By Karolina Kapusta
VANCOUVER — After almost a decade spent releasing an onslaught of EPs and remixes, travelling worldwide on several massive tours, and most recently, completing their first full-length studio album and starting a brand-new record label, Dylan Mamid and Zachary Rapp-Rovan, also known as Zeds Dead, have accomplished an insane amount in their careers so far. “I still think we’re freshmen in this scene [in terms] of people [that we] look up to. I forget [that] we’ve been in it for [so] long,” Rapp-Rovan answers humbly over the phone.
Rapp-Rovan and Mamid first met in their hometown of Toronto in the mid-2000s where they bonded over their mutual love for hip-hop music and production. Growing up in the MySpace era, the duo originally teamed up under the title Mass Productions and independently released a free LP inspired by 1990s hip-hop titled Fresh Beetz. Pretty soon thereafter, the two friends first discovered electronic dance music and began to produce dance beats under Zeds Dead, a moniker inspired by the movie Pulp Fiction, in 2009.
As their fan base began to expand, the duo founded a weekly underground party that they called Bassmentality in the actual basement of a Toronto bar called 751. Used as a platform for new DJs to freely play, the night championed the early EDM scene in Canada and explored sub-genres like dubstep, UK garage, and bass. Over the years the party became known for featuring local weekly performances by Zeds Dead and The Killabits as well as international acts like Skrillex, Nero, Borgore, Bare Noize, and Camo & Crooked, to name a few.
In 2013 Zeds Dead released their breakout EP Hot Sauce through Diplo’s Mad Decent label, which quickly placed them on the international EDM circuit. A short year later, the young producers showed off their knack for collaboration by working closely with Toronto-based rapper Omar LinX as well as other well known artists like Twin Shadow, Big Gigantic, Bright Lights, and Dirtyphonics to release their EP Somewhere Else to much critical acclaim.
Northern Lights is the first original LP from the Zeds Dead camp and showcases a striking compilation of musical genres and partnerships from beginning to end. Listening to it, the bass and dubstep genres that some of the first Zeds Dead fans initially fell in love with merge with party-ready electro-house tracks, calming soundscapes, and that fusion of hip-hop the pair is known for, to create both a cohesive and encompassing sound. With vocal features from a haphazard collection of artists including Weezer’s frontman Rivers Cuomo, rapper Pusha T, Swedish rapper Elliphant, Jadakiss, and Freddie Gibbs, it all somehow works together on the album. “I’m really proud of who we got to collaborate with for Northern Lights,” explains Rapp-Rovan. “We collaborated with [so many] of the people we looked up to growing up listening to music. We’ve wanted to make our own album since we started Zeds Dead. It’s just the way it went that we ended up releasing remixes and EPs instead.”
Two years in the making, the pair decided to lighten their show time having been touring nonstop since 2010 to dedicate the necessary studio time to work on the album. “We wanted to make a real album that was kind of like the stuff that we grew up on, where it wasn’t just a collection of songs, it was more like something you could listen to front to back [that] was cohesive and told a story. Northern Lights is representative of the feeling that we were going for.”
While the backdrop of the album is very moody, mysterious, and dark, the bright range of vocalists guide the listener through the album like the beguiling shimmer of the aurora borealis itself. “Sort of like beauty in darkness, if you want to call it that. It’s interpretative but it’s definitely dark, but there are light moments, and it’s not all super serious,” concludes Rapp-Rovan. “We did our best to put together a cohesive piece of work. It took two years and we made a lot of music before narrowing it down to the best of what represents what Zeds Dead [truly] is.”
According to Rapp-Rovan, the most challenging track for them to create was most definitely “Stardust,” featuring synth-pop singer and producer Twin Shadow. “We went through so many different phases. We knew that we had something really dope and there was a lot of experimentation. In the end I think we came up with a really cool piece of music that isn’t easy to place or put in a box,” he explains.
Released just last month, Northern Lights was also the first release on Deadbeats, the official musical imprint of Zeds Dead. “We’ve wanted to have a record label for a really long time now. [Just] to be able to release our own music as well as put out artists that we think are really great,” says Rapp-Rovan. “We’ve always been kind of do-it-yourself so it just furthers that story.” So far, the label has also rolled out the debut EP of French electro producer Nebbra and plans to also release a compilation of songs from promising up-and-coming artists that Deadbeats has picked set to come out at the end of the year or early 2017. The label won’t be limiting their releases to just electronic music either. “We’ve always been hip-hop heads and we definitely want to showcase that side of us,” says Rapp-Rovan. More than a record label, Deadbeats will also act as a community for like-minded artists, a literal expansion of the Zeds Dead world.
Having just released a music video for their single “Too Young” off of Northern Lights, the creative duo wants to send a message to their fans using the pastel-coloured, hash-tag adorned stop-animation by artist Chris Ullens as their means of delivery. “It’s a critique on our overuse of social media,” states Rapp-Rovan. As artists that first released their music via Myspace and have seen social media, and media in general, evolve at breakneck speeds, the song is pretty on point with the social media conundrum our generation faces. The claymation in the video, like the catchy song itself, appears attractive and bright where the dark lyrics and even darker motifs catch you off-guard. Much like social media has changed, the electronic music scene has transformed almost past recognition since Zeds Dead first started producing music, and yet, Rapp-Rovan says they’re not worried. “I think we [just like to] keep to ourselves and stay in our own world, and it hasn’t failed us yet.”
The industrious pair plans to take it easy in the New Year after hitting up multiple cities across North America and Europe on the Northern Lights tour. The dynamic duo has collaborated with Strange Loop (the company behind Flying Lotus’ psychedelic visuals) for some very trippy production to unleash on the audience. “Generally our sets are almost completely our own music and the visual accompaniment that we have goes perfectly with it,” Rapp-Rovan promises. “It’s going to be a real audio-visual experience.”
Zeds Dead performs at Contact Winter Music Festival at BC Place on December 26th.BC, BC Place, British Columbia, Contact Winter Music Festival, Northern Lights, Zed's Dead