III Points favored, burgeoning Gainesville talent
By Zahra Musgrave
It was another night after work. Early, yet late enough to get into something worth getting into. Being a Thursday in our admittedly small town of Gainesville, FL, I wasn’t expecting what the Sound Gods and Goddesses had in store for me. Rounding the corner of N. Main and University, I slow rolled to catch a snippet of what was going on at The Atlantic. Sounded bass heavy and promising. Upon entering, I was greeted by a few onlookers near the bar, a rather barren dance floor, & a figure at the decks whos face I could barely make out, eclipsed by a snapback. The atmosphere swirled with lights carving thru lingering fog. Black wooden stage boxes seemed to rattle as the beat dropped into a demanding, hard four. The DJ thrust his head and shoulders. I couldn’t resist. Never trust a DJ who can’t dance. As the night went on, it was obvious no-one was free from the groove. Clapping and stomping ensued. We obediently marched along a galactic treadmill of sonic surrender- pausing only to aimlessly float when summoned by the stoic, & dark synth-dripping intermissions. Time became irrelevant for several hours. I left in a fever. Pleasantly surprised and absolutely impressed, my mind raced with the burning question, “But, Who is ZEROSUM?”. Fatefully, nearly 4 months later, I got the opportunity to learn a bit more about this now burgeoning talent taking Gainesville by storm. Producer/DJ, ZEROSUM opens up about his earliest musical memories, the importance of proper artist branding, and what’s next in 2019.
Who is ZeroSum?
ZEROSUM wants to make people dance as much as he wants to dance.
You have self-identified as the "Beat of the Chrome Heart". What does this mean to you?
I’ve always been interested in futurism, post-humanism, cyberpunk culture and the like, and the art that comes from it. I love how art that, on the surface, comes from a distant future can evoke very distinct, specific emotions. I think there is something very special about the alien, synthetic sounds made with a machine. Chrome Heart, for me, identifies with this creative ethos.
You’ve been billed with the tags “Dark Techno”, “Industrial” , “EBM” , & “Electro”. Describe your style in 4 words without using genre label, though.
Futuristic, sharp, bouncy, punchy
When you first got into electronic music, what were you listening to? How have your musical tastes evolved into what we are hearing now?
I was listening to old school hands-up and trance, the super cheesy kind with fast beats and super synthy melodies. I first got into it through the random bootleg trance CDs my dad had laying around when I was about 6 y/o or so. I really connected with this super synthetic type of music and didn’t have much interest in other genres. I played a ton of Dance Dance Revolution so that definitely influenced my musical tastes growing up. In my freshman year of high school, a friend introduced me to dubstep, and it changed my life. I was blown away by how deep, aggressive, and grimey it was. I was hooked and listened to it religiously all throughout high school. It was my first serious foray into darker forms of electronic music.
Around that time I also fell in love with IDM. I loved how complex and boundary-pushing it was. I loved how it could convey very distinct emotional ideas through carefully arranged chaos. I constantly searched for that.
It’s led to the type of music I play today -- dark, aggressive beats. Although I consider myself a bright and cheery person, I’m most drawn to darker forms of electronic music (and art in general) because of how well it describes more marginalized parts of the human experience. It’s also a super fun fantasy to partake in. Like, the villains or anti-heroes in a story are always so much more interesting and juicy haha.
What is your family background/heritage and in what ways, if any does it inform your musical landscape?
I am a first generation Chinese-American. I was the first in my family to be born in the United States. It’s definitely informed my musical landscape because of the media I consumed as an Asian American. I loved Asian and Asian American media, like anime and video games, because I could identify and relate to them. Many included music which definitely influenced my tastes. Also, like many Asian Americans, I was enrolled in classical piano, which gave me the technical tools I needed in music production today. I am very grateful for all those years of instruction.
III Points & voting fans selected you to play Road to III Points:Gainesville! Congrats! The crowd was lit, and literally- bobbing and weaving while wearing headphones flashing with LED lights. Of the two stages, you played the Silent Disco. What was that like?!
Thank you! That was by far the best show I’ve ever played. I was super happy because my friends came out to support and the crowd was having a good time. I was playing music I really loved, and for others to have enjoyed it and danced too made me super happy, like a little kid.
Having studied Digital Arts and Sciences at the University of Florida, your hands are in the mix with graphic design as well. You’ve contributed to projects for Smithsonian, Dell, & even a local underground hotbed conducting monthly experiments in art/technology/ & sound. Just recently, you started working with the Miami-based digital branding firm, 4am Studios. Tell us more.
Early on I discovered I had a deep love for aesthetics. Origami and drawing were the first forms of art I picked up, when I was 4. I did them every single day my entire childhood. I even ripped labels off of products and spent lots of time examining products. When I picked up piano soon after, visual arts took the back seat, but I rediscovered at full force in college. Mostly out of the impetus to hone a marketable skill, as I had recently switched out of engineering because of how miserably bored I was with it. I rediscovered my love for design and now have a great passion for it. I’m in love with science, math, and visual arts, and graphic design seemed to be a perfect intersection of those. I love how cool it can make something. I think it’s necessary for something to appear cool for people to care (or at least, it can only help), which has real life consequences.
How important is a strong, cohesive artistic image to you? In what ways has your experience in branding and graphic design impacted your approach to these aspects of self promotion within your art?
Extremely important. I think it is crucial to have a strong, cohesive artistic identity to thrive in the industry. A brand is a relationship, and it’s important for people to know what they are supporting. My experience with branding and design has allowed me to recognize what makes good musical brands tick, like Skrillex or Zhu, and try my best to incorporate those within my self-promotion. I’m having a hard time figuring out the branding for ZEROSUM -- big work in progress!
I can’t think of a single other person in town with a sound even remotely similar to yours. Your stage presence alone is a novelty. What influences do you draw from when piecing together the visual aesthetic of a show?
The biggest influence is the music itself. It’s the sound I want to dance to, and hopefully other people like dancing to it too. I just really like to dance so I can’t help but dance behind the decks! I’m also very interested in fashion, so I really like wearing clothes that I like.
The second time we spoke, you mentioned playing out is actually new to you (as of these past 6 months). How did you manage to book several shows at an array of venues in such a short period of time?
About a month or so into learning to DJ (first learning at Visionary Crossfit), my friend suggested that I reach out to Barcade and ask to DJ in the alley. I filled out a form and they reached out to me soon after with a date -- my first show. Since then, they have reached out to me about playing shows at Barcade and The Atlantic, and for that I have been very grateful.. I also got involved with LAB as a designer after attending one of their experiments because I loved the concept so much. I asked them if I could play at one of the experiments, and they let me. Since then, I’ve played at three experiments. All in all, I’ve been very fortunate.
With the recent onslaught of significant dance clubs (Output in Brooklyn, Heart in Miami, Beta in Denver) & music collectives such as Berlin Community Radio shutting down, how do you see smaller venues staying afloat to support and be supported by local talent?
I don’t anything about what it takes to sustain a musical venue, so I don’t know. I know that if they could, they’d be supporting all the talent they could, but unfortunately there are bills to be paid.
What’s your take on the current Electronic Music and Dance Culture of Gainesville?
It is small, but strong. There are wonderful DJs, producers, and collectives here who are really putting in work, and I know it’s only going to continue to grow.
Is your residency in The Alley of Arcade Bar back in full swing? Whats on the horizon for ZeroSum in 2019?
Yes! I have a slot coming soon. My main focus for ZEROSUM this year is to produce music and build out my brand.
Have/would you ever release any original material?
I haven’t released any original material, but one of my goals is to release an EP by the end of the year!
And one last silly, yet semi-relevant question: IS SILENT DISCO here to stay? or is it just a fad? :D
I think it’s here to stay! It’s such an interesting concept to observe and be a part of. With mainstream VR on the horizon, I see a potentially interesting relationship there.
Anything else our readers need to know?
I just want to express my gratitude to everyone who has supported my journey so far! I’m extremely thankful for all the opportunities I’ve gotten so far and know it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of others. To all the creators out there, keep creating and do it with love!