“Yes, I’m too hot to handle it / I’m too hot to handle.” These are lyrics from “Blame,” a track off Zeds Dead’s debut album, Northern Lights. It features Diplo and Elliphant — just two of many artists enlisted to collaborate on sections of Northern Lights. Were these lyrics foreshadowing the reception of Northern Lights? Perhaps.
Zeds Dead is Dylan “DC” Mamid and Zachary “Hooks” Rapp-Rovan, hailing from Toronto, Canada. Northern Lights was released in September 2016 on Deadbeats, a label of their own creation. We caught up with Hooks to discuss the new album, the new label, and discovering new sound.
Northern Transmissions: Northern Lights is a complex album with a lot of genres, and a dozen guest artists. “Too Young” with Rivers Cuomo and Pusha T is an interesting one, and I really love “Blame” with Diplo and Elliphant. Were there tracks on Northern Lights that were more difficult to bring together?
Hooks: “Stardust” was the song that went through the most twist and turns. In the end I think we ended up with something very unique there and we’re really proud of that one. It was in the works for almost two years and we tried so many different styles with it.
NT: What is your fixation with the night sky?
Hooks: It’s just a constant reminder of how mysterious this existence is. It’s easy to become a robot and just go through the motions and forget that we’re on a rock hurtling through a seemingly infinite void. Especially in cities where you can’t see the stars it’s easy to forget this. Perhaps it’s best to forget this though.
NT: Is your music political? Your work is heavily influenced by hip hop and rap, and though those genres have become more mainstream over the last few years, their intentions and lyrics stay rooted in subculture. Even the most mainstream hip hop has something provocative to say. I wonder, have you ever considered the potential politicization of your music?
Hooks: I wouldn’t say we make a lot of songs that are political in their message. I think we often try to have the lyrics be interpretive and hopefully can mean different things to whoever listens, not super literal a lot of the time.
NT: Social media has been a good companion for your career. I remember hearing Zeds Dead on Myspace when that was still a thing, and you’ve been active on social media ever since. What internet platform do you think it is the most crucial for artists who want their sound heard?
Hooks: These things change constantly. Youtube is still a great tool for music sharing. Soundcloud became huge, that was our go-to until recently. Spotify seems like it’s becoming a great tool for discovery these days, especially through playlists.
NT: Is internet presence a burden?
Hooks: Social media can sometimes be a lot to keep up with. Sometimes I think about how the days of there being some sort of mystique to artists is gone because you can see what they’re doing every second. But it can also be fun.
NT: Only a few years after you began collaborating, Zeds Dead founded Basementality — weekly parties that welcomed emerging artists. Those parties have ended, and Zeds Dead obviously doesn’t need to play small venues anymore. I wonder, do you still seek out underground and emerging sound?
Hooks: Yes, absolutely. That’s a huge part of what we do. We’re constantly digging through promos, blogs, Youtube, Soundcloud, etc for new artists and music. Going forward with our new label it’s only going to be more so as well.
NT: Congratulations on the launch of Deadbeats. As a duo that has supported and encouraged experimentation within electronic scenes — especially through Bassmentality parties, and collaborations that you still do— I’m astonished it has taken this long for Zeds Dead to create its own label. Why now?
Hooks: It just seemed like our first album would be a great starting point.
NT: How do you find balance between your own creative expression, and label business?
Hooks: It’s all a creative expression. Our label is just another facet of us, a chance to create something new and put people on to great music we love.
NT: Is there a contemporary artist that you are excited about, and do you have a favourite track?
Hooks: Our homie Nebbra is releasing an EP with us that we’re very excited about. In particular this song of his called “You.”
NT: You’ve got a few answers for the origin of your name, which include a line from Pulp Fiction and the combination of your given names. ‘Zed’ is also the Canadian pronunciation of the American ‘zee’. From one Canadian to another, how do you feel about ‘u’? Favourite or favorite? Colour or color?
Hooks: ou all the way
Interview by Brit Bachmann