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AV Mix Series - Zai

AV Mix Series - Zai
Coming in real hot on our 20th entry to the series is up and comer Zai - just coming out of his student days and ready to groove on as soon as the gates drop. He's recorded a vinyl-only mix, packed tight with classic cuts strung together with turntablism flair! Press play for a solid hour of optimistic, personal music from this young deejay, and scroll down for the interview.



Thanks so much for doing this mix for us! How’ve you been these days?

I'm doing good! I'm currently doing my final term at university and I'll be graduating in August, I can't wait :D

 

So how did you wind up getting interested in music, records and DJ-ing?

I’m not sure how to answer the music part! I guess in general, I just like listening to music and exploring new genres, I don’t really know why. There’s also different reasons for each kind of music I’m into. Now I’m mostly into funk, disco, soul, R&B, hip hop, house; I guess DJ mixes are the main reason why I started listening to those genres. On the other hand I find myself in a vintage Chinese pop mood sometimes, influenced by the kind of music my parents like to listen to, music I hear in old folks’ homes… It’s really all over the place and it’s hard to summarise how I got interested in music.

I started DJing in 2016; I saved up my NS allowance and bought a DJ controller that I learnt to DJ on. In university I joined the DJ club and practised on the shared turntable set up with digital vinyl / DVS. I did gigs on campus, at sports venues, some bars/restaurants, some corporate events.

I bought my first record in 2017, Daft Punk's Homework (a repress that I found in a Popular store). It was an impulse buy, I didn't have turntables at the time but I just thought it would be dope to have and hopefully listen to on a turntable someday. Also I happened to be wearing a T-shirt that day with the Daft Punk logo (in the Homework style)! You can hear this record played at the end of my mix (Around The World - the one song from Homework everyone knows!)

Collecting records only became a thing for me after I met an expat who was trying to sell his records before he returned to New Zealand. I bought a few records from him; when he couldn't sell the rest of his records in time, he gave me the rest for free (shoutout to Chris, I didn't get your last name, but I am eternally grateful!). I started to practice with those records and getting the hang of DJing with vinyl. This drew me into a kind of vicious cycle haha! DJing on vinyl made me want to buy more records, made me want to do more vinyl mixes, made me want to buy even more records… You always want to play a new record! (These days I’m trying to exercise more self-restraint and not go broke…)

 

You’re pretty active on Instagram, with great snippets of your cuts, juggles and mini routines. What draws you to this form of DJ-ing?

Thank you for the kind words! I must admit that I still have tons of room for improvement and I’m constantly trying to get better or to learn new techniques. I see each post on my Instagram as a sort of diary entry for my progress as a DJ.

A lot of DJs have influenced my style of DJing, but probably none as much as the goat DJ Koco. I was thoroughly mind-blown by his Boiler Room set. I’d never witnessed so much sorcery in a single full-length, live DJ set - all 45s, lightning fast mixing, crazy tricks, so many rare grooves. Mixes like Koco’s Boiler Room allow me to discover tons of new music, which I love, and the icing on the cake for me is when DJs flex their skills on the decks. It’s something that streaming can’t deliver, I guess – coherent mixes that balance top selection and skills, and DJs have this balance (Koco, Skratch Bastid, Fonki Cheff, just to name a few) are the DJs I am most inspired by.

 


What struck us about you is your penchant for that classic funk/soul/disco/hip hop avenue that emerged from the 70s onwards. Cant think of many young cats in Singapore as immersed and
dedicated as you at your craft right now, could you tell us what draws you to these grooves?

I haven’t been into these genres for very long; I mostly started listening after I listened to DJ Koco’s Boiler Room. I guess I got hooked by the funk! Music like this makes me want to dance the most. I also find the historical contexts of these genres fascinating, how these genres were so influential on later types of popular music that emerged.

 


What do you look for when you go out buying records?

I’m mainly looking to expand my library of tunes. I don’t usually look for the nicest sleeve or the “Near Mints” – just records that are clean and play well and are significant in my journey of music discovery.

I’ve recently begun to collect 7” vinyl. A big reason is because of the inspiration I get from all the wicked 45 slingers out there, but they’re also a lot more practical because they’re way more portable than LPs. I also use a set of low-torque turntables at home that don’t allow me to scratch on 12” records well (still working on it) but the smaller, lighter 45s are perfectly fine.

I also want to support local by buying local releases – in particular, releases that I can see myself spinning in a DJ set, releases from producers/artists/labels I personally know, or records that are otherwise important in our local music history. Fauxe’s Ikhlas, Arrested Development’s Don’t Fight Your Demons (released by Singaporean label Mosta Records), Halal Sol’s latest EP Dijamin, are some examples of such releases.


Did you have a context in mind when recording this mix? (Also, was it done on vinyl? if so, tell us why you decided to go that way!)

It’s a vinyl-only mix; I wanted to challenge myself and do a vinyl-only mis that encompassed several genres that I am currently into. Each record on the mix has its own story behind how I came to discover it and add it to my crates. To highlight some of the more important records played:

  • The first track is Arrested Development’s The Same People SKYY HIGH 305, Kuf Knotz & Christine Elise. This is from Arrested Development’s Don’t Fight Your Demons – released by local label Mosta Records. To have a local label on a the latest release from a Grammy-winning hip-hop group is massive. The record is loaded with politically-conscious, thought provoking tracks. Also it’s coloured (yellow and brown) and it just looks so good.
  • Around 46 minutes in: Fauxe’s Hati, from his album Ikhlas. The first record I bought from TAV. What an eclectic blend of sounds from the Malaysian music scene. I was lucky enough to be able to meet Fauxe at a show before the pandemic and get the record autographed! So that makes this record super special.

  • Around 56 minutes in: Aquanote’s True Love (Mig’s Petalpusher Love Dub) & Erykah Badu’s Next Lifetime (Deluxe Pusher Vocal Mix)

These are from Chris’s collection. I didn’t choose to buy these initially but they were part of the remainder that he left me as a gift before he left for NZ (thank you Chris!) These record have been used a lot during my early practice sessions.

  • The last track: Daft Punk – Around The World

From a repress of Daft Punk’s Homework – the very first record I ever bought, impulsively! For a year or so I had no access to a turntable so I just looked at it in admiration. In uni I spent a good amount of time practicing with it, when it was basically my entire record collection.

I learnt a lot while recording this mix! It allowed me to get more familiar with my records and their mixing points, and with the process of planning a mix that would showcase a diversity of genres. It’s not a perfect mix and it’s got several mistakes / missed opportunities but I feel it’s a good record of my journey thus far. Hopefully the next mix will outdo this one.


Thanks for being a part of our mix series! Any parting words?

Thank you very much for having me on the mix series! I’m really humbled to be featured alongside many other notable local DJs!

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