While D&B and metal have evolved along completely different historical trajectories and draw distinct crowds to unrelated events, they share a stylistic rooting in raw, unadulterated energy and an unabashed tendency to reside on the fringes. Neither are mainstream, both make you want to move and the inherent message is one of creative expression without boundaries or limits.
Zardonic represents a unique mutation of these two musical traditions. Born and raised in Venezuela, he doesn’t have your typical London-based, pirate radio pedigree and his musical journey took place far removed from the free parties of Hackney. Despite this, his ability to combine metal and D&B like few others has made him a worldwide sensation amongst those who love both genres, as well as those who love either.
From his breakthrough banger Policia and his remix of Nine Inch Nails’ Bite The Hand That Feeds to his most recent work, his 2018 album Become, his music covers a dearth of atmospheres, moods and tones with plenty of snarling riffs and dancefloor orientated dynamics. He’s not shy of more contemplative cuts and melancholic ambience, either. Nowhere is this more evident than his last album. Arguably his most successful and politicised piece of work to date, it’s a sprawling LP of a deeply hybrid nature.
Now, in 2019, he’s celebrating 15 years of Zardonic. We spoke to him at length about his origin story, his unique blend of styles and what fifteen years of being in the game actually means, as well as how the current political climate in Venezuela has impacted his creative process.
So how did Zardonic start? Tell me…
I started in Venezuela, which I’m sure you’ve seen all over the news at the moment, it’s pretty hectic over there. But as difficult as the situation has always been, Venezuela has always had a pretty healthy, if a little isolated, electronic music scene. I was determined to make a living out of what I loved. I didn’t see myself making a living out of a 9-to-5 job, I don’t think it’s a bad thing but I tried and I always needed to be my own boss. Since I loved D&B so much, I thought why not give this a shot?
What was your initial vision with Zardonic?
My parents always said that whatever I wanted to be I had to be the best at it, I’m not sure I am the best, I don’t like comparing myself with other people, I’m more like just trying to be the best version of myself today. Tomorrow I want that to be better, and the next day and the next day. My dad always had this analogy: when someone is trying to climb a mountain, they throw their hook to the highest point possible and then it hooks a little lower.
But it’s about aiming high so if you fail, you can keep trying, keep getting better.
Exactly. At the end of the day I realised that, although a lot of people were saying that the whole metal/D&B combo thing wasn’t going to work, maybe some of it was too heavy maybe some of it was ahead of its time, but now you actually see that a bunch of people are jumping back into it.
So that was your initial vision; to create that metal/D&B fusion?
I always had this idea that I wanted to be the metal guy who plays in the electronic festivals. But the thing is, it’s as much of a joke as trying to do a DJ set at a metal festival and that’s what happened to me. I started playing DJ sets in metal festivals and when you’re a DJ playing to metal fans, they’re expecting to see a live band and I’m just a guy pressing buttons in their eyes. Then, at the same time, when I bring too much music, with song structures and choruses, to a dancefloor, that’s not music that people respond to in terms of dancing. Then I realised that these two things are just completely different animals and there has to be formula to it.
So how would you describe your music to someone who’s never heard it before?
I’m always a D&B guy, I just happen to like metal as well. My music is D&B, if you listen to Matrix & Futurebound for example and make it more metal, you get Zardonic. I guess my stuff is all over the place, I don’t know why but I believe that music has to go with human emotion. I can’t just have one brand or just one thing, I couldn’t have just light D&B or just really industrial type stuff, I want all of it in the same set. Whoever is a fan of D&B or a fan of rock or metal will probably find something they like in my music.
Your earlier point of not being rock enough for the rock crowd, but not D&B enough for the D&B crowd is really interesting. Do you ever feel like because of this you don’t belong to any particular scene or community?
Yup, it’s affecting me right now. I realised I had to make a choice and that choice is D&B. Everything I do is always going to have that rock/metal influence, but 80% of the shows I get are D&B, so when I go and play a show I realise that the music I’m producing doesn’t sound like the music I’m mixing. It even goes beyond whether it works on the dancefloor, it’s that the music I’m making isn’t the same as the music I choose to DJ. There seems to be a disconnect there.
So, I guess what I’m going to try and do next, of course I’ll maintain that influence from the past because it’s inevitable, but it’ll be more dance focused. The new record sort of hints at that, the collaboration with Celldweller feels more neurofunk with some elements of rock, it’s more of a dancefloor tune. Testing it in my live sets I’ve realised that this is the way.
So you can see yourself heading down that more neurofunk avenue?
I don’t want to pigeonhole myself too much as I said, but I want Zardonic to return to D&B. I was able to mix different genres, I was able to bring D&B out of the D&B scene, but I think I focused on that so much that I forgot about the scene that I actually cared the most about.
Sounds wicked! Why do you think it is that the metal/D&B combo hasn’t really penetrated the UK scene that much?
I have no idea, but if you ask me, I think the main problem is if you have a scene that is way too centred around a specific country, it’s not going to allow other styles to flourish.
I live by a concept that I shared with my good friend MC Coppa. He calls it intense realism, because, at the end of the day, the game is what it is. You have to adapt to some of the rules, but I do believe that the same way the world has opened their arms to UK artists who make great music, the UK should open their arms to artists who make other styles. There’s always this talk about D&B being open and welcoming of other styles and influences, but you don’t see PRSPCT Recordings doing a night with Hospital Records. To what extent is the ethos true?
Fair point. Tell me about your recent album, how was that?
It came out last year. It’s interesting how that album panned out because I finished it during a very challenging period of my life. I was moving to Germany from the United States, where I was living with my then-girlfriend but then we broke up and in the middle of that I had to finish a record fast so I could move out to my new place.
It left a really bad taste in my mouth, so I just wanted to put it out and be done with it. I had zero expectations, I had no idea if it was going to be well received or not, I just hoped people would dig it.
But, for all that, the record has been very successful and has had support from people I never thought would pay attention to my stuff, like DJ Craze, who was bigging up the record. Five stars in reviews from the Pendulum guys, DJ Phantasy too. I felt like it was the beginning of something, it did what I mentioned earlier which is reinserting myself into the D&B scene.
The intro to your album is called No Mas Revolucion, I assume that’s related to the situation in Venezuela right now?
I was tired with the word ‘revolution’. At the end of the day, what does the word ‘revolution’ really mean? It’s just an abstract resource that politicians end up using to rile people up and make them vote. What are we doing this for? What’s the revolution actually for? That’s when I realised that we put so much faith in these messiahs, in these heroes, and that’s why the previous record is called Antihero. I realised that we cannot put all our hopes in one figure, whether it’s political, religious or whatever. It’s not about, in the case of the UK maybe Jeremy Corbyn or Theresa May, or Brexit or Remain, the truth is it’s about who’s doing what’s right for the country, for the people.
So, what’s it like being an artist from Venezuela at the moment? How does it affect your creative process, if it does at all? I feel like there’s a bit of a trope for music journalists to pick up on these things because they’re interesting to write about, but does it genuinely affect you as an artist?
I’ve actually realised that it’s impacted me more negatively than positively. One of my favourite tracks on the record is the last track, which is dedicated to the people who went out to protest and got killed, some of whom were my friends. So, I did this song about that situation, which was really, really sad, and it’s a beautiful piece of music that doesn’t do shit on the dancefloor. The problem is that Zardonic became way too political and it was never supposed to be political, I just became obsessed with it and I realised that I’m trying to do something that helps, but how is it really helping? Maybe it makes some people feel better but am I actually doing something that helps the Venezuelan cause? No. I’m just losing fans in the Czech Republic because they don’t give a fuck, they just want to dance and get drunk.
That’s a really interesting response. What are some of your reflections from fifteen years of Zardonic?
Looking back there are so many cool things that happened to me and so many things I’ve learnt. I threw myself into the world completely fearless, this is even before Zardonic decided to wear a mask, which was in 2012, 8 years after I released my first song. I didn’t get any attention until 2008, which was when I released that Policia track, that was one of my first real achievements. Andy C played it, DJ Hype played, I was just losing my shit. John B then got a remix I did for 9 Inch Nails, that got the attention of Pendulum and Dieselboy, all these people that I look up to so much. I’m very grateful to all of them for the help they’ve given me.
Tell me about some of your most memorable experiences from the past fifteen years…
I can remember when I moved to the USA, I had no idea where this Zardonic thing was going to go and I ended up on NBC Sports network and doing a track for a show for them. All these things started happening but they were going over my head because it was just so clouded and concerned with getting everything done. Nothing was right and everything was wrong, I was very obsessed with making everything better. You should always approach that with care because if you only focus on the negatives then eventually you get demotivated.
Looking back, a lot of amazing things happened that I didn’t pay enough attention to and now I’m trying to take that back. I’ve recently added the logo of every brand or record label I’ve ever worked with, including some that don’t exist anymore, because I realised recently that this is my history. That’s what the fifteen years is about for me, looking back and thanking everybody that did anything for Zardonic, big or small. Everybody I met left a part of themselves in me and that’s what life is about.
That’s nice. What’s coming up in 2019?
There are a few gig dates that I can’t announce right now, but there’s going to be enough Zardonic for everyone in 2019, I’m going to reach countries that I haven’t played in before. It’ll be the first time I get to the UK, which is ironic considering it’s the cradle of D&B.
In terms of music, I’m producing for a few bands. There’s another project that’s going to happen with MC Coppa which I can’t talk about, but there’s absolutely going to be more remixes, more EPs and this new project. We’re going to do everything we can to take this project to the next level. I think it’s going to be a great opportunity to show everyone that I’m just a guy who wants to make as much music as possible.