ABOVE: ZOMBY. IMAGE COURTESY OF SHAWN BRACKBILL
Zomby is unattainable, unpredictable, and impossible to find. You won’t find his face by Googling him (though you can find him expressing his thoughts on fashion, art and music on his Twitter feed). The British-born and bred musician currently resides in New York’s Lower East Side and is steadily gaining a cultlike fan base. After releasing his first official record on London’s Hyperdub music label in 2007, he’s since gone to release four further EPs and two albums to date, with his third With Love out this week on 4AD.
The double album sees Zomby explore the depths and soundscapes of an alternate postmodern future, taking you on a journey through the world of jungle, grime, and rave across its 33 tracks. Not content with producing and releasing his own work, he’s also taken on the role of A&R and founded his own record label, Cult, early last year.
With one foot firmly planted in music, Zomby has the other rooted in fashion. His sounds infiltrate runways worldwide from the established fashion houses of Prada, Hervé Leger and Victoria Beckham to cutting-edge brands such as En Noir, Cavempt (in which he modelled for their SS13 video lookbook, behind a gold-plated custom mask) and Acroymn.
Zomby is quick-witted and intelligent, and he refers often to the importance of his youth discovering music and the culture surrounding it as the direct influence of his creative outputs. In a rare meeting, Zomby spoke to Interview on how his past influences his present, his strong admiration for fashion, and his latest album With Love.
ZAINAB JAMA: What were you listening to growing up?
ZOMBY: It wasn’t just about listening for me. It’s all the culture that came with music. I spent a lot of time going to record stores, shopping for clothes, hanging out at the barber’s, going to raves, but also listening to tapes with my mates. I grew up listening to hip-hop, jungle, rave, garage, and later, grime, so for me it’s obvious that the music I make will have those sounds. I definitely feel like the last guy actually making music from that era; it’s like I’m still there. When I think about garage, it was an exciting time. Mobile phones were coming through, those old Nokia models are so two-step! Sick clothes that were almost affordable, and I guess I was just getting to the age where I started going out to raves. Garage was such a naive and happy time. Then after garage came grime, which was the opposite; it was murky, deep, and so cynical. To be honest, grime was largely a documentation of crime after CCTV and Metropolitan Police went insane about keeping tabs on everyone, the youth especially. Obviously the beats were always sick, and I love grime. For some reason I do keep getting nostalgic about all this lately. Maybe because I’m in the USA.
JAMA: When you speak about the culture, what do you remember the most?
ZOMBY: I remember the clothes, Moschino, Iceberg, Versace, Junior Gaultier, and Valentino. We had a fucking great time with the music and fashion; it’s my childhood, really, and our culture. I only ever tweet to try and keep my contact minimal so I can stay within my own life and memories. That’s where I take all my inspiration from is my own life and experiences, things I enjoy and am a fan of. I remember buying records from DJ SS, buying tape packs outside of raves, an entire culture we still live. Just because we’ve moved on and things have moved on it doesn’t erase our history, we all still love it today.
JAMA: Why was it such special time for you?
ZOMBY: I don’t think jungle or garage could happen now. It was so sample-heavy that every tune would be classed as a bootleg. My favorite jungle tune ever is the DJ SS mix of “Limb by Limb” by Cutty Ranks. It’s just a Cutty Ranks a capella given the jungle treatment. It’s perfect—Cutty Ranks even loved it, apparently—but if you tried to release that on a label now as an original tune, they’d shut you down. You’d get pulled up for ripping this off, bootlegging that, and whatever else. Ninety-nine percent of the best garage tunes are mostly samples. That’s also why trap and house sounds so attractive to this generation, because it is so easy to be original. If you show this generation what’s good, they think it’s nostalgic and hating. Every time I post a jungle tune on my Twitter, they think I’m hating on what’s out now, when I’m just going through my records and sharing them.
JAMA: Since New York became your home and the new album was recorded in the city, does being away from home affect the music you make?
ZOMBY: I don’t think so; not consciously, anyway. I think the pattern changes, and there’s different energy levels, but it doesn’t really affect what I produce. I’ve kinda tested it on myself, so when I’d move around DJing a lot, I’d keep building tracks to see if it felt different and it didn’t.
JAMA: How did you come to provide the soundtrack for fashion shows such as Prada, En Noir and Victoria Beckham?
ZOMBY: Honestly, I’m not sure. I think in the instance of Prada, they heard my EP on Hyperdub and chose three tracks—”Aquafresh,” “Gloop,” and “1Up”—which are hardly soundtracks, but they definitely bang. I can’t imagine what it was like to be sat by the runway in Milan as “Gloop” was played. For En Noir, I created a brand-new track; I wanted to add some drama to proceedings with the audio for the show. Rob, who designs all the gear, is great; he’s a real artisan and makes some incredible shit. To me, music and fashion are the same thing. A good designer is the same as an incredible musician, and the two go hand in hand. One thing I’ve not done which I’d like to do is play live at the shows. I’m a nerd for some designers, so it’d be a result.
JAMA: What was it like to step in front of the camera and model for Japanese streetwear brand Cavempt?
ZOMBY: Well, Shin (Sk8ting) and Toby (Feltwell, who runs the label alongside Sk8ting) have been doing amazing stuff for years. Obviously, they’re both well known for working on A Bathing Ape with Nigo, but C.E. is just on another level. Modeling for them was good fun—they made me a bespoke gold mask which is a laser mold of my face, it’s incredible. Honestly, if they asked me to walk to Tokyo for the shoot, I’d have just packed a bag and walked out the door.
JAMA: Tell us about your label Cult.
ZOMBY: Well, there’s six artists including myself; three are brothers, and two are close friends. Between us, we have some very unique sounds, and my artists are unknown new producers who’ve never released anything before. So it’s exciting for me to see what they have come up with. I’ve also been waiting for this style they’ve created unknowingly for a long time. I’d describe it as halfway between soundtrack music and regular productions. It’s very dark, very subtle and very well composed. Twin Peaks, Blade Runner-esque murder music. I love it.
JAMA: You kicked off the record label by releasing your debut album Where Were You in 92? on vinyl almost five years after it was first released. When is the next release on Cult due?
ZOMBY: I think it’ll be a track called “The Two Halves,” and another on the flip that we haven’t decided on yet. We’re not in a rush, to be honest with you; none of the music is time-specific. I’m just letting them breathe for a second. But hopefully by the end of this summer, a record will be out.
JAMA: With Love is your third album, and you released the first official video last week. How did the video come together?
ZOMBY: The video is more of a short film to accompany the album. When someone has to do work for me, I lose my mind. I can’t help it, I’m a bit of a control freak. I’ve always wanted something that would depict slow-moving paintings, stunning artwork that also incorporates movement. It was hard letting someone else create that vision for me, but I love it. Ollie [Evans], the director, did an excellent job. The styling, the casting and narrative came together really well.
JAMA: What’s your favorite track on the album, and how does this record differ from the others?
ZOMBY: The last track I wrote for the album, “With Love,” is probably my favorite. Or “Overdose.” I’m not sure, it changes. I decided to do a double album as it’s nice to release an album every year, but I missed out last year, so this time I just added more songs. In some ways it’s not that different to the last album, but in others it’s a completely different record. It’s an extension of my work in progress, but with 33 songs, you can get a good grasp of my sonic world. Maybe.
WITH LOVE IS OUT NOW. FOR MORE ON ZOMBY, VISIT HIS WEBSITE.