is on the groove. We like to think of it almost like a modern James Brown track. It’s grooving, it’s rolling, and hopefully it makes you nod your head. That’s what we’re aiming for, rather than it being full of drops and build ups.
Sam: It’s a bit of a DJ tool.
Jesse: You’re a DJ tool…
Sam: Hahaha. Funnily enough, that was the tune that we weren’t 100% sure about being the A-side on the release. In the end though, the label did want it as the A-side and it’s been the most well received of the three so far. The Drum&BassArena upload probably helped!
Jesse: We’re really happy with the reception we have seen for the EP. The three tracks are all quite different but all very ZeroZero at the same time. They’ve all got a lot of what we love about drum and bass: funk, deep bass, fun samples and nods to 90s jungle and rave sounds.
How’s it been working with Sofa Sound?
It’s wicked, what a great label. DLR is an idol of ours, an absolute legend and an incredible producer. He has a great business mind with the label as well. We’re really proud to be sat on the Sofa. A huge big up to Alex Smiler as well who is a don behind the scenes. He’s one of those people in drum and bass who helps the scene run along in the background. He’s not on the top of flyers or in the front of music videos, but without people like him, the scene would come to a grinding halt.
Considering the tunes you release are often a couple of years old, are you conscious of trying to stay ahead of the curve?
Jesse: I don’t think that’s something we’re conscious of when we write. We just try and write music we like and hopefully if the music is good enough, it will stand the test of time. We don’t chase trends; we’re not trying to make the current popular sound. We make what we want to play and dance to.
Sam: Yep, when we’re in the studio it’s about what naturally comes out. It’s all about catching the vibe and then the track will build itself when the main meat and potatoes are there.
Jesse: It’s always helpful being in a duo. It even works that Sam lives in Vienna and I live here in Bristol. He can send me an idea that’s completely new to me, and then that can give me the inspiration and energy to jump back in. Gobi for example was started by Sam and Linja, and then I clicked onto the idea and brought new bits to that. The tune almost writes itself. We’ve been doing this for almost ten years now, so we’ve got a good flow. We know how to finish each other’s…
Hahaha, that was impressive!
Sam: He’s been trying to do that to me for years.
I assume ZeroZero started off as an in-person thing, right?
Sam: Yeah, we both met at uni in Amsterdam. We happened to be the only two people in our class that were into drum and bass. We also just happened to have almost identical record collections. It made sense right from the beginning.
Jesse: We were at a similar point in our career where we’d both had 1 or 2 releases. Both of us were keen to push it, and with us hanging out a lot it made sense. One evening we decided to meet up at one of our houses to cut some samples and chop up some breaks, and from there it just never stopped.
Aside from the move to virtual collaboration, how has the production process changed for you guys since then?
Jesse: We’re constantly improving as our ears get better with every tune, and we pick up new tricks or techniques along the way. The main thing though is our confidence levels. We don’t get stuck often, and we’re much better at committing now. Tracker is a good example, because 5+ years ago, we would have thought it wasn’t enough, or that the intro was too simple, or that it needed more sounds. A lot of our tunes around 2015/16 are a prime example of how eager we were to show off our chops and add in lots of elements. Now we’re confident enough to know what a tune needs or doesn’t need.
Sam: One of the main things about working apart is finding our own roles within the production process. That, and figuring out ways to give each other notes without overcomplicating things and telling each other it’s shit without offending. We’ve learnt how to do all of this in a much more efficient way.
Jesse: You’ve hit the nail on the head there. It’s not so much stuff that we’ve learnt inside Ableton or on the keyboard. It’s what we’ve learnt about each other and how to communicate better. Back in the day we’d sometimes sit on tracks for 3 to 4 years because we weren’t sure if they were done.
Sam: Now it’s more like we do an EP in a week, tweak it for a couple of months and that’s it. It can be a vicious cycle otherwise.
It can definitely become a race against time, or against your own judgement.
Jesse: For sure, but it’s also the pressure of how the industry is now. You have to be constantly releasing music to stay in the limelight and be noticed. Things move so quickly now. If you release something and don’t have another release for 6 months, other people can come along, and you can lose that spotlight. You’ve got to be able to respond to the demand of the current industry.
Sam: Something we’re working on now is building a schedule of releases so that we don’t disappear for a year or so, which we have done before.
Are there any areas of music that you want to explore that you haven’t yet? This could be in drum and bass or beyond.
Jesse: I’d definitely like to make some more non-drum and bass music. I’m a piano player, so along the lines of R&B, jazz, and pop-influenced stuff would be great. I’ve joined a couple of bands recently, so I am exploring the acoustic side of things more. I’ve been locked into drum and bass for over a decade, but I love all kinds of music.
Sam: I’m pretty happy just doing drum and bass for now, and it’s been the same for the last 10 years. I don’t see me producing other genres personally, despite listening to a lot of other music. In regards to making music, I’m into making drum and bass.
I’ve heard the next couple EPs from you guys and they’re sounding huge. First of all, there’s the CIA EP. Tell me a bit about this one.
Sam: That’s a 5 track EP with features from Riya and JFB, who we’ve worked with a lot, as well as Tephra. Again it’s a mixture of styles and was really fun to work with the collaborators, especially JFB who is just a don on the turntables!
Jesse: We’re both super proud of this one, and I think it’s our best work to date. They’re the newest tracks we’ve got that are coming out, and all the collaborators have done a stunning job. They really elevated the tunes, to be a bit Gordon Ramsey about it. I’m looking forward to getting it out there and hearing what people have got to say.
A bit further down the line, you’ve got another EP on S.P.Y’s label DARKMTTR. Tell me about this!
Sam: This one was made late last year on one of my trips to Bristol. It’s probably the fastest we’ve written an EP – not that we’ve scrimped on the details but as we mentioned before the writing process is definitely flowing much faster these days. We have been playing S.P.Y’s music since we started Djing and are feeling what he’s doing with the label so we’re really happy that he likes the music and we will definitely be doing more with him in the future.
Any other bits you want to mention?
Sam: We’ve got a few shows coming up in Europe, plus we’re working on lots more tracks and more collaborations – including much more with Riya. We really want to fill our release schedule and keep the releases flowing consistently. Also check out our sample packs on Loopmasters. There will be lots more coming!
Jesse: Now that Sam’s arrived in Bristol, we’re working on our EP for next winter. We already have another EP written for after the DARKMTTER EP as well. We’ve been deep in the studio writing a range of styles including liquid, techy stuff, and jungle-influenced stuff. That’s the main thing I want people to take away from this. Keep an eye out for our music, because we’ve got a shit load of it.