Z-Trip Talks Phoenix DJs, Mash-ups, Serrato, Neil Diamond, Kool Herc, and More
Zach Sciacca (a.k.a. Z-Trip) is arguably the biggest DJ ever to come outta Phoenix.
Enjoying a level of superstardom that many local turntablists and mix masters can only dream about, the 38-year-old Valley native has spent the past decade and a half using his stellar scratching skills to propel himself to international fame and glory.
His list of coups and kudos is both lengthy and legendary: Long before he started touring venues around the world and commanding six-figure appearance fees, Sciacca was a member of the renowned Bombshelter DJs -- along with Emile and Radar -- in the mid-'90s. Painting local clubs and raves with virtuoso soundscapes, Spin magazine cited the trio in 1999 as some of the best wax workers in the nation. And the praise kept on coming.
Rolling Stone dubbed Sciacca the "king of mash-ups" (based on his popularization of the turntablism art form long before it became a danceteria cliché) and gave his 2005 disc Shifting Gears four stars, the highest rating doled out that year. The 16-track album also included a guest appearance by Public Enemy's Chuck D., who's become a regular collaborator, as has artist Shepard Fairey.
We spoke with Z-Trip recently for his thoughts on the Phoenix scene he helped spawn, as well as his opinions on the DJ biz, the rise of Seratto, the death of mash-ups, and the state of music in general.
Name: Zach Sciacca
Claim to Fame: The Great Godhead of the Phoenix DJ scene
Genres spun: It's really tough for me to describe my style. My style is the all-encompassing. I'm trying to master every style of DJing; whether it be reggae or drum and bass to house, I try and keep a little bit of all that stuff on deck.
Read on for more answers.
How did you get started as a DJ? I was probably around 15. I always wanted to learn how to scratch because I thought that was incredible but I played drums and I was into music before all of that. It got to a point where people were saying things like, "You've got all these records, why don't you come over to my house party and play some records?" I had this ability, I guess you would say, to play all the right records that would make people dance and have a good time. And that came so second nature to me that I realized that I should probably turn this into a career, I should turn this into something. Back then it was like I could make forty bucks at this next house party, but that sparked me making mix-tapes. Me giving away all the mix-tapes, not really making any money on the first three or four mix-tapes I made. I just made them to get them out there so people could have my stuff to listen to.
What was it like coming up in the local scene in the '90s? I would go downtown. I would go to the swap meet and maybe I would see some guy spinning records and I would just sit and watch him. It wasn't like I was able to go to all these clubs and shit either because I went from New York to Arizona and sort of back and forth around that time because my parents were divorced. So you tried to soak it up wherever you could and that was the thing I think that really made my style the way it is now because it wasn't handed to me on a platter. I had to really do a lot of soul searching and finding out what I liked and what worked for me and that whole process which is really very introverted. At the end of the day it definitely helped make me who I am.
Weapons of choice: At the end of the process of creating a mix, it comes down to Pro Tools at the very last stages but at the early stages it was an Ensoniq ASR-10. It's sort of my drum machine of choice I guess you'd say. You know turntables, mixer, CDJ, that kind of stuff and then I had some live musicians come in and play some guitar parts and bass parts and stuff like that. But I think the next record I'm going to sit down and record some live drums. I've got a couple of really dope drummers that I want to get down with.
What are your guidelines in terms of what goes into a mix? I don't give a shit about genre, tempo, style... it doesn't matter to me as long as it's dope and make me move, I throw it in the mix. That is something Bambaataa, Kool Herc, Jazzy Jay, Flash, and all the elders have been doing for years. I'm just doing what they've been doing.
Any new albums in the works? It's sort of in bits and pieces. It's actually kind of happening now. For me, the thought process is the first part of a record. I have to sit down and figure out what the hell I want to do rather than banging out beats. I got to have a vision and know where I'm going. If not then I'm just building up my catalog. I've been busy wrapping my head around what it is I want to say. I don't want to push it. I don't want to create a deadline and say this is when the record should come out. That's not the way an organic record should be. And I don't have a label barking at me. I'm doing it the way I want to do it. I might take another month of brainstorming. I'm slowly working with a couple people, but I will get to the point of knowing what I want to put out.
You've long been an outspoken critic of the current state of music. Where do you see music in general heading? It's kind of tough to say. The thing that I'm happy about is people let their guard down by playing and accepting all kinds of music without feeling weird. If you like Neil Diamond, you might think, "oh, my friends are going to think I'm weird." That shit is over. Not that I like Neil Diamond, I'm just using him as an example When I started DJing people were into all kinds of music and then it got real cliquey. There's a little bit of that going right now, but there are enough people out there who play all kinds of music and are breaking down barriers.
Do you think that the rise of Seratto or other DJ programs ruined the art form? Yes and no. All the new technology represents the next level, whether it be Ableton, Traktor or whatever it is that you're using. If it works for you and you're dope on it, do it. I'm from the old days of digging for records. I love and still respect that. I think there are a lot of young people coming up that need that in their repertoire because there's something important about that. At the same time, it's not required. There's no laws to this shit. If you're dope, you're dope, as long as you keep a little heart and soul in whatever you do.
What are qualities that any DJ should have? I think they have to be humble. They have to be extremely humble and they have to have a shit-load of passion. On top of that even more dedication and at the very end of the day they need to have no expectations. My philosophy that worked for me is plan for the worst but hope for the best. If you plan to have five hours worth of a set versus an hour, if you just over plan and plan for fuckin' the worst scenario chances are when you get there it will be smooth sailing. I take this more seriously than anything. Like this is it. Like if I break my hands I'm fucked. If my hearing goes out I'm fucked. If I have a bad performance at the wrong place at the wrong time I'm fucked. So, its like you have to have your guard up and you have to be digging constantly.
What else is important? You have to be keeping an eye on trends and cultures and knowing what music works in which region. There are so many different aspects of keeping it together, that it's a lot of hard work, man. It's definitely obtainable and possible but you've got to cut a lot of shit out of your life. To a degree you've got to cut out a certain amount of chicks, a certain amount of responsibility to all your friends and family and even physically yourself. If you want it bad enough you'll do it. You've got to practice and overcome shit. You've got to look back from time to time and sort of gauge if you've been progressing or not because you have to evolve. It has to evolve and get better because your fan-base is going to want to see that, people are going to want to see that, you're going to want to see that. So you've got to be good and always getting better on one hand and then the rest is all the other things I said, dedication on and on and on.
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