In late 2010 DJ A-Trak (along with his Duck Sauce cohort Armand Van Helden) unleashed the infectious - and somewhat incredible ‘Barbra Streisand’. The song along with, the tongue-and-cheek video, became an instance cult classic, garnering the same love and affection that’s reserved for your everyday YouTube sensation. Earlier that year DJ Zinc dropped one of the biggest dance tracks in the form of ‘Wile Out’ featuring Ms. ‘It’s a sticky situation’ Dynamite which not only sent clubs into pandemonium but slightly revived her music career.
With so much in common it’s no surprise that these two hit makers have linked up in the studio time and time again. Whilst working on new material together Clash managed to sit down and delve into the minds of A-Trak and Zinc to talk about club experiences, pre-warm-up rituals, chatting-up girls in the club and digging for records.
On their first club experiences:
Zinc: Your first club experience is more recent than mine isn’t it?
A Trak: My first experiences where when I first started DJing when I was about 14 in Montreal, I started getting booked at local clubs to just come and do little scratch demos. At 14 I looked about 11 so I definitely did not belong there.
Z: Aren’t they’re strict in Canada?
A: Yeah they’re pretty strict but at least the age limit is 18 as opposed to 21 in the US. But still I was far from 18 so a lot the times I’d have to hide in the club mangers office and then come out in do my little demo and then go back and hide again. My first experiences going out to clubs came later when I started touring more with friends by the time I was around 17-18 years old, sometimes I’d be on the road and we’d go out a little bit, or back in my hometown with my brother. It was an adjustment because I’d been going to clubs for about three or four years for my own shows with my DJ bag and with my focus to do shows so I had to get used to going to these same places to unwind and not work.
Z: My first experiences were the warehouse parties in the late 80’s and early 90’s in London, the illegal raves. Then I was trying to get into that scene and trying to link people through that, sometimes I would go to a rave with my mate to hand out promos via the label. It was the underground, very early jungle raves. Some of them like Tasco’s Warehouse and Roller Express were legal, like if the police had gone in there they probably wouldn’t have approved too much but they were actually licenced. It wasn’t like the first batch of raves I went to, some of the early ones like Sunrise was totally illegal.
A: In the late 80’s what kind of music were they playing?
Z: Acid house at the very start and a lot of the Detroit stuff was coming over. That era was when samplers were just becoming available and it was at a time when the equipment was available to more people to a degree. You get people with bedroom studios, before that it’s always been a big studio with a big budget and because of that they would have directed the music a certain way. But then there’s people like Derek May or Juan Atkins that have got the equipment they just did what they wanted I think that’s when it was exciting.
Playing on location:
Z: I really like London because it’s so receptive to new music and different stuff. It’s always hungry for new music and new sounds, you get little scenes in certain countries where they just want to hear stuff from different eras. But London and the UK there seems to be certain things, like there’s for radio there’s Rinse and they’re just always on the new thing, they’re always interested on new music and there’s clubs like that in London as well.
A: I think England really is one of the best places to DJ but for me the way that I see it it’s not only that a lot of people are interested in new sounds but are also informed on the new sounds, there’ s a lot history. People start going out to clubs very young here and I think people are exposed to a good calibre of DJ’s here. I think anyone that grows up in England has been hearing quality DJ’s since the age on 16.
Z: It used to be that the pub’s would shut at 11 so if you wanted to carry on drinking you had to go to a club so people who were not really interested in club music had to listen to club music every week. So after awhile it just grew on them you know, so I think that was part of it. There’s a lot mixed cultures in London.
A: I mean there’s a lot places in America that I love to DJ, I mean Los Angeles is one of the biggest markets, I get good and crazy and crowds in LA. In New York I really like to patrol hip-hop parties, it’s where I can reach out to cool rappers and put together a cool party, present it with Fool’s Gold and have an end result that’s unique which I can’t get in any other city. But really there are cities and clubs that love where I love doing shows, I think now South America and Asia are probably the most exciting parts of the world and I think it goes with the economic boom. I think those are areas where you can feel a pulse.
Z: Do they play fresh music there though? Cause I played at a couple of places there and I felt like I had to play really middle-of-the-road, tame tunes.
A: I think at this point in every city there’s certain clubs where kids are just open to hearing good music, at the end of the day we count our agents to put us in the right spot. I almost do it as an exercise to play in different types of clubs and to be able to switch my set up. If there’s a club where I turn up and I’m like “I shouldn’t be here” sometimes it’s not because of the music. Maybe I’ll find the setting a little tacky, if I go to a club and I find people with too much gel and just too many stripes on their shirts I just think ‘this isn’t cool’.
Z: Like those West End clubs…
A: But I don’t think I’m not going to be able to play here I just think ‘I’m not going to hangout with these people”. I’ve been DJing for 15 years, I’ve had bad sets and I’ve heard bad sets.
Z: I guess so but I just play music I like, I play what I want to hear and sometimes it doesn’t really work with the crowd but it works for me, which is a little bit hard on the ego. Because I’ll think “I’ve got these really good new tunes, I’m gonna play and people are gonna be really interested in this new different-sounding stuff and I think they’re going to share that interest and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they just want to hear what they already know and that’s happened to me a few times, especially when I use to play Drum & Base and then switched to base-heavy House music. For the first year that I was DJing House music people would stand at the front saying “Play Drum & Base! Play drum & Base!” and hold a sign at me. I remember one of the firsts DJ sets I did, I was playing and this geezer leaned over the front and said “What fuck is man?”. As it happened the he looked like worked on a farm he, his hair and face was a bit weird, he looked a bit like a weirdo. He was like “What the fucking hell is this man?” so I told him this what I play now and I really like it. He said “This fucking shit man,” I told him again this is what I play now and he was like “But I LOVE Drum & Base man, I LOVE IT!”. So I said “ Cool, I used to like it but this is what I play now” and he was like “This is fucking bollocks”. Then right near the end of my set this really pretty girl came up to me – and ‘Killer Sound’ was the first house based track I released – and she asked me if I had played ‘Killer Sound’ yet. I was thinking I don’t even wanted to play this because it’s just not working and she was like “Oh please play it, I love this new stuff your doing it’s amazing”. So cool the cute girls like it and the farm-type weirdo doesn’t, maybe it’s not such a bad thing.
A: When girls like a new sound it’s always promising because girls bring the guys into your house…
Z: Maybe a bit more discerning as well, the blokes wanna hear noise and banging loud where as the girls just want to hear music and something you can listen to and not mosh to.
A: Canada is very much open to the rest of the world, it’s very mixed and it’s right next to the US and takes in a lot of what’s going on there but with just a enough perspective also, it’s open to Europe as well. In a city like Montreal that’s a city where a lot of people go in-and-out it’s kind of seen as this middle point between North America and Europe, that really translates musically I remember growing up and seeing a lot European acts coming to perform in Montreal and a lot of American Rappers as well. I think the UK has a lot more of it’s own sounds because obviously people from all over the world come here as well, but I think the UK has sounds that are born here and are very recognisable.
Z: I’ve been there quite a few times.
A: Drum & Bass is huge in Canada.
Z: I like it, I really do. I’ve been to Toronto and I stayed there for three weeks once when I was working with a music academy. I got a chance to get used to the place and it’s like North America except more European, I like Vancouver a lot of nice Japanese restaurants, culture wise it’s like a slightly more European version of North America.
Z: Answer this honestly, come on man.
A: I used to.
Z. No tell us about the other one, the special one’. You’re not going say are you?
A: No I can’t, it’s not legal and it’s not cultured.
Z: Ah there we have it
A: When I used to do turntablism I used to have all these finger exercises that I would bring to my gigs. When I got into scratching people used to follow DJ Qbert like a sort of cult leader. He would put out these VHS tapes of him practicing scratching and hanging out and stuff. You would see the way he would warm-up and he use those Chinese metal stress balls, so was like “I want some of them”. He also found this straight-belted finger exercise it looked like something for a trumpet player so I went to a guitar shop and bought it too. So before my gigs I would warm-up my hands for my scratching.
Z: I don’t have rituals.
A: You don’t take an hour to bathe before your show?
Z: No it’s a different sort of thing isn’t it just turn and play some tunes.
A: I think there’s a bit of a mental thing for me…
Z: I was a bit nervous when I first started, first time I was buying records for about two or three years and I couldn’t afford turntables so the first time I ever used technics was on a pirate radio show I remember my hand shaking, trying to be cool in front of all the blokes and I didn’t realise how easy it was to mix on them. There’s been lots of times when the system’s shit and it’s really hard to mix but that’s more to do with having a bad set than it is warm-up rituals.
Digging In The Crates:
Z: I haven’t bought any second-hand records for a long time, I do a lot of my stuff on internet really. Like the sort things you find interesting you can find on the Internet a lot of the time and so that for me, I wish it existed when it started cause I was so limited. I could only afford every now and again one of the ‘Ultimate Breaks & Beats’, I could only buy one of them so I had to choose one and get the best breaks and I couldn’t buy another one for another two weeks. But I haven’t bought any records for awhile.
A: I did an interview at a record shop and while I was there I thought I’d buy some records. The way that I buy records now is different from before, now it’s there will records that I own digitally that I love and I see it in a shop and say you know this is one of my favourite records of the year I want to have this one my shelf so I’ll buy it on vinyl just to immortalise it where as before I would buy the record to have it in the first place, so now I’ll buy stuff from some of my favourite labels just to feel like I have a little piece of them in my home and maybe I’ll buy a couple of second hand things to look for weird samples or whatever but I’d just buy a handful. Before the only way I would find samples would be vinyl so I would go and find a big stack of vinyl and really count on it. Now it’s more of a little fun thing. Because I moved to New York six years ago and I left my record collection in Montreal and it’s been in storage. It’s just coming to the holiday’s I‘m finally gonna bring my vinyl back with me to New York cause I’ve moved to a new place that’s bigger and honestly it was one of the main motivating factors to move to a bigger flat this year because I started wanting to get my vinyl with me. I would go to my friends houses and see there’s just this sort of comforting feeling I see when that there’s walls filled with vinyl and I just started thinking I need that back, you just feel like you’re in the company of history.
Z: I've still got a lot records in my house and in my studio. In my studio I’ve pretty much got a wall of records and when I go Japan that’s when I buy records.
A: Japan is known for tracking down collectables.
Z; You can get really cool stuff that you just can’t get here and stuff that’s never coming here, I got some great samples from there.
A: I was never that type of collector that tracked down, you know those people that are like “I’m looking for the yellow pressing of ‘Funky Drummer’ that only came out in Italy” and it’s worth $600. I was never one of those guys; I actually enjoyed buying records that I didn’t know based on the cover or the artist, like “This looks like it’s funky” and then you come home and you find something on it and there’s a satisfaction like “oh cool, I got a sort of hint that this would be cool because I like the guys afro”.
Z: When I went to South Africa I picked up a bunch of records, if go somewhere cool or somewhere strange then I’ll try and pick up something.
A: Especially somewhere like South Africa I think these parts of the worlds that are sort of meeting points any place where there is a port is a great record town. Like in Canada Halifax, which is on the east coast and is like the first port of entry from Europe was always known for having incredible record shops.
A-Trak & Zinc's new single 'Like The Dancefloor' is out now.
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Words by Jerry Gaddiano
Photo Credit: Luxury Mindz