Zomby: Channeling the Ghost of Breakbeat

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“Before, all my music was purple,” says Zomby, explaining the synesthesia he gets while working on music. “Now the tunes are going neon, like odd Gameboy 2-step shit. I feel a lot more inspired, like chrysalis stages, no joke,” he continues. “It’s like I stayed with purple ’cause that’s what I knew, but now that my music is accepted I can go other ways.”

I’m interviewing the shadowy 28-year-old producer via Instant Messenger from his home in London, where–a bit like Edgar Allen Poe’s raven–he lives perched “on the top tier of Big Ben, flat six, sixth floor, right by the six on the clockface.” The details of his history are shady: a hardcore and jungle head since the age of 12 (“too young to get into raves but just old enough to buy records”), he grew up on a council estate, but has also lived in the South of France and Barcelona. In 2005, he fell in love with the stark sounds of Wiley’s Eski grime sound, and quit his job to make tracks. “I got Reason and a MacBook and cracked on,” he says. “I made ‘Spliff Dub’ by the end of that month and it was on.”

Zomby is reluctant to reveal his true identity, but he’s got his reasons. “I wanted to create a myth for Zomby artistically. I didn’t want it to be pinned to one person, but to be in the air of London as if it’s always been there.”

As it turns out, Zomby’s stats aren’t as important as his tunes, which carry so much emotion and weight they tell their own stories. The aforementioned “Spliff Dub” (check the massive Rustie remix), “The Lie,” and “Liquid Dancehall” are minimal, weeded dubstep cuts that curl around your brain like wisps of smoke. Haunting banger “Strange Fruit” traps your brain inside a deliciously endless loop that reminds of Nintendo’s Castlevania; a taster, no doubt, for his recent Hyperdub EP, where tracks like “Bubble Bobble” and “Aquafresh” bubble up from the 8-bit swamp like the mutated children of LFO and Count Chocula.

Mr. Zomby’s tried his hand (and succeeded) at multiple British bass genres, from his current obsession with ’94 amen jungle to a more tropical, spookier take on fidget that he calls “horror house,” but it’s his Werk full-length, Where Were You in ’92?, that shows where his heart’s really at. The album is an homage to early ’90s U.K. hardcore outfits like Manix, Altern8, and many other one-hit wonders whose gritty breakbeats, chipmunked soul samples, and soaring Casio riffs have faded into the fabric of rave history. Using the classic Atari and Akai MPC-2000 set-up “to get the crunch in the tunes,” Zomby has crafted a concept album that’s at once totally new (check the Gucci Mane-sampling 8-bit B-more of “Pillz”) and achingly familiar–it’s almost hard to believe that tracks like “Euphoria” and “Tears in the Rain” weren’t actually made in ’92.

“I love old-school,” he types, in between furiously sending me YouTube links to obscure rave records. “It’s my fave shit by far, musically, and this record was really the first time I’d allowed myself to really just make what I wanted. But nothing I would do is a remnant of old,” he’s quick to clarify. “Everything is in homage or directly forward.”