Dylan Mamid and Zachary Rapp-Rovan are best known to their fans as Zeds Dead, a genre-defying duo who fuse aggressive dubstep, throttling drum’n’bass, hip hop and ethereal electronic music. Today, March 26, the tastemakers explore experimental electronic music with their 13-track mixtape, Catching Z’s, that features new, original music from the artists.
The mixtape is texturally varied, boasting everything from soul-stirring sounds to transfixing tempos, sweeping 808s, masterful downtempo production, hypnotic vocals, chilling chord progressions and serene soundscapes. Indeed, Catching Z’s delivers tons of sonic flavor from the esteemed Canadian artists. The mixtape is released via their new electronic, chill and downtempo imprint, Altered States, that launched March 1 in celebration of five-years of their highly-successful Deadbeats label, which focuses on dubstep, drum’n’bass, hard house and heavy-hitting bass music.
The mixtape and launch of Altered States proves to be an impressive next step for the label bosses who already boast an illustrious career to date. Mamid and Rapp-Rovan have produced numerous chart-topping hits, performed at renowned festivals around the world, secured numerous award show nominations and wins, created one of the leading and fastest-growing independent labels in dance music through Deadbeats and more.
Here, Zeds Dead took the time to share with Forbes the inspiration behind Catching Z’s, the expansion of their creative footprint through Altered States, their key to success with Deadbeats and more.
Lisa Kocay: Can you describe your sound in three words?
Zachary Rapp-Rovan: “Late night drive. It’s also the name of a song on Catching Z’s.”
Kocay: What was the inspiration behind your Catching Z’s mixtape?
Rapp-Rovan: “We’ve been making these mixes specifically for chilling out called Catching Z’s for a while now. At first, the goal was to mix music that we love with something that you might actually be able to fall asleep to, and to do so, we had [to] make the tempos slower and slower throughout. So we started thinking about making a Catching Z’s mixtape of our own records with the same goal of falling asleep. In the end, it ended up being something less about actually sleeping and more of a dreamy experience.”
Kocay: The mixtape is being released via your new electronic, chill and downtempo label, Altered States. What was the inspiration behind starting this imprint?
Rapp-Rovan: “A lot of the music we came up on and originally were producing before Zeds Dead was more downtempo and chill. We were inspired a lot by Boards of Canada, DJ Shadow, RJD2, Pete Rock’s Petestrumentals, Madlib and more, and always wanted to bring it back to that to create another world for the fans to check out.”
Kocay: How did you pick the name of the label? What does Altered States mean to you?
Rapp-Rovan: “We’re always chasing the feeling of nostalgia—that feeling when you hear a song and are transported to your childhood or even to another dimension in the past that you feel some strange connection to. Altered States is about how music can alter your state of consciousness and the exploration of sounds that make you feel like you’re in a dream or another world.”
Kocay: Was there a particular reason you wanted to add this focus to electronic, chill and downtempo music? Is it something you’ve been listening to more in quarantine?
Rapp-Rovan: “I think it’s a great fit for this atmosphere of being at home, but it’s something we’ve been wanting to do for a long time anyway. A lot of these songs were actually made pre-quarantine.”
Dylan Mamid: “While we didn’t originally plan for this stuff to coincide with quarantine, I do feel it’s quite fitting, in a way. I think the world we’ve all had to live in at the hands of the pandemic has created a kind of global shift in consciousness and has allowed many people, including myself, to delve deeper internally and explore the inside of the mind more.”
Kocay: What do you look for in a track you want to sign to your label?
Rapp-Rovan: “It’s hard to say, but you sort of know when you hear it. It’s definitely for the more alternative types of music. If it’s poppy, very aggressive or drop-based, it’s probably not for Altered States.”
Kocay: You also run the highly-successful, bass-focused independent label Deadbeats, which you launched five years ago. What has been your key to success with Deadbeats?
Rapp-Rovan: “I think the fans have been amazing and a key component to Deadbeats’ success. They’re so open to exploring the artists we release. And of course, the artists. We’ve been very fortunate to be sent so much amazing music.”
Mamid: “Definitely having a fan base that’s open-minded to lots of different types of music is great and helps us feel confident in branching out and exploring even further.”
Kocay: What’s your creative process like?
Rapp-Rovan: “It’s always different, so it’s hard to answer. We’re constantly making new ideas and exporting them into a playlist and then going through them a lot, reorganizing [and] inching several closer to the finish line bit by bit. Though sometimes you just get in a good zone and bang out a whole song in a day or two.”
Mamid: “Having each other to bounce ideas off of and develop stuff has always been a huge asset over the course of our career, as well. Having an opinion you trust can really help fuel the fire to get something to the finish line.”
Kocay: Do you remember the first electronic music song you heard that made you fall in love with the genre?
Rapp-Rovan: “I’d probably have to take it back to Radiohead’s Kid A and the first song off that album, ‘Everything In Its Right Place.’ I think that was one of the first entry points I can remember. Before that, I had definitely loved some electronic music songs like the Prodigy – ‘Breathe’ when I was a kid, Rob D – ‘Clubbed to Death’ when I was a little older off The Matrix soundtrack and I’d even have to say Haddaway – ‘What Is Love’ from A Night At The Roxbury. But none of those songs made me look deeper than Radiohead, so I think ‘Everything In Its Right Place’ was a bit of a turning point.”
Mamid: “I got put onto a lot of drum’n’bass in high school, which helped open my mind to electronic music in general. Shortly after, I got into Daft Punk while traveling around Europe, and from then on there was no looking back.”
Kocay: If you could go back in time to when you first started making music and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
Rapp-Rovan: “Probably just not to go to university.”
Mamid: “Just to take your time, trust your instincts and challenge yourself as much as possible.”
Kocay: What are your plans for the future?
Rapp-Rovan: “We have our second full length album in the works and hope to release that maybe later in the year. I’ve been painting a lot recently since I have this time off of touring, so I’d like to pursue that as well, and maybe do an art show at some point.”