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Zardonic Interview - In The Studio

Originating from the vibrant landscapes of Venezuela, Zardonic is a name that resonates deeply in the electronic dance music scene. 

Known for masterfully blending the aggressive tones of metal, hard rock, and punk with the pulsating rhythms of Drum & Bass, he has carved out a niche that is both unique and electrifying. 

Zardonic's journey is marked by his innovative approach and impactful remixes, capturing the attention of listeners worldwide. 

Zardonic's Must-Hear Tracks:

Zardonic's Must-Hear Remixes:

Experience Zardonic Live at Let It Roll 2023

For those who crave the live experience, Zardonic’s electrifying performance at Let It Roll 2023 is a must-watch. Known as one of the biggest Drum & Bass festivals in the world, Let It Roll was the perfect stage for Zardonic to display his mastery over the genre. His set, packed with high-energy beats and his iconic mask, truly captivated and energized his audience.

Watch the performance here - Zardonic - Let It Roll 2023 | Drum & Bass

We chatted about his history as a musician, the value of embracing criticism as an artist, and the importance of networking to grow your career opportunities. 

Hi Zardonic, where are you right now? #

I was born and raised in Venezuela, but I’m currently in the Cologne/Düsseldorf area.

What’s the music and DJing scene like there? #

Germany has an extremely active Techno music scene, but when it comes to Drum & Bass, Czech Republic leads in Europe. They host "Let It Roll," which is the biggest event for the genre. Russia is also notable with “Pirate Station”, and Belgium with "Rampage," although that festival isn't exclusively Drum & Bass; it includes a lot of dubstep acts too.

What’s your favorite DJ control or effect?#

I admit I'm guilty of overusing filters and flangers when I'm DJing. Sometimes I have to remind myself not to do it constantly because it can kill the vibe. I like to throw in a little filter sweep every 16 bars or so - it's just something I enjoy.

As for producing, I have a ton of plugins, just like everyone else. The difference now is that I’ve actually paid for all of them, so there's no cracked software on my computer. When it comes to synths, my go-to's are usually Pigments, Serum, and Phase Plant. I love the hands-on feel and how easy they are to program once you know the basics.

For effects, I try to use them sparingly. I aim to get most of what I need directly from the synths, focusing mainly on compression, EQ, and where needed, distortion. Xfer OTT is a favorite because it just works so well on many sounds. But these days, I’m trying to keep the effects usage light. Recently, I discovered Filterverse by Polyverse Music, which is really interesting with its range of possible automations and different filters.

In my effects chains, you'll most likely find compressors and mastering tools. I'm really focusing on keeping things simple and effective.

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DJ.Studio has a wide range of DJ effects. You can automate them all simultaneously for maximum expression, although this timeline approach also helps you to be more precise and restrained. 

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Random question - If you could only listen to music at one tempo for the rest of your life, what would the BPM be? #

Despite what you might think, it definitely wouldn’t be Drum & Bass. I've been in the scene for 20 years, and while I love it, I'm a bit tired of it. It's refreshing when I get hired for projects outside of that genre, like composing a video game soundtrack. These projects excite me because they allow me to work on ambient, epic stuff with beats that aren't strictly electronic dance music.

Honestly, when I'm not working on music, I tend to prefer silence. After years in the industry, I've developed tinnitus, which limits my options. So I’d probably choose to listen to silence, or music at 0 BPM…

It’s a weird hypothetical situation anyway… So what was the last artist you were listening to? #

Lately, I haven't been listening to much music casually since I'm usually absorbed in the music I create for work or sorting through promos I receive. However, I've recently become obsessed with a track called "Finality" by Sleepnet. It's Drum & Bass, but it has a really interesting approach—sort of a deep, old-school vibe with a beautifully executed bassline. It's quite different from my usual compositions, which are pretty loaded; this track feels like my ears are resting, offering some really pleasant ear candy.

Aside from that, I mostly end up listening to my own music, not out of preference, but a necessity, as I'm constantly working on new tracks. When I do get a chance to listen to music in my free time, I often turn to completely different genres like classical music or metal, with bands like Meshuggah dominating my playlist. It's a mix of intense and structured sounds that really appeals to me.

So, how did you get into DJing? Were you into music production first and then started DJing on the side? Or was it the other way around?#

I grew up with a diverse musical background. My dad played a variety of music in the car, from Vivaldi to Stanley Jordan to Larry Carlton to Pink Floyd. It was always classical music, jazz and progressive rock.

The music of my childhood was eclectic, influenced by the brand of rave music that was popular in Spain during the 80s and 90s. They called it “Música Mákina”. It wasn't exactly techno by today's standards, and it wasn’t exactly trance or industrial either, but it had a heavy, dark, yet melodic and distinctive sound that was especially significant in the Spanish rave and techno scene of the era. Back then, however, I was only around five or six years old, listening to this music on the radio, completely unaware of the associated scenes or the culture surrounding it - I simply enjoyed the music.

It's interesting because I think I was unintentionally making my own sort of “mixtapes” from a young age. I would listen to someone mixing on the radio, and if the DJ talked over the music, I found it obnoxious. I'd stop recording, rewind, and wait until just before he started talking to start recording again. I'd pause and wait for him to finish, then continue recording the mix after his interruption right from the next beat. Sometimes I would get it just right and it sounded completely seamless! So essentially, I was creating my own mixtapes from other people's mixes at around five or six years old without really knowing what I was doing.

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DJ.Studio lets you create DJ mixes from your laptop without touching a pair of decks. Simply import your music, create a playlist (or use automix), use the timeline editor, and it’s ready to share!

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So you were making mixtapes before you were DJing on decks? That sounds a bit like the DJ.Studio workflow.#

Exactly, I wasn't bragging or showing off; I was creating those mixtapes just for myself. 

It might not have been traditional mixing; it was more like editing the DJ out of the tracks. However, I realize now that this method was actually how some people used to make mixtapes.

Twenty years ago, I decided to dedicate myself entirely to music. Although life's priorities have shifted over the years, I've managed to live my dream, albeit with the occasional complaint. There's an Italian saying, "You wanted a bicycle, now you have to ride it," which sums up the routine that can sometimes make even a dream job feel monotonous. 

To keep things fresh, I've branched out within the industry, engaging in sound design for various companies, preset design, DJ gigs, composing for video games, and doing remixes and mastering for bands. I love the diversity because it keeps me connected to the industry in multiple ways.

For example, mixing and mastering for one band might lead to a remix opportunity when another band hears my work. This could then lead to a Drum & Bass gig if someone likes the remix. It’s all interconnected—my name on an Arturia synth preset might lead to more sound design work.

My journey took a significant turn when I discovered DJ Dieselboy’s mixes and artists like Counterstrike and Concord Dawn, which solidified my interest in integrating electronic and metal elements. Inspired by albums like "Remanufacture" by Fear Factory, I aimed to make official remixes for metal bands, taking what others did unofficially a step further.

Choosing the DJ path over forming a band has proven less financially burdensome given the horror stories I hear about the costs associated with band tours. The DJ route has allowed me to be business-smart, investing only when I know there's a return, which has been crucial in my success and sustainability in the music industry.

It's interesting to learn about the progression of your career, particularly how doing various projects has helped spread your name and opened new opportunities. What advice would you give to aspiring bedroom DJs who are looking to make a name for themselves and start booking their first shows?#

The biggest challenge for many producers, myself included, is to just get out there. Despite the often discussed labels of extrovert and introvert, we all have our ups and downs. Sometimes I can't stand anyone, and other times I'm eager to share my best with the world. It's crucial to push yourself out there, not just for networking or career opportunities, but to genuinely connect with like-minded individuals. That's where real opportunities arise.

Attending conventions can be a fantastic way to meet people, though I recognize not everyone can afford to do this. Living in Germany has allowed me to attend events like Superbooth annually. If you’re lucky enough, you might find that your work is valuable to the brands attending the conventions, and you might even be hired by them to be part of their promotional team. 

That’s how my relationship with PWM started. I simply went to Superbooth, fell in love with the synth, started playing with it, and the brand owner and developer Paul Whittington (an absolute titan of the industry who has worked with Avid, M-Audio, Novation, Focusrite and many more ubiquitous brands), noticed what I was doing and asked if I’d like an endorsement, so I “paid” for my new favorite synth by simply showing how much I loved it to all my followers. That helped them sell more units, and when I least expected it I joined their promotional team at Superbooth, so now I get to go there every year to work. By helping them make a profit, I gained the ability to attend the convention without spending any money, and I continue to connect with more people and brands, enhancing my network further.

Networking is essential. A good example is my connection with Ivan Muñoz from Artists & Relations, who brought me and you guys together. We met ages ago when he was still living in Chile because we shared a mutual interest in similar music. His band Vigilante is probably the most significant Industrial act to ever grace his country, and over time, our relationship evolved into a beneficial network exchange. He introduced me to new contacts, and I shared mine with him, helping each other grow in our respective fields. This collaboration has enabled Ivan to become a key networker for me, facilitating connections that keep the community thriving and the money flowing in all directions. Everybody wins, basically.

“The best way to make money is to help others make money”. This is a statement I heard once and resonated deeply with me. Even from a purely capitalistic viewpoint, assisting others in profit can indirectly boost your own financial success. This concept is akin to game theory, where strategic interactions with others can lead to mutual benefits - have you heard of it?

I know a bit about game theory, elaborate?#

The essence of game theory, as applied in various aspects of life, hinges on the choice between cooperation and competition. In a simplified game, you can choose to cooperate or not.

The discovery underscores that cooperation is generally the most successful strategy, influencing everything from international relations during the Cold War to personal and professional interactions. This principle has profoundly shaped my approach to life, including business and personal relationships.

It's not about networking for potential gains but about supporting like-minded individuals. This often leads to natural, beneficial exchanges where someone might say, "I really appreciate what you do; let me introduce you to someone else." This approach builds stronger bonds and creates opportunities that can lead to mutual success.

It's all about building networks and connecting with people who are working on similar projects. That's excellent advice, especially for those who are just starting out.#

People often focus on making their music sound powerful, yet the music industry is full of talented producers who struggle to get noticed and others who may not be as skilled but still find success. Your craft is your responsibility and your vision. It's up to you to decide how you want to present it to the world, whether it adheres to or breaks existing standards. 

When it comes to sharing your work, the first step is to put yourself and your creations out there. If it's not up to par, you'll hear about it. Being open to criticism is crucial; nowadays, many people are too sensitive and have a low tolerance for frustration. However, understanding how to handle criticism - whether it's constructive or bluntly harsh - is part of learning and improving.

It's crucial to differentiate between seeking genuine critique and merely fishing for compliments. The latter won't help you progress.

Even criticism that feels harsh might have valuable lessons. It's about learning who to listen to. A critic, much like Simon Cowell from "X Factor," who everyone seems to dislike, can actually be a helpful filter, telling you whether you're ready or not. Distinguish between useful criticism and pointless negativity.

Ultimately, putting yourself out there is essential. You need to be ready for all kinds of feedback if you want to grow and succeed in this challenging industry.

Yeah, I think people often don't want to hear negative criticism, but I guess the only way to improve your work is to actually understand what is wrong with it.#

There’s always someone out there who has mastered something new, like a plugin, better than I have. So I ask these experts how they achieve such crisp, loud, and clean tracks. It baffles me when the levels seem too loud, yet they manage to make it work, and they’re willing to show me. Being open to feedback like, "Your snare sucks, and here’s how to fix it," is incredibly valuable.

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DJ.Studio’s online mix sharing platform helps you to get feedback on your mixes and interact with other DJs!

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Getting proper feedback on your work is super, super valuable. Are you still getting feedback from people when you're working? Or are you more confident now?#

I'm generally confident in my work, but there are times when I'm uncertain. In those moments, I have one or two trusted people I turn to for feedback. Their criticism is usually insightful and helps me see things I might have missed because not everyone can provide that level of clarity. 

Seeking advice is valuable; just be careful not to let it dominate your creative decisions. Equally, it's important to keep your ego in check to avoid stifling your own growth. This is a common struggle for many starting out, and I've faced it myself. I continue to challenge my ego because I know it can limit my potential, not just as a producer but also as a person. Life has a way of humbling you, reminding you that no matter how great you think you are, there's always room to learn and improve.

Onto more DJ techniques, do you prepare your DJ mixes ahead of time or do you improvise? What's your process for putting together a setlist?#

When I DJ, it's a blend of preparation and spontaneity. I pre-plan certain transitions and track combinations that I know work well together. For instance, if I know mixing two specific tracks creates a great vibe, I’ll keep that in my set because it consistently energizes the crowd. People often remember and appreciate these moments, which is why you might hear me repeat a successful mix from years ago.

However, not every transition is predetermined. I experiment during my practices to see which tracks blend well. If something doesn’t work, I’ll swap it out and try different combinations until I find the perfect sequence. This preparation ensures that during a live set, I have multiple pathways planned for my mix, allowing me to adjust based on the vibe of the crowd.

It’s nice to have that balance of structure and freedom.#

DJing is not just about playing music; it's about understanding and adapting to the audience and environment. Even within the same city, what works in one show may not resonate in another due to numerous factors like the season or cultural nuances. 

For instance, I've found that genres like hardcore and crossbreed are received very well in places like the Drum & Bass scenes of the Czech Republic, Spain, Netherlands, and especially Portugal with their particular brand of Portostep. However, the same can't be said for, say, the Berlin Drum & Bass crowd, surprising as it may sound.

I remember playing a four-to-the-floor straight Hardcore Techno track at over 180 BPM towards the end of a set in Berlin. It was a strictly Drum & Bass crowd, and that track simply didn't land well. I could see it on the audience’s faces; two people who had been recording my set actually stopped and left the room when I switched styles. That was a clear signal that this particular blend wasn't working for that crowd.

Such experiences are invaluable. They teach you the importance of flexibility and the need to continuously gauge and respond to audience reactions. It’s all part of the learning process as a DJ, figuring out how to deliver not just good music, but the right music for the moment.

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DJ.Studio doesn’t replace live DJing, but it acts as the perfect companion. You can use it to prepare sets and transitions, make promo mixes and videos, and create mini mixes and genre change mashups for easier mixing. 

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Yeah you've got to really play to your audience a lot of the time. Are you still finding new tracks to add to your USB sticks? Where do you find it? #

Balancing the demands of DJing and music production can be quite challenging, especially when it comes to curating the right tracks for different settings. These days, I mostly listen to tracks from promo lists, and despite receiving a huge volume of music, I sometimes feel like I'm missing out. To address this, I periodically dive back into researching and rediscovering music - what we might still call 'crate digging'.

Last year, I found myself revisiting old tracks that resonated with me decades ago. This became almost an obsession. I was driven by a desire to blend old school vibes with new school sounds in my sets. This approach has been received VERY well by the crowd.

When assembling my sets, I include a mix of my own tracks and remixes, both old and new. However, the most important aspect for me is the journey I create during a performance. 

Sometimes, a track might be popular on platforms like Spotify but doesn't fit the vibe I want for a live club setting. Conversely, some tracks that might not do well on streaming platforms are perfect for live performances due to their energetic basslines and club-friendly dynamics.

Navigating these differences is a constant juggling act. There are tracks I produce that are more DJ-friendly, and others that are more suited to casual listening. My challenge is to integrate all these elements smoothly, ensuring that each set I perform is not just a collection of tracks but a cohesive musical journey tailored to the audience and the atmosphere of the venue.

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You can make mixes from YouTube and Spotify in DJ.Studio, making it the perfect tool for discovering and experimenting with new songs.

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So you’ve tried DJ.Studio? #

I conducted a quick test by randomly selecting the first 10 tracks from my collection to see if they would blend well together. Surprisingly, this experiment produced some interesting results and sparked new ideas for me. I'm quite selective, so I can't rely solely on the machine to perfect everything. It provides a good starting point, but it's not a replacement for a DJ's role.

Many people worry that AI might replace us, but I don't see it that way. A friend shared a dubstep track created with AI, and while it sounded decent, we both agreed that AI is more likely to assist rather than replace producers. For instance, when you're lacking inspiration, you can feed a prompt into an AI tool to generate some creative ideas. You might not like everything it suggests, but it could lead to a great musical riff or theme that you can develop further.

Similarly, with DJ software, you can input various tracks and see how well they work together, tweaking them as needed. This approach is extremely useful for exploring new creative possibilities and enhancing your sets.

It's interesting to see how AI is changing how DJs and producers work. It’s definitely the biggest development of this era. What are you working on now, and what events have you got coming up? #

The best way to keep up with my activities is through Instagram, where I post important updates like tour announcements and dates roughly every one to two weeks. Additionally, my Spotify tour calendar is regularly updated with dates and ticket links for easy access.

Beyond live events, I’m constantly working on remixes and collaborations. Notable recent releases are my remix of Noisia's "Machine Gun" on the new The Resonance VII album, my remix of “Push The Pusher” by Peter Tägtgren’s PAIN band (and also the man behind Hypocrisy and part of the former Lindemann lineup).

There’s an upcoming remix for TEMIC, a supergroup of progressive rock musicians including Simen Sandnes (Haken, SHINING), Eric Gillette (Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy) and Diego Tejeida (Haken, Devin Townsend). Additionally, I'm working with Ekwols together on a remix for Raphael Weinroth-Browne, a cellist known for his solo project and his work with the band Leprous. Sadly that one won’t come out until 2025, but it’ll be a MASSIVE one.

And speaking of 2025, I'm beyond excited about a major project for with a renowned Japanese video game company, which I can't disclose yet, but it will be released that year. I really wish I could tell you already!

For the most current information, you can always check my Instagram or Spotify for updates.

Thanks!#

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