Mat Zo Talks Making Music Without Boundaries & Who Inspired New Album ‘Self Assemble’

The DJ/producer Mat Zo (aka Matan Zohar) has something in common with Kanye West: he’s feuded with Dead Mow Five – oops, deadmau5. It all kicked off in mid-2015 when on Twitter Zo, frustrated at EDM’s commercial concessions, decried the prevalence of ghost producers. The self-described studio “nerd” dissed Tiësto and Diplo. Deadmau5 then laid into Zo. The irony? Zo hadn’t actually targeted deadmau5, instead commending him for being “real”… #Drama

Born in the UK to international parents, but growing up in the US, Zo was exposed to classical strains. Indeed, Zo’s mother is a professional violinist (his distinguished UK-based artist father, Israel, officially painted Princess Diana). Returning to London, Zo played different instruments in different bands, before gravitating to dance music. Early on, he made drum ‘n’ bass under the handle MRSA for Hospital Records, home to High Contrast. In 2013 Zo’s debut album Damage Control came out via Above & Beyond’s progressive trance label Anjunabeats.

Remarkably, he was nominated for the “Best Dance/Electronic Album” Grammy, losing to Aphex Twin. Still, Zo is known for Easy, his hit collab with Porter Robinson. Now Zo, living in Los Angeles, is dropping a new album, Self Assemble, via his own concern Mad Zoo. He’s already followed the first single Soul Food with Sinful – which, again revealing a retro Daft Punk feel, features I See MONSTAS (incidentally, the video was shot in Sydney).

Music Feeds: Your first album, Damage Control, received a Grammy nomination. Now you’re gearing up for another – Self Assemble. What can you tell us about it?

Mat Zo: It’s the next stop on my journey as an artist. I like to make music I’m into with little interest in outside influence and what the trends may be. I’m a huge fan of the late ’90s, early 2000s-era dance music and I think a lot of that influence shows in Self Assemble.

Back then you could put out these albums that went all over the map and they were so inspiring. Some of those classic releases on Astralwerks, Ninja Tune and Warp, to name a few – they still stand up today.

MF: You have been called a “genre-less” producer – and your sound is super-hybridised. How are you evolving as a producer/artist?

MZ: I don’t really know. I’m kind of in my own world, to some extent. I want to make the music I like without any boundaries – and what you hear is where I’m at musically. I think that will always be the case.

MF: Growing up, you were obviously surrounded by classical – thanks to your mum. How does that influence you today, if at all? Did you consciously rebel or react to that pedigree?

MZ: I think it always helps to have that influence of a talented musician being around. Consciously or subconsciously, it definitely made an impact. I see a lot of classical elements in electronic music.

MF: A lot of people are maybe unaware of your drum ‘n’ bass past and having had releases on Hospital – a cult label. Do you still follow the scene?

MZ: To a degree, yes. It’s a huge part of who I am and incredibly inspiring for me.

MF: Getting a Grammy nom so early is a big deal – what did that recognition bring your career?

MZ: It’s an honour to be recognised, of course, but I’m not sure what sort of recognition it brought. With few obvious exceptions, dance music still flies under the radar. A lot of people know the tracks, but not necessarily the artists. It’s not like I’m a household name or anything – which is perfectly fine.

MF: Your track Easy with Porter Robinson is considered a classic here – and you remixed his Flicker. Will you work together again?

MZ: Thanks. Not sure what the future will bring, though…

MF: You have remixed big names – including Aussie pop royalty Kylie Minogue – and even a Disney song (Circle Of Life from The Lion King). Would you like to do more original pop production? What are your long-term ambitions?

MZ: Yeah – [it] would be cool to do more original music and throw some amazing parties on my own terms.

MF: Last year you called out EDM’s culture of ghostwriting. It’s rare these days that dance acts especially express views about the music in the media or on social media – there’s a collective nervousness. But, instead of showing solidarity, some big names (okay, deadmau5) turned on you. Your concerns were legitimate – were you dismayed at the reaction?

MZ: No, I didn’t make those comments looking for anyone’s support or reaction. That’s how I felt and I said it.

MF: Dance music has long been pluralistic and internationalist. But when Juan Atkins (the ‘Godfather of Techno’) recently called out the DJ List for its paucity of black DJs, he got heat, too. Is EDM becoming too centralised and hierarchal even in the digital age?

MZ: I don’t know. There’s a lot of stuff that gets talked about that’s [about] everything but the actual music. [It] would be nice to cut the BS and just go back to talking about great music.

MF: Fun question: What is the last piece of music you listened to just for ‘entertainment’ or to relax?

MZ: The theme song to Mr Bean.

BONUS: Top 5 artists that have inspired Mat Zo:

– Daft Punk

– The Chemical Brothers

– Noisia

– Madlib

– Porter Robinson

Mat Zo’s album ‘Self Assemble’ is out March 25th, grab a pre-order here.

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