Get ready to take your mind on a psychedelic journey to the edge of the universe. Zebbler Encanti Experience (ZEE) released their newest EP, Inner G, and it is nothing short of mind-altering, glitch-bass blasting originality. The genre-defying duo, comprised of Ben Cantil (Encanti) and Peter Berdovsky (Zebbler), use their unique talents in music and visual stimulation to take their audience on a journey to the far reaches of their subconscious mind, permeating the body and soul with their unique, experimental beats. Every track is completely different from the last, accentuated with amazingly unexpected transitions, allowing you to delve deeper into the experience as you ride the cosmic, sound-bending roller coaster that is ZEE. I recently had the opportunity to talk to Encanti and Zebbler about Inner G, their creative process, tour plans, art and more.
SR: I want to discuss your new EP first; it’s amazing. What makes Inner G different from Freakquency? Was your approach any different?
E: I think Inner G represents a continuation of the ideas that were initially developed on Freakquency; mainly, the fusion of peak energy-bass music spliced with sounds normally associated with psytrance. Inner G is different from Freakquency because the tracks are heavier, faster paced with a more refined and focused sound design style. I am deeply influenced by music that seamlessly transitions between different head spaces and genres, and making Inner G helped me explore new territories.
SR: What do you think differentiates your music/visuals from other producers in the genre?
E: I think the tracks from Inner G and Freakquency are special for their sound design and compositional aesthetic. The tracks travel a lot of places yet still hold together well as bass bangers.
Z: We are generally not afraid to ‘go there.’ Wherever the inspiration urgently nudges our minds to flow into, we try to allow ourselves the freedom to journey down twisted paths of emotion, action, tranquility, separation, explosion, dilapidation and ecstatic trance. So we could often reach out to various musical genres for inspiration, and can take occasional Pink Floyd-like or Phish-like turns in the musical orientation of a particular track. But throughout all of that experimentation is our deep respect for the dancers the music is being composed for. We ultimately want a thriving, lively dance floor, and nothing makes us more excited during our shows than watching a crowd of sweaty people completely setting themselves free in psychedelic motion. That puts a big smile on our faces and makes us feel like all of the hard work was ultimately worth it.
SR: Do you notice a difference in the responsiveness of your audience as time and your music has progressed?
E: Absolutely! Every time I drop a new track, I am watching crowd reactions. When something goes off, I can feel the energy, and each generation of music I make is influenced and inspired by the response from the previous generation. This is a part of what encouraged me to go in a PsyTrap direction; because snapping back and forth between entrancing progressions and crunked-up blast beats was making people freak out.
SR: What is your favorite thing about playing live? What do you want the audience to feel/to get out of your shows?
E: We’re going for a full immersion of the senses with emphasis on delivering all original content. I also want the audience to walk away feeling like they absorbed as much in to their eyes as their ears, and just as much in to the mind as the body.
SR: What is your creative process for developing new music?
E: Over the years I’ve gotten better at compartmentalizing and organizing my creative output. Sometimes, I just write chord progressions and music in the traditional sense and sometimes I just do sound design. I keep it all labeled in toolbox folders, so when I work on a new track, it simply becomes a matter of piecing together content I’ve prepared in advance. I’ve also found that recycling sounds and ideas is very important for helping them evolve. Kind of like genetics; the strongest gene ends up surviving while the sub-par ideas are sussed out. In any given track, I usually make several variations of each main sound and construct phrases out of the variations, and then also make variations of the phrases themselves. The end result that you hear is a composite of the best sounds and progressions I ended up arriving at.
SR: How has your process changed throughout the years?
Z: I gradually shifted away from performing visuals on rectangular screens live. With the advent of video mapping, and my personal experimentations with Shpongletron stage starting in 2010, rectangular screens somehow became looking clinical and sanitized when it came to performing purely a VJ show to an audio artist. I still perform rectangular a/v sets, and create rectangular trippy web videos, but generally have leaned towards doing only mapped video projection gigs for VJ performances. Overall, I feel like I still have a similar aesthetic as before, a sort of ‘anything-goes-in-this-trippy-world’ adventure, just maybe with more tools at my disposal, as I picked up more software, hardware and people skills through the past decade. I do feel like I am just a beginner still though.
E: When I started making electronic music, I would re-invent the wheel every time I opened a new set, customizing fresh sounds while I wrote and composed the music. Eventually I started saving presets and keeping my best sound design organized but there was still a disconnect between the presets I was making and how I ended up actually using them to compose. Whenever I opened up a bass patch for instance, I would need to figure out the octave range, and all the knobs that made the magic happen. Everything changed when I finally discovered that you can just drag and drop any clip in to the Ableton browser and it exports all the presets, effect, automation, perfectly preserved when you re-drag it back into an empty track.
SR: Did you both know each other before you formed ZEE? How did you get together and create this project?
E: Zebbler Encanti Experience started as an artsy performance project. I went to one of Zebbler’s visual performances at MassArt and my girlfriend at the time introduced us, and told him something along the lines of, ‘this guy makes sound like you make visuals!’ Shortly after, we met again in the woods at a regional burn called Firefly, and improvised a set together, which spectacularly train wrecked! We vacated a 200-person dance floor with my weird experimental music and his intense visuals, but it was the beginning of a beautiful artistic relationship. Shortly after, we became roommates and started working on the audio/visual collaborations, moving from avant garde towards a bass music direction through 2009-2010. Our initial breakthrough came when EOTO invited us on tour in 2011 to open for them in exchange for doing their visuals.
SR: Who or what inspires your music/visuals? Do any artists give you inspiration for the art you create?
E: The Burning Man community really got me into dance music. I was making artsy IDM and weird folk music before my first Burn, but a few transcendent dance floor moments filled me with a longing to make music that moves the body and the mind. One due shout out is for my homie $0_$0_Gutter who runs the music blog thismusicisfree.com. Not only is his blog a huge source of where I discover my music, but also listening to this guy DJ is what gave me the original inspiration to make genre infusions. His mixes move between techno, dubstep, psytrance, trap, juke, breakcore, and just about every obscure genre the Internet can conjure; and meanwhile, I’m listening and just thinking, ‘why don’t people make tracks that do that?’
Z: I would like to thank the following entities for inspiration. First off… Internet. Thank you, Internet. There are many portals to amazing visual art and endless amounts of inspiration. And my physical friends, of course – a lot of them are artists, geeks and makers. Watching people come up with new ideas, expand their skills and generally kick ass is always inspiring and motivating. Finally, I would like to thank life and existence in general, for being a major contributing force to this incredible negative-entropy effect that temporarily manifests itself as all of my life and experiences.
SR: What is the creative process you go through to create the visuals for your shows?
Z: Encanti and I often get together and discuss visual ideas that we want to explore and also which audio tracks seem like they would work best for what projects. It’s kind of a natural process for both of us right now, after having worked with one another for a few years. Generally, we naturally seem to gravitate to various themes and techniques, so in some ways I try to allow myself to create several consistent stylistic or technical themes per album, with the goal being to have a visual track corresponding to each audio track before we hit the road each summer. Stylistically, I’ve been inspired by rave, 60s hippie culture visuals, early 2000s VJs, Internet and glitch culture, Matthew Barney and Chris Cunningham. So this is my hat of tricks at the moment. I am slowly starting to get more into 3D animation as well, as well as some custom morph effects.
SR: Do you use new visual effects for each tour, or incorporate ones you have used before into new shows? Is it pre-planned or do you choose what you show people in the moment during the performance?
Z: Before each tour we try to create a good batch of completely new custom a/v content for the fans, and make a few sets we think would represent our audio-visual evolution well; both in the past year and in our entire existence lifespan. So each year we evolve a little, varying content and delivery strategies based on our changing tastes and skill sets. But we try to bring some of our favorite morsels with us; some of our crowd favorites are our favorite things also, so it works out well all around.
Our live performance techniques have been evolving year to year as well. With our full ZEEggurat winged screen setup, I now have live control of 3 mapped projectors and our LED DJ table, so it gives me a lot to do and a lot to play around with live. The audio and visuals and LED signals are also synced up via MIDI and OSC networks, to keep them in tempo lock and trigger corresponding events at the same time across multiple laptops. This year, I would like to work on enhancing our ability to manipulate our a/v set live, to give our fans a really unique live experience, as well as creating some interesting unreleased (only-for-live-performances) content for some moments of surprise during the show.
SR: Can you elaborate on tour plans for 2016? I know more and more people have been discovering your music recently and want to see you live.
Z: Encanti is joining me in the States for a full Zebbler Encanti Experience US tour during last half of May and from mid-July to late August. We are currently actively booking several festival and club shows, so now is a great time to reach out if you would like to see ZEE in your area of the country. To make things easier on ourselves (last summer has been pretty intense, between my stomach spontaneously bleeding leading to an ICU in Atlanta, and our tour vehicle breaking down five times at most inopportune places) we have signed on with Re:Evolution for booking.
SR: Music has the potential to be a great form of communication. Do you have any messages you’re trying to convey through your music?
E: I don’t think that my music has any tangible message per se, but with any given track I am constantly groping for that feeling of “OMG,” an overwhelming feeling that you only get when you experience something of unprecedented beauty. This is an emotional and physical response, which only music has been able to give me. This is what moves me to be an artist; to capture this feeling of “OMG-ness” and give it to other people.
SR: There is obviously a rise of a subculture today that sort of mimics the 60s and 70s counter culture and its ideologies. Do you use this to fuel your creativity? What are your thoughts/opinions on the rise of this group that craves individuality and is constantly seeking out the truth, whatever that may be?
Z: I was born in the Soviet Union. It sounds funny to say, it’s as if it was another lifetime by now. But it gives me an interesting perspective on revolutions and 100-year-long experiments with utopia. So I guess I like to look at all of the history, and not just the present moment, for my inspiration and knowledge of the human race. We have accomplished a tremendous amount, but are also viciously destructive and cruel as species, to one another and other animals on this planet. That is not a judgment of what’s right or wrong, good or bad. It’s simply an acknowledgement of our human nature. I try to represent that totality through my art, the entirety of our human drives; the ecstatic and the terrifying. Personally, I strongly believe in freedom of direct and uncensored communication and try to facilitate understanding, openness and respect for contrasting ideas through my art and communication.
SR: With the 2016 election coming up – and the fear, hate-mongering and division it’s fueling – what issues are important to you that you would want people to know about, or that you might convey through your art?
Z: Remember, each election polarizes our people, puts them into groups and categories and pits them against one another. The truth is, we are one giant family and we have to learn to live with all of our crazy uncles and aunts. Please remember that, and tone down the hateful rhetoric. Let’s communicate respectfully, and keep in mind the big picture… we, as ALL humans, are responsible for passing down an acceptable place to live to our future generations. Remember, a small change towards a positive future can yield big results down the road. Don’t be discouraged if your favorite person doesn’t succeed, your second favorite is likely still much better than simply giving up. Remember, the society in its totality is like a massive elephant in a small maze; it is not easy to move, turn, or point in any particular direction. Things like that take time. Don’t be discouraged. Be willing to compromise. Remember the big picture is the flow of all histories, not just the present moment.
SR: Outside of your own music and tour life, what shows/artists do you like go see?
E: I go anywhere I can get in for free; anywhere there’s a friend or where there’s music I want to support… or Burning Man. Otherwise, I’m very much a stay at home person.
Z: Since we tour and perform so much, every free moment I get I either like to spend in nature (mountains are amazing, aren’t they?), in solitude making art, or with my friends; just taking care of one another. I occasionally will come out to see a good friend who may be performing in town, or someone whose show has been recommended. I am continuously exploring adding multimedia, theater and interactive technology into my shows, so I am currently trying to explore more multimedia theatrical performances for inspiration.
SR: Do you have any passions besides music? If you were to do something else, what would it be?
E: Aside from making music, I am passionate about teaching and enabling others to make music. I currently hold a residency at Berklee College of Music, Valencia Campus, where I am an Assistant Professor in the Music Production Technology and Innovation program. It’s really a dream job, because teaching at a Masters degree level is actually helping me become a better music producer.
SR: Is there a venue or location that is your ultimate dream to play?
E: Shambhala and Electric Forest
Z: Red Rocks with ZEE
SR: Who is your ultimate dream musician/artist to collaborate with?
E: At the moment, I can’t stop listening to Sevdaliza. I really hope to collaborate on music with her some day. Also, I’ve daydreamed about doing tracks with vocals by Jose Gonzales, Joanna Newsom and Jeff Mangum.
SR: What is your ideal scenario for Zebbler Encanti Experience? Where do you want to see it go?
Z: Ultimately, I’d like to see us get back to where we started; specially crafted shows performed in surround sound and surround visuals, for uniquely themed parties where people can be taken on a journey with us, in a safe and not overcrowded environment. Creating a custom dome stage that could swallow around 300 people for an immersive multimedia journey into our subconscious mind (think mapped surround LED walls, moving lights and surround sound), and then perhaps taking it on tour one day – that would be a very rewarding experience for me. And learning and improving. I believe we can always (and should always) strive to get better while preserving the works that stand the test of time. And yes, of course it would also be fun to play Red Rocks some day. That place is truly special to me. Here’s to not giving up.
For artist updates and general tour info, visit ZEE’s FACEBOOK PAGE
For booking inquiries, contact Anand Harsh at firstname.lastname@example.org