Mat Zo’s Past Influences His Future

British progressive house DJ/producer Mat Zo has music in his blood. Literally. His mother is an accomplished violinist and at an early age began soaking up music like a sponge. Fast forward to the present and Zo is regarded as one of the most up-and-coming jocks on the global scene, thanks to a slew of smoking hot remixes and productions. After his tracks found themselves in heavy rotation in the sets of renowned DJs from all over the world, he began a successful relationship with Above & Beyond’s Anjunabeats. In this exclsuive interview conducted in Miami, Zo opens up about his interesting past, his ongoing work with Arty and hints at new projects we can expect from him. Spoiler alert: he’s working on an artist album!

I understand your mother is a professional violinist and raised you with more than just a sense of an appreciation for music. What are some of your fondest memories of that upbringing and her influence that you carry with you today?
Mat Zo:  I remember the first time she taught me how to play piano. I remember getting completely excited about making music, and I think it all stemmed from there really.

How old were you?
I was two.

Some kids fight it a bit. Well, maybe not at that age but when they get older and when they want to go outside and just play with their friends.
I kind of did fight it when I was a little older but deep down I couldn’t escape from being a musical person.

You spent a significant amount of your childhood in Cleveland, OH, and, as they say, “Cleveland Rocks.” Your father presented you with a guitar when you were eight. Who were your influences back then and what were you playing?
I was big into grunge and Alice In Chains, Soundgarden and Nirvana. At the same time I’d just discovered Daft Punk, The Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim so my musical tastes back then were even more varied than they are now.

“My mom’s very supportive. She listens to all my music and follows me on Twitter and all that.”

So you were interested in grunge and rock and then you found electronic dance music. How did that transition happen? When and how did you find out about all that?
There’s this Canadian TV channel called MuchMusic. Back in 1998 when I was a little kid in my basement listening to that station they had this club show every Saturday I think it was. They would bring on DJs and that was my introduction to dance music.

It was a little more underground back then and it was a little harder to find.
I’ve got to thank illegal, free cable.

How do your parents feel about your successful music endeavors and paths you’ve taken so far?
First they were a bit unsure about it before I made something out of it. Now that I’m touring the world and doing something with music I think they’re proud of me, understandably I guess.

Is your father doing something in music as well; I know he bought you your guitar.
He loves music but he’s a painter by profession.

You’re from an artistic family all around. Do they understand the music you listen to? Do you play it for them? Do they understand what it’s all about?
My mom understands it a lot more than my dad. My mom’s very supportive. She listens to all my music and follows me on Twitter and all that.

It’s almost obvious because of the availability of electronic dance music in London, but do you recall some of the first moments that you heard and fell in love with EDM while living there?
I definitely liked drum ‘n’ bass and garage. I was introduced to that when I moved over there. It’s massive in London.

Which drum ‘n’ bass artist or artists?
High Contrast, Logistics, Noisia.

Who were you emulating and what means did you use to explore your craft?
At first I wasn’t even using production software. I was making MIDI’s which are just computer generated but a little hard to explain. Basically I got into it just making melodies without really producing. Back then I was just trying to be Daft Punk which isn’t too far off from what I’m doing now.

Were you already writing some of your own material?
I think I started making my own music when I was about eight. I’ve been pretty much doing it my whole life.

That’s impressive. They’re starting you guys out younger and younger like Arty and Erik Arbores and you.
They’re only going to get younger and younger until most of the DJs won’t be allowed in the clubs.

Do you recall your first gig and your track selection?
My first professional gig was in Utrecht in Holland for Trance Energy in 2008. It was a very small pre-party. The company was called Luminosity. Since then they’ve grown a lot. My first ever gig was at my friend’s birthday party and I was in the booth with about five other friends and they were playing with the pitch faders. I was playing stuff like Steve Angello and a lot of house music.

When and how did your relationship with Above & Beyond happen?
They asked me to do a remix for them in 2008. They liked it and then afterwards they asked me if I had any original stuff and if I wouldn’t mind signing with them. I immediately took a shine to the label.

How did they find out about you?
It was a remix I did of Tiesto.

What was song that Above & Beyond asked you to remix?
It was a song called “Fallen Tides” by Mark Pledger and Matt Hardwick.

What can you tell about your relationship with Arty?
We work really well together. Every time we make a track together it turns out really well. I guess our two styles go really well.

How did you two meet?
It was through Anjunabeats. I was playing a lot of his stuff and he said at the time I was one of his biggest inspirations and vice versa and it just happened.

What’s the thought process involved, the production involved, and how to you come to the conclusion that it’s complete when you produce an amazing track like “Rebound” or “Mozart?
If I knew where the inspiration came from I’d be making a lot more music. Sometimes you just have one of those days when you wake up and an idea comes.

And then there is your single effort “Yoyo Ma” which is a lovely track. What was your inspiration for this one?
I played around with the synthesizer trying to make a dirty bassline but ended up with a cello instead.

Are you currently collaborating with anyone that you’d care to share?
I’m doing another collab with Arty. Other than that pretty much just working on my album and trying to get that finished first.

Is there someone you’re interested in working with?
There are loads of people. Madeon from France. He sounds really promising. One of my all-time favorite bands, Radiohead. If I would ever get to work with them I think my life would be complete.

What is a current hot track for you? What might we hear from you at the Group Therapy show?
Every gig now I’ve been playing this track by Dada Life called “Kick Out The Epic Mother Fucker,” and I’ve mashed that up with Avicii’s “Levels” and it’s been going off really well but more or less on the commercial side I’ve been loving tracks by Alex Kenji and Phunk Investigation and Da Fresh. I really like the more techy, groovy sound of them.

Once Miami Week is over and done what do you have planned?
My girlfriend’s coming over from LA for a week and we’re going to spend some time together. I’ll have a gig in India and Helsinki, and I’ll still be working on all of my album tracks. So yeah, it’s going to be a busy summer.

Miami Music Week: And the Beat Goes On [Recap]

As I enjoyed my three-egg omelet and fresh-squeezed orange juice, I reveled in the fact that when you ask for orange juice in South Beach, 95% of the time you automatically get fresh squeezed (it’s all they serve.) And you can enjoy breakfast at many establishments until 1 pm and dinner (a full dinner menu!) even up until 11 pm and beyond! The restaurants and establishments certainly appreciate the DJ lifestyle schedule and cater to them and their fans!

Heading up the boardwalk, soaking up the scenic view of the Atlantic on one side and the classic, art deco hotels on the other, I made my way to the Belve Music Lounge at the W Hotel for an intimate and chic setting of live music, interviews, and some complimentary cocktails. Hooking up with my PR rep at the entrance I got banded and was told to, “…go in, have a cocktail, and enjoy!” She added, “There are so many DJs in there, you could throw a rock and you’ll hit one!” Well, I’m not sure I’d want to that and I’m sure this wasn’t meant literally but she was right about the “so many DJs” part.

This event is definitely a who’s who in the industry mingling with the likes of Ferry Corsten, Avicii with Cazzette, Bossi and Nic Chagall of Cosmic Gate, Emma Hewitt, Morgan Paige, Adrian Lux, Tony McGuinness & Jono Grant of Above & Beyond, James Grant of Anjunadeep fame, Mat Zo, and Gabriel and Dresden who also gave an up-close-and-personal performance in the lounge courtyard. BT was there and more than thrilled to offer how excited he was to have some recent studio time with DJ tyDi when I asked him about it. He was ecstatic for their progress made and for their collaborative efforts.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Tony McGuinness of Above & Beyond. We nabbed an air-conditioned spot in the lobby of the suite, found the only two available seats, kicked back and talked about everything from their upcoming trio of nights in LA to dubstep making its mark on the industry. (More on that interview later…)

I was offered, and fortunately able to also squeeze, in an interview with Mat Zo. I am thrilled and grateful this did not become a missed opportunity. When Mat was only two years old his mother was already teaching him the art of music. He continued with his craft and is already a stellar and respected artist in the industry at the tender age of 21. He spoke of his artistic collaborations with Arty and his relationship with Above & Beyond. Once again more on this interview later but to sum up Mat Zo in one word, “impressive.”

As I was leaving the Belve Lounge DJ Liquid Todd was at the decks filling in between the featured DJs offering house renditions and dance mixes that had the crowd doing just that. Dancing. I was always fascinated by the disco era which has always been enigmatic to me since I of course was not able to indulge as it was before my time. I heard DJ Todd start to meld into what sounded like Disco Inferno (at least in my mind.) Well, he segued right into a modern mix of, what else…..that’s right, “Disco Inferno.” Classic, and thank you, Liquid Todd, to allow me to indulge a bit and give us all a vicarious sample of what it was like back in the day.

In the evening as the sun lowered over the skyline of downtown Miami, Above & Beyond began their Group Therapy show at the Bayfront Park Amphitheater and the setting was perfect. DJ Andrew Bayer delivered the so fitting, Signalrunners “Meet Me In Montauk” as if this track was written for a beautiful night like this.

Arty offered some of his own creations that we know and love like “Mozart” and “Kate,” Ferry Corsten’s fun-loving “Punk” and a remix of the Above & Beyond festival and dancefloor classic “Satellite” as the crowd’s enthusiasm exploded knowing where that once came from.

Mat Zo took to the stage and gave us “Superman,” and a sampling of the Eric Prydz classic “Call On Me.” He even got himself dancing at the decks to the Mat Zo mashup of the energetic Dada Life vs. Avicii “Kick Out The Levels Motherfucker.”

Crisscrossing light beams projected high above the amphitheater throughout Above & Beyond’s set while their backdrop presented graphics and messages to the fans. It was also entertaining to watch the projection of way larger-than-life, moving imagery, like the spinning “Skrillex” name and logo, on the Intercontinental Hotel in the Miami skyline move in time with music whether it was intentional or not.

The finale artists, Tony McGuinness and Jono Grant of Above & Beyond, kicked off their set with the enchanting resonance of “Alchemy,” a more mystical remix of The Chemical Brothers’ “Swoon,” and their own “On My Way To Heaven,” in keeping with the surreal theme. They played Andrew Bayer’s “Keep Your Secrets” featuring Molly Bancroft and their super hit all over last year’s Ultra Music Week but still with staying power for this year’s events “Sun and Moon.” They wrapped up with cryogenics, flashing beams of light, and confetti blasts while “Prelude” echoed throughout the amphitheater.

Enjoyed a (very) late night dinner at Cardozo at 11:45pm because we can…and we were hungry.

Images by Kathy Vitkus