Zinc was never going to be a one-genre man. That’s always been clear going right back to his earliest releases on Hype’s Ganja Records. The strong hip-hop references, his ability to morph tempos before your very ears on tracks Reach Out, his entire 2003 album Faster, his UKG/breakbeat anthem 138 Trek, his garage alias Jammin, the list goes on… But things came to a head 10 years ago when he dropped his first Crack House EP in 2009.
A 10 track collection of nascent bass house blueprints and schematics featuring Benga and long-time vocal collaborator Angela Hunte, it summarised his previous years of experiments and drew a line in the sand. The message was clear: Zinc isn’t a one-genre man… But he won’t be playing drum & bass for a while.
For fans it came as a shock. For Zinc it was fresh challenge, a blank canvas and a new wave of inspiration which led to a second Crack House volume a year later. It was followed by a diverse slew of house-related club cuts throughout the whole of the 2010s ranging from big vocal gems such as Feel The Love to a necksnap breakbeat razzers like Jicarilla Jam (to name just two) and now, as of this month, the third volume of his Crack House series.
Delivered a decade after the first volume, it comprises some of his heaviest Bingo hitters from the last year and hits with the widest range of styles any Crack House compendium has ever showcased. From the gilded classic house jam Close My Eyes to the white-knuckle broken bust-up What I’m On once again the message remains clear: Zinc will never been a one-genre man.
In fact his scope is getting broader. Here’s where he’s it and how he got here…
First things first, I need to big you up on that set you did at Sun And Bass last year…
Thank you. I DJ a lot, and have been doing it for years, but some shows really stand out. That was one of them for sure. Big up Marky for inviting me and the Sun And Bass crew.
Oh cool, it was a stand-out one for you, too?
Absolutely. They’re the type of gigs you really look forward to as a DJ.
D&B has its own mixing style – especially with all those doubles you were pulling. Does it come back like muscle memory? Do you slip back into it?
It’s funny I’ve been playing some jungle at the end of my mixed sets for the last few years anyway. That was always my plan; to play a bit of everything I love within bass music. In terms of muscle memory, I find that more with production. It comes very naturally. I don’t mean it’s easy, just that I’m very relaxed and I guess fluent at that tempo. With house I sometimes stop and puzzle over how to get the kick and bass to work the best for the groove. But with drum & bass it kinda does it itself, there’s a very natural flow.
Interesting. That’s kinda why Crack House and your non-drum & bass stuff happened, right? To create those puzzles and challenges. It would be too easy to just make drum & bass all your life.
Spot on. I’d been making D&B for a very long time and I got to the point where I felt the music had become derivative and self-referencing. I needed something that was fresh to my ears and a challenge to keep me inspired and excited as a producer. I actually had the idea to do mixed genre sets around 2006/7 but only now I feel I can do them. When I first tried it the people in the crowd would only dance to the stuff they like. They’d sit down or go to the bar. House people wouldn’t dance to the drum & bass, drum & bass people would stand by the side like ‘what is this crap?’ when the house came on. It’s only recently that it’s become possible to bring everything together in one set and have people enjoy it all. But that’s why I went on that mission to make Crack House.
Do you call the Crack House collections albums or are they just massive EPs?
They’re album-sized for sure, but I’ve always called them EPs. Back in 99 I did an EP called Beats By Design and that was seven tracks. I told Hype at the time I wanted to do an album and he wasn’t sure it was the best idea. He said if you do an album people judge you on it differently. So I did it as an EP and I carried that on with the Crack House stuff. I guess it reduces more of the focus, it’s not such a big deal. They’re just EPs. But this new one is different again because how much the music industry and the way we digest music has changed since the previous volumes. It’s a collection of tracks that have been out, some new. It’s a different thing all together. Neither an EP or an LP.
I can imagine Hype saying that. It’s true; albums do create a different set of expectations…
Yeah exactly. Hype has some very astute ways of seeing the music industry. The way he saw how things went were really sharp. He gave a lot of good advice back in the day.
Listening to the early Crack House EPs you’re pretty sharp… You can hear the seeds for bass house and bassline being sewn. Do you listen back to those old ones? Can you hear that evolution yourself?
When I made those EPs I remember saying to my agent at the time that I’m going to make music for a scene that doesn’t exist but I just felt it was inevitable that this sound has to come. It was a massive gap in the music at the time. It was a lucky bet more than anything.
It was the gap garage couldn’t quite fill. Sinden, Herve, Fake Blood were also on it around that time…
Switch too. He was hugely influential. I was looking for house with good basslines and every Switch record I heard went in my sets. And Fake Blood; his tune Mars came along when I’d taken a year off to make the Crack House stuff. It was like ‘yeah this is sick, whoever made this tune is looking for the same thing I’m looking for.’ Then Jack Beats came along and it was a bit of a relief by then; it proved that other people cared about making this sound too. They all had roots and had been around for a while too; Fake Blood was DJ Touche, for example.
Yeah Jack Beats came from Scratch Perverts and Mixologists, I think. Was it scary to take a year off like that? You were at the top of your D&B game. It must have been like a bungee jump but not knowing the chord is going to snap or not…
To me it felt really clear; I was jumping off a cliff and I didn’t know what was going to happen. I don’t know if I’m going to crash on the floor in 30 seconds or if it’ll take off. I remember at the time two big drum & bass DJs said to me they wished they could do the same thing. One said ‘I’ve got a mortgage to pay and a family. He felt it was too much of a risk. The other one said he didn’t want to start at the bottom and lose the status and glory of what he’d worked for. It was interesting, I’d get in touch with guys like Boy 8 Bit and Foamo introducing myself as a new guy in this style of music, telling them what I’ve done and they’ve come back saying ‘are you taking the piss? I’ve got Super Sharp Shooter, I’ve got this, I’ve got that, I know who you are.’ But I didn’t want to take the piss. I was effectively starting again and enjoyed that part of the process. For other guys who’d thought about trying another genre but felt they couldn’t, or didn’t want to let go of what they had, that part didn’t seem possible.
I get the need to support a family. When you’ve worked so long on a career in certain style and you’re earning money to feed your kids, pay the mortgage. You must have been in the same situation, though?
Definitely. I was, and still am, supporting a family. But I saved up for a year so I didn’t have to do shows and I could just focus on the Crack House stuff. Another memory I have from that time was being down The End just after I’d stopped making drum & bass and Skream said to me ‘are you just doing house now?’ I told him yeah and he said ‘you’re not playing any drum & bass now? You’ve stopped?’ I said ‘yeah’. He said ‘that’s bollocks!’ I asked him what he meant and he said ‘nah mate, that takes bollocks’
It was a lovely quote. Two completely different meanings of bollocks but he meant it took a lot to walk away from something that had been such a big part of my life. I doubt this had any influence but it’s cool that he did the same thing going from dubstep to house. It was quite a big deal. But I cracked on with it. I didn’t identify with ‘I’m a this DJ, I’m a that DJ’. I just get up, clean my teeth, have a cup of coffee and do what I want to do. I don’t do this for prestige or glory or anything like that.
It comes back to the whole idea of keeping yourself inspired over anything else…
I think so. It wasn’t an issue to walk away from drum & bass. I am constantly inspired by so many things. I like watching how things change and habits change and how humans operate. I’m a bit of an observer in that way. For example social media’s dominance just since that first Crack House release. I’ve enjoyed watching things unfold and developing and ultimately embracing that. But the most inspiring thing is being able to do what I want every day. Sitting in my studio working on music I’m into. Over the long term that’s what makes me happy. It’s not playing the mainstage at a big festival. That’s cool, a bit surreal maybe, but that’s not the end game and never has been for me. It’s about doing something I love, making things I love. My kids come back from school with their mates and they see me in the studio or I’m travelling around and they say it’s cool but I say to them the most important thing is that I get to do what I love doing. For years I worked in an office and I didn’t like it. I woke up every morning not wanting to go.
What type of office job was it?
From aged 16 – 24 I was just filing. It was mind-numbing work, I got promoted twice in eight years, it wasn’t a very accelerated career path. In the end I was in charge of four old ladies. They were lovely and one of them would come in with doughnuts for me, but it was a complete contrast to my other life. I’d go to Music House and cut dubs at lunch time in a shirt and tie and get very strange looks off the guys in there. It was quite bizarre, but I had to do it and I worked there for years. So I’m familiar with the struggle of life and how it is for most people. I really appreciate what I do so much.
What’s next? I’m wondering if Crack House might stop? Things often come in threes…
Who knows? I’m just enjoying doing what I do. Never say never. That’s been something I’ve said many times over the years since I stopped being strictly drum & bass. My current interest though is the mixed genre thing; bits of house, bassline, garage, drum & bass, anything I want to do. That’s what I’m enjoying right now, let’s see what happens…