Whether he’s hunched over the pulsing lights of the studio or rocking a blistering drum & bass set out from the DJ booth – Zinc works through the small hours and gets up mid-afternoon. So when he had to deliver the master tapes of his killer debut solo album, Faster, at the unearthly hour of 11am, it was a shock.
Zinc is a night person.
Whether he’s hunched over the pulsing lights of the studio or rocking a blistering drum & bass set out from the DJ booth – Zinc works through the small hours and gets up mid-afternoon. So when he had to deliver the master tapes of his killer debut solo album, Faster, at the unearthly hour of 11am, it was a shock. “It ruined me for days, ” he says, “I just can’t deal with mornings”.
These sleep habits of Zinc’s have crept deep into the grooves of Faster. It’s jammed to the bumper with depth-charge bass, crystal-tipped breaks and memorable, mysterious night-world melodies. It’s trenchantly widescreen, covering hard soul slow-jams, laid-back girl singers, itchy, scratchy drum & bass and megaton MC chaos. “I like all different kinds of music, but I didn’t make the album to show that” says the producer and DJ. “I started experimenting with bpm’s and it just came out that way.”
Faster was recorded in Zinc’s low-ceilinged East London studio over two and a half years. Six months after starting the album, Zinc realised that the tunes he’d been putting on the backburner had two things in common – they weren’t strictly drum & bass and they were all different tempos. An idea formed: Make an album of heavy mood music, featuring vocalists, MCs and his own killer production – and program the tracks in speed order. “Nothing was planned, ” he insists. “It just happened like that. I just do what I do.”
The percussive backbone of the album is soaked with breaks culture. Whilst Zinc prefers cutting acetates from emailed MP3 specials to record shopping, he’s lured by the history. “I really like the idea of breaks, of those old dudes sitting in studios years ago and playing the music.”
It’s a rollercoaster ride: There’s the 90bpm bliss of Angela Hunte singing You Follow, the dark rolling vortex of drum & bass beats that make up Next Tuesday and the spiralling, speedy chatting of Slarta John on Flim. There are the spooked, Is-This-The-Real-Life strings of People4, the 145bpm precision of Road Rage and the glitchy, grainy soul of Illa. Not to mention the title track, which performs a series of sonic back flips by speeding up during the track. Illa almost happened by accident.”I’d done the tune and I decided it needed something spoken, something a bit abstract. So I got this film soundtrack that had loads of dialogue on it. In the film, the lead character listens to an Ella Fitzgerald record at this point where everything has gone dark and bad in her life. I put the needle on exactly the place where the song came in and it happened to fit perfectly. It was in time, in key, everything. I was like “touch! I’m not passing that over!”
Vitally, the album has got tunes, something honed by years of DJing in drum & bass clubs and by Zinc’s rolled-gold productions which have regularly turned underground beats and styles into memorable dance, and chart, hits.
Zinc first caught the bass bug when he was 16, as acid house swept through the land. “I’d always been into music, ” he remembers, “my brother is a drummer and music was always around the house – but this was acid house! I went out raving and buying records. The rest of the time I’d be sitting at home making tapes.”
In typically modest style, Zinc kept the tapes to himself – until a friend decided it was the best thing he’d ever heard and sent it off to their local pirate. Within a few weeks, Zinc became a member of the tower block FM massive. By the early 90’s he had a residency at now-legendary club Desire and hot slots on pirates Format and Impact FM. The inevitable move into the studio didn’t take long. He and Swift hooked up and started making tunes for Bizzy B’s Brain Progression label. Eight of their Swift and Zinc series later and Zinc took the plunge. It was clearly a good move. His first solo tune, 1995’s Super Sharp Shooter, released on Ganja Records, stood head and shoulders apart from anything else that came out that year and remains one of the most recognizable dance records of the decade. It crossed over and for a short time, house kids, hip-hop heads and the whole of the Jungle massive were quite literally, singing the same tune.”All it was, ” says Zinc modestly “was that there were loads of records coming out with hip hop samples – and I thought I’d do one. I didn’t make it to be huge and if I’d tried it wouldn’t have sounded the way it did.”
Next stop was ‘Six Million Ways To Die’ which had similar, if more limited impact, marking Zinc out as a man who could fuse styles with ease and turn heavy heavy beats into vinyl moments that anyone could get. But in typically no-fuss style, Zinc continued to make the music he liked without getting caught up in the minefield of DJ celebrity. “I don’t want people to recognise me. Only people who go to clubs and see me DJing will have any idea what I look like. I’m a normal bloke and I like it that way. You walk down the street with Hype and he gets stopped the whole time. That’s my idea of hell.”
In 1996, there was a sonic double-whammy. First, Zinc knocked up a speaker-busting bootleg of The Fugees Ready Or Not that supershot him across dance floors everywhere – again. Secondly, he, Pascal and the inimitable DJ Hype set up True Playaz. “There were three of us and we were good at different things. We still are.”
During 1997 True Playaz started a monthly club event at The End, after a few years they moved to Fabric and have become the club’s most successful regular night to date.
Zinc’s key records have always been about hybrid sounds and about fusing new elements onto solid steel breaks. 138 Trek, which set the garage world alight and eventually became a Top 30 hit, was originally released in 2000 by True Playaz on the Beats By Design EP. “I did it to show versatility, ” he explains, “to prove that I could do something at that speed. I sent it to all the breaks DJs and virtually no one took any notice. It was all the garage kids on the pirates who picked it up.”
Faster looks set to catapult Zinc back into the sonic limelight once more. Although it won’t be at the expense of his heartland projects – True Playaz and Bingo are still thriving. “We’ve sold the same amount of records every year since 1996 with a small increase every year. Anyone who says there is less interest in this music is talking sh**.”
It’s a permanent bugbear, and one of the reasons that Zinc has persistently dodged interviewers throughout his ten-year career. “Drum & Bass clubs have always been busy. New people are always coming in; old ones are always dropping off. Only people who don’t go out say that drum & bass is dead.”
And you can’t argue with a night person on that.