Zombie Disco Squad (ZDS) is London Producer and DJ Nat Self. He has released over 100 tracks, more than 50 remixes and 1 album feat. Omar & DJ Funk. He’s already checked off all the required boxes of a truly in-demand global Producer/DJ. In his latest Toolroom Academy course Z.D.S explains production techniques for making and mixing music on headphones, to sampling, to melody writing process and composition elements. We caught up with him about the influence South London has had on his music, his studio and how he likes to work.
Zombie Disco Squad… ZDS… Talk to us about the name?
Ah… the name! So ‘Zombie Disco Squad’ was actually a party that I did with a bunch of my friends in South London in the 2000’s. There was a massive group of us, maybe 20 or 30. One night, there was a journalist down to review the party and called the group of us ‘Zombie Disco Squad’ so that’s the origin!
You can join the dots to why she might have called us that. Lucas and I went onto do this full time, then in 2012, he went to do his own label and I’ve seen doing this ever since.
So these parties were in South London, have you always been based there?
Yes! I actually grew up in Brixton. I’ve lived in other places, but I am from London.
Have you always been brought up with music? Always music in your house growing up?
Yes… and no. My parents aren’t really into music that much. My mum will get drunk and listen to Iggy Pop and my dad might have something like ‘Greatest Love Hits’, but actually, where I grew up, pirate radio was a big thing.
Can you remember any of the stations?
KISS FM, at that time was a pirate radio. So there was a lot of Garage, Soul 2 Soul, Jungle, Raga, and Reggae… So much music. So many styles. And I was exposed to it via the radio and that’s how I got into music.
That’s really interesting. So, South London has had a real impact on your music taste?
100%. I think if I hadn’t grown up in South London, I don’t think I would be as into music as what I am now. Because I was so exposed to everything.
I could tune in with a cheap radio and have access to 100’s of stations of that were really underground at that time. The area that I was living in, a lot of the guys on the radio were coming from. Like Soul 2 Soul collective, early Jungle, Hardcore and House. It was all there.
How old were you when you started to go out nightclubbing?
I was about 14. I have to say, I feel sorry for the kids of 13/14 now because you can’t get into clubs anymore. But back then, it was so easy, you didn’t need fake I.D. I actually started going to a Hip-Hop night at a club called ‘Funkin’ Pu*sy’ (A bad name!) in Covent Garden.
Who were the DJs inspiring you at the time?
So I had a really broad taste in music. When I was really young, I was into Hip-Hop. Then as I got older, it was Jungle and Drum ‘n’ Bass that got me into Dance music. I liked all the stuff from Bristol… Roni Size, DJ Die. Those guys. So I would say they were my earlier influences.
How did you get into music production?
I was DJing around quite a bit (As Zombie Disco Squad) and it simply a way of playing tunes that I thought should exist, but didn’t. I had that urge to play my own things. So when we were a duo, before we’d even put a record out, we were touring Europe a lot.
So it was just a natural progression from DJing to producing for you then?
Yeah, definitely! We wanted to have our own records to play that slotted into our sets that were just different from everything else.
Can you read music? Are you classically trained?
I’m completely self-taught!
Can you remember your first ever record you bought?
The first ever record… I think it was a Radiohead record when I was really young. It was from their album ‘Ok Computer’.
Your Toolroom Academy course was a mixture of Cubase and Abelton. Why is that?
I bought a PC, because at the time, that’s what I could afford. Cubase was the best programme for PC’s when I started making music. I’ve got to say, Ableton is great! But in terms of making thing sound good, for me, Cubase and Abelton are the best. That’s just my opinion, anyway! There’s no wrong or right answer. You can make great songs with Abelton, of course you can! So many people do. But… it has something annoying features. With these two programmes you can connect the two and have the best of both worlds.
Can you tell us a little bit about your studio setup at the moment?
So I’ve always pretty much had a very basic studio set up, which is more or less; monitors, a midi keyboard, Maschine and a computer. It’s always stayed simple and I’m pretty much in the box. I now split my time from working in the home studio and my studio in town, which are pretty much identical.
Anything on ZDS’ hardware wish list?
I’ve always wanted an 808… Not because of the sound, just because of what it is and again, I’ve always fancied a Moog. They are two things that I wouldn’t necessarily use in music, but I’d like to own them because of their heritage.
How often are you working on new music?
In one way or another… I’m working every day on new music! I go through periods where I don’t produce and the output isn’t high but that time always leads me back into producing a bunch of songs in one go!
So do you structure your studio time like a typical 9-5 job, having those solid breaks? How do you prefer to work?
So I tend to probably on a daily basis, have 3-4 hours. But then sometimes I might spend 16-18 hours in the studio and do 3 or 4 of these and finish a tonne of stuff in one go.
WOW! That’s a lot of time to spend in the studio… What is the secret? Lots of coffee? Regular breaks? Low volume?
For me personally, it’s just the will of wanting to get stuff finished. It’s what drives me to make music, I want to get stuff out there, I want people to hear, I want to play it myself. I just have that urge to create something. Once every few weeks, I just go in and finish everything up. It’s just pure drive.
How many projects are you working on at this moment in time?
I would say… 20 at the moment. From this list of 20, I will probably release 3 or 4 songs.
20 projects! That’s a lot.
So I have this whole system, where I make 10 tracks really quickly just to get the ideas down, these aren’t finished. Then I refine 2 or 3 good ones.
So from those 10 you will go back and forth and working on different ideas?
Yeah. From those 20 that I’m working on, most of those might go from me just listening back with fresh ears. I might spend3 or 4 hours on those 20 tracks and develop and spend more time on the ones that I think are good.
I’ve become a bit slow lately, it can take me up to a month to write a song – it used to take me much less time, but I’ve come to an opinion that there’s so much music out there now, that you have to do the best you can. Like, really, really the best. Go past what you thought you were capable of.
Who are your favourite producers at the moment?
The guys I’m constantly blown away by are Green Velvet and Claude Von Stroke – These guys have been doing it forever, they do stuff I don’t think I could achieve yet.
We’re big fans of those guys at HQ too. What are your favourite tracks by them?
I liked the stuff they did together under the Get Real alias, – ‘Mind Yo Bizness’ it always blows me away.
If you could collaborate with anyone, dead or alive… who would it be?
Oh wow… There are people who have been heroes throughout my life, so I would love to do for the sake of it… people like Prince. That would be insane. Then there’s Paul Johnson who I’d love to work with.
Green Velvet and Claude Von Stroke would be an honour… I’m actually due to go in the studio with Claude Von Stroke. It’s been a tricky thing to nail down with schedules, but I’m excited.
Z.D.S in 5 records?
This is when I realised, I can make music. It was one of the first pieces I was so happy with.
For me this was a jump on the quality of production. I felt like I’d really achieved something with ‘Bang’.
I really think that the environment you live in feeds into the music you make. I was living that Mediterranean lifestyle, going to the beach, going to the mountain, going for long, delicious lunches in the sunshine and then going out and partying in the night time. I feel like you can hear that in ‘Rick James’ and that’s how it came about.
This was one of the tracks where everything just clicked for me. I am still so happy about this track and it was made 5 years ago!
Because it was an honour to work with Omar!