December 23 sees Cambridge-based new-generation talent Zoner drop the most comprehensive release of his career so far: A Game Called Stay.
Six tracks heavy, courtesy of Guzi’s GZ Audio, A Game Called Stay breaks Zoner’s longest release silence since he first emerged in 2019 on Sub-Division. It also marks the start of a whole slew of new productions that will roll out in the new year.
To celebrate, he’s put together this mix that’s made exclusively of his own productions and showcases his sound and his spirit with soulful intensity. Tapping back to that golden era of liquid around the early 2000s and game changing stables like Marcus Intalex’s Soulr and Fabio’s Creative Source, Zoner’s zoned in on his influences and honed in on his sound giving you the feeling that he’s just warming up.
1 More Thing caught up with him to see where he’s at, where he’s been and where he wants to be. Check the mix and get to know…
Feels like you’ve been stashing up a lot of productions and biding your time a bit!
Yeah you could say that. It’s great to see this new release coming out and a few other bits are all locked in and ready to go in 2023. There are some remixes lined up and something I’m really excited about but I can’t quite say yet!
Haha yeah. Put it this way, I don’t think I’ll be as quiet next year as I have been this year.
Working on your craft and honing that sound…
Yeah tunes are coming together. I’m getting a solid five or so ideas down a week, using my time wisely, getting on the DAW during my lunch break to sketch things out, spending a day on the weekend or evenings to finishing things off. It’s mad, so far I’ve had zero wastage; everything I send out is being signed. In a way it’s a bit weird, like I actually want to be told my snare is shit or something. But it’s humbling, too. My family and I have had a very challenging and heartbreaking year so to have this positive energy happening is definitely something I’m appreciating and grateful for.
Is that why you’re tunes are hitting home for us all? You’ve poured a lot of emotion into them and that’s tangible in the music?
Maybe man. I am really writing with a purpose at the moment and asking myself – how do I feel? Am I feeling something from this? Does it mean anything to me? Whether I’m nodding my head or in tears, I need to feel something from what I’m making and if I’m not then it’s in the bin. And yeah, life has made me level up. Nothing half-arsed, no hot air or unnecessary chat – get my head down and really work on this.
And now you’re coming in a release that’s almost album sized! A Game Called Stay… There’s got to be a reference or there’s a poet deep down in you or something. Tell me about that.
Haha. It came about through a conversation with a friend after too many beers and I said something along the lines of ‘the key to any relationship or any long term commitment is you’ve got to treat it like a game and that game is called stay.’ If you love someone or something and it gets hard, you don’t turn your back, you stick with it no matter what. Lord knows I’ve had moments where I’ve thought ‘why am I making music?’ But I’ve stuck with it and slowly but surely my music is resonating with more and more people and that’s beautiful. Like with the recent Spotify stats, they mean nothing but just knowing that people in a country thousands of miles away from here are listening to and enjoying my music? That blows my mind! For a long time I didn’t think anyone outside this room would want to listen to it.
Ah yeah that’s lush. That’s the positive side of Spotify stats. Another thing that strikes me about this new release and your sound in general is the house influence. There’s a real early 2000s liquid vibe to this which I think is probably before your time isn’t it?
That’s kind of you to say. I do love that sound and it resonates with me, that era of drum & bass is so inspiring. I don’t want to offend anyone but modern liquid lacks that for me. It’s quite sterile.
Coffee table stuff, you could play it in a barbershop
Haha, that’s it. So yeah I’ve been trying to harness that rawness that the older liquid sounds had. I’ve been working with Coda a lot, too, and he’s been a big influence and insight for me and we’re currently working on some similar vibes. Like tapping into that classic early 2000s Intalex type of sound.
Oh sick! Coda is a G. I know he’s got some big sounds to drop in the near future. Very different, too.
Very very different. He’s more than a G to me, to be honest. I look up to him a lot. In the absence of a father figure, without getting too deep, he’s there for me as a person and a role model. He inspires me and has confidence in me. That has a very positive effect on me, how I work and how I feel about my music. That’s priceless. I have a lot of love for Coda.
That’s lovely! What other influences bring you to this point?
I love a lot of Detroit techno, a lot of metal, a lot of jazz, blues, hip-hop. I love it all. And I’ve made a pact with myself, too; if I’m not in this studio then I’m not listening to drum & bass.
Bringing in those other influences. Essential!
Yeah. Because if all we listen to is D&B then what we make will become very in-bred. That’s not me. I want to make music that reflects me and the rich journey I’ve been on. I’ve not always made D&B, I’ve been in bands when I was younger, I’ve had my own unique journey and I want my music to reflect that.
I think there was a point on your journey when you almost never made it through full stop, right?
That’s a deep one! But yeah you’re quite right, I was a victim of an attempted murder when I was 17 and got stabbed in the face. That was a savage night and I was trying to protect someone else but I feel really sorry for that guy. He got 11 years without parole. If I think about everything I’ve achieved in 11 years and he hasn’t had the freedom to do that. So I try and keep that in my mind and it’s given me a bit of a spiritual perspective in a way. Like if I didn’t have a purpose on this planet then surely I’d have gone then? I must be here for a reason and I hope it’s my music.
Even on a much more personal level – to be an amazing dad and partner and role model
Yeah definitely. And that’s always ongoing isn’t it? I’m always trying to improve who I am and try to be the most kind hearted person and have the purest intentions. And I do take the biggest inspiration from my missus and kids and that’s something that I never knew I even wanted in life. That all links back into A Game Called Stay, too. We became parents very very quickly in our relationship, a matter of months, but we’ve stuck with it through the hardest of times. I’m very very blessed to have Aimee in my life. She will tell me I’m a prick when I need to be told that. And I don’t care what anyone says – everyone needs a partner like that in their lives.
Amen! So tell us about this mix!
I wanted to do a mix of purely my own music because I feel like that’s what sets me apart as a DJ. I could play a two or three hour set of my own music. And for me that’s the biggest buzz; playing my own creations that represent me and have an identity, rather than just playing the top 10 big tracks of the moment, you know? It’s like; do you want to be a chef or a waiter? Do you want to serve people stuff they want or do you want to make something for people that they didn’t know they needed.
Yeah go on. I remember Clipz saying to me in an interview that he wasn’t going to come back as Clipz until he had a full bag of his own plates. That’s one of the original elements of jungle – having stuff that no one else has got!
Yeah it’s my unique selling point. I was lucky enough to play a set with Rayen Gee from Shades Of Rhythm the other day and he was really complimentary about my music too. That for me was massive validation. If he thinks it’s good. If Guzi thinks it’s good enough to release it, then that’s enough validation for me to continue on this path.
Long may it continue! Big up Guzi…
Oh George needs a massive shout. He’s such a hard working and stoic man, he was the first person to believe in me and my music. Even when my mixdowns were not at an appropriate standard at all, he could see something in me and taught me so much stuff. He’s one of the hardest working men in D&B and I can’t salute him enough. That’s why it doesn’t matter where I’m at, I’ll always come back to him with my music first because I owe it to him. I wouldn’t be here talking to you now if it wasn’t for him. Big up Guzi!
Big up the future, what’s coming up?
There’s an EP on Balearic Breaks, colabs with Motiv, Guzi, Coda and Atom who runs Charge Recordings with Mampi Swift. I’ve got a colab with Inkz who really deserves a massive shout out for everything he’s doing to raise support for Leke from Aerosoul right now. And I’ll also be doing a mix series with a WhatsApp group where I do a 100% Zoner mix every month and people vote for their favourites which will then be self released via Bandcamp as pay what you like. Stay tuned!