By DJ Dave Hoffenberg
My favorite DJ on the planet, DJ Z-Trip, is playing at the World Cup on Saturday at 11 a.m. and then later on that night at the Wobbly Barn. Needless to say it was an awesome phone chat. I first heard him when his “Uneasy Listening Volume 1” CD never left my player in 2001. I got to see him live in 2003 at Bonnaroo in Tennessee. I had the pleasure of sitting 10 feet from him as he played to 80,000 people before James Brown. I really enjoyed his set. It’s going to be awesome to see him twice on Saturday. I can’t emphasize enough, this is a show not to be missed.
On Saturday, you can expect two different shows. Z-Trip said, “They’re going to be like two different sides of the same coin. Something I’ll do outside is more performance based but you can definitely dance and groove to it, but it’s more paying attention to what I’m doing. There’s certain mixes I do that are really technical. I’m doing a lot of layering, scratching and solos. That’s sort of like Side A. Side B is me at the club, throwing down. It’s centered more on the dance floor and having people moving.”
DJ Z-Trip likes doing both sides and has done it all over the world at every major festival. He said, “My Djing world is split into two. There’s the on-stage Coachella, Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits, EDC, Nocturnal Wonderland, where the focus is you, up on stage with the lights right on you so you can’t just play some records and stand around. The flip-side of that is I don’t really want people to focus on me. I want people to focus on each other while dancing and vibing. I love the fact I can go back and forth between both and I love that in the same day I get to do both. That will be great.”
He mixes stuff that you wouldn’t expect to be mixed. One of his performance pieces is Tool’s “Sober” with Outkast’s “Bombs Over Baghdad.” You can still dance to it but it’s more of the World Cup set where you’ll want to see him as he mixes it. I fell in love with that CD because he mixes classic rock with hip hop. Phil Collins with Del the Funky Homosapien, Kansas with LL Cool J. It’s amazing.
DJ Z-Trip kept busy during the pandemic by Djing live on Twitch from his house in San Diego. He said, “30-plus years of Djing on the road and to have that come to a complete stop was like a train hitting something in the tracks and just stopping. For the fans of music who go out to listen to it, all of a sudden we were both left with what do we do? For me the natural progression was figuring out how to get the music to people who desperately need it in some crazy time. Music to me has always been the great healer, brings the energy to a good place.”
Twitch was a great place and his shows spread like wildfire. People from Brazil, UK and Australia were tuning in. The first time he went on, there were 20,000 people watching. “That was bizarre,” Z-Trip said. He did them once a week for a bit and then scaled back to once a month. He added, “It was therapeutic for me and for them. I built a good community. Ultimately it was a way to defuse tension. We dealt with a lot of chaos in the world with George Floyd, protests and the political unrest. It was a safe spot for us all to congregate. I developed all these new relationships with people through it. It’s really been a wonderful thing.”
When shows started back up, DJ Z-Trip would meet people that watched his streams. They told him how he helped them get through the pandemic, which meant a lot to him. He said, “There’s nothing better than feeling like you’re of service to people when they needed it and vice versa, they were of service to me because they gave me my mission again. Knowing that I was out there making things a little bit better for other people is really the fuel of why I do this in the first place. I love music but I love sharing it with people and making them feel good.”
Z-Trip first got into collecting records and then into Djing. He grew up in Queens and would listen to DJ’s mix on the radio. He listened to Marley Marl and Red Alert — they were on two different stations, competing, but at the same time slot. Z-Trip said, “I would record both shows on a tape recorder, listen to it later and study it.” When he found out there was a extended version of one of his favorite radio songs, he knew he had to have it. He added, “I wanted to have the most amount of that song as I could.”
Z-Trip was a drummer before he was a DJ. He said, “Drum beats and drums always caught my ear. All this music was drum based, especially with hip-hop. Anything that had drum breaks and beats had me super curious, like what else is out there?” His record collection was quite large and friends would ask him to bring some to a party and play. He realized that he had a better music selection than all of his friends. He was also making mixtapes. He added, “I enjoyed turning people on to new music. Djing naturally became the vehicle for me to continue to obtain all this great music but also to find different ways of making new variations of the stuff and sharing it with people. That’s been the directive from day one all the way to now.”
His family moved to Arizona, but then his parents divorced and his dad moved back to New York, so he split his time between both for most of his teenage years. He would buy hip hop music in New York and bring it to Arizona where there was none. Z-Trip said, “I was bringing the word of hip hop to people who never heard it before.” There was no YouTube, so the best way to share music in the ‘80s was via mixtape.
In the ‘90s, Z-Trip was opening for hip-hop artists that toured through Arizona like Notorious B.I.G., The Fugees, De La Soul. He said, “I was getting my chops as a DJ and hosting these things. That eventually led to me doing this in other places.” He would go overseas and always leave a mixtape somewhere to share his music and spread it. The “Uneasy Listening” CD he did with DJ P pushed everything over the top. It got great reviews by Rolling Stone and Spin, which made it a very sought after thing. File sharing like Napster became a thing and his music spread that way. People that normally wouldn’t have access to it did. I told him that’s how I got his CD and he was happy. He said, “That’s the most OG way. We only made a thousand but they were spreading all around. It’s kind of the perfect storm. That led to me opening for Linkin Park, getting Bonnaroo, opening for The Rolling Stones. It snowballed and it’s never slowed down.”
Z-Trip was recently part of LL Cool J’s induction ceremony at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. You can catch that on HBO. Z-Trip said, “The performance was a pretty awesome one. We did a nine minute thing and brought out Eminem and J-Lo.” He and LL have been working together the past 12 years. They do “Rock the Bells” radio on Sirius XM. He has two new tracks out with LSDREAM, “Moon Legs,” and “Space Funk.” You can go to his Bandcamp page and find his Twitch sets and other stuff as well. What’s really cool is he’s released a USB drive that has 40 of his mixes with over 30 hours of music, and it’s shaped like a mixtape. You can find him on all the socials and he’ll be streaming on Twitch again soon. You also might find him on the slopes because he’s an avid snowboarder who’s been part of the Burton team for years, but this will be his first time riding Killington.