Is there anyone that Zebo hasn\’t shared the bill with in the great city of Chicago? If a big name comes through town, check the flyer, it\’s highly likely you\’ll also see Zebo on the docket. Why? Because he kicks ass that\’s why.
He was voted the \”Best Local DJ\” by Chicago Reader in 2010, 2011 and 2012. He teaches beginner and advanced club DJ classes at Columbia College. He and partner Marco Morales own the Chicago-based record label Hot Dog Records; a label that focuses on any style of music as long as it represents Chicago. He also consistently opens up huge shows at the hottest venues for big-name headliners of all genres. How? By being able to play anything, by being able to read and please any type of crowd, by being the true definition of a good DJ.
It also doesn\’t hurt that he makes an awesome t-shirt.
Where are you from originally?
I was born in Waukegan; lived there until 5th grade and then moved to a suburb of Detroit. I stayed there for 3 and a half years and then moved to a small town in Wisconsin by the IL border called Salem. Spent my high school years there and moved to Chicago in 1998 to go to Columbia College and have lived here ever since.
When did you begin DJing?
I got my first pair of turntables in the fall of 1998 and had already built a small vinyl collection so I was ready to rock out. Spent many hours in my dorm room teaching myself how to spin as we did not have too much internet help with it at that time. It was a process of repetition along with trial and error.
How did the name Zebo come about?
My father gave me the name Zebo which is my middle name. He pushed for it to be my first name, but moms was not having it. When I was younger I was embarrassed by the name for it being so different, but in my late High School and early college years really started to embrace it. I like when people ask me what my real name is as they feel weird calling me by my \”DJ name\”, but then have to explain I prefer Zebo as opposed to my first name. Kinda going for that one word name like Madonna or Thor or some shizz.
Did you have any history with music before DJing?
All through my high school years I was in Choir; mainly for the girls. There were like 8 dudes and 70 girls in the class. Not mad at that ratio.
How did you get your start in the Chicago scene?
I started working for a production company called Direct Drive who threw Raves. I started as a dude doing flyer drops and passing out flyers at parties. The promoter decided to start putting me on events and helped get me experience in front of an audience. It was a great gig as I was playing huge events with top name DJs despite the fact I had been spinning for only about 5 months at that point.
What kind of equipment do you use?
Most of the time I play using Serato Scratch Live with control vinyl and Novation Dicer midi controllers. I use this set up about 90% of the time. There are times I use Traktor Scratch with a Native Instruments Z2 mixer and a Maschine. There are a few times a year when I do an all vinyl set as well, depending on the event. I enjoy the old wax sets as it keeps me on my game with traditional beat matching and blending.
Sound quality is so important to the crowd. What spots around town do you think have the best sound system?
The Mid has an amazing soundsystem; It is a Funktion 1 which is known for being one of the top club sound systems in the world. SmartBar also has one and a great sound in the room. After that I would say Spy Bar has a great room as well. Great deep sub bass and a good mid and hi range without it being annoying.
What spots around town have the best booth set up for a DJ?
The Mid has one of the best booths. Great monitors, a dedicated sound guy, and Technics 1200s along with CDJ 2000\’s. Not many clubs have the Technics 1200\’s anymore so it is a nice treat. After that I am a big fan of The Shrine\’s DJ booth. They also have a dedicated sound guy as well as quality monitors and soundsystem and Technics 1200\’s. After that I would say Berlin as they have a classic style booth reminiscent of back in the day where you were locked in a special cage that had all your sound & video gadgets and gizmos. You feel a real sense of dance music history inside of that booth.
What are some of your favorite places to play around town and why?
First off I have to say the MID. My Friday nights there are one of the best residencies I\’ve ever had. We bring in top notch world talent every week and it is always something different. One week will be House Music and the next will be more Dub or Trapstyle or even Drum n Bass. I get to DJ with names that I\’ve looked up to for years and meet some of my idols in the music game. I love playing at Cobra Lounge on Thursdays nights for the Dusty Grooves party which caters to old soul and doo wop from the 50s and 60s. It is a sing along dance party every week and I have NEVER had a bad time there. I also love playing the Porn and Chicken party as it is hands down one of the wildest crowds in Chicago. It\’s on that super party business every week and is a great chance to showcase new music that bangs. It\’s hard to explain the awesomeness, you just have to see it for yourself.
What do you like most about playing to the hometown Chicago crowd?
People are proud of their city and it is something that brings us all together and helps us see past normal everyday difference that we normally may not think twice about. When I get to get on the mic and ask if anyone from around here is from Chicago and the room erupts, there is something great about that moment. Everyone in the spot is connected at that exact point in time. Even if it is just for a moment.
Club vs. Festival crowd, do you have a favorite?
I really don\’t have a favorite. They can both be unpredictable and some of the best experiences I\’ve ever had.
How did you get involved with Q87.7\’s Electric Playground? Can you tell me a little bit about that experience?
I know the program director who asked if I could do a show that would consist of a 30 min set on Saturday nights. I like it as it gives me a chance to showcase new music that I have and it reaches a different audience that may not yet know me. I have gotten great feedback from my mixes on there and appreciate all of the people who tell me they tuned in and like it.
There\’s a lot of controversy over paying a cover to get into a club when you\’re over 21 and are already coming to the establishment to spend money on drinks. In today\’s times DJs are expected to do much more than just show up and play an awesome set, they\’re also responsible for getting people in the club. Do you have any insight on this commonly occurring grievance? Anything the DJ can tell the patron that they might not be aware of on why this is important?
Cover makes it possible to pay for the talent that\’s brought in. Even if it is a few local DJs, that $5 a person makes a difference in getting those dudes some cash for their work that night. Shows with a big headliner, it is going to help pay their fee, travel, hotel, meal, etc… DJs and especially big name DJs are getting paid lots of loot. The sponsorship money is not like it was a decade ago when companies like Scion were throwing mad loot to help throw good electronic music events to help promote for their brand. Granted there are shady promoters and clubs who just want to rape people at the door, most spots need that cover to pay for operating expenses. They would not make enough off liquor alone to support the nights/events. If people just want to spend money on drinks then they should just go to a bar that does not have cover. If you want to go to a club and want to hear a good DJ play and have a good time dancing, you should want to pay cover to help support something that you truly love… good music.
Anything you\’d like to add about EDM in Chicago, the scene here in the city, what it means to you, etc?
I guess this is not just for Chicago, but what I\’ve noticed in my travels as a DJ with EDM. It is a bitter sweet relationship that I have when it comes to EDM. When I use that term I am referring to Big Room Electro, Trapstyle, Dubstep, Electro House, Festival Music and certain kinds of Drum n Bass and Drum Step, etc. There is some really good music in all of those styles, and there is also a lot of watered down bullshit. Sometimes the tracks are just too damn predictable with the same intro, build, drop formula and it feels to me like it takes the soul out of a lot of electronic music as people aren\’t really connecting with the music. They just know that when the snares start rolling and there are synth build ups and everything is getting louder and faster that it is about to drop and then I am supposed to go ape shit for 20 seconds then just wait for the next build and do it all over. I fear that this formula keeps people from really connecting with the music as you don\’t really see people dancing to it. I do not consider fist pumping or grinding your crotch on a girls ass dancing, but I\’m just old fashioned like that. I am in no way putting the actual style as a whole down– as I enjoy and play a lot of tunes within said styles–I just want people to explore and find a connection with something that they truly enjoy. Seems like today a lot of people are told what they like or follow others. I would like to see a lot more individual expression and honesty through self reflection and by not having fear of not fitting in or going against the grain.
Outside of that, when I play EDM style shows in Chicago the people go hard with it and really seem to enjoy it. I\’m happy to see any kind of electronic music in Chicago gain popularity. Growing up as a rave kid I always thought it would be cool if more people knew and sought out electronic music and within the past almost decade I\’ve seen it come to light. With that said, it is important for people to experience all types of these events whether it is with big name headliners or just some great locals. Trying different venues from clubs to loft parties to underground events or even a dope house party. There are many styles and genres under the umbrella of \”Electronic Dance Music\”, it is important to give them all a chance and see what resonates with you outside of the popular or obvious.
What\’s the next big thing for you? Where do you want to take your music?
Right now it is all about production for me. I am working on tunes in various styles that I like and trying to perfect my skill with that. It can be hard when it comes to time management as I have a busy schedule, but making music is extremely important to me right now. If you want to be noticed in the game, you almost always have to have good tunes out.
Who do you listen to for pleasure? What was the last show you went to for pleasure?
I listen to a lot of Reggae. Rocksteady and Roots from the 60s and 70s is my favorite. I can\’t really remember the last show I went to for pleasure. That\’s kinda sad.
If you could make or play a song with any artist, dead or alive, who would it be?
When and where is your next performance?
Friday at the MID Team Bayside High and I are doing a special tag set. Then we have Wickit The Instigator as well as a secret surprise guest closing set.
Follow Zebo on SoundCloud and be sure to check out his latest drum and bass mix for Q87.7:
Follow me, Sydney @ EDM Chicago, on SoundCloud for tunes you can\’t be missing out on.