Zustra: The voice of an up and coming producer
A few months ago I received a message via Soundcloud from a Swiss man calling himself Zustra. He’d read my blog and thought I’d be interested in checking out his music – being the cynic I am, I didn’t bother to listen to it initially, thinking it would probably not be something I’d like. But eventually I did take time to listen to it and it turned out that Zustra’s stuff was pretty good. With this in mind, I decided to interview Zustra to find out what it’s like for a music producer who is unknown and trying to get their music heard and signed.
Which city are you from and how is the scene?
I’m from Lax. Not the airport of Los Angeles, but a village deep in the Swiss Alps with a population of 300. So you can imagine what kind of a scene we have.
How did you get into house music?
I got into electronic music quite late, when I was around 18, because there is almost no scene where I grew up. There was one club called Bamboo where they played minimal and techno back in 2008. The moment when I really fell in love with the sound was when I went to Lausanne with a friend to hear Jeff Mills. He played a four-hour set on three decks and did live jams on his 909. It was just magical to see such passion and energy.
How did you make the transition from listening to music to DJing and producing?
I bought my first turntables in early 2009 along with Serato and later I switched to Traktor. Recently though my vinyl collection has been growing and I look forward to playing my first vinyl-only set. Playing only with vinyl is a totally different story in a good way! Half a year after I bought those turntables I started producing with Ableton. I was always curious as to how the sounds in house and techno had been crafted and I had lots of ideas about how to alter the tracks that I was playing. At the beginning it was very hard to understand the process of making music because there is so much more to it than “just” DJing. You have to understand how a track is built, which sounds to use, basic sound synthesis and design, followed by a lot of practicing and jamming. Afterwards arranging all the parts to get some excitement and then there’s the technical side to it where you have to mix all the parts together.
Who were your early inspirations?
The usual suspects like Jeff Mills, Carl Craig, Kerri Chandler, Ricardo Villalobos, Sven Väth, Richie Hawtin, Dominik Eulberg, Martin Buttrich, Extrawelt, Adam Beyer, Nathan Fake, Paul Kalkbrenner and the list goes on.
How long did it take you to feel comfortable with the music you were making?
I guess more than two years. But still now I find it difficult to judge my own work, because you spend so much time making a track you automatically hear it differently than someone else. So it’s always good to receive feedback from others. When I feel a track might be close to being complete I try not to listen to it for a few weeks and then I try to play it in one of my DJ sets. If it feels right I leave it that way otherwise I’ll re-edit it.
How did you pick up your production skills?
First of a lot of tutorials on YouTube for basic skills. Forums like Gearslutz. Blogs, blogs and more blogs. I also subscribed to Future Music Magazine, their DVDs are really cool and inspiring. There is just too much material out there waiting to be discovered.
Can you play any instruments or is everything done with software?
To be honest, not really. Back when I was at school we had music lessons on a weekly basis, but at that time I wasn’t really thinking about making music myself, so almost everything went missing. I think it’s really unfortunate. These days everybody in school should be equipped with a midi keyboard and be taught to play the piano and learn the stuff by practicing, because having music theory lessons when not playing an instrument is a waste of time. But playing the piano is definitely on my to-do list.
So now you’re at a stage where you feel confident enough to send demos out – when did you decide it was the right time to try to get your music signed?
As a DJ I’m very picky when it comes to choosing tracks to play and I’m on the hunt for new pearls on a daily basis. So I always felt I won’t send anything of my own until I feel confident enough to play out my track, which was almost two-and-a-half years.
How have you been approaching labels and what’s the response been like so far?
Almost a year ago I sent around 10 demos to several labels and I got only one response – from the owner of one of my favorite record labels from London. He wanted to sign my track called Isolation and put it on a compilation, but unfortunately it didn’t work out in the end. But in retrospect I think the labels I contacted were just too big to start with and honestly I haven’t put a lot of effort in it since then. But now I feel it’s the time to get my first track signed.
Have you considered starting your own label to maybe get your music out there?
Yes I have but I came to the conclusion that for me it’s not worth investing the time. There’s so many skills you need from picking the right music, to marketing the label, distribution and so on. If you want to do it right and have a steady output it’s a full-time job and with my studies and part-time work I already have enough.
Last Night is a great track, has anyone shown any interest in it? How did that track come about?
Thanks, appreciate it! Not yet, but I got some good feedback by DJs and friends. I was looking around to get some vocals done for some of my tracks for a few months – my brother organised a concert and there was the Ryan O’Reilly Band playing. I really liked what they did, especially Ryan’s voice and his songwriting. So I sent him an email along with the track and he agreed to do it. The vocals were already well placed, so I only had to chop it up a bit and put some decent editing on it.
Do you think that there are too many people making music and flooding labels with their demos?
I think it’s a good thing that more people have access to create music by their own. Now you basically have your whole studio environment in a laptop and you can go for it. Because almost everybody can set up a digital record label and release tracks on it, there’s no filtering function anymore by record labels like it was before the digital age. So yes, there’s definitely a big flood of releases coming out every day. As a result it’s very tough to get recognized and get people to listen to your demos. And on top of that since nowadays everybody wants to be a DJ, I think a lot of people who wouldn’t necessarily be a producer are now doing it only to be part of the game and land more gigs. But I think that would be a whole other discussion.
Any advice for other new producers who are trying to get their music signed?
Take your time! Of course getting a track signed is exciting, but you should also be able to listen to it a few years later and still like it. Also buy decent monitors and get comfortable with them.
Which label would you like to have a track released on?
So many… Tsuba, Freerange, One, Culprit, No.19, Hot Creations, Desolat.
Where do you want to be in six months?
Definitely I want to get my first track signed, preferably on a good label [laughs]. I don’t kid myself, it will always stay a fulfilling hobby for me. So maybe play more gigs in the rest of Switzerland, try to make some good tracks. I also run a monthly party called “All And None” at the club Perron1 in Brig with my buddies HighLive and Tryal. We are trying to bring some good house and techno vibes to our hometown. Up to now we have booked a lot of cool artists we dig like Kellerkind, Animal Trainer, Andri, Ezikiel, Benja, Reto Ardour, Adrian Martin and we also take a lot of care on our designs, flyers and so on. You can check it out here www.facebook.com/allandnoneforever
Which Swiss artists/DJs are you listening to at the moment?
Deetron, Andrea Oliva, Kellerkind, Animal Trainer, Adriatique, Round Table Knights, Andri, Benja & Reto Ardour, Mirko Loko, Ezikiel only to name a few.
Name your three favorite Swiss record labels?
Hive Audio, Drumpoet Community and Cityfox, actually all based in Zurich.
Which clubs/parties would you recommend to someone who’s visiting for the first time?
I can only speak for the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Zurich is really the party capital of Switzerland. You’ll find all kinds of different environments from cosy little bars in the Niederdorf, expensive clubs more in the city centre, to the underground clubs. My favorite club is the Hive club, there’s always broad range of electronic music with well-known international acts as well as Swiss acts. Also, make sure to check out the many small and dedicated clubs like Zukunft, Cabaret, Friedas Büxe. Lately there are a lot of openings and closings of clubs due to city planning and the resulting gentrification. Sadly I couldn’t experience the legendary Dachkantine myself and I only had the chance to go to Rohstofflager a few times. And it seems that a lot of cool clubs have to shut their doors in the near future. It’s interesting to see how this will develop.
For more information on Zustra, make sure you check out his Soundcloud page HERE.
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